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Chapter 25:

  • The Sumter still at Gibraltar
  • -- ship crowded with visitors -- a ride over the Rock with Colonel Freemantle -- the ‘galleries’ and other Subterranean wonders -- a Dizzy height, and the Queen of Spain's chair -- the monkeys and the ‘neutral ground.’

The stream of visitors to the Sumter continued for some days after our arrival. Almost every steamer from England brought more or less tourists and curiosity-hunters, and these did us the honor to visit us, and frequently to say kind words of sympathy and encouragement. Among others, the Duke of Beaufort and Sir John Inglis visited us, and examined our ship with much curiosity. The latter, who had earned for himself the title of the ‘hero of Lucknow,’ in that most memorable and barbarous of all sieges, was on his way to the Ionian Islands, of which he had recently been appointed Governor.

January 23d.—Weather clear and pleasant. We received a visit from Captain Warden to-day, in return for the visit I had made him upon my arrival. He came off in full uniform, to show us that his visit was meant to be official, as well as personal. Nothing would have pleased the gallant captain better, than to have been able to salute the Confederate States' flag, and welcome our new republic among the family of nations. We discussed a point of international law while he was on board. He desired, he said, to call my attention to the well-known rule that, in case of the meeting of two opposite belligerents in the same neutral port, twenty-four hours must intervene between their departure. I assented readily to this rule. It had been acted upon, I told him, by the Governor of Martinique, when I was in that island—the [321] enemy's sloop Iroquois having been compelled to cruise in the offing for fear of its application to her. I remarked, however, that it was useless for us to discuss the rule here, as the enemy's ships had adroitly taken measures to evade it. ‘How is that?’ he inquired. ‘Why, simply,’ I replied, ‘by stationing one of his ships in Gibraltar, and another in Algeziras. If I go to sea from Gibraltar, the Algeziras ship follows me, and if I go to sea from Algeziras, the Gibraltar ship follows me.’ ‘True,’ rejoined the captain, ‘I did not think of that.’ ‘I cannot say,’ continued I, ‘that I complain of this. It is one of those chances in war which perhaps nine men in ten would take advantage of; and then these Federal captains cannot afford to be over-scrupulous; they have an angry mob at their heels, shouting, in their fury and ignorance, “Pirate! Pirate!” ’

The Southampton steamer brought us late news, to-day, from London. We are becoming somewhat apprehensive for the safety of Messrs. Mason and Slidell, who, having embarked on board the British steam-sloop Rinaldo, at Provincetown, Mass., on the 2d inst., bound to Halifax, distant only a few hundred miles, had not been heard from as late as the 10th inst. A heavy gale followed their embarcation. I received a letter, to-day, too, from Mr. Yancey. He writes despondently as to the action of the European powers. They are cold, distrust. ful, and cautious, and he has no hope of an early recognition. I am pained to remark here, that this distinguished statesman died soon after his return to the United States. He was one of the able men of the South, who, like Patrick Henry, and John C. Calhoun, seemed to be gifted with the spirit of prophecy; or, rather, to speak more correctly, his superior mental powers, and knowledge of men and of governments, enabled him, like his great predecessors, to arrive at conclusions, natural and easy enough to himself, but which, viewed in the light of subsequent events, seemed like prophecy to his less gifted countrymen. Mr. Yancey much resembled Patrick Henry in the simplicity and honesty of his character, and in the fervidness and power of his eloquence:

January 30th.—A fine, clear day, with the wind from the eastward. Having received a note last evening, from Colonel [322] Freemantle, informing me that horses would be in readiness for us, this morning, at the Government House, to visit the fortifications, I went on shore the first thing after breakfast, and finding the Colonel in readiness, we mounted, and accompanied by an orderly to take care of our horses, rode at a brisk pace out of the western gate, and commenced our tour of inspection. Arriving at the entrance of the famous ‘galleries’ situated about half-way up the Rock, we dismounted, and dived into the bowels of mother Earth.

The Spaniards have been celebrated above all other people for fortifications. They have left monuments of their patience, diligence, and skill all over the world, wherever they have obtained a foothold. The only other people who have ever equalled them, in this particular, though in a somewhat different way, are the people of these Northern States, during the late war. No Spaniard was ever half so diligent in his handling of stone, and mortar, as was the Yankee soldier in throwing up his ‘earth-work.’ His industry in this regard was truly wonderful. If the Confederate soldier ever gave him half an hour's breathing-time, he was safe. With pick and spade he would burrow in the ground like a rabbit. When the time comes for that New-Zealander, foretold by Macaulay, to sit on the ruins of London bridge, and wonder what people had passed away, leaving such gigantic ruins behind them, we would recommend him to come over to these States, and view the miles of hillocks that the industrious Yankee moles threw up during our late war; and speculate upon the genus of the animal gifted with such wonderful instincts.

But to return to our tour of inspection. The famous underground ‘galleries’ of the Rock of Gibraltar, are huge tunnels, blasted and bored, foot by foot, in the living rock, sufficiently wide and deep to admit of the placing, and working of heavy artillery. They are from one third of a mile, to half a mile in length, and there are three tiers of them, rising one above the other; the embrasures or port-holes of which resemble, when viewed from a distance, those of an old-time two-decker. Besides these galleries for the artillery, there have also been excavated in the solid rock, ample magazines, and store and provision rooms, and tanks for the reception of water. These [323] receptacles are kept constantly well supplied with munitions, both de guerre, and de bouche, so that if the garrison should be driven from the fortifications below, it could retreat to this citadel, close the massive doors behind them, and withstand a siege.

We passed through all the galleries, ascending from one to the other, through a long, rough-hewn stairway—the Colonel frequently stopping, and explaining to me the history of some particular nook or battlement—until we finally emerged into the open air through a port-hole, or doorway at the very top of the Rock, and stood upon a narrow footway or platform, looking down a sheer precipice of fifteen hundred feet upon the sea breaking in miniature waves at the base of the Rock. There was no rail to guard one from the precipice below, and I could but wonder at the nonchalance with which the Colonel stepped out upon this narrow ledge, and walked some yards to get a view of the distant coast of Spain, expecting me to follow him. I did follow him, but I planted my feet very firmly and carefully, feeling all the while some such emptiness in the region of the ‘bread-basket,’ as Marryatt describes Peter Simple to have experienced when the first shot whistled past that young gentleman in his first naval engagement.

The object of the Colonel, in this flank movement, was to show me a famous height some distance inland, called the ‘Queen of Spain's Chair,’ and to relate to me the legend in connection with it. The Rock of Gibraltar has always been the darling of Spain. It has been twice wrested from her, once by the Moors, and once by the English. She regained it from the Moors, when she drove them out of her Southern provinces, after an occupation of eight hundred years! Some of the remains of the old Moorish castles are still visible. Afterward, an English naval captain, returning from some expedition up the Mediterranean, in which he had been unsuccessful, stormed and captured the Rock with a handful of sailors. Spain, mortified beyond measure, at the result, made strenuous efforts to recover it. In 1752 she bent all her energies in this direction, and fitted out large expeditions, by land and by sea, for the purpose. The Queen came down from Madrid to witness the siege, and causing her tent to be pitched [324] near the ‘Chair,’ vowed she would never leave it, until she saw the flag of Spain floating once more from the coveted battlements. But General Elliot, with only a small garrison, beat back the immense armaments, and the Spaniards were compelled to raise the siege. But the poor Queen of Spain! what was to become of her, and her vow? English gallantry came to her relief. The Spanish flag was raised for a single day from the Rock, to enable the Queen to descend from her chair! The reader will judge whether this legend was worth the emptiness in the ‘bread-basket’ which I had experienced, in order to get at it.

Descending back through the galleries, to where we had left our horses, we remounted, and following a zigzag path, filled with loose stones, and running occasionally along the edges of precipices, down which we should have been instantly dashed in pieces, if our sure-footed animals had stumbled, we reached the signal-station. On the very apex of the rock, nature seemed to have prepared a little plateau, of a few yards square, as if for the very purpose for which it was occupied—that of over-looking the approaches from every direction, to the famous Rock. A neat little box of a house, with a signal-mast and yard, and a small plot of ground, about as large as a pocket-handkerchief, used as a garden, occupied the whole space. Europe, and Africa, the Mediterranean, and the Atlantic were all visible from this eyry. The day was clear, and we could see to great distances. There were ships in the east coming down the Mediterranean, and ships in the west coming through the famous Strait; they all looked like mere, specks. Fleets that might shake nations with their thunder, would be here mere cock-boats. The country is mountainous on both sides of the Strait, and these mountains now lay sleeping in the sunshine, covered with a thin, gauzy veil, blue and mysterious, and wearing that air of enchantment which distance always lends to bold scenery.

‘We had a fine view of your ship, the other day,’ said the signal-man to me, ‘when you were chasing the Yankee. The latter was hereaway, when you set fire to her’—pointing in the direction. ‘Are there many Yankee ships passing the Rock now?’ I inquired. ‘No. Very few since the war commenced.’ [325] ‘It would not pay me, then, to cruise in these seas?’ ‘Scarcely.’

As we turned to go to our horses, we were attracted by the appearance of three large apes, that had come out of their lodging-place in the Rock, to sun themselves. These apes are one of the curiosities of the Rock, and many journeys have been made in vain to the signal-station, to see them. The Colonel had never seen them before, himself, and the signal-man congratulated us both on our good fortune. ‘Those are three old widows,’ said he, ‘the only near neighbors I have, and we are very friendly; but as you are strangers, you must not move if you would have a good look at them, or they will run away.’ He then gave us the history of his neighbors. Years ago there was quite a colony of these counterfeit presentments of human nature on the Rock, but the whole colony has disappeared except these three. ‘When I first came to the signalstation, ‘continued our informant,’ these three old widows were gay, and dashing young damsels, with plenty of sweethearts, but unfortunately for them, there were more males than females, and a war ensued in the colony in consequence. First one of the young males would disappear, and then another, until I at last noticed that there were only four of the whole colony left: one very large old male, and these three females. Peace now ensued, and the old fellow lived apparently very happily with his wives, but no children were born to him, and finally he died, leaving these three disconsolate widows, who have since grown old—you can see that they are quite gray— to mourn his loss.’ And they did indeed look sad and disconsolate enough. They eyed us very curiously, and when we moved toward our horses, they scampered off. They subsist upon wild dates, and a few other wild fruits that grow upon the Rock.

