previous next

10% of the text is displayed below. If you wish to view the entire text, please click here

Doc. 139. capture of Mason and Slidell.

Captain Wilkes' report.

United States steamer San Jacinto, November 15, 1861.
sir: I have written to you, relative to the movements of this ship, from Cienfuegos, on the south coast of Cuba. There I learned that Messrs. Slidell and Mason had landed on Cuba, and had reached the Havana from Charleston. I took in some sixty tons of coal and left with all despatch on the 26th of October to intercept the return of the Theodora; but on my arrival at the Havana, on the 31st, I found she had departed on her return, and that Messrs. Slidell and Mason, with their secretaries and families, were there, and would depart on the 7th of the month in the English steamer Trent for St. Thomas, on their way to England.

I made up my mind to fill up with coal and leave the port as soon as possible, to await at a suitable position on the route of the steamer to St. Thomas to intercept her and take them out.

On the afternoon of the 2d I left the Havana, in continuation of my cruise after the Sumter on the north side of Cuba. The next day, when about to board a French brig, she ran into us on the starboard side at the mainchains, and carried away her bowsprit and foretopmast, and suffered other damages. I enclose you herewith the reports of the officers who witnessed the accident. I do not feel that any blame is due to the officer in charge of this ship at the time the ship was run into; and the brig was so close when it was seen she would probably do so, that even with the power of steam, lying motionless as we were, we could not avoid it — it seemed as if designed.

I at once took her in tow and put an officer on board, with a party to repair her damages; this was effected before night, but I kept her in tow until we were up with the Havana, and ran within about eight miles of the light, the wind blowing directly fair for her to reach port.

I then went over to Key West, in hopes of finding the Powhatan or some other steamer to accompany me to the Bahama Channel, to make it impossible for the steamer in which Messrs. Slidell and Mason were to embark, to escape either in the night or day. The Powhatan had left but the day before, and I was therefore disappointed, and obliged to rely upon the vigilance of the officers and crew of this ship, and proceeded the next morning to the north side of the Island of Cuba, communicated with the Sagua la Grande on the 4th, hoping to receive a telegraphic communication from Mr. Shufelt, our Consul-General, giving me the time of the departure of the steamer. [322]

In this also I was disappointed, and ran to the eastward some ninety miles, where the old Bahama Channel contracts to the width of fifteen miles, some two hundred and forty miles from the Havana, and in sight of the Paredon del Grande lighthouse. There we cruised until the morning of the 8th, awaiting the steamer, believing that if she left at the usual time, she must pass us about noon of the 8th, and we could not possibly miss her. At forty minutes past eleven A. M., on the 8th, her smoke was first seen; at twelve M., our position was to the westward of the entrance into the narrowest part of the channel, and about nine miles northeast from the lighthouse of Paredon del Grande, the nearest point of Cuba to us. We were all prepared for her, beat to quarters, and orders were given to Lieutenant D. M. Fairfax to have two boats manned and armed to board her, and make Messrs. Slidell, Mason, Eustis, and McFarland prisoners, and send them immediately on board. (A copy of this order to him is herewith enclosed.) The steamer approached, and hoisted English colors, our ensign was hoisted, and a shot was fired across her bow; she maintained her speed and showed no disposition to heave-to; then a shell was fired across her bow, which brought her to. I hailed that I intended to send a boat on board, and Lieutenant Fairfax, with the second cutter of this ship, was despatched. He met with some difficulty, and remaining on board the steamer with a part of the boat's crew, sent her back to request more assistance: the captain of the steamer having declined to show his papers and passenger list, a force became necessary to search her; Lieutenant James A. Greer was at once despatched in the third cutter, also manned and armed.

Messrs. Slidell, Mason, Eustis, and McFarland were recognized, and told they were required to go on board this ship. This they objected to, until an overpowering force compelled them: much persuasion was used, and a little force, and at about two o'clock they were brought on board this ship, and received by me. Two other boats were then sent to expedite the removal of their baggage and some stores, when the steamer, which proved to be the Trent, was suffered to proceed on her route to the eastward, and at thirty minutes past three P. M., we bore away to the northward and westward. The whole time employed was two hours and thirteen minutes.

I enclose you the statements of such officers who boarded the Trent, relative to the facts, and also an extract from the log-book of this ship.

It was my determination to have taken possession of the Trent, and sent her to Key West as a prize, for resisting the search, and carrying these passengers, whose character and objects were well known to the captain; but the reduced number of my officers and crew, and the large number of passengers on board, bound to Europe, who would be put to great inconvenience, decided me to allow them to proceed.

Finding the families of Messrs. Slidell and Eustis on board, I tendered them the offer of my cabin for their accommodation to accompany their husbands; this they declined, however, and proceeded in the Trent.

Before closing this despatch, I would bring to your notice the notorious action of her British Majesty's subjects, the Consul-General of Cuba, and those on board the Trent, in doing every thing to aid and abet the escape of these four persons, and endeavoring to conceal their persons on board. No passports or papers of any description were in possession of them from the Federal Government; and for this and other reasons which will readily occur to you I made them my prisoners, and shall retain them on board here until I hear from you what disposition is to be made of them.

I cannot close this report without bearing testimony to the admirable manner in which all the officers and men of this ship performed their duties, and the cordial manner in which they carried out my orders.

To Lieutenant Fairfax I beg leave to call your particular attention for the praiseworthy manner in which he executed the delicate duties with which he was intrusted; it met and has received my warmest thanks.

After leaving the north side of Cuba, I can through the Santaren passage, and up the coast from off St. Augustine to Charleston, and regretted being too late to take part in the expedition to Port Royal.

I enclose herewith a communication I received from Messrs. Slidell, Mason, Eustis, and McFarland, with my answer.

I have the honor to be, very respectfully, your obedient servant,

Charles Wilkes, Captain. Hon. Gideon Welles, Secretary of the Navy.

Instructions to Lieut. Fairfax.

United States steamer San Jacinto, At sea, November 8, 1861.
sir: You will have the second and third cutters of this ship fully manned and armed, and be in all respects prepared to board the steamer Trent now hove — to under our guns.

On boarding her you will demand the papers of the steamer, her clearance from Havana, with the list of passengers and crew.

Should Mr. Mason, Mr. Slidell, Mr. Eustis, and Mr. McFarland be on board, you will make them prisoners, and send them on board this ship immediately, and take possession of her as a prize.

I do not deem it will be necessary to use force; that the prisoners will have the good sense to avoid any necessity for using it; but if they should, they must be made to understand that it is their own fault. They must be brought on board. All trunks, cases, packages, and bags [323] belonging to them you will take possession of, and send on board this ship. Any despatches found on the persons of the prisoners, or in possession of those on board the steamer, will be taken possession of also, examined, and retained, if necessary.

I have understood that the families of these gentlemen may be with them. If so, I beg you will offer them, in my name, a passage in this ship to the United States, and that all the attention and comforts we can command are tendered them, and will be placed in their service.

In the event of their acceptance, should there be any thing which the captain of the steamer can spare to increase the comforts in the way of necessaries or stores, of which a war vessel is deficient, you will please to procure them. The amount will be paid by the paymaster.

Lieutenant James A. Greer will take charge of the third cutter, which accompanies you, and assist you in these duties.

I trust that all those under your command, in executing this important and delicate duty, will conduct themselves with all the delicacy and kindness which become the character of our naval service,

I am, very respectfully, your obedient servant,

United States steamer San Jacinto, At sea, November 11, 1861.
gentlemen: You will report to me in writing all the facts which transpired under your observation on board the mail steamer

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.

An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.

hide Places (automatically extracted)

View a map of the most frequently mentioned places in this document.

Sort places alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a place to search for it in this document.
United States (United States) (37)
Havana (Cuba) (26)
Saint Thomas (Canada) (14)
England (United Kingdom) (12)
Cuba (Cuba) (9)
Key West (Florida, United States) (8)
Charleston (South Carolina, United States) (8)
London (United Kingdom) (5)
Cienfuegos (Cuba) (5)
West Indies (4)
France (France) (4)
Vera Cruz (Veracruz, Mexico) (3)
Southampton (United Kingdom) (3)
San Jacinto (Colombia) (3)
Port Royal (South Carolina, United States) (3)
Europe (3)
Lisbon (Portugal) (2)
Washington (United States) (1)
Trinidad (Trinidad and Tobago) (1)
Tampico (Tamaulipas, Mexico) (1)
St. Augustine (Florida, United States) (1)
South Carolina (South Carolina, United States) (1)
Sandy Hook, Md. (Maryland, United States) (1)
Portugal (Portugal) (1)
Ohio (Ohio, United States) (1)
Nicholas Channel (1)
Monrovia (Liberia) (1)
Mexico (Mexico, Mexico) (1)
Liberia (Liberia) (1)
Leesburg (Virginia, United States) (1)
Kingston, Ga. (Georgia, United States) (1)
Holland (Netherlands) (1)
Hampton Roads (Virginia, United States) (1)
Hampshire (United Kingdom) (1)
Fort Warren (Massachusetts, United States) (1)
Florida (Florida, United States) (1)
Exeter (United Kingdom) (1)
Department de Ville de Paris (France) (1)
Caribbean Sea (1)
Cardenas (Cuba) (1)
Bull Run, Va. (Virginia, United States) (1)
Accomack (Massachusetts, United States) (1)

Download Pleiades ancient places geospacial dataset for this text.

hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: