previous next

Chapter 38:

  • The Alabama at Martinique
  • -- is blockaded by the enemy's steamer, San Jacinto -- how she escaped the ‘old wagon’ -- the island of Blanquilla, the New rendezvous -- coaling ship -- a Yankee skipper -- how the officers and men amused themselves -- the capture of the Parker Cooke, Union, and steamer Ariel.

I found here at her anchors, as I had expected, my coalship, the Agrippina. She had been lying here eight days. Her master, an old Scotchman, who, like most old sailors, was fond of his grog, had been quite indiscreet, as I soon learned, in talking about his ship, and her movements. Instead of pretending to have come in for water or repairs, or to hunt a market, or for something of the kind, he had frequently, when ‘half seas-over,’ in the coffee-houses on shore, boasted of his connection with the Alabama, and told his brother tars that that ship might be daily looked for. Eight days were a sufficient space of time for these conversations to be repeated, in the neighboring islands; and as I knew that the enemy had several cruisers in the West Indies, I was only surprised that some one of them had not looked in upon the Agrippina before. It would not do for me to think of coaling in Martinique under the circumstances, and so I ordered my coalship to get under way forthwith, and proceed to a new rendezvous—a small island on the Spanish Main, where, in due time, we will rejoin her. I had the satisfaction of seeing her get a good offing before nightfall, and knew that she was safe.

It was well that I took this precaution, for on the very next morning, before I had turned out, an officer came below to inform me that an enemy's ship-of-war had appeared off the [515] harbor! Dressing myself, and going on deck, sure enough, there was one of the enemy's large steamships, lying close within the mouth of the harbor, with one of the brightest and largest of ‘old flags’ flying from her peak. She did not anchor, lest she should come under the twenty-four hours rule; but pretty soon lowered a boat, and communicated with the authorities on shore. It soon transpired that she was the famous San Jacinto, a name which has become inseparably connected in the American memory, with one of the greatest humiliations ever put upon the Great Republic. Wilkes, and Seward, and the San Jacinto have achieved fame. They began by attempting to make a little war-capital out of John Bull, and ended by singing, as we have seen, the ‘seven penitential psalms;’ or, at least, as many of these psalms as could be sung in ‘seven days,’ short metre being used. I could not help thinking, as I looked at the old ship, of Mr. Seward's elaborate despatch to Lord Russell, set to the tune of ‘Old Hundred,’ and of the screams of Miss Slidell, as she had been gallantly charged by the American marines, commanded, for the occasion, by an officer bearing the proud old name of Fairfax, and born in the State of Virginia!

We paid no sort of attention to the arrival of this old wagon of a ship. She was too heavy for me to think of engaging, as she threw more than two pounds of metal to my one—her battery consisting of fourteen eleven-inch guns—and her crew was more than twice as numerous as my own; but we had the speed of her, and could, of course, go to sea whenever we pleased. I was glad, however, that I had gotten the Agrippina safely out of her way, as she might otherwise have been indefinitely blockaded. We remained quietly at our anchors during the day; such of the officers visiting the shore as desired, and the stewards of the messes being all busy in laying in a supply of fruits and other refreshments. We were, in the meantime, quite amused at the warlike preparations that were going on on board the San Jacinto. The captain of that ship, whose name, I believe, was Ronckendorff, made the most elaborate preparations for battle. We could see his men aloft, busily engaged in slinging yards, stoppering topsail sheets, getting up preventer braces, and making such other [516] preparations, as the Victory or Royal Sovereign might have made on the eve of Trafalgar.

Poor Ronckendorff, what a disappointment awaited him! the Alabama was going to sea that very night. There was a Yankee merchant-ship in the harbor, and just at nightfall, a boat pulled out from her to the San Jacinto, to post her, probably, as to the channels and outlets, and to put her in possession of the rumors afloat. The fates were much more propitious as to weather, than they had been to the little Sumter, when she eluded the Iroquois. The night set in dark and rainy. We ran up our boats, lighted our fires, and when the steam was ready, got under way, as we would have done on any ordinary occasion, except only that there were no lights permitted to be seen about the ship, and that the guns were loaded and cast loose, and the crew at quarters. In the afternoon, a French naval officer had come on board, kindly bringing me a chart of the harbor, from which it appeared that I could run out in almost any direction I might choose. I chose the most southern route, and giving my ship a full head of steam, we passed out, without so much as getting a glimpse of the San Jacinto! The next news that we received from the ‘States,’ informed us that the San Jacinto was perfectly innocent of our escape until the next morning revealed to her our vacant place in the harbor. Her commander was even then incredulous, and remained cruising off the harbor for a day or two longer, until he could satisfy himself that I had not hauled my ship up into some cunning nook, or inlet, and hid her away out of sight!

The next afternoon I had joined my coal-ship, and we ran in to our anchorage, together, in the little, barren island of Blanquilla, off the coast of Venezuela, where we came to about nightfall. This was one of those little coral islands that skirt the South American coast, not yet fully adapted to the habitation of man. It was occasionally visited by a passing fisherman, or turtler, and a few goat-herds, from the main-land, had come over to pasture some goats on the coarse grass. As we ran in to this anchorage, which I remembered well from having visited it once in a ship of war of the old service, I was surprised to see a Yankee whaling schooner at anchor. She was lying very close in with the beach, on which [517] she had a tent pitched, and some boilers in operation, trying out the oil from a whale which she had recently struck. The master of this little vessel, seeing us running down the island, under the United States colors, came off, in one of his boats, to pilot us in, and was apparently quite pleased to find himself on board one of his own gun-boats. He told us all he had heard about the Alabama, and went into ecstasies over our fine battery, and the marvellous accounts of our speed, which some of the young men gave him, and declared that we were the very ship to ‘give the pirate Semmes fits.’

A terrible collapse awaited him. When I had let go my anchor, I sent for him, and told him who we were. That we were no less than the terrible Alabama herself. He stood aghast for a moment. An awful vision seemed to confront him. His little schooner, and his oil, and the various little ventures which he had on board, with which to trade with the natives along the coast, and turn that ‘honest penny,’ which has so many charms in the eyes of his countrymen, were all gone up the spout I And then he stood in the presence of the man whose ship he bad characterized as a ‘pirate,’ and whom he had told to his face, he was no better than a freebooter. But I played the magnanimous. I told the skipper not to be alarmed; that he was perfectly safe on board the Alabama, and that out of respect for Venezuela, within whose maritime jurisdiction we were, I should not even burn his ship. I should detain him, however, as a prisoner, for a few days, I added, to prevent his carrying news of me to the enemy, until I was ready myself to depart. He gladly assented to these terms, and was frequently afterward on board the ship during our stay.

We lay five days at the little island of Blanquilla, coaling ship, and getting ready for another cruise. We broke out our hold for the first time, and cleansed and whitewashed it. We hoisted out our boats, and rigged them for sailing; and in the afternoons, after the excessive heats had moderated a little, sailing and fishing parties were formed, and the officers had some very pleasant little picnics on shore. Fish were abundant, and on occasion of these picnics, a fine red-fish, weighing twenty pounds and more, would sometimes be found [518] cut up, and in the frying-pan, almost before it had ceased floundering. The crew were sent on shore, ‘on liberty,’ in quarter watches, taking their rifles and ammunition, and fishspears, and fishing-lines along with them. The water was as clear as crystal, and there being some beautiful bathing-places along the beach, bathing became a favorite amusement. Although this coast abounds in sharks of large size, they are not found to be dangerous, when there is a number of bathers enjoying the sport together. The shark is a great coward, and rarely attacks a man, unless it can surprise him.

My gig was a fine boat, fitted with a lug sail, and I used frequently to stretch off long distances from the land in her, enjoying her fine sailing qualities, in the fresh sea-breeze that would be blowing, the greater part of the day. At other times I would coast the island along for miles, now putting into one little cove, and now into another, sometimes fishing, and at others hunting sea-shells, and exploring the wonders of the coral banks. Pelican, gulls, plover, and sand-snipe were abundant, and my boat's crew, when we would land, and haul our boat up for a stroll, would sometimes make capital shots. Indeed, we generally returned on board laden with fish, game, and marine curiosities, of various kinds, —prominent among which would be specimens of the little coral insect, and its curious manufactures. Miniature limestone-trees, with their pointed branches, shrubs, fans, and a hundred other imitations of the flora of the upper world would be fished up from beneath the sparkling waters, live their day of wonder, and when they had faded and lost their beauty, be thrown overboard again.

We found here flocks of the flamingo—a large bird of the crane species, with long legs and bill, for wading and feeding in the shallow lagoons which surround the island. Its plumage is of the most delicate pink, inclining to scarlet, and when the tall birds are drawn up in line, upon a sand beach, where there is some mirage, or refraction, they look not unlike a regiment of red-coated soldiers. They are quite shy, but we carried some of them on board, out of the rich plumage of which Bartelli made me some fans. Officers and men, both of whom had been long confined on board ship—it being now three months since the Alabama was commissioned—visibly [519] improved in health whilst we lay at Blanquilla. The reader may recollect that we captured in the brig Dunkirk, a deserter from the Sumter. We had tried him by court-martial before reaching Martinique, and sentenced him to serve out his term, under certain penalties. At Martinique, we found him a chief spirit among the mutineers, whose grog I had ‘watered’ as described in the last chapter. Another court now sat upon his case, and in obedience to its sentence, the fellow was turned upon the beach at Blanquilla, with ‘bag and hammock.’ This worthy citizen of the Great Republic joined the Yankee whaling schooner, and went into more congenial company and pursuits.

Having finished our coaling, and made the other preparations necessary for sea, I dispatched my coal-ship, which had still another supply of coal left, to another rendezvous—the Areas islands, in the Gulf of Mexico, and gave the Yankee schooner leave to depart, telling the master to make a free sheet of it, and not let me catch him on the high seas, as it might not be so well for him a second time. He took me at my word, had all the sail on his little craft in the twinkling of an eye, and I question whether he stopped this side of Nantucket.

My object; in running into the Gulf of Mexico, was to strike a blow at Banks' expedition, which was then fitting out for the invasion of Texas. This gentleman, who had been a prominent Massachusetts politician, but who had no sort of military talent, had risen to the surface with other scum, amid the bubbling and boiling of the Yankee caldron, and was appointed by ‘Honest Abe’ to subjugate Texas. Banks had mounted a stud-horse, on Boston Common, on militia-review days, before the war, and had had himself lithographed, studhorse, cocked-hat, feathers, and all, and these were credentials not to be despised. I had learned from captured Northern papers, that he was fitting out at Boston and New York, a large expedition, to consist of not less than 30,000 men. A large proportion of this army was to consist of cavalry and light artillery. To transport such an army, a large number of transport-ships would be required. The expedition was to rendezvous at Galveston, which the enemy had captured from us, not a great while before. [520]

As there were but twelve feet of water on the Galveston bar, very few of these transport-ships would be able to enter the harbor; the great mass of them, numbering, perhaps, a hundred and more, would be obliged to anchor, pell-mell, in the open sea. Much disorder, and confusion would necessarily attend the landing of so many troops, encumbered by horses, artillery, baggage-wagons, and stores. My design was to surprise this fleet by a night-attack, and if possible destroy it, or at least greatly cripple it. The Northern press, in accordance with its usual habit, of blabbing everything, had informed me of the probable time of the sailing of the expedition, and I designed so to time my own movements, as to arrive simultaneously with the stud-horse and the major-general, or at least a day or two afterward.

It was to be presumed, of course, that some of the enemy's gun-boats would accompany the expedition, but I hoped to be able to fall so unexpectedly upon their convoy, as to find them off their guard. There was no Confederate cruiser in the Gulf, and I learned from the enemy's own papers, that the Alabama was well on her way to the coast of Brazil and the East Indies. The surprise would probably be complete, in the dead of night, and when the said gun-boats of the enemy would be sleeping in comparative security, with but little, if any steam in their boilers. Half an hour would suffice for my purpose of setting fire to the fleet, and it would take the gun-boats half an hour to get up steam, and their anchors, and pursue me.

It was with this object in view, that we were now getting under way from the island of Blanquilla. But the Banks' expedition would not arrive off Galveston, probably, before about the 10th of January, and as we were now only in the latter days of November, I had several weeks on my hands, before it would become necessary for me to proceed to my new rendezvous. I resolved to devote this interval to the waylaying of a California treasure-steamer, as a million or so of dollars in gold, deposited in Europe, would materially aid me, in my operations upon the sea. I could purchase several more Alabamas, to develop the ‘nautical enterprise’ of our people, and assist me to scourge the enemy's commerce.

There were two routes by which the California steamers [521] returned from Aspinwall—one by the east end of Cuba, and the other by the west end. I chose the former for my ambuscade, as being probably the most used. To reach my new cruising-ground, I put my ship under sail, and made a detour by the way of the islands of Porto Rico and St. Domingo, passing through the Mona Passage, through which much of the West India commerce of the enemy passed, with the hope of picking up something by the way. We left our anchorage at Blanquilla on the 26th of November, and made the island of Porto Rico on the morning of the 29th. We coasted along the south side of this island, with a gentle breeze and smooth sea, sufficiently near to enjoy its fine, bold scenery, passing only a couple of sail during the day—one a large French steamer, bound to the eastward, and the other an English bark. We showed them the United States colors. The bark saluted the ‘old flag,’ by striking her colors to it, but the ‘old flag’ did not return the salute, as it was hoisted at the wrong peak. The Englishman must have thought his Yankee friend rather discourteous.

We entered the Mona Passage, lying between St. Domingo and Porto Rico, after nightfall, but the moon was shining sufficiently bright to enable us to get hold of the small islands of Mona and Desecho, and thus grope our way in safety. The currents in this strait being somewhat uncertain, the navigation is treacherous when the weather is dark. Early on the next morning, we were off the Bay of Samana, and were running with a flowing sheet along the coast of St. Domingo. I had approached the Mona Passage with much caution, fully expecting to find so important a thoroughfare guarded by the enemy, but there was nothing in the shape of a ship of war to be seen. The enemy was too busy blockading the Southern coasts to pay much attention to his commerce. In the course of the morning, we boarded a Spanish schooner, from Boston, bound for the old city of St. Domingo, from which we received a batch of late newspapers, giving us still further accounts, among other things, of the preparation of the Banks' expedition, about which all New England seemed, just then, to be agog.

The great Massachusetts leader had been given carte blanche, and he was making the best possible use of it. He was fitting [522] himself out very splendidly, but his great expedition resembled rather one of Cyrus' or Xerxes', than one of Xenophon's. The Boston papers dilated upon the splendid bands of music, the superb tents, the school-marms, and the relays of stud-horses that were to accompany the hero of Boston Common. But the best feature of the expedition was the activity and thrift which had suddenly sprung up in all the markets of New England, in consequence. The looms, the spindles and the shoemakers' awls were in awful activity. In short, every man or boy who could whittle a stick, whittled it, and sold it to the Government. The whalemen in New Bedford, Nantucket, and Martha's Vineyard were in especial glee. They were selling all their whaling ships, which were too old, or too rotten for further service, to the Government, for transports, at enormous prices. Many a bluff old whaler that had rode out a gale under the lee of an iceberg at the Navigators' Islands, or ‘scraped her keel on Coromandel's coast,’ forty years before, was patched and caulked and covered over with pitch and paint, and sold to an ignorant, if not corrupt, army quartermaster, for as good as ‘bran new.’ No wonder that the war was popular in New England. There was not only negro in it, but there was money in it also.

Filling away from the Spanish schooner, which we requested to report us, in St. Domingo, as the United States steamer Iroquois, we continued our course down the island. It was Sunday, and the day was fine. The crew was dressed, as usual, for muster, and what with the ship in her gala-dress of awnings, and glitter of ‘bright-work,’ the island, the sea, and the weather, a more beautiful picture could not well have been presented to the beholder. In the distance were the blue, and hazy hills, so fraught with the memories of Columbus, and the earlier Spanish explorers. Nearer to, was the old town of Isabella, the first ever built in the New World by civilized men, and nearer still was the bluff, steep, rock-bound coast, against which the most indigo of seas was breaking in the purest and whitest of foam. The sailors had thrown themselves upon the deck in groups, each group having its reader, who was reading aloud to attentive listeners the latest warnews, as gleaned from the papers we had received from the [523] Spanish schooner; and the officers, through whose hands the said newspapers had already passed, were smoking and chatting, now of Columbus, and now of the war. Presently the shrill cry of ‘sail ho!’ came ringing from aloft; and the scene on board the Alabama shifted almost as magically as it does in a theatre. Every man sprang to his feet, without waiting for an order; the newspapers were stuck away in cracks and crannies; the helm was shifted, to bring the ship's head around to the proper point for chasing, and studding-sails, and kites were given simultaneously to the wind.

When we began to raise the spars and sails of the chase above the sea, from the deck, there was a general exclamation of ‘Yankee!’ The tapering royal and sky-sail masts, with the snowiest of canvas, told the tale, as they had told it so often before. A run of a few hours more brought us up with the American bark Parker Cooke, of, and from Boston, bound to Aux Cayes, on the south side of the island of St. Domingo. If the Cooke had been chartered, and sent out for our especial benefit, the capture could not have been more opportune. The Alabama's commissariat was beginning to run a little low, and here was the Cooke provision-laden. We had found, by experience in the Sumter, that our Boston friends put up the very best of crackers, and ship-bread, and sent excellent butter, and cheese, salted beef and pork, and dried fruits to the West India markets; nor were we disappointed on the present occasion. Both ships were now hove to, under short sail, within convenient boating distance, and the rest of the day was consumed in transporting provisions from the prize. It was sunset before we concluded our labors, and at the twilight hour, when the sea-breeze was dying away, and all nature was sinking to repose, we applied the torch to the Cooke.

As we filled away, and made sail, I could not but moralize on the spectacle. Sixty years before, the negro had cut the throat of the white man, ravished his wife and daughters, and burned his dwelling in the island of St. Domingo, now in sight. The white man, in another country, was now inciting the negro to the perpetration of the same crimes against another white man, whom he had called brother. The white man who was thus inciting the negro, was the Puritan of New England, [524] whose burning ship was lighting up the shores of St. Domingo! That Puritan, only a generation before, had entered into a solemn league and covenant, to restore to the Southern man his fugitive slave, if he should escape into his territory. This was the way in which he was keeping his plighted faith! Does any one wonder that the Alabama burned New England ships?

We began now to receive some ‘returns’ of the effect of our late captures upon Northern commerce. The papers captured on board the Cooke were full of lamentations. Our pious brethren did not confine themselves to the forms set down by Jeremiah, however, but hissed their execrations through teeth grinding with rage. I will not treat my readers to any of these specimens of the art Philippic, but will confine myself to a few business excerpts instead, taken indiscriminately from the New York and Boston papers.

Boston crieth aloud.

‘advances on marine insurance.—In consequence of the destruction caused at sea by the privateer steamer Alabama, the officers of the insurance companies of Boston have fixed the present war rates on different voyages as follows:—To the north of Europe, 4@5 per cent.; Mediterranean, 5@6; India, 4 1/2; Gulf ports, 4; California gold steamers, 4; West India risks, 5; coastwise, 1/2@1 1/2. These rates are liable to be altered according to the necessary requirements of the times, consequent upon the unusual hazards to which commerce is now exposed.’

New York responds to the cry of Boston.

‘The damaging effect of the Alabama's raid on our shipping upon the maritime interests of this port were as conspicuous to-day as yesterday. It was next to impossible for the owner of an American ship to procure freight unless he consented to make a bogus sale of his ship.’

‘Freights to Great Britain are rather more active, under favorable foreign advices for breadstuffs, but rates by American vessels depressed; foreign bottoms most in favor, but even these now find it difficult to employ themselves profitably. To Liverpool, flour is 9d@2s.’

I heard again from the New York Chamber of Commerce, by the Cooke. My friend, Low, was still lamenting over his lost ships. Like Rachael weeping for her children he refused to be comforted because they were not. Another grand [525] pow-wow had been called, and another set of resolutions passed. Scene: A luxuriously furnished suite of apartments, with wellpadded arm-chairs, and big ink-stands; a table; on the walls, several pictures of burning ships, with the ‘pirate ship’ in the distance; of John Bull running off with the ‘carrying-trade,’ and Jonathan screaming after him; and of Mr. Low tearing his hair. Enter the dramatis persona. Low loquitur:—

Mr. A. Low read a very long preamble and resolution expressive of the feelings of the American public in regard to the shelter afforded to the Alabama by British authorities. He also read a letter from our Consul at Liverpool, Mr. Dudley, in which that functionary sets forth the efforts he made to direct the attention of the British authorities to the Alabama, and concludes by asserting that there are now four large vessels fitting out at Liverpool to follow the piratical example of the Alabama—three of iron and one of wood. Nine vessels are preparing to run the blockade.

Mr. Low explained at some length the object and scope of his proposed resolution. He declared that American ships could no longer get cargoes, in consequence of the depredations of the Alabama.

Hon. F. A. Conkling spoke in behalf of granting letters-ofmarque. He saw no other alternative between this and a complete paralyzation of our commerce. He read extracts from Cogswell's “ Maritime History,” showing the effectiveness of privateers in our previous wars.

C. H. Marshall spoke in favor of the adoption of Mr. Low's preamble and resolution.

Mr. Maury stated that he had received a letter from Liverpool, saying that the new pirate ships building for the Confederates are vastly more formidable than the Alabama.

The preamble and resolutions set forth at length the evil consequences likely to ensue from a repetition of such piratical acts as the fitting out of more vessels like the Alabama, in the ports of Great Britain; that information has been received of other vessels having sailed to prey upon the commerce of the United States; that the English Government does not interfere to put a stop to the aggressions of the pirate, though British goods have been destroyed; that the Alabama is continually supplied from Great Britain with coal and ammunition, by which she is enabled to pursue her piratical courses against American commerce, the consequence being to raise the premium upon American vessels and their cargoes, and to depress the rates of freight upon American ships, and to transfer our carrying-trade to the ships of other nations. Therefore the Chamber is led to the following conclusions:

1st. That through the active instrumentality of the subjects of Great Britain, the so-called Confederate States are furnished with ships, men, arms, and ammunition, with which to war upon the commerce of the United States; [526]

2d. That without such foreign aid the States in revolt against the Government of the United States would be powerless to effect any injury to our commerce on the high seas.

3d. That this war upon American commerce carried on by ships built and manned in Great Britain, is not rebuked by the British press generally; is not discouraged by the public sentiment of a once friendly nation claiming to be governed by high and honorable principles, and is not effectively and thoroughly arrested by the stronger arm of the British Government.

4th. That as a result of the foregoing acts and conclusions, the merchants of the United States are subject in a certain degree to the evils that would attend a state of war with Great Britain, and are compelled to witness the carrying-trade of their country transferred from their own vessels to British bottoms, under all the sanctions and advantages of peace and neutrality to the latter— while the source of this great peril, threatening to drive American commerce from the ocean, is of British origin.

‘Now, therefore, resolved, that a Committee of ten be appointed to take into consideration the foregoing, and to report, at a special meeting to be called for the purpose, what action it becomes this Chamber to take in the premises.’

How astonishing it is, that these gentlemen when they were denouncing Great Britain for supplying the Confederates with men and munitions of war, did not think of the supplies they were themselves drawing from the same source. I have before referred to a speech of Mr. Laird, the builder of the Alabama, in the British House of Commons. I now refer to another passage of the same speech, as a sufficient answer to Mr. Low's complaints:—

‘If a ship without guns and without arms, [he is alluding to the Alabama when she left the Mersey,] is a dangerous article, surely rifled guns and ammunition of all sorts are equally—(cheers)— and even more dangerous. (Cheers.) I have referred to the bills of entry in the Custom-houses of London and Liverpool, and I find there have been vast shipments of implements of war to the Northern States, through the celebrated houses of Baring & Co. — (loud cheers and laughter),—Brown, Shipley & Co., of Liverpool, and a variety of other names, which I need not more particularly mention, but whose Northern tendencies are well known to this House. (Hear! Hear!) If the member for Rochdale, or the honorable member for Branchford wishes to ascertain the extent to which the Northern States of America have had supplies of arms from this country, they have only to go to a gentleman who, I am sure, will be ready to afford them every information, and much more readily than he would to me, or to any one else calling upon [527] him — the American Consul in Liverpool. Before that gentleman, the manifest of every ship is laid, he has to give an American pass to each vessel; he is, consequently, able to tell the exact number of rifles which have been shipped from this country for the United States— information, I doubt not, which would be very generally desired by this House. (Loud cries of “hear!” ) I have obtained from the official custom-house returns, some details of the sundries exported from the United Kingdom to the Northern States of America, from the 1st of May, 1861, to the 31st of December, 1862. There were—Muskets, 41,500— (hear! Hear!) — rifles, 341,000— (cheers) —gun-flints, 26,500—percussion-caps, 49,982,000—(cheers and laughter)— and swords, 2250. The best information I could obtain, leads me to believe that from one third to a half may be added to these numbers for items which have been shipped to the Northern States as hardware. (Hear! Hear!) I have very good reason for saying that a vessel of 2000 tons was chartered six weeks ago, for the express purpose of taking out a cargo of ‘hardware’ to the United States. (Cheers.) The exportation has not ceased yet. From the 1st of January to the 17th of March, 1863, the customs bills of entry show that 23,870 gun-barrels, 30,802 rifles, and 3,105,800 percussion-caps were shipped to the United States. (Hear! Hear!) So that if the Southern States have got two ships unarmed, unfit for any purpose of Warfare— for they procured their armaments somewhere else — the Northern States have been well supplied from this country, through the agency of some most influential persons. (Hear! hear!)’

‘The American Consul in Liverpool,’ alluded to in the above extract, is the same gentleman —Dudley—who was assisting Mr. Low to denounce Great Britain for supplying the Confederate States!

The Parker Cooke made a beautiful bonfire, lighting up the sea and land for leagues; and as the wind continued light, it was near midnight before we had run it below the horizon. Before morning we gave chase to another sail, but at daylight, by which time we were within a couple of miles of her, she showed us the Spanish colors. We chased, and overhauled soon afterward a Dutch galliot, and later in the day, a Spanish bark. The land was still in sight on our port beam, and toward nightfall, we passed Cape Francois.

Between midnight and dawn, on this same night, we had quite an alarm. A large ship-of-war came suddenly upon us, in the darkness! Like ourselves, she was running down the coast, but she was under both steam and sail, having her [528] studding-sails set on both sides, whereas the Alabama was entirely without steam, with her propeller triced up. If the stranger had been an enemy, we should have been almost entirely at her mercy. The reader may imagine, therefore, how anxious I was for the next few minutes. She soon dispelled my fears, however, for she passed rapidly on, at no greater distance from us, than a hundred yards, her lights lighting up the countenances of my men, as they stood at their guns —for by this time I had gotten them to their quarters —quite distinctly. She did not take the least notice of us, or swerve a hair'sbreadth from her course. I knew, from this, she could not be an enemy, and told my first lieutenant, even before she had well passed us, that he might let his men leave their guns. She was, probably, a Spanish steam-frigate, on her way to the island of Cuba.

On the evening of the 2d of December, we passed the little island of Tortuga, so famous in the history of the buccaneers and pirates who once infested these waters, and on the next day, found ourselves in the passage between St. Domingo and Cuba. There were many sails passing in different directions, all of which we overhauled, but they proved to be neutral. Here was another important thoroughfare of the enemy's commerce entirely unguarded. There was not only no ship-ofwar of the enemy to be seen, but none of the neutrals that I had spoken, had fallen in with any. We had, therefore, a clear sea before us, for carrying out our design of waylaying a California steamer. In the afternoon, we stretched over to the east end of Cuba, and took our station in ‘watch and wait.’

On the same night, we chased and overhauled a French bark. The sea was smooth, and a bright moon shining. The chase paid no attention to our blank cartridge, though we were close on board of her, and stood a shot before she would come to the wind. As we threw this purposely between her masts, and pretty close over the heads of her people, she came to the conclusion that it would not be safe to trifle longer, and rounded to and backed her main yard. When asked by the boardingofficer, why he did not heave to, at the first signal, the master replied naively that he was a Frenchman, and at war with nobody! Philosophical Frenchman! [529]

We had accurate time-tables of the arrivals and departures of the California steamers, in the files of the New York papers, that we had captured, and by these tables, the homeward-bound steamer would not be due for a few days yet. We spent this interval in lying off and on the east end of Cuba, under easy sail, chasing more or less during the day, but without success, all the vessels overhauled being neutrals, and closing in with Cape Maize during the night, and holding on to its very brilliant light until morning. The weather was clear, and the moon near her full, so that I had almost as good a view of the passage by night as by day.

On the 5th of December, a prize ran into our arms, without the necessity of a chase. It was a Baltimore schooner called the Union, old, and of little value. She had, besides, a neutral cargo, properly documented, for a small town called Port Maria, on the north side of Jamaica. I transferred the prisoners of the Cooke to her, and released her on ransom-bond. My original orders were not to capture Maryland vessels, but that good old State had long since ceased to occupy the category in which our Congress, and the Executive had placed her. She was now ranged under the enemy's flag, and I could make no discrimination in her favor.

On the next day the California steamer was due, and a very bright lookout was kept; a number of the young officers volunteering their services for the occasion. In the transparent atmosphere of this delightful climate, we could see to great distances. The west end of St. Domingo, about Cape Tiburon, was visible, though distant ninety miles. But not so much as a smoke was seen during the entire day, and the sun went down upon disappointed hopes. The next day was Sunday, and the holy-stones had been busy over my head during all the morning watch, putting the decks in order for muster. I had turned out, and dressed, and swept the entire horizon with my telescope, without seeing anything to encourage me. The crew had breakfasted, and the word, ‘All hands clean yourselves, in white frocks and trousers, for muster!’ had been growled out by the boatswain, and echoed by his mates. The decks were encumbered with clothes-bags, and Jack was arraying himself as directed. I had gone down to my own breakfast, and was [530] enjoying one of Bartelli's cups of good coffee, hopeless for that day of my California steamer, and my million of dollars in gold. Suddenly the prolonged cry of ‘S-a-i-l-h-o!’ came ringing, in a clear musical voice, from aloft; the look-out having at length descried a steamer, and being anxious to impart the intelligence in as emphatic a manner as possible, to the startled listeners on the deck below. The ‘Where-away?’ of the officer of the deck, shouted through his trumpet, followed, and in a moment more came the rejoinder, ‘Broad on the port bow, sir!’ ‘What does she look like?’ again inquired the officer of the deck. ‘She is a large steamer, brig-rigged, sir!’ was the reply. An officer now came below to announce to me what I had already heard.

Here was a steamer at last, but unfortunately she was not in the right direction, being in the north-west instead of the southeast—the latter being the direction in which the California steamer should appear. All was excitement now on deck. The engineers and firemen were set at work, in great haste, to get up their steam. The sailors were hurried with their ‘cleaning,’ and the bags stowed away. ‘All hands work ship!’ being called, the first lieutenant took the trumpet, and furled the sails, making a ‘snug roll — up of it,’ so that they might hold as little wind as possible, and lowered the propeller. In twenty minutes we were ready for the chase, with very thing snug ‘alow and aloft,’ and with the steam hissing from the gauge-cocks. The strange steamer came up very rapidly, and we scrutinized her anxiously to see whether she was a ship of war, or a packet-ship. She showed too much hull out of the water to be a ship of war, and yet we could not be sure, as the enemy had commissioned a great many packetsteamers, and put heavy armaments on board of them. When she was within three or four miles of us, we showed her the United States colors, and she responded in a few minutes, by hoisting the same. Like ourselves, she had her sails furled, and was carrying a very large ‘bone in her mouth’ under steam alone.

We could now see that she was fast, and from the absence of guns at her sides, a packet-ship. I now put my ship in motion, with a view to lay her across the stranger's path, as [531] though I would speak her. But I missed doing this by about a couple of ship's lengths, the stranger passing just ahead of me. A beautiful spectacle presented itself as I passed under the stern of that monster steamship. The weather was charming, there being a bright, clear sky, with only a few fleecy tradeclouds passing. There was just enough of the balmiest and gentlest of winds, to ruffle, without roughening the surface of the sea. The islands of Cuba, St. Domingo, and Jamaica— the two latter, in the blue and hazy distance, and the former robed in the gorgeous green known only to the tropics—were in sight. The great packet-steamer had all her awnings set, and under these awnings, on the upper deck, was a crowd of passengers, male and female. Mixed with the male passengers were several officers in uniform, and on the forward deck, there were groups of soldiers to be seen. This crowd presented a charming picture, especially the ladies, most of whom were gayly dressed, with the streamers from their bonnets, their veils, and their waste ribbons flirting with the morning breeze. We were sufficiently close to see the expression of their countenances. Many of them were viewing us with opera glasses, evidently admiring the beautiful proportions, fine trim, and general comeliness of one of their own gun-boats —for the reader will recollect, we were wearing still the United States flag.

As I passed the wake of the steamer, I wheeled in pursuit, fired a blank cartridge, and hauling down the Federal, threw the Confederate flag to the breeze. It was amusing to witness the panic which ensued. If that old buccaneer, Blue Beard, himself, had appeared, the consternation could not have been greater. The ladies screamed—one of those delightful, dramatic screams, half fear, half acting, which can only ascend from female voices—and scampered off the deck in a trice; the men running after them, and making quite as good, if not better time. The effect of my gun, and change of flags on the steamer herself, seemed to be scarcely less electric. She had no intention, whatever, of obeying my command to halt. On the contrary, I could see from the increased impetus with which she sprang forward, and the dense volumes of black smoke that now came rushing, and whirling from her [532] smoke-stack, that she was making every possible effort to escape. She had gotten a little the start of me, as I was wheeling to pursue her, and might be now, some three or four hundred yards distant.

The reader has been on the race-course, and seen two fleet horses, with necks and tails straightened, and running about ‘neck and neck.’ This will give him a pretty good idea of the race which is now going on. We had not stretched a mile, when it became quite evident that the stranger had the heels of me, and that, if I would capture her, I must resort to force. I ordered my ‘persuader,’ as the sailors called my rifled bow-gun, to be cleared away, and sent orders to the officer, to take aim at the fugitive's foremast, being careful to throw his shot high enough above the deck not to take life. When the gun was ready to be fired, I yawed the ship a little, though the effect of this was to lose ground, to enable the officer the better, to take his aim. A flash, a curl of white smoke, and a flying off of large pieces of timber from the steamer's mast, were simultaneous occurrences. It was sufficient. The mast had not been cut quite away, but enough had been done to satisfy the master of the steamer that he was entirely within our power, and that prudence would be the better part of valor. In a moment after, we could see a perceptible diminution in the motion of the ‘walking-beam,’ and pretty soon the great wheels of the steamer ceased to revolve, and she lay motionless on the water.

We ‘slowed down’ our own engine, and began to blow off steam at once, and ranging up alongside of the prize, sent a boat on board of her. It was thus we captured the steamer Ariel, instead of going to muster, on Sunday, the 7th of December, 1862. But Fortune, after all, had played us a scurvy trick. The Ariel was indeed a California steamer, but instead of being a homeward-bound steamer, with a million of dollars in gold, in her safe, I had captured an outward-bound steamer, with five hundred women and children on board! This was an elephant I had not bargained for, and I was seriously embarrassed to know what to do with it. I could not take her into any neutral port, even for landing the passengers, as this was forbidden, by those unfriendly orders in council I have more than once [533] spoken of, and I had no room for the passengers on board the Alabama. The most that I could hope to do, was to capture some less valuable prize, within the next few days, turn the passengers of the Ariel on board of her, and destroy the steamer. Our capture, however, was not without useful results. The officers and soldiers mentioned as being on board of her, were a battalion of marines, going out to the Pacific, to supply the enemy's ships of war on that station. There were also some naval officers on board, for the same purpose. These were all paroled, and deprived of their arms. The rank and file numbered 140.

When my boarding-officer returned, he reported to me that there was a great state of alarm among the passengers on board. They had been reading the accounts which a malicious, and mendacious Northern press had been giving of us, and took us to be no better than the ‘plunderers,’ and ‘robbers’ we had been represented to be. The women, in particular, he said, were, many of them, in hysterics, and apprehensive of the worst consequences. I had very little sympathy for the terrors of the males, but the tear of a woman has always unmanned me. And as I knew something of the weakness of the sex, as well as its fears, I resorted to the following stratagem to calm the dear creatures. I sent for my handsomest young lieutenant—and I had some very handsome young fellows on board the Alabamaand when he had come to me, I told him to go below, and array himself in his newest and handsomest uniform, buckle on the best sword there was in the wardroom, ask of Bartelli the loan of my brightest sword-knot, and come up to me for his orders. Sailors are rapid dressers, and in a few minutes my lieutenant was again by my side, looking as bewitching as I could possibly desire. I gave him my own boat, a beautiful gig, that had been newly painted, and which my coxswain, who was a bit of a sea-dandy, had furnished with scarlet cushions, and fancy yoke and steering ropes, and directed him to go on board the Ariel, and coax the ladies out of their hysterics. ‘Oh! I'll be sure to do that, sir,’ said he, with a charming air of coxcombry, ‘I never knew a fair creature who could resist me more than fifteen minutes.’ As he shoved off from the side, in my beautiful little [534] cockle-shell of a boat, with its fine-looking, lithe and active oarsmen, bending with the strength of athletes to their ashen blades, I could but pause a moment, myself, in admiration of the picture.

A few strokes of his oars put him alongside of the steamer, and asking to be shown to the ladies' cabin, he entered the scene of dismay and confusion. So many were the signs of distress, and so numerous the wailers, that he was abashed, for a moment, as he afterward told me, with all his assurance. But summoning courage, he spoke to them about as follows:— ‘Ladies! The Captain of the Alabama has heard of your distress, and sent me on board to calm your fears, by assuring you, that you have fallen into the hands of Southern gentlemen, under whose protection you are entirely safe. We are by no means the ruffians and outlaws, that we have been represented by your people, and you have nothing whatever to fear.’ The sobs ceased as he proceeded, but they eyed him askance for the first few minutes. As he advanced in their midst, however, they took a second, and more favorable glance at him. A second glance begat a third, more favorable still, and when he entered into conversation with some of the ladies nearest him—picking out the youngest and prettiest, as the rogue admitted—he found no reluctance on their part to answer him. In short, he was fast becoming a favorite. The ice being once broken, a perfect avalanche of loveliness soon surrounded him, the eyes of the fair creatures looking all the brighter for the tears that had recently dimmed them.

Presently a young lady, stepping up to him, took hold of one of the bright buttons that were glittering on the breast of his coat, and asked him if he would not permit her to cut it off, as a memento of her adventure with the Alabama. He assented. A pair of scissors was produced, and away went the button I This emboldened another lady to make the same request, and away went another button; and so the process went on, until when I got my handsome lieutenant back, he was like a plucked peacock—he had scarcely a button to his coat! There were no more Hebes drowned in tears, on board the Ariel.

But what struck my young officer as very singular was the deportment of the male passengers. Some of these seemed to be overhauling their trunks in a great hurry, as though there [535] were valuables in them, which they were anxious to secrete. Their watches, too, had disappeared from some of their vestpockets. ‘I verily believe,’ said he, as he was giving me an account of the manner in which he performed his mission, ‘that these fellows think we are no better than the Northern thieves, who are burning dwelling-houses, and robbing our women and children in the South!’

I take pleasure in contrasting, in these memoirs, the conduct of my officers and crew, during the late war, in the uniform respect which they paid to the laws of war, and the dictates of humanity, with that of some of the generals and colonels of the Federal Army, who debased our common nature, and disgraced the uniforms they wore by the brutality and pilferings I have described. There were 500 passengers on board the Ariel. It is fair to presume, that each passenger had with him a purse, of from three to five hundred dollars. Under the laws of war, all this money would have been good prize. But not one dollar of it was touched, or indeed so much as a passenger's baggage examined.

I carried out my intention, already expressed, of keeping the Ariel in company with me, for two or three days, hoping that I might capture some less valuable ship, into which to turn her passengers, that I might destroy her. I was very anxious to destroy this ship, as she belonged to a Mr. Vanderbilt, of New York, an old steamboat captain, who had amassed a large fortune, in trade, and was a bitter enemy of the South. Lucrative contracts during the war had greatly enhanced his gains, and he had ambitiously made a present of one of his steamers to the Federal Government, to be called after him, to pursue ‘rebel pirates.’

Failing to overhaul another ship of the enemy in the few days that I had at my disposal, I released the Ariel, on ransombond, and sent her, and her large number of passengers, on their way rejoicing. I found Captain Jones of the Ariel a clever and well-informed gentleman, and I believe he gave a very fair account of the capture of his ship when he reached New York. He pledged me that Vanderbilt's ransom-bond, which he signed as his agent, would be regarded as a debt of honor. The bond is for sale; cheap, to any one desiring to redeem Mr. Vanderbilt's honor

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 People (automatically extracted)
Sort people alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a person to search for him/her in this document.
Parker Cooke (8)
A. Low (6)
Vanderbilt (3)
Agrippina (3)
William H. Seward (2)
Ronckendorff (2)
John Bull (2)
Banks (2)
Xerxes (1)
Xenophon (1)
Wilkes (1)
John Slidell (1)
Shipley (1)
Raphael Semmes (1)
Matthew F. Maury (1)
C. H. Marshall (1)
Laird (1)
Paul Jones (1)
Jack (1)
Gulf (1)
Fish (1)
Fairfax (1)
Dudley (1)
Cyrus (1)
F. A. Conkling (1)
Cogswell (1)
Beard (1)
Baring (1)
hide Dates (automatically extracted)
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: