previous next

Chapter 46:

  • The connecting thread of the history of the war taken up
  • -- a brief review of the events of the twelve months during which the Alabama had been commissioned -- Alabama arrives at Cape Town -- capture of the sea bride -- excitement thereupon -- correspondence between the American Consul and the Governor on the subject of the capture.

The Alabama has been commissioned, now, one year. In accordance with my plan of connecting my cruises with a thread—a mere thread—of the history of the war, it will be necessary to retrace our steps, and take up that thread at the point at which it was broken—August, 1862. At that date, as the reader will recollect, the splendid army of McClellan had been overwhelmed with defeat, and driven in disorder, from before Richmond, and the fortunes of the Confederacy had greatly brightened in consequence. Lee followed up this movement with the invasion of Maryland; not for the purpose of fighting battles, but to free the people of that Southern State from the military despotism which had been fastened upon them by the enemy, and enable them, if they thought proper, to join their fortunes with those of the Confederacy. But he penetrated only that portion of the State in which the people had always been but lukewarm Southerners, and an indifferent, if not cold, reception awaited him. The result might have been different if he could have made his way into the city of Baltimore, and the more Southern parts of the State. There the enemy was as cordially detested, as in any part of the Confederacy. The Federal Government had, by this time, gotten firm military possession of the State, through the treason [643] of Governor Bradford, Mayor Swann, and others, and nothing short of driving out the enemy from the city of Baltimore, and occupying it by our troops, could enable the people of that true and patriotic city to move in defence of their liberties, and save their State from the desecration that awaited her.

Harper's Ferry was captured by a portion of Lee's forces; the battle of Sharpsburg was fought (17th September, 1862) without decisive results, and Lee recrossed his army into Virginia.

In the West, Corinth was evacuated by General Beauregard, who was threatened with being flanked, by an enemy of superior force.

Memphis was captured soon afterward, by a Federal fleet, which dispersed the few Confederate gunboats that offered it a feeble resistance.

The fall of Fort Pillow and Memphis opened the way for the enemy, as far down the Mississippi as Vicksburg. Here Farragut's and Porter's fleets—the former from below, the latter from above—united in a joint attack upon the place, but Van Dorn beat them off.

The Confederates made an attempt to dislodge the enemy from Baton Rouge, the capital of Louisiana, about forty miles below the mouth of the Red River, but failed. The expedition was to be a joint naval and military one, but the naval portion of it failed by an unfortunate accident. Breckinridge, with less than 3000 men, fought a gallant action against a superior force, and drove the enemy into the town, but for want of the naval assistance promised could not dislodge him. We now occupied Port Hudson below Baton Rouge, and the enemy evacuated Baton Rouge in consequence. We thus held the Mississippi River between Port Hudson and Vicksburg, a distance of more than 200 miles.

General Bragg now made a campaign into Kentucky, which State he occupied for several weeks, but was obliged finally to evacuate, by overwhelming forces of the enemy. During this campaign, the battles of Richmond and Perryville were fought. Bragg gathered immense supplies during his march, killed, wounded, or captured 25,000 of the enemy's troops, and returned with a well-clothed, well-equipped, more numerous, and [644] better disciplined army than he had at the beginning of the campaign. The effect of this campaign was to relieve North Alabama and Middle Tennessee of the presence of the enemy for some months.

In September, 1862, Van Dorn attacked Rosencrans at Corinth, but was obliged to withdraw after a gallant and bloody fight. He retreated in good order.

After Lee's retreat into Virginia, from his march into Maryland, which has been alluded to, McClellan remained inactive for some time, and the Northern people becoming dissatisfied, clamored for a change of commanders. Burnside was appointed to supersede him—a man, in every way unfit for the command of a large army. With an army of 150,000 men, this man of straw crossed the Rappahannock, and attacked Lee at Fredericksburg, in obedience to the howl of the Northern Demos, of ‘On to Richmond!’ A perfect slaughter of his troops ensued. As far as can be learned, this man did not cross the river at all himself, but sent his troops to assault works in front which none but a madman would have thought of attempting—especially with a river in his rear. It is only necessary to state the result. Federal loss in killed, 1152; wounded, 7000. Confederate loss in killed and wounded, 1800. During a storm of wind and rain, the beaten army regained the shelter of its camps on the opposite side of the river. Burnside was now thrown overboard by the Northern Demos, as McClellan had been before him.

As the old year died, and the new year came in, the battle of Murfreesborough, in Middle Tennessee, was fought between Bragg and Rosencrans, which was bloody on both sides, and indecisive. Bragg retired from Murfreesborough, but was not molested by the enemy during his retreat. The year 1862 may be said, upon the whole, to have resulted brilliantly for the Confederate arms. We had fought drawn battles, and had made some retrograde movements, but, on the other hand, we had gained splendid victories, made triumphant marches into the enemy's territory, and even threatened his capital. The nations of the earth were looking upon us with admiration, and we had every reason to feel encouraged.

One of the first events of the year 1863, was the dispersion [645] of the enemy's blockading fleet, off Charleston, by Commodore Ingraham, with two small iron-clads, the Chicora and the Palmetto State. This gallant South Carolinian, in his flag-ship, the Chicora, first attacked the Mercedita, Captain Stellwagen. Having run into this vessel, and fired one or two shots at her, she cried for quarter, and surrendered, believing herself to be in a sinking condition. In a few minutes, the Mercedita sent a boat alongside the Chicora, with her first lieutenant, who, by authority of his captain, surrendered the ship, and assented to the paroling of the officers and crew. The two little iron-clads then went in pursuit of the enemy's other ships, and succeeded in getting a shot at one or two of them, but they were all too fast for them, and betaking themselves to their heels, soon put themselves out of harm's way. In a short time there was not a blockader to be seen!

Judge of the surprise of Commodore Ingraham, when, upon his return, he found that his prize, the Mercedita, which he had left at anchor, under parole, had cleared out. Captain Stellwagen, and every officer and man on board the Mercedita, had solemnly promised on honor—for this is the nature of a parole —that they would do no act of war until exchanged. From the moment they made that promise, they were hors du combat. They were prisoners at large, on board the ship which they had surrendered to the enemy. And yet, when that enemy turned his back—relying upon the parole which they had given him —they got up their anchor, and steamed off to Port Royal, and reported to their Admiral—Dupont! Did Dupont send her back to Ingraham? No. He reported the facts to Mr. Secretary Welles. And what did Mr. Secretary Welles do? He kept possession of the ship at the sacrifice of the honor of the Department over which he presided. And what think you, reader, was the excuse? It is a curiosity. Admiral Dupont reported the case thus to Mr. Welles:—‘* * * Unable to use his [Stellwagen's] guns, and being at the mercy of the enemy, which was lying alongside, on his starboard quarter, all further resistance was deemed hopeless by Captain Stellwagen, and he surrendered. The crew and officers were paroled, though nothing was said about the ship; the executive officer, Lieutenant-Commander Abbot, having gone on board the [646] enemy's ship, and made the arrangements.’ Mr. Welles, thus prompted by Admiral Dupont, adopted the exceedingly brilliant idea, that as nothing had been said about the ship— that is, as the ship had not been paroled, she might, like every other unparoled prisoner, walk off with herself, and make her escape! But to say nothing of the odd idea of paroling a ship, these honorable casuists overlooked the small circumstance that the ship could not make her escape without the assistance of the paroled officers; and it was an act of war for paroled officers to get under way, and carry off from her anchors, a prize-ship of the enemy. It was a theft, and breach of honor besides.

A few days after Ingraham's raid, Galveston was recaptured by the Confederates, as already described when speaking of the victory of the Alabama over the Hatteras.

Sherman made an attempt upon Vicksburg, and failed. Admiral Dupont, with a large and well appointed fleet of ironclads, attacked Charleston, and was beaten back—one of his ships being sunk, and others seriously damaged. On the Potomac, Hooker had been sent by the many-headed monster to relieve Burnside, which was but the substitution of one dunderhead for another. But Hooker had the sobriquet of ‘fighting Joe,’ and this tickled the monster. ‘With the most splendid army on the planet,’ as characterized by the hyperbolous Joe himself, he crossed the Rappahannock, on his way to Richmond. Lee had no more than about one third of Hooker's force, with which to oppose him. Three battles ensued— at the Wilderness, Chancellorsville, and Salem Church, which resulted in the defeat and rout of ‘fighting Joe,’ and his rapid retreat to the north bank of the Rappahannock. But these victories cost us the life of Stonewall Jackson, the Coeur de Leon of the Southern Confederacy. His body has been given to the worms, but his exploits equal, if they do not excel, those of Napoleon in his first Italian campaign, and will fire the youth of America as long as our language lives, and history continues to be read.

A third attempt was made upon Vicksburg; this time by General Grant, with a large army that insured success. With this army, and a fleet of gunboats, he laid siege to Pemberton. On the 4th of July Pemberton surrendered. This was a terrible [647] blow to us. It not only lost us an army, but cut the Confederacy in two, by giving the enemy the command of the Mississippi River. Port Hudson followed. As a partial setoff to these disasters, General Dick Taylor captured Brasher City, a very important base which the enemy had established for operations in Louisiana and Texas. Nearly five million dollars' worth of stores fell into Taylor's hands.

After the defeat of Hooker, Lee determined upon another move across the enemy's border. Hooker followed, keeping himself between Lee and Washington, supposing the latter to be the object of Lee's movement. But Lee moved by the Shenandoah Valley, upon Gettysburg in Pennsylvania. Hooker now resigned the command, for which he found himself unfitted, and Meade was sent to relieve him. The latter marched forthwith upon Gettysburg, cautiously disposing his troops, meanwhile, so as to cover both Baltimore and Washington. The greatest battle of the war was fought here during the first three days of July. Both parties were whipped, and on the 4th of July, when Pemberton was surrendering Vicