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Chapter 24:

  • The Sumter off Cadiz
  • -- the Pillars of Hercules -- Gibraltar -- capture of the enemy's ships Neapolitan and Investigator -- a conflagration between Europe and Africa -- the Sumter anchors in the harbor of Gibraltar -- the Rock; the Town; the military; the review and the Alameda.

The afternoon was bright and beautiful as the Sumter, emerging from the harbor of Cadiz, felt once more the familiar heave of the sea. There was no sail in sight over the vast expanse of waters, except a few small coasting-craft, and yet what fleets had floated on the bosom of these romantic waters! The names of Nelson, Collingwood, Jervis, and others, came thronging upon the memory. Cape St. Vincent and Trafalgar were both in the vicinity. The sun, as he approached his setting, was lighting up a scene of beauty, peace, and tranquillity, and it was difficult to conjure those other scenes of the storm, and the flying ships, and the belching cannon, so inseparably connected with those great names.

It was too late to attempt the run to Gibraltar that night, with the hope of arriving at a seasonable hour, and so we ‘held on,’ in nautical phrase, to the light—that beautiful red flash which I have before described—until midnight, when we gave the ship her steam, and turned her head in the direction of the famous Strait, or Gut, as the sailors sometimes less euphoniously call it. The weather, in the meantime, had changed, the wind had died entirely away, and the sea was calm, but rifts of cloud were passing over the moon, indicating an upper current in the higher atmosphere, that might portend storm or rain on the morrow. We steamed along the [307] bold Spanish coast, at a distance of only a few miles, and entered the Strait before daylight, passing the Tarifa light at about five A. M.

The Pillars of Hercules, that for so many centuries bounded the voyages of the ancient mariners, rose abruptly and majestically on either hand of us, softened and beautified by the moonlight. We had the Strait all to ourselves, there being no sail visible. The Genius of the ancient time seemed to hover over the scene, so solemn and mysterious did everything appear. But no I the Genius of the ancient time could not be there, for the quiet waters were broken by the prow of the steamship, from a hemisphere of which the Genius had not conceived. And that steamship, what flag did she bear? A flag that neither Phoenician, nor Carthaginian, nor Roman had dreamed of. It had arisen amid the wreck and ruin of a new empire, that had decayed before its time, was floating above a thousand dead nationalities, and was struggling, as the polished Greek had struggled, long centuries before, against the ‘longhaired’ barbarian of the North, who was repeating history by overrunning the fair lands of the South.

We made the light at Gibraltar just as the day was dawning, and, hurried on by the current, moved rapidly up the Strait. Several sail that were coming down the Mediterranean became plainly visible from the deck as the twilight developed into day. We could not think of running into Gibraltar before overhauling these sails; we might, perchance, find an enemy among them, and so we altered our course and gave chase; as so many barks, ancient and modern, heathen, Christian, and Moor had done before us, in this famous old Strait. The telescope soon revealed the secret of the nationality of two of the sails; they being, as plainly as symmetry and beauty of outline, the taper and grace of spars, and whiteness of canvas— produced upon our own cotton-fields—could speak, American. To these, therefore, we directed our attention. It was a couple of hours before we came up with the first of these ships. She was standing over toward the African side of the Strait, though still distant from the land, some six or seven miles. We hoisted our own colors, and fired the usual gun. She hauled up her courses, and backed her maintopsail at [308] once, and in a moment more, we could see the brightest of stars and stripes fluttering in the breeze, and glittering, in very joyousness, as it were, in the rays of the morning's sun; for the captain of the prize had evidently treated himself to a new ensign. The cat ran close enough to parley with the mouse, before she put her paw upon it. The bark, for such the prize was, proved to be the Neapolitan, of Kingston, Mass., from Messina, in the island of Sicily, bound for Boston, with a cargo of fruit, dried and fresh, and fifty tons of sulphur. She had been freshly painted, with that old robber, the bald eagle, surrounded by stars, gilded on her stern; her decks looked white and sweet after the morning's ablution which she had just undergone; her sails were well hoisted, and her sheets well home; in short, she was a picture to look at, and the cat looked at her, as a cat only can look at a sleek mouse. And then only to think, that the sly little mouse, looking so pretty and so innocent, should have so much of that villanous material called sulphur in its little pouch!

The master stated in his deposition, that the entire cargo belonged to the British house of Baring Bros., it being consigned to an agent of theirs in Boston. The object of so wording the deposition was, of course, to save the cargo as neutral property, but as I happened to know that the Boston house of the Barings, instead of being an agent merely, was a partner of the London house, the master took nothing by his deposition. Besides, if there had been no doubt as to the British ownership, sulphur going to an enemy's country is contraband of war; and in this case the contraband of war was not only condemnable of itself, but it tainted all the rest of the cargo, which belonged to the same owner. The master, who was as strongly marked in his Puritan nationality, as the Israelite is in the seed of Abraham, feeling himself securely intrenched behind the Baring Bros., was a little surprised when I told him that I should burn his ship, and began to expostulate. But I had no time for parley, for there was another ship demanding my attention; and so, transferring the prisoners from the doomed ship to the Sumter, as speedily as possible, the Neapolitan was burned; burned in the sight of Europe and Africa, with the turbaned Moor looking upon the conflagration, [309] on one hand, and the garrison of Gibraltar and the Spaniard on the other. Previously to applying the torch, we took a small liberty with some of the excellent fruit of the Barings, transferring a number of drums of figs, boxes of raisins and oranges, to the cooks and stewards of the different messes.

We now steamed off in pursuit of the other sail. This second sail proved also to be American, as we had supposed. She was the bark Investigator, of Searsport, Maine, from one of the small ports of Spain, bound for Newport, in Wales, with a cargo of iron ore. The cargo being properly documented as British property, we could not destroy her, but were compelled to release her under ransom bond. The capturing and disposing of these two ships had occupied us several hours, during which the in-draught of the Strait had set us some miles to the eastward of the Rock. We now, at half-past 2 P. M., turned our head in the direction of Gibraltar, and gave the ship all steam. By this time the portent of last night had been verified, and we had an overcast sky, with a strong northwester blowing in our teeth. With the wind and current both ahead, we had quite a struggle to gain the anchorage.

It was half-past 7 P. M., or some time after dark, that we finally passed under the shadow of the historical rock, with the brilliant light on Europa Point throwing its beams upon our deck; and it was a few minutes past eight o'clock, or evening gun-fire, when we ran up to the man-of-war anchorage, and came to. We had no occasion to tell the people of Gibraltar who we were. They were familiar with our Cadiz troubles, and had been expecting us for some days; and accordingly, when the signal-man on the top of the Rock announced the appearance of a Confederate States' steamer in the Strait, every one knew that it was the Sumter. And when, a short time afterward, it was announced that the little steamer was in chase of a Yankee, the excitement became intense. Half the town rushed to Europa Point and the signal-station, to watch the chase and the capture; and when the flames were seen ascending from the doomed Neapolitan, sketch-books and pencils were produced, and all the artists in the crowd went busily to work to sketch the extraordinary spectacle; extraordinary in any age, but still more extraordinary in this. [310]

Here were two civilized nations at war, at the door of a third, and that third nation, instead of mitigating and softening, as much as possible, the barbarities of war, had, by her timidity, caution, or unfriendliness, whichever to the reader may seem more probable, ordered, directed, and decreed that one of the parties should burn all the ships of the other that it should capture! The spectacle of the burning ship which the inhabitants of Gibraltar had witnessed from the top of their renowned rock, was indirectly the work of their own Government. Why might not this Federal ship, when captured, have been taken into Gibraltar, there to await the disposition which a prize-court should make of her, instead of being burned? Because Great Britain would not permit it. Why might she not have been taken into some other neutral port, for this purpose? Because all the world had followed the lead of Great Britain, the chief maritime power of the earth. Great Britain knew when she issued her orders in council, prohibiting both the belligerents in the American war, from bringing their prizes into her ports, precisely what would be the effect of those orders. She knew that the stronger belligerent would shut out the weaker belligerent from his own ports, by means of a blockade. She knew that if she denied this weaker belligerent access to her ports, with his prizes, all the other nations of the earth would follow her lead. And she knew that if this same weaker belligerent should have no ports whatever into which to carry his prizes, he must burn them. Hence the spectacle her people had witnessed from the top of her rock of Gibraltar.

In a few minutes after anchoring, we were boarded by a boat from the English frigate, which had the guard for the day. The officer made us the usual ‘tender of service’ from the Port Admiral. We sent a boat ourselves to report our arrival on board the health ship, and to inquire if there would be any quarantine; and after a long day of excitement and fatigue,—for I had not turned in since I left the Cadiz light, the night before—I sought my berth, and slept soundly, neither dreaming of Moor or Christian, Yankee or Confederate. John spread me the next morning a sumptuous breakfast, and brought me off glowing accounts of the Gibraltar market, filled [311] with all the delicacies both of Spain and Morocco. The prize which we had liberated on ransom-bond, followed us in, and was anchored not far from us. There Was another large American ship at anchor.

At an early hour a number of English officers, of the garrison and navy, and citizens called on board to see us; and at ten o'clock I went on board the frigate whose boat had boarded us the previous night, to return the commanding naval officer's visit. He was not living on board, but at his quarters on shore, whither I proceeded at two P. M. Landing at the Navy Yard, an orderly conducted me thence to his neat little cottage, perched halfway up the rock, and embowered by shade trees, in the most charming little nook possible. I found Captain—now Rear-AdmiralSir Frederic Warden a very clever specimen of an English naval officer; and we had a pleasant conversation of half an hour together. Having lost one of my anchors, I asked the loan of one from him until I could supply myself in the market. He replied that he had every disposition to oblige me, but that he must first submit the question to the ‘law officers of the Crown.’ I said to him playfully, ‘these “law officers of the Crown” of yours must be sturdy fellows, for they have some heavy burdens to carry; when I was at Trinidad the Governor put a whole cargo of coal on their shoulders, and now you propose to saddle them with an anchor!’ He said pleasantly, in return, ‘I have not the least doubt of the propriety of your request, but we must walk according to rule, you know.’ The next morning, bright and early, a boat came alongside, bringing me an anchor.

From Captain Warden's, I proceeded to the residence of the Governor and Military Commander of the Rock, Sir William J. Codrington, K. C. B. His house was in the centre of the town, and I had a very pleasant walk through shaded avenues and streets, thronged with a gayly dressed population, every third man of which was a soldier, to reach it. The same orderly still accompanied me. I was in uniform, and all the sentinels saluted me as I passed; and I may as well mention here, that during the whole of my stay at this military and naval station, my officers and myself received all the honors and courtesies due to our rank. No distinction whatever was drawn, that I [312] am aware of, between the Sumter, and any of the enemy's ships of war that visited the station, except in the matter of the national salute. Our flag not being yet recognized, except for belligerent purposes, this honor was withheld. We dined at the officers' messes, and they dined on board our ship; the club and reading-rooms were thrown open to us, and both military and citizens were particular in inviting us to partake of all the festivities that took place during our stay.

My conductor, the orderly, stopped before a large stone mansion on the principal street, where there was a sentinel walking in front of the door, and in a few minutes I was led to a suite of large, airy, well-furnished rooms on the second floor, to await his Excellency. It was Sunday, and he had just returned from church. He entered, however, almost immediately. I had seen him a hundred times, in the portraits of half the English generals I had ever looked upon, so peculiarly was he English and military. He was a polite gentleman of the old school, though not a very old man, his age being not more than about fifty-five. Governor Codrington was a son of the Admiral of the same name, who, as the commanderin-chief of the combined English, French, and Russian fleets, had gained so signal a victory over the Turkish fleet, in the Mediterranean, in 1827, which resulted in the independence of Greece, and the transfer of Prince Otho of Bavaria to the throne of that country. His rank was that of a lieutenantgeneral in the British army. I reported my arrival to his Excellency, and stated that my object in visiting Gibraltar was to repair, and coal my ship, and that I should expect to have the same facilities extended to me, that he would extend to an enemy's cruiser under similar circumstances. He assented at once to my proposition, saying that her Majesty was exceedingly anxious to preserve a strict neutrality in our unhappy war, without leaning to the one side or the other. ‘There is one thing, however,’ continued he, ‘that I must exact of you during your stay, and that is, that you will not make Gibraltar, a station, from which to watch for the approach of your enemy, and sally out in pursuit of him.’ I replied, ‘Certainly not; no belligerent has the right to make this use of the territory of a neutral. Your own distinguished admiralty [313] judge, Sir William Scott, settled this point half a century and more ago, and his decisions are implicitly followed in the American States.’

The Governor gave me permission to land my prisoners, and they were paroled and sent on shore the same afternoon. We could do nothing in the way of preparing the Sumter for another cruise, until our funds should arrive, and these did not reach us until the 3d of February, when Mr. Mason, who had by this time relieved Mr. Yancey, as our Commissioner at the Court of London, telegraphed me that I could draw on the house of Frazer, Trenholm & Co., of Liverpool, for the sum I needed. In the mean time, we had made ourselves very much at home at Gibraltar, quite an intimacy springing up between the naval and military officers and ourselves; whereas, as far as we could learn, the Yankee officers of the several Federal ships of war, which by this time had arrived, were kept at arm's-length, no other than the customary official courtesies being extended to them. We certainly did not meet any of them at the ‘club,’ or other public places. I had visited Gibraltar when a young officer in the ‘old service,’ and I had often read, and laughed over Marryatt's humorous description of the ‘Mess’ of the garrison in his day; how, after one of their roistering dinners, the naval officers who had been present, would be wheeled down to the ‘sally-port,’ where their boats were waiting to take them on board their ships, on wheel-barrows—the following colloquy taking place between the sally-port sentinel (it being now some hours after dark), and the wheeler of the wheel-barrow. Sentinel:—‘Who comes there?’ Wheeler of wheel-barrow:—‘Officer drunk on a wheel-barrow!’ Sentinel:—‘Pass Officer drunk on a wheel-barrow.’

The wheel-barrow days had passed, in the general improvement which had taken place in military and naval habits, but in other respects, I did not find the ‘Mess’ much changed. The military ‘Mess’ of a regiment is like the king; it never dies. There is a constant change of persons, but the ‘Mess’ is ever the same, with its history of this ‘field,’ and of that; its traditions, and its anecdotes. Every person who has been in England knows how emphatically dinner is an institution [314] with the English people; with its orthodox hour, the punctual attendance of the guests, the scrupulous attention they pay to dress, and the quantity of wine which they are capable of putting under their vests, without losing sight of the gentlemanly proprieties.

It is still more an institution, if possible, with the garrisons of the colonies. There they do the thing in a business-like way, and the reader will perhaps be curious to know how the young fellows stand such constant wear and tear upon their constitutions. It is done in the simplest manner possible. After a late carouse over night, during which these fellows would drink two bottles to my young men's one, the latter would get up next morning on board the Sumter feeling seedy, and dry, and go on shore in quest of ‘hock and soda-water.’ Meeting their late companions, they would be surprised to see them looking so fresh and rosy, with an air so jaunty, and a step so elastic. The secret, upon explanation, would prove to be, that the debauchee of the night was the early bird of the morning. Whilst my officers were still lying in uneasy slumbers, with Queen Mab playing pranks with their imaginations, the officer of the ‘Mess’ would be up, have taken his cold shower-bath, have mounted his ‘hunter,’ sometimes with, and sometimes without dogs, and would be off scouring the country, and drinking in the fresh morning air, miles away. Not a fume of the liquor of the overnight's debauch would be left by the time the rider got back to breakfast.

On the day after my visit to the Governor, Colonel Freemantle, of the Coldstream Guards, the Governor's aide-de-camp and military secretary, came off to call on me on behalf of the Governor, and to read to me a memorandum, which the latter had made of my conversation with him. There were but two points in this memorandum:—‘First: It is agreed that the Sumter shall have free access to the work-shops and markets, to make necessary repairs and supply herself with necessary articles, contraband of war excepted. Secondly: The Sumter shall not make Gibraltar a station, from which to sally out from the Strait, for the purposes of war.’ I assented to the correctness of the conversation as recorded, and there the official portion of the interview ended. I could not but be amused here, as I had been at other places, at the exceeding scrupulousness [315] of the authorities, lest they should compromise themselves in some way with the belligerents.

I found Colonel Freemantle to be an ardent Confederate, expressing himself without any reserve, and lauding in the highest terms our people and cause. He had many questions to ask me, which I took great pleasure in answering, and our interview ended by a very cordial invitation from him to visit, in his company, the curiosities of the Rock. This is the same Colonel Freemantle, who afterward visited our Southern States during the war, and made the acquaintance of some of our principal military men; writing and publishing a very interesting account of his tour. I met him afterward in London, more of a Confederate than ever. Freemantle was not an exception. The army and navy of Great Britain were with us, almost to a man, and many a hearty denunciation have I heard from British military and naval lips, of the coldness and selfishness of the Palmerston-Russell government.

Gibraltar, being a station for several steam-lines, was quite a thoroughfare of travel. The mixed character of its resident population, too, was quite curious. All the nations of the earth seemed to have assembled upon the Rock, for the purposes of traffic, and as each nationality preserved its costume and its language, the quay, market-place, streets and shops presented a picture witnessed in few, if in any other towns of the globe. The attractions for traffic were twofold: first, Gibraltar was a free port, and, secondly, there were seven thousand troops stationed there. The consequence was, that Christian, Moor, and Turk, Jew and Gentile, had assembled here from all the four quarters of the earth, bringing with them their respective commodities. The London tailor had his shop alongside that of the Moor or Turk, and if, after having been measured for a coat, to be made of cloth a few days only from a Manchester loom, you desired Moorish slippers, or otto of roses, or Turkish embroidery, you had only to step into the next door.

Even the shopmen and products of the far East were there; a few days of travel only sufficing to bring from India, China, and Japan, the turbaned and sandalled Hindoo, the close-shaved and long-queued Chinaman, and the small-statured, deep-brown [316] Japanese, with their curious stuffs and wares, wrought with as much ingenuity as taste. The market was indeed a curiosity. Its beef and mutton, both of which are very fine, are brought from the opposite Morocco coast, to and from which small steamers ply regularly. But it is the fruits and vegetables that more especially astonish the beholder. Here the horn of plenty seems literally to have been emptied. The south of Spain, and Morocco, both fine agricultural countries, have one of those genial climates which enables them to produce all the known fruits and vegetables of the earth. Whatever you desire, that you can have, whether it be the apple, the pear, or the cherry of the North, or the orange, the banana, or the date of the South. The Spaniards and Moors are the chief market people.

Nor must we forget the fishermen, with their picturesque boats, rigged with their long, graceful latteen yards and pointed sails, that come in laden with the contributions of the sea from the shores of half a dozen kingdoms. Fleets of these little craft crowd the quay day and night, and there is a perfect Babel of voices in their vicinity, as the chaffering goes on for the disposal of their precious freight, much of it still ‘alive and kicking.’ By the way, one of the curiosities of this quay, whilst the Sumter lay in Gibraltar, was the frequent proximity of the Confederate and the Federal flag. When landing I often ran my boat into the quay-steps, alongside of a boat from a Federal ship of war; the Kearsarge and the Tuscarora taking turns in watching my movements—one of them being generally anchored in the Bay of Gibraltar, and the other in the Bay of Algeziras, a Spanish anchorage opposite. No breach of the peace ever occurred; the sailors of the two services seemed rather inclined to fraternize. They would have fought each other like devils outside of the marine league, but the neutral port was a powerful sedative, and made them temporarily friends. They talked, and laughed and smoked, and peeled oranges together, as though there was no war going on. But the sailor is a cosmopolite, as remarked a few pages back, and these boats' crews could probably have been exchanged, without much detriment to each other's flag.

Sunday, January 26th.—A charming, balmy day, after the [317] several days of storm and rain that we have had. At ten A. M., I went on shore to the Catholic church. The military attendance, especially of the rank and file, was very large. I should judge that, at least, two thirds of the troops stationed here are Irish, and there is no distinction, that I can discover, made between creeds. Each soldier attends whatever church he pleases. It is but a few years back, that no officer could serve in the British army without subscribing to the Thirty-Nine Articles— the creed of the ‘Established Church.’ After church, I took a stroll ‘up the Rock,’ and was astonished to find so much arable soil on its surface. The Rock runs north and south. Its western face is an inclined plane, lying at an angle of about thirty degrees with the sea-level. Ascending gradually from the water, it rises to the height of fifteen hundred feet. From this height, a plummet-line let down from its eastern face would reach the sea without obstruction, so perpendicular is the Rock in this direction. This face is of solid rock.

On the western face, up which I was now walking, is situated near the base, and extending up about half a mile, the town. The town is walled, and after you have passed through a massive gateway in the southern wall, you are in the country. As you approach the Rock from the sea, it matters not from what direction, you get the idea that it is nothing but a barren rock. I now found it diversified with fields, full of clover and fragrant grasses, long, well-shaded avenues, of sufficiently gentle ascent for carriage-drives, beautifully laid-out pleasuregrounds, and well-cultivated gardens. The parade-ground is a level space just outside the southern wall, of sufficient capacity for the manoeuvre and review of five thousand men; and rising just south of this is the Alameda, consisting of a series of parterres of flowers, with shade-trees and shrubbery, among which wind a number of serpentine walks. Here seats are arranged for visitors, from which the exercise of the troops in the parade-ground below may be conveniently witnessed. A colossal statue of General Elliot, who defended the Rock in the famous siege that was laid to it in the middle of the last century by the Spaniards, is here erected.

The review of the troops, which takes place, I believe, [318] monthly, is par excellence, the grand spectacle of Gibraltar. I had the good fortune to witness one of these reviews, and the spectacle dwells vividly, still, in my imagination. Drill of the soldiers, singly, and in squads, is the chief labor of the garrison. Skilful drill-sergeants, for the most part young, active, intelligent men, having the port and bearing of gentlemen, are constantly at work, morning and afternoon, breaking in the raw material as it arrives, and rendering it fit to be moulded into the common mass. Company officers move their companies, to and fro, unceasingly, lest the men should forget what the drill-sergeant has taught them. Battalion and regimental drills occur less frequently.

These are the labors of the garrison; now comes the pastime, viz., the monthly drill, when the Governor turns out, and inspects the troops. All is agog, on the Rock of Gibraltar, on review days. There is no end to the pipe-claying, and brushing, and burnishing, in the different barracks, on the morning of this day. The officers get out their new uniforms, and horses are groomed with more than ordinary care. The citizens turn out, as well as the military, and all the beauty and fashion of the town are collected on the Alameda. On the occasion of the review which I witnessed, the troops—nearly all young, fine-looking men—presented, indeed, a splendid appearance. All the corps of the British army were there, represented save only the cavalry; and they were moved hither and thither, at will; long lines of them now being tied into what seemed the most inextricable knots, and now untied again, with an ease, grace, and skill, which called forth my constant admiration.

But it was not so much the movements of the military that attracted my attention, as the tout ensemble of the crowd. The eye wandered over almost all the nationalities of the earth, in their holiday costumes. The red fez cap of the Greek, the white turban of the Moor and Turk, and the hat of the Christian, all waved in a common sea of male humanity, and, when the eye turned to the female portion of the crowd, there was confusion worse confounded, for the fashions of Paris and London, Athens and Constantinople, the isles and the continents, all were there! What with the waving plumes of the [319] generals, the galloping hither and thither of aides and orderlies, the flashing of the polished barrel of the rifle in the sun, the music of the splendid bands, and the swaying and surging of the civic multitude which I have attempted to describe, the scene was fairly beyond description. A man might dream of it, but could not describe it.

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