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Chapter 23:

  • Annoyance of the Spanish officials
  • -- short correspondence with the United States Consul -- the telegraph put in operation by the officials between Cadiz and Madrid -- the Sumter is ordered to leave in twenty-four hours -- Declines obedience to the order -- prisoners landed, and ship docked after much ado -- deserters -- Sumter leaves Cadiz.

The Spanish officials began to annoy us even before we let go our anchor—a health officer boarding us, and telling us that he should have to quarantine us for three days, unless we could show him a clean bill of health. We told him that our health was clean enough, but that we had no bill to establish the fact, whereupon he went on shore to consult his superiors. I sent by him, the following communication to the United States Consul, whose name was Eggleston:—

Confederate States steamer Sumter, Cadiz, January 4, 1862.
Sir:—I have the honor to inform you, that I have on board this ship forty-three prisoners of war—late the crews of a ship, a bark, and a schooner, property of citizens of the United States, burned by me on the high seas. These men having elected to be discharged on parole, I am ready to deliver them to you.

Mr. Eggleston, proving to be quite a diplomat, refused to give me my official title, in replying to my note; and of course, I could have no further communication with him. In the afternoon, the Health Officer again came off to inform us that the important questions, of the cleanness of our health, and the discharge of our prisoners, had been telegraphed to Madrid, and that we might soon expect a reply from her Majesty, the Queen. [298]

The next morning I received, by the hands of the same officer, a peremptory order, from the Military Governor, to proceed to sea, within twenty-four hours! I sat down and wrote him the following reply:—

Confederate States steamer Sumter, Cadiz, January 5, 1862.
Sir:—I have had the honor to receive through the health officer of the port, an order purporting to come from the Government of Spain, directing me to proceed to sea within twenty-four hours. I am greatly surprised at this unfriendly order. Although my Government has not yet been formally recognized by Spain, as a de jure government, it has been declared to be possessed of the rights of a belligerent, in the war in which it is engaged, and it is the duty of Spain to extend to my ship the same hospitality that she would extend to a ship of war of the opposite belligerent. It can make no difference that one of the belligerents is a de jure nation, and the other a de facto nation, since it is only war rights, or such as pertain to belligerents, which we are discussing.

I am aware of the rule adopted by Spain, in common with the other great powers, prohibiting belligerents from bringing their prizes into her ports, but this rule I have not violated. I have entered the harbor of Cadiz, with my single ship, and I demand only the hospitality to which I am entitled by the laws of nations—the Confederate States being one of the de facto nations of the earth, by Spain's own acknowledgment, as before stated.

I am sorry to be obliged to add, that my ship is in a crippled condition. She is damaged in her hull, is leaking badly, is unseaworthy, and will require to be docked and repaired before it will be possible for her to proceed to sea. I am therefore constrained, by the force of circumstances, most respectfully to decline obedience to the order which I have received, until the necessary repairs can be made.

Further:—I have on board forty-three prisoners, confined within a small space greatly to their discomfort, and simple humanity would seem to dictate, that I should be permitted to hand them over to the care of their Consul on shore, without unnecessary delay.

Again, the telegraphic wires were put in operation, and my reply to the Military Commandant went up to Madrid. In a few hours a reply came down, giving me permission to land my prisoners, and to remain a sufficient time to put the necessary repairs upon my ship. In the meantime the most offensive espionage was exercised toward me. A guard-boat was anchored near by, which overhauled all shore-boats which passed between the Sumter and the shore; and on the evening [299] of my arrival, a Spanish frigate came down from the dockyard, and anchored near my ship. There are no private docks in Cadiz, and I was obliged, therefore, to go into one of the government docks for repairs. Charles Dickens has given us an amusing account of an English Circumlocution Office, but English red tape dwindles into insignificance by the side of Spanish red tape. Getting into the hands of the Spanish officials was like getting into a Chancery suit. I thought I should never get out. The Military Commandant referred me to the Captain of the Port, and the Captain of the Port referred me back to the Military Commandant; until finally they both together referred me to the Admiral of the Dock-Yard; to whom I should have been referred at first. In the meantime, engineers and sub-engineers, and other officials whose titles it were tedious to enumerate, came on board, to measure the length of the ship and the breadth of the ship, calculate her tonnage, inspect her boilers, examine into the quantity of water she made during the twenty-four hours, and to determine generally whether we were really in the condition we had represented ourselves to be in, or whether we were deceiving her Majesty and the Minister of the Universal Yankee Nation at Madrid, for some sinister purpose.

The permission came for me, at length, to go into dock, and landing our prisoners, we got up steam and proceeded to Carraca, where the docks lie, distant some eight miles east of the city. The Navy Yard at Carraca is an important building-yard; it lies at the head of the bay of Cadiz, and is approached by a long, narrow, and somewhat tortuous channel, well buoyed. The waters are deep and still, and the Yard is, in every other respect, admirably situated. It reminded us much, in its general aspect and surroundings, of the Norfolk Navy Yard, in Virginia. We were not long delayed in entering the dock. A ship which had occupied the basin assigned to us—there were several of them—was just being let out as we approached, and in the course of an hour afterward, the Sumter was high and dry; so rapidly had the operation been performed. We examined her bottom with much curiosity, after the thumping she had had on the bar at Maranham, and were gratified to find that she had received no material damage. A small portion [300] of her copper had been rubbed off, and one of her planks indented, rather than fractured. She was as sound and tight as a bottle, in every part of her, except in her propeller sleeve. It was here where the leak had been, as we had conjectured.

To the delight both of the Spanish officials, who were exceedingly anxious to get rid of us, lest we should compromise them in some way with the Great Republic, of whom they seemed to be exceedingly afraid, and ourselves, we found that the needed repairs would be slight. The boilers were a good deal out of condition, it is true, but as they were capable of bearing a low pressure of steam, sufficient to take us to sea, the officials would not listen to my proposals to repair them. I had one or two interviews, whilst I lay here, with the DockAdmiral, whom I found to be a very different man from the Military Commandant. He was a polite and refined gentleman, expressed much sympathy for our people, and regretted that his orders were such that he could not make my repairs more thorough. He expressed some surprise at the backdown of the Federal Government, in the Trent affair, the news of which had just arrived, and said that he had fully reckoned upon our having Great Britain as an ally in the war. ‘Great Britain seems, herself, to have been of this opinion,’ said he, ‘as she has withdrawn all her ships of war from the Mediterranean station, for service on the American coast, and sent ten thousand troops to Canada.’

From the moment my ship entered within the precinct of the Spanish Navy Yard, the very d—l seemed to have broken loose among my crew. With rare exceptions, a common sailor has no sense of nationality. He commences his sea-going career at so tender an age, is so constantly at sea, and sails under so many different flags, that he becomes eminently a citizen of the world. Although I had sailed out of a Southern port, I had not half a dozen Southern-born men among the rank and file of my crew. They were mostly foreigners— English and Irish preponderating. I had two or three Yankees on board, who had pretended to be very good Southern men, but who, having failed to reap the rich harvest of prize-money, which they had proposed to themselves, were now about to develop their true characters. Some of my [301] boats' crews had visited the shore on duty, and whilst their boats were lying at the pier waiting for the officers to transact their business, the tempter had come along. Sundry JackTars, emissaries of the diplomatic Mr. Eggleston, the Federal Consul, had rolled along down the pier, hitching up their trousers, and replenishing their tobacco quids as they came along. ‘Cadiz is a nice place,’ said they to my boats' crews, ‘with plenty of grog, and lots of fun. We have gotten tired of our ships, and are living at free quarters at the Consul's. Come with us, and let us have a jolly good time together.’ And they did come, or rather go, for, on one single night, nine of my rascals deserted. This was whilst we were still in dock. Being let out of dock, we dropped down to the city, and being afloat again, we were enabled to prevent a general stampede, by the exercise of firmness and vigilance. I directed an officer to be sent in each boat, whenever one should have occasion to communicate with the shore, armed with a revolver, and with orders to shoot down any one who should attempt to desert. Two or three other sailors slipped away, notwithstanding these precautions, but there the matter ended. Hearing that my deserters were harbored by the United States Consul, I addressed the following letter on the subject to the Governor of the city:—

Confederate States steamer Sumter, Cadiz, January 16, 1862.
Sir:—I have the honor to inform you, that whilst my ship was in dock at Carraca, nine of my seamen deserted, and I am informed that they are sheltered and protected by the United States Consul. I respectfully request that you will cause these men to be delivered up to me; and to disembarrass this demand of any difficulty that may seem to attend it, permit me to make the following observations.

1st. In the first place, my Government has been acknowledged as a de facto government by Spain, and as such it is entitled to all the rights of a belligerent, in its war with the Government of the United States.

2d. All the rights and privileges, therefore, which would attach to the flag of the United States, should one of the ships of that country enter this harbor, equally attach to the flag of the Confederate States, mere ceremonial excepted.

3d. It has been and is the uniform custom of all nations to arrest, upon request, and to hand over to their proper officers, deserters from ships of war, and this without stopping to inquire into the nationality of the deserter. [302]

4th. If this be the practice in peace, much more necessary does such a practice become in war, since otherwise the operations of war might be tolerated in a neutral territory, as will be seen from my next position.

5th. Without a violation of neutrality, an enemy's consul in a neutral territory cannot be permitted to entice away seamen, from a ship of the opposite belligerent, or to shelter or protect the same: for if he be permitted to do this, then his domicil becomes an enemy's camp in a neutral territory.

6th. With reference to the question in hand, I respectfully submit that the only facts, which your Excellency can take cognizance of, are that these deserters entered the waters of Spain under my flag, and that they formed a part of my crew. The inquiry cannot pass a step beyond, and Spain cannot undertake to decide, as between the United States Consul and myself, to which of us the deserters in question more properly belong. In other words, she has no right to look into any plea set up by a deserter, that he is a citizen of the United States, and not of the Confederate States.

7th. I might, perhaps, admit, that if a Spanish subject, serving under my flag, should escape to the shore, and should satisfy the authorities that he was held by force, either without contract, or in violation of contract, he might be set at liberty, but such is not the present case. The nationality of the deserters not being Spanish, Spain cannot, as I said before, inquire into it. To recapitulate: the case which I present is simply this. Several of the crew serving on board this ship, under voluntary contracts, have deserted, and taken refuge in the Consulate of the United States. To deprive me of the power, with the assistance of the police, to recapture them, would in effect convert the Consulate into a camp, and enable the Consul to exercise the rights of a belligerent in neutral territory. He might cripple me as effectually by this indirect means, as if he were to assault me by means of an armed expedition.

I took precisely what I expected by this remonstrance, that is to say, nothing. I was fighting here, as I had been in so many other places, against odds—the odds being the stationed agents, spies, and pimps of a recognized government. Our Southern movement, in the eyes of Spain, was a mere political revolution, and like all absolute governments, she had no sympathy with revolutionists. It was on this principle that the Czar of Russia had fraternized so warmly with the Federal President.

Another difficulty now awaited the Sumter. I had run the blockade of New Orleans, as the reader has seen, with a very slim exchequer; that exchequer was now exhausted, and we had no means with which to purchase coal. I had telegraphed [303] to Mr. Yancey, in London, immediately upon my arrival, for funds, but none, as yet, had reached me, although I had been here two weeks. In the meantime, the authorities, under the perpetual goading of the United States Charge in Madrid, Mr. Perry, and of Mr. Consul Eggleston, were becoming very restive, and were constantly sending me invitations to go to sea. Before I had turned out on the morning of the 17th of January, an aide-de-camp of the Governor came on board, to bring me a peremptory order from his chief, to depart within six hours. I went on shore, for the first time, to have an official interview with the blockhead. I found him, contrary to all Spanish rule, a large, thick-set, bull-necked fellow, with whom, I saw at the first glance, it would be of but little use to reason. I endeavored to make him understand the nature of the case; how it was that a steamer could no more go to sea without fuel, than a sailing-ship without a mast; but he was inexorable. He was, in short, one of those dunder-headed military men, who never look, or care to look, beyond the orders of their superiors. The most that he would undertake to do, was to telegraph to Madrid my statement, that I was out of fuel, but expected momentarily to be supplied with funds to purchase it. He added, however, ‘but if no reply comes within the six hours, you must go to sea.’ I had retained enough coal on board from my last cruise, to run me around to Gibraltar—a run of a few hours only—and I now resolved to have nothing more to do with Spain, or her surly officials.

I returned on board, without further delay, and gave orders to get up steam, and make all the other necessary preparations for sea. As we were weighing our anchor, an aide-de-camp of the Governor came off in great haste to say, that his Excellency had heard from Madrid in reply to his telegram, and that her Majesty had graciously given me permission to remain another twenty-four hours; but that at the end of that time I must depart without fail. The aide-de-camp added that his Excellency, seeing that we were getting up steam, had sent him off to communicate the intelligence to me verbally, in advance of the official communication of it by letter, which he was preparing. I directed the aide to say to his chief that he needn't bother himself with the preparation of any letter, as I should [304] not avail myself of her Majesty's gracious permission—she having been a little too ungracious in meting out the hours to me. He departed, and we got under way. As we passed abreast of the Government House, a boat shoved off in a great hurry, and came pulling out to us, with a man standing up in the bow, shaking a letter at us with great vehemence. It was the letter the aide-de-camp had spoken of. We paid no attention whatever to the signal, and the boat finding, after some vigorous pulling, that she could not overtake us, turned back. In half an hour afterward, we were outside the Cadiz bar, and had discharged the pilot.

This was the second Spanish experiment we had made in the Sumter. I never afterward troubled her Majesty, either in her home ports, or those of any of her colonies. I had learned by experience that all the weak powers were timid, and henceforth, I rarely entered any but an English or a French port. We should have had, during all this controversy, a Commissioner at the Court of Madrid, one having been dispatched thither at the same time that Mr. Yancey was sent to London, and Mr. Mann to Brussels, but if there was one there, I did not receive a line from him. The Federal Charge seemed to have had it all his own way. There is no proposition of international law clearer, than that a disabled belligerent cruiser— and a steamer without coal is disabled—cannot be expelled from a neutral port, and yet the Sumter was, in fact, expelled from Cadiz. As remarked some pages back, the Demos, and the Carpet-bagger will revenge us in good time.

We did enjoy some good things in the harbor of Cadiz, however. One was a superb dinner, given us at the principal hotel by an English admirer, and another was the market. The latter is unexcelled in any part of the world. Fine beef and mutton from Andalusia, fish from the sea, and fruits and wines from all parts of Spain, were present in profusion. Although we were in midwinter, there were a variety of vegetables, and luscious oranges and bananas that had ripened in the open air—all produced by the agency of that Mexican Gulf heating-apparatus, of which we spoke through the lips of Professor Maury, a few pages back. Before leaving Cadiz I saw the first annual report of the Federal Secretary of the [305] Navy since the breaking out of the war. Old gentleman Welles was eloquent, and denunciatory when he came to speak of the Sumter. The vessel was a ‘pirate,’ and her commander everything that was odious. The latter ‘was courageously capturing unarmed merchant-ships, and cowardly fleeing from the Federal steamers sent in pursuit of him.’ There were six of these ships in full hue and cry after the little Sumter, any one of which could have hoisted her in upon deck. At the same time that these denunciations were hurled against the Captain of the Sumter, gallant naval officers, wearing Mr. Welles' shoulder-straps, and commanding Mr. Welles' ships, were capturing little coasting-schooners laden with firewood, plundering the houses and hen-roosts of non-combatant citizens along the Southern coast, destroying salt-works, and intercepting medicines going in to our hospitals. But I must be charitable. Mr. Welles was but rehearsing the lesson which he had learned from Mr. Seward. What could he know about ‘pirates’ and the laws of nations, who had been one half of his life editing a small newspaper, in a small town in Connecticut, and the other half ‘serving out’ to Jack his frocks and trousers, and weighing out to him his sugar and tea, as Chief of the Bureau of Provisions and Clothing? It was late in life before the old gentleman, on the rising tide of the Demos, had been promoted, and allowance must be made for the defects of his early training.

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