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Doc. 214. the Iroquois and the Sumter.

Official report of Com. Palmer.

the following official report from Captain Palmer, of the Iroquois, embraces his account of his experiences with the privateer Sumter at Martinique:

United States steamer Iroquois, off St. Pierre, Martinique, Nov. 17, 1861.
sir: I addressed a letter to the Department on the 11th inst., upon my arrival at St. Thomas. [453]

On the day following, in the midst of coaling, a mail steamer arrived, bringing information that the Sumter had just put in on the 9th to Port Royal, Martinique, in want of coals.

I had been often led astray by false reports, but this seemed so positive that I instantly ceased coaling, got my engines together, and was off at 2 in the mid-watch for Martinique, arriving at St. Pierre in thirty-six hours. On turning into the harbor I discovered a suspicious steamer, which, as we approached, proved to be the Sumter, flying the secession flag, moored to the wharf, in the midst of this populous town, quietly coaling. The town and shipping in the harbor were instantly all excitement. I could not attack her in this position, for humanity's sake, even were I disposed to be regardless of the neutrality of the port. I did not anchor, but cruised around the harbor within half gunshot of her during the night.

In the morning a French man-of-war arrived from Port Royal, the seat of government, only twelve miles distant. The Sumter had been there for the last two days. The government, it is true, had refused to give her any of its coals, but had allowed her to come around to St. Pierre, where she readily obtained them from some merchants, (English, I believe.)

She evidently had been received with courtesy at the seat of government, and this farce of the non-recognition of the Confederate flag is played out of both France and England in the most flagrant manner.

I now addressed a letter to the Governor, assuming him to be ignorant of the character of the Sumter, a copy of which I enclose. I also enclose a translation of his reply. The Department will observe that from the generous disposition of the Governor, the Sumter has the same privileges as this vessel.

The captain of the French war-steamer also addressed me a letter, saying he was directed by the Governor to request me no longer to compromise the neutrality of the French waters by establishing a blockade within their jurisdiction, but to anchor, when every hospitality and facility should be afforded me, or to take my position without the distance of a marine league from shore. At the same time, that, while anchor weigh it was contrary to the police regulations of the port to communicate with the shore.

I consequently decided upon anchoring, which I had no sooner done than the French commander paid me a visit, offered me every civility and attention, saying that he did not doubt that all international law would be respected by me; and in the course of conversation, quoting from Wheaton, reminded me that one belligerent could not depart until twenty-four hours after the other. I instantly got under weigh, with him on board, fearing that the Sumter should do so before me, as her steam was up.

I have now accepted the alternative, and established myself at the mouth of the harbor, without the marine league, with much anxiety, lest during the darkness of the night, under cover of the high land, the Sumter should be able to get off without my being aware of it.

The majority of the town is in favor of the Sumter, and with the utmost vigilance, which all on board exert, she may yet escape some night for want of signals from the shore to give us notice of her departure.

I am also in want of coal, and shall send over to St. Thomas to-morrow for a supply, as well as provisions, stores, &c., for when I left I did not bargain for this blockade.

The Sumter seems in good condition. The consul informs me she has one hundred and twenty men. She does not certainly appear to be in the disorganized state in which late accounts have represented her.

She has latterly captured but two American vessels--one the brig Joseph Parke, of Boston, on the 25th of September; the other the schooner Daniel Trowbridge, of New Haven, on the 27th of October. She has landed here fourteen prisoners on their parole. Three of the Joseph Parke's men (all foreigners) joined the Sumter.

I regret to give the government so long and unsatisfactory a letter, but must avail myself of the opportunity for St. Thomas, which offers to-morrow.

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

James S. Palmer, Commander. To Hon. Gideon Welles, Secretary of the Navy, Washington, D. C.

P. S.--November 18.--I feel more and more convinced that the Sumter will yet escape me, in spite of all our vigilance and zeal, even admitting that I can outsteam her, which is a question.

To blockade such a bay as this, which is almost an open roadstead, fifteen miles in width, the surrounding land very high and the water very bold, obliged, as we are by the neutrality laws, to blockade at three miles' distance, it would require at least two more fast steamers, and a vessel of war of any description in port to notify us by signal of her departure, to give any reasonable hope of preventing her escape.

Even now, moonlight though it be, she may yet creep out under shadow of the land, and no one be able to perceive her, she being always able to observe my position, open to seawards. Though I have made arrangements to be informed by signal of her departure from shore, I fear I cannot depend upon the parties, so fearful are they of the authorities and of popular indignation.

I have done all I can, and if she escapes me, we must submit to the distress and mortification.

I believe we have no vessel on this station except the Macedonia, and there is no knowing when she may get up this way to learn our situation.

I wish the Sumter were anywhere else except in this port, or under French protection. The authorities here, under plea of neutrality, are [454] throwing every obstacle in my way, in the way of communicating with the shore. They are so full of punctilio, and, withal, so polished, that it is provoking to have any thing to do with them.


United States steamship Iroquois, off St. Pierre, Nov. 15, 1861.
sir: As circumstances prevent my paying my personal respects to your Excellency or your representative at this place, I write to announce my arrival in the afternoon of yesterday, as well as to inform you that to my surprise I find a notorious steamer, called the Sumter, quietly coaling at the wharves, and enjoying the hospitalities of the port.

As your Excellency cannot be aware of the character of this vessel, I denounce her to you as one that has been for some time engaged in pirating upon the commerce of the United States, robbing, burning, or otherwise destroying all American vessels that come within her reach.

May I not hope, therefore, that your Excellency, upon this representation, will not allow her to enjoy the privileges I complain of, but direct her to leave the protection of the French flag, and the immunities of a French port?

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

Jas. S. Palmer, Commanding U. S. steamship Iroquois. To his Excellency, the Governor of Martinique.


Gouvernement de la Martinique, Cabinet des Gouverneur No. 430, Fort-de-France, Le 15th Nov., 1861.
Monsieur le Commandant:
I have the honor to reply to the letter which you addressed me this morning.

I am not ignorant, Mons. le Commandant, of the presence in the roads of St. Pierre of a vessel belonging to the States of the South, who profess to have formed a separate Confederation.

To accomplish the generous intentions of the Emperor, I wish to be hospitable to the vessels of the two belligerent parties, but I will not, neither cannot, without violating the orders of his Majesty, divest myself of the absolute neutrality that I ought to observe.

This is to say to you, Mons. le Commandant, that if it is not my intention to refuse an anchorage to a vessel belonging to the States of the South, I offer to you, on the other hand, the same hospitality, and the same facilities to the vessel belonging to the Government of the Union, which you have the honor to command.

There exist, besides, international laws, that every civilized nation scrupulously observes, and which I need scarcely recall to you, Mons. le Commandant, nor to the Commandant of the Sumter.

Accept, Mons. le Commandant, the assurance of my most distinguished consideration.

Monsieur le Commandant de la Iroquois.

U. S. S. Iroquois, off St. Pierre, Martinique, November 23, 1861.
sir: I think it is well in my present provoking and anxious position to keep the Government informed by whatever opportunity may offer.

It is now the ninth day that I have been blockading the Sumter. She lies still at the wharf, surrounded by more or less of a crowd day and night, all anxious for her escape, sympathizing with their fellow Frenchmen of the State of Louisiana, to which State they believe the Sumter to belong. The authorities, from the Governor down, I believe to be all in their favor. I directed the Consul the other day to call upon the Governor and inform him that I regarded the attitude of the authorities as unfriendly to the United States. I quote you the Consul's reply:

I called on the Governor on Monday night, but could do nothing more than to ask an audience for next day, as his salon was full of people, among them the Captain of the Sumter. When I law him he said the sanitary regulations were such as were enforced on Monday, and that he had no control over them. The vessel having gone beyond the regular health and Custom House limits, has lost the rights of regular pratique, the Governor of course repudiating any thing like unfriendliness, and regretting the necessity of submitting to the laws in your case, and would be glad to see you in here at anchor to prove the sincerity of his good wishes.

Unfortunately for me the coming to an anchor involves the necessity of waiting twenty-four hours after the departure of the Sumter, for I have consented to the Governor's expressed hope that I would abide by all rules of international law, consequently I am obliged to cruise outside, and run the risk of her escaping every night.

Thus far we have had the moon, but it is now waning fast, and, with the most intense watching and devotion, I fear I may yet have to report her escape. Would that there were another fast steamer to watch the other point of the bay. I have some understanding with some loyal people on shore to notify by signal of her departure.

The French will doubtless think it a great outrage upon their neutrality, but they will have to pocket this, as I have been as forbearing as they can expect, and nothing but the feeling of the impolicy of bringing on hostilities between my country and France, makes me submit with any thing like grace.

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

United States steamship Iroquois, St. Thomas, W. I., Nov. 25, 1861.
sir: As I expected, I have to report the escape of the Sumter, to the great dejection of us [455] all, for never were officers and crew more zealous for a capture.

At eight o'clock on the night of the 23d, the signal was faithfully made us from the shore, that the Sumter had shipped to the southward. Instantly we were off in pursuit, soon at full speed, rushing down to the southern part of the bay, but nothing was visible on the dark background.

A small steamer, apparently one plying between St. Pierre and Port Royal, was off the point making signals, doubtless for the benefit of the Sumter. But we could see nothing of her as we proceeded on, so dark was the shadow thrown by the high land. Still we went on, all searching the darkness in vain. So soon as I had opened Port Royal Point, and seen nothing on the now open horizon, I concluded that we had passed her, or that she had doubled on us and gone to the northward. I then turned, keeping close on the shore, looking into her former anchorage, thinking she might possibly have returned.

No sign of her there. We continued on to the northward, but when we opened the port nothing of her this way.

We were now at fault which way to steer. Something like smoke being reported to seaward, I determined to start out, taking the direction to St. Thomas, to which place I was anxious to return, ere the vessel with our coals and provisions should leave, and thus check at least a small evil, for I now became hopeless of ever discovering the Sumter.

I reached this port this morning, and found that the Dacotah, which had arrived on the 21st from the East Indies, had taken in tow my vessel, with her stores, and gone to meet me.

It is, of course, all conjecture, where the Sumter will next cruise. I learned at St. Pierre that she had purchased sea-jackets for her crew, which may look like a cruise on our Northern coast, though I question whether she is calculated for winter service in that quarter. Should she continue in this vicinity, I will soon hear of her from the constant arrivals here.

I shall be glad to understand from the Government whether they wish me to respect international law in the case of the Sumter, which gives her so great immunity, and makes every foreign port her asylum.

I was informed at Martinique, that France would regard it as an act of war if I attacked her within the marine league of the island.

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

James S. Palmer, Commander. Hon. Gideon Welles, Secretary of the Navy, Washington, D. C.

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