- Author leaves Gibraltar, and arrives in London -- Mr. Mason -- Confederate naval news -- Sojourn in London -- author Embarks on board the steamer Melita, for Nassau -- Sojourn in Nassau -- New orders from the Navy Department -- author returns to Liverpool -- the Alabama gone.
We had been long enough in Gibraltar to make many warm friends, and some of these came on board the mail-steamer in which we had taken passage, to take leave of us; among others, Captain Lambert, R. N., in command of her Majesty's steam frigate, the Scylla, to whom I am much indebted, for warm sympathy, and many acts of kindness. The captain was the son of Vice-Admiral Sir Charles Lambert, whose hospitality I had enjoyed, for a single night, many years before, under peculiar circumstances. When the United States brig Somers was capsized and sunk, off Vera Cruz, and half her crew drowned, as briefly described some pages back, Sir Charles Lambert, then a captain, was in command of the sailing frigate Endymion, and it was on board that ship that I was carried, more dead than alive, on the evening of the fatal disaster. I recollect distinctly the plight in which I ascended the side of this English frigate. Like a waif which had been picked up from the sea, I had nothing on me but shirt and trousers, and these, as well as my hair, were dripping water. I had lost my ship only an hour or two before, and had witnessed the drowning of many helpless men, who had straggled in vain for their lives. My heart was oppressed with the weight of my misfortune, and my strength nearly exhausted. Sir Charles received me at the foot of the ladder, as I descended to the deck of his  ship, as tenderly, and with as much genuine sympathy and compassion, as if I had been his own son, and taking me into his cabin, had my wants duly cared for. There are said to be secret chords of sympathy binding men together in spite of themselves. I know not how this may be, but I felt drawn toward the son of my benefactor, even before I knew him to be his son. I take this public mode of expressing to both father and son my thanks for the many obligations under which they have placed me. As the swift and powerful steamer on which we were embarked, moved silently, but rapidly out of the harbor, in the evening twilight, I took a last, lingering look at the little Sumter. Her once peopled decks were now almost deserted, only a disconsolate old sailor or two being seen moving about on them, and the little ship herself, with her black hull, and black mastheads and yards, the latter of which had been stripped of their sails, looked as if she had clad herself in mourning for our departure. A pleasant passage of a few days carried us rapidly past the coasts of Spain, Portugal, and a portion of France, into the British Channel, and on the sixth day, we found ourselves in Southampton, which I was afterward destined to revisit, under such different circumstances. On the same night I slept in that great Babel, London. I remained in this city during the month of May, enjoying in a high degree, as the reader may suppose, the relaxation and ease consequent upon so great a change in my mode of life. There were no more enemies or gales of wind to disturb my slumbers; no intrusive officers to come into my bed-room at unseasonable hours, to report sails or land discovered, and no half drowned old quartermasters to poke their midnight lanterns into my face, and tell me, that the bowports were stove in, and the ship half full of water! If the storm raged without and the windows rattled, I took no notice of it, unless it was to turn over in my bed, and feel all the more comfortable, for my sense of security. Kell and myself took rooms together, in Euston Square; our windows looking out, even at this early season, upon wellgrown and fragrant grasses, trees in leaf, and flowers in bloom, all in the latitude of 52° N.—thanks, as formerly remarked, to  our American Gulf Stream. I called at once upon Mr. Mason, whom I had often seen in his seat in the Senate of the United States, as a Senator from the grand old State of Virginia, but whom I had never known personally. I found him a genial Virginia gentleman, with much bon hommie, and a great favorite with everybody. In his company I saw much of the society of the English capital, and soon became satisfied that Mr. Davis could not have intrusted the affairs of the Confederacy, to better hands. English hearts had warmed toward him, and his name was the sesame to open all English doors. I soon learned from him the status of Confederate States' naval affairs, on the European side of the Atlantic. The gun-boat Oreto, afterward the Florida, had sailed for Nassau, in the Bahamas, and the new ship being built by the Messrs. Laird at Birkenhead, was well on her way to completion. Other contracts were in hand, but nothing tangible had as yet been accomplished under them. I had also interviews with Commander North, and Commander Bullock, agents of the Confederate States Navy Department, for the building and equipping of ships, in these waters. It being evident that there was nothing available for me, I determined to lose no time in returning to the Confederacy, and it was soon arranged that I should depart in the steamer Melita, an English steamer preparing to take a cargo of arms, ammunition, and clothing to Nassau. This ship belonged to the Messrs. Isaac, brothers, large blockade runners, who kindly tendered free passages to myself, and to my first lieutenant, and surgeon, who were to accompany me. I trust the reader will pardon me—as I hope the family itself will if I intrude upon its privacy—if I mention before leaving London, one of those old English households, immortalized by the inimitable pen of Washington Irving. One day whilst I was sitting quietly, after breakfast, in my rooms at Euston Square, running over the column of American news, in the ‘Times,’ Commander North entered, and in company with him came a somewhat portly gentleman, with an unmistakable English face, and dressed in clerical garb—not over clerical either, for, but for his white cravat, and the cut of the collar of his coat, you would not have taken him for a clergyman  at all. Upon being presented, this gentleman said to me, pleasantly, ‘I have come to take the Captain of the Sumter prisoner, and carry him off to my house, to spend a few days with me.’ I looked into the genial face of the speaker, and surrendered myself to him a captive at once. There was no mistaking the old time English gentleman—though the gentleman himself was not past middle age—in the open countenance, and kindly expression of my new friend. Making some remarks to him about quiet, he said, ‘That is the very thing I propose to give you; you shall come to my house, stay as long as you please, go away when you please, and see nobody at all unless you please.’ I dined with him, the next day, in company with a few Confederate and English friends, and spent several days at his house—the ladies president of which were his mother and maiden sister. I shall return hereafter to this house, as the reader will see. It became, in fact, my English home, and was but little less dear to me than my own home in America. The name of the Rev. Francis W. Tremlett, of the ‘Parsonage, in Belsize Park, near Hampstead, London,’ dwells in my memory, and in that of every other Confederate who ever came in contact with him—and they are not few— like a household word. We embarked on board the Melita in the latter part of May. The vessel had already dropped some distance down the Thames, and we went thither to join her by rail; one of the Messrs. Isaac accompanying us, to see us comfortably installed. The Melita was to make a bona fide voyage to Nassau, having no intention of running the blockade. I was particular to have this point settled beyond the possibility of dispute, so as to bring our capture, if the enemy should undertake it, within the precedent set by the Trent case. The Sumter having dared to capture and destroy Yankee ships upon the high seas, in defiance of President Lincoln's proclamation, denouncing her as a ‘pirate,’ had wounded the ridiculous vanity of the enemy past forgiveness, to say nothing of that other and sorer wound which resulted from the destruction of his property, and he was exceedingly anxious, in consequence, to get hold of me. I was resolved, therefore, that, if another zealous, but indiscreet Captain Wilkes should turn up, that another seven days of  penance and tribulation should be imposed upon Mr. Secretary of State Seward. We were not molested, however, and after a pleasant run of about twenty days we entered the harbor of Nassau, about 2 P. M. on the 13th of June, 1862. On the same evening of our arrival, I was quartered, with my small staff, in the Victoria Hotel, then thronged with guests, Federal and Confederate; for the Yankee, in obedience to his instincts of traffic, had scented the prey from afar, and was here to turn an honest penny, by assisting the Confederates to run the blockade! ‘It's an ill wind that blows nobody good,’ and Nassau was a living witness of this old adage. The island of New Providence, of which Nassau is the only town, is a barren limestone rock, producing only some coarse grass, a few stunted trees, a few pine-apples and oranges, and a great many sand-crabs and ‘fiddlers.’ Before the war, it was the rendezvous of a few wreckers and fishermen. Commerce it had none, except such as might grow out of the sponge trade, and the shipment of green turtle and conch-shells. The American war which has brought woe and wretchedness to so many of our States, was the wind which blew prosperity to Nassau. It had already put on the air of a commercial city; its fine harbor being thronged with shipping, and its warehouses, wharves, and quays filled to repletion with-merchandise. All was life, bustle, and activity. Ships were constantly arriving and depositing their cargoes, and light-draught steamers, Confederate and English, were as constantly reloading these cargoes, and running them into the ports of the Confederate States. The success which attended many of these little vessels is surprising. Some of them made their voyages, as regularly as mail packets, running, with impunity, through a whole fleet of the enemy's steamers. Notwithstanding this success, however, the enemy was reaping a rich harvest, for many valuable prizes fell into his hands. It soon became a bone of contention among the Federal naval officers, which of them should be assigned to the lucrative commands of the blockading squadrons. The admiral of one of these squadrons would frequently awake, in the morning, and find himself richer, by ten, twenty, or thirty thousand dollars, by reason of  a capture made by some one of his subordinates, the night before. This was the ‘mess of pottage’ for which so many unprincipled Southern men, in the Federal Navy, sold their ‘birthright.’ Some of these men are enjoying princely fortunes, but they have purchased these fortunes at the price of treason, and of blood, and by selling into bondage to the stranger, the people of their native States. Whilst poor old Virginia, for example, the ‘mother of States and statesmen,’ is wearing the chains of a captive, and groaning under the tortures inflicted upon her, by her hereditary enemy, the Puritan, some of her sons are counting the ‘thirty pieces of silver’ for which they sold her I ‘Pity 't is, but pity 't is, 't is true.’ These gentlemen may wrap themselves in as many folds of the‘old flag’ as they please, and talk as glibly as any Yankee, of the great Federal ‘nation’ which has swallowed up the States, but future generations, if their ignoble names should descend so far down the stream of time, will unwind these folds from about them, as we have unwound from the mummy, its folds of fine linen, and expose the corruption and deformity beneath. I found several Confederate naval officers at Nassau—among others Commander J. N. Maffitt, who had been assigned to the command of the Oreto, afterward to become famous as the Florida; and Commander G. T. Sinclair, who had been kind enough, as the reader may recollect, to send me my guns for the Sumter, from the Norfolk Navy Yard. Captain Sinclair was recently from the Confederate States, and had brought me a letter from Mr. Mallory, the Secretary of the Navy, which put a material change upon the face of affairs, so far as I was personally concerned. I was directed by this letter, to return to Europe, and assume command of the new ship which was being built on the Mersey, to be called theAlabama. My reply to this letter, dated at Nassau, on the 15th of June, will put the reader in possession of this new programme. It is as follows:—
I was delayed several very anxious weeks in Nassau, waiting for an opportunity to return to Europe. The Alabama, I knew, was nearly ready for sea, and it was all-important that she should be gotten out of British waters, as speedily as possible, because of the espionage to which I have referred. But there was no European-bound vessel in Nassau, and I was forced to wait. Lieutenant Sinclair having had a passage offered him, in an English steamer of war, as far as Halifax, availed himself of the invitation, intending to take the mailsteamer from Halifax for England. As he would probably arrive a week or two in advance of myself, I wrote to Captain Bullock by him, informing him of my having been appointed to the command of the Alabama, and requesting him to hurry that ship off to her rendezvous, without waiting for me. I could join her at her rendezvous. As the reader will hereafter see, this was done.  I passed the time of my enforced delay at Nassau, as comfortably as possible. The hotel was spacious and airy, and the sea-breeze being pretty constant, we did not suffer much from the heat. I amused myself, watching from my windows, with the aid of an excellent glass, the movements of the blockaderunners. One of these vessels went out, and another returned, every two or three days; the returning vessel always bringing us late newspapers from the Confederacy. The fare of the hotel was excellent, particularly the fish and fruits, and the landlord was accommodating and obliging. With Maffitt, Kell, Gait, Stribling, and other Confederate officers, and some very pretty and musical Confederate ladies, whose husbands and brothers were engaged in the business of running the blockade, the time would have passed pleasantly enough, but for the anxiety which I felt about my future movements. Maffitt, in particular, was the life of our household. He knew everybody, and everybody knew him, and he passed in and out of all the rooms, sans ceremonie, at all hours. Being a jaunty, handsome fellow, young enough, in appearance, to pass for the elder brother of his son, a midshipman who was to go with me to the Alabama, he was a great favorite with the ladies. He was equally at home, with men or women, it being all the same to him, whether he was wanted to play a game of billiards, take a hand at whist, or join in a duet with a young lady—except that he had the good taste always to prefer the lady. Social, gay, and convivial, he was much courted and flattered, and there was scarcely ever a dining or an evening party, at which he was not present. But this was the mere outside glitter of the metal. Beneath all this bagatelle and dolce far niente, Maffitt was a remarkable man. At the first blast of war, like a true Southerner—he was a North Carolinian by birth—he relinquished a fine property in the city of Washington, which was afterward confiscated by the enemy, resigned his commission in the Federal Navy, and came South, to tender his services to his native State. Unlike many other naval men, he had the capacity to understand the nature of the Government under which he lived, and the honesty to give his allegiance, in a cross-fire of allegiances, where his judgment told him it was due.  He was a perfect master of his profession, not only in its practical, but in its more scientific branches, and could handle his ship like a toy. Brave, cool, and full of resource, he was equal to any and every emergency that could present itself in a sailor's life. He made a brilliant cruise in the Florida, and became more famous as a skilful blockade-runner than any other man in the war. This man, whose character I have not at all overdrawn, was pursued by the Yankee, after his resignation, with a vindictiveness and malignity peculiarly Puritan—to his honor be it said. With Maury, Buchanan, and other men of that stamp, who have been denounced with equal bitterness, his fame will survive the filth thrown upon it by a people who seem to be incapable of understanding or appreciating noble qualities in an enemy, and devoid of any other standard by which to try men's characters, than their own sectional prejudices. We should rather pity than contemn men who have shown, both during and since the war, so little magnanimity as our late enemies have done. The savage is full of prejudices, because he is full of ignorance. His intellectual horizon is necessarily limited; he sees but little, and judges only by what he sees. His own little world is the world, and he tries all the rest of mankind by that standard. Cruel in war, he is revengeful and implacable in peace. Better things are ordinarily expected of civilized men. Education and civilization generally dispel these savage traits. They refine and soften men, and implant in their bosoms the noble virtues of generosity and magnanimity. The New England Puritan seems to have been, so far as we may judge him by the traits which have been developed in him during and since the war, an exception to this rule. With all his pretensions to learning, and amid all the appliances of civilization by which he has surrounded himself, he is still the same old Plymouth-Rock man, that his ancestor was, three centuries ago. He is the same gloomy, saturnine fanatic; he has the same impatience of other men's opinions, and is the same vindictive tyrant that he was when he expelled Roger Williams from his dominions. The cockatrice's egg has hatched a savage, in short, that refuses to be civilized. The Oreto was in court whilst I was in Nassau; the Attorney-  General of the colony having libelled her for a breach of the British Foreign Enlistment Act. After a long and tedious trial, during which it was proved that she had left England unarmed, and unprovided with a warlike crew, she was released, very much to the gratification of my friend, Maffitt, who had been anxiously awaiting the result of the trial. This energetic officer throwing himself and Stribling on board of her, with such other officers and men as he could gather on short notice, ran the blockade of the enemy's cruisers, the following night, and the next morning found himself on the high seas, with just five firemen, and fourteen deck hands! His hope was to get his armament on board, and after otherwise preparing his ship for sea, to recruit his crew from the neutral sailors always to be found on board the enemy's merchant-ships. Arriving at Green Key, the rendezvous, which had been concerted between himself, and our agent at Nassau, Mr. J. B. Lafitte, he was joined by a schooner, on board which his battery and stores had been shipped, and forthwith set himself at work to arm and equip his ship. So short-handed was he, that he was obliged to strip off his own coat, and in company with his officers and men, assist at the stay-tackles, in hoisting in his heavy guns. The work was especially laborious, under the ardent rays of an August sun, but they toiled on, and at the end of five days of incessant labor, which well-nigh exhausted all their energies, they were enabled to dismiss their tender, and steam out upon the ocean, and put their ship in commission. The English flag, which the Oreto had worn, was hauled down, and amid the cheers of the crews of the two vessels, the Confederate States flag was hoisted to the peak of the Florida. A number of the men by this time, were unwell. Their sickness was attributed to the severity of the labor they had undergone, in the excessive heats that were prevailing. The Captain's steward died, and was buried on the afternoon on which the ship was commissioned. At sunset of that day, Captain Maffitt called Lieutenant Stribling into his cabin, and imparted to him the startling intelligence that the yellow fever was on board! The sick, now constantly increasing in number, were separated from the well, and the quarter-deck became  a hospital. There being no surgeon on board, Maffitt was compelled to assume the duties of this officer, in addition to his own, already onerous. He devoted himself with untiring zeal to the welfare of his stricken crew, without intermission, by night or by day. On the fifth day after leaving Green Key, the Florida found herself off the little island of Anguila. By this time the epidemic had reduced her working crew to one fireman, and four deck hands. It was now no longer possible to keep the sea, and Maffitt evading the blockade of the enemy—a happy chance having drawn them off in chase—ran his ship into the port of Cardenas, in the island of Cuba. Here he was received kindly by the authorities and citizens, but as the yellow fever was epidemic on shore, no medical aid could be obtained. Stribling was now dispatched to Havana for a surgeon, and to ship a few men, if possible. Helpless and sad, the suffering little crew awaited his return. One by one, the officers were attacked by the disease, until Maffitt was left almost alone, to nurse, and administer remedies to the patients. But things were not yet at their worst. On the 13th of August, Maffitt was himself attacked. On the afternoon of that day he sent for his clerk, and when the young gentleman had entered his cabin, said to him: ‘I've written directions in regard to the sick, and certain orders in relation to the vessel; also some private letters, which you will please take charge of.’ Upon the clerk's asking him why this was done, he informed him that ‘he had all the symptoms of yellow fever, and as he was already much broken down, he might not survive the attack.’ He had made all the necessary preparations for his own treatment, giving minute written directions to those around him how to proceed, and immediately betook himself to his bed— the fever already flushing his cheeks, and parching his veins. There was now, indeed, nothing but wailing and woe on board the little Florida. In two or three days Stribling returned from Havana, bringing with him twelve men; and on the day after his return, Dr. Barrett, of Georgia, hearing of their helpless condition, volunteered his services, and became surgeon of the ship. On the 22d, young Laurens, the captain's son—whilst his father  was unconscious—breathed his last; black vomit having assailed him, in twenty-four hours after he had been taken down with the fever; so virulent had the disease now become. He was a fine, brave, promising lad, greatly beloved, and deeply regretted by all. On the 23d, the Third Assistant Engineer died. The sick were now sent to the hospital on shore, and nearly all of them died. Dr. Gilliard, surgeon of a Spanish gunboat in the harbor, now visited the Captain, and was exceedingly kind to him. On the 24th, a consultation of physicians was held, and it was decided that Maffitt's case was hopeless. But it so happened that the disease just then had reached its crisis, and a favorable change had taken place. The patient had not spoken for three days, and greatly to the surprise of all present, after one of the physicians had given his opinion, he opened his eyes, now beaming with intelligence, and said in a languid voice: ‘You are all mistaken—I have got too much to do, and have no time to die.’ He convalesced from that moment. On the 28th, Major Helm, our agent in Havana, telegraphed that, for certain reasons, the Captain-General desired that the Florida would come round to Havana, and remain until the health of her crew should be restored. The Captain-General probably feared that in an undefended port like Cardenas, some violence might be committed upon the Florida by the Federal cruisers, in violation of Spanish neutrality. Accordingly, on the 30th the Florida got under way, and proceeded for Havana, where she arrived the next day. The reader naturally wonders, no doubt, where the Federal cruisers were, all this time. Maffitt remained here only a day, finding it impossible, owing to the stringent orders of neutrality that were being enforced, to do anything in the way of increasing his crew, or refitting his ship. Getting his ship under way, again on the 1st of September, he now resolved to run into Mobile. At two P. M. on the 4th of that month Fort Morgan was made, when it was found that three of the enemy's cruisers lay between the Florida and the bar. Maffitt was assisted on deck, being too weak yet to move without assistance. Having determined that his ship should not fall into the hands of the enemy, he had made suitable preparations for blowing her up, if it should become necessary. He now  hoisted the English ensign and pennant, and stood boldly on. His very boldness staggered the enemy. He must certainly be, they thought, an English gunboat. The Oneida, the flagship of Commander Preble, the commanding officer of the blockading squadron, attempted to throw herself in the Florida's path, first having hailed her and commanded her to stop. But the latter held on her course so determinedly, that the former, to prevent being run down, was obliged to stop, herself, and reverse her engine. Preble, now undeceived as to the possibility of the Florida's being an Englishman, opened fire upon her, as did the other two ships. The Oneida's broadside, delivered from a distance of a few yards only, cut away the Florida's hammocks, smashed her boats, and shattered some of her spars. The three enemy's vessels now grouped themselves around the daring little craft, and fired broadside after broadside at her, during the chase which ensued. One eleven-inch shell entering the Florida's side, only a few inches above the water-line, passed entirely through her, before the fuse had time to explode it. If the enemy had been a little farther off, the Florida must have been torn in pieces by the explosion. Another shell entered the cabin. The fore-topmast and fore-gaff were shot away. In short, when it is recollected that she was nearly two hours under this tremendous fire, the wonder is that she escaped with a whole spar, or a whole timber. Maffitt, meantime, had not cast loose a gun. He had no crew with which to man his battery. What few sailors he had, he had sent below, except only the man at the wheel, that they might be less exposed. But they were not safe, even here, for the shell which we have described as passing through the ship, took off one man's head, and seven others were wounded by splinters. My ex-lieutenant of the Sumier, Stribling, merited, on this occasion, the praise I have bestowed on him, in drawing his portrait. He is described by an eyewitness to have been as cool and self-possessed, as if there had been no enemy within a hundred miles of him. To make a long story short, the gallant little Florida finally escaped her pursuers, and, in a shattered condition, ran in and anchored near Fort Morgan. As the reader may suppose, her English  flag was exchanged for her own stars and bars, as soon as the enemy opened upon her. This was the most daring and gallant running of a blockade that occurred during a war so fruitful of daring and gallant acts. After repairing and refitting his vessel, my gallant friend dashed again through the enemy's fleet, now much increased in numbers, and commenced that career on the high seas, which has rendered his name one of the notable ones of the war. He lighted the seas with a track of fire, wherever he passed, and sent consternation and alarm among the enemy's shipping. A correspondent of a Northern paper, writing from Havana, thus speaks of Maffitt and his craft:—
The rebel man-of-war, privateer or pirate Florida, otherwise known as the Oreto, has safely arrived in this port, although she was chased up to the very walls of the Moro Castle by the Mobile blockading squadron, nine in number. The chase was a most exciting one, but, unfortunately, without the result so much to be desired. It appears that the pirate Maffitt came out of the port of Mobile with as much impudence as he entered it. The steamer seems to have been well punished with shot and shell from the Federal ships, and it is reported that she lost her first lieutenant, and sixteen men killed by a shell from one of the men-of-war. * * * * * * * From reliable information, I am enabled to state, or, rather, I am convinced, that this vessel will sail for the East Indies in a few days. Our Government had better look out for her advent in those waters. Captain Maffitt is no ordinary character. He is vigorous, energetic, bold, quick, and dashing, and the sooner he is caught and hung, the better will it be for the interests of our commercial community. He is decidedly popular here, and you can scarcely imagine the anxiety evinced to get a glance at him.We may return now to the movements of the writer. After long waiting at Nassau, the Bahama, the steamer in which Stribling and Howell had come over from Hamburg, was ready to return, and I embarked on board of her, with my staff; and after a passage of some three weeks, landed in Liverpool, just in time to find that the bird had flown. The Alabama had steamed a few days before, for her rendezvous, where, in due time, we will follow her.