We passed down the mountain-side to the south end of the Rock, where we exchanged salutations with the General and Mrs. Codrington, who had come out to superintend some repairs upon a country house which they had at this end; and reaching the town, I began to congratulate myself that my long and fatiguing visit of inspection was drawing to a close. Not so, however. These Englishmen are a sort of cross between [326] the Centaur and the North American Indian. They can ride you, or walk you to death, whichever you please; and so Freemantle said to me, ‘Now, Captain, we will just take a little gallop out past the “neutral ground,” and then I think I will have shown you all the curiosities.’ The ‘neutral ground’ was about three miles distant, and ‘a gallop’ out and back, would be six miles! Imagine a sailor who had not been on horseback before, for six months; who had been riding for half a day one of those accursed English horses, with their long stride, and swinging trot, throwing a man up, and catching him again, as if he were a trap-ball; who was galled, and sore, and jaded, having such a proposition made to him It was worse than taking me out on that narrow ledge of rock fifteen hundred feet above the sea, to look at the Queen of Spain's Chair. But I could not retreat. How could an American, who had been talking of his big country, its long rivers, the immense distances traversed by its railroads and steamboats, and the capacity for endurance of its people in the present war, knock under to an Englishman, and a Coldstream Guardsman at that, on this very question of endurance? And so we rode to the ‘neutral ground.’

This is a narrow strip of territory, accurately set off by metes and bounds, on the isthmus that separates the Rock from the Spanish territory. As its name implies, neither party claims jurisdiction over it. On one side are posted the English sentinels, and on the other, the Spanish; and the all'swell! of the one mingles strangely, at night, with the alerta of the other. We frequently heard them both on board the Sumter, when the night was still. I got back to my ship just in time for a six o'clock dinner, astonished John by drinking an extra glass of sherry, and could hardly walk for a week afterward.

A day or two after my visit to the Rock, I received a visit from a Spanish naval lieutenant, sent over, as he stated, by the Admiral from Algeziras, to remonstrate with me against the burning of the ship Neapolitan within Spanish jurisdiction. The reader who has read the description of the burning of that ship, will be as much astonished as I was at this visit. The Spanish Government owns the fortress of Ceuta, on the [327] African shore opposite Gibraltar, and by virtue of this ownership claims, as it would appear, jurisdiction for a marine league at sea, in the neighborhood of the fortress. It was claimed that the Neapolitan had been captured within this league. The lieutenant having thus stated his case, I demanded to know on what testimony the Admiral relied, to establish the fact of the burning within the league. He replied that the United States Consul at Gibraltar had made the statement to the Admiral. Here was the ‘cat out of the bag’ again; another United States Consul had turned up, with his intrigues and false statements. The nice little piece of diplomacy had probably been helped on, too, by the commanders of the Federal ships of war, that had made Algeziras a rendezvous, since I had been anchored in the Bay of Gibraltar. When the Spanish officer had done stating his case, I said to him:—‘I do not recognize the right of your Admiral to raise any question with me, as to my capture of the Neapolitan. The capture of that ship is an accomplished fact, and if any injury has been done thereby to Spain, the Spanish Government can complain of it to the Government of the Confederate States. It has passed beyond the stage, when the Admiral and I could manage it, and has become an affair entirely between our two Governments.’

This was all the official answer I had to make, and the lieutenant, whose bearing was that of an intelligent gentleman, assented to the correctness of my position. I then said to him:—‘But aside from the official aspect of the case, I desire to show you, that your Admiral has had his credulity played upon by his informant, the Consul, and whatever other parties may have approached him on this subject. They have made false statements to him. It is not only well known to hundreds of citizens of the Rock, who were eye-witnesses of the burning of the Neapolitan, that that vessel was burned at a distance of from six to seven miles from the African coast, but I have the testimony of the master of the captured vessel himself, to the same effect.’ I then sent for my clerk, whom I directed to produce and read the deposition of the master, which, according to custom, we had taken immediately upon effecting the capture. In that deposition, after [328] having been duly sworn, the master had stated that the capture was made about five miles from Europa Point, the southern extremity of the Rock of Gibraltar. The Strait is about fourteen miles wide at this point, which would put the ship, when captured, nine miles from Ceuta! The lieutenant, at the conclusion of the reading, raised both hands, and with an expressive smile, ejaculated, ‘Es possible?’ ‘Yes,’ I replied, ‘all things are possible to Federal Consuls, and other Federal pimps and spies, when the Sumter and Yankee ships are concerned.’

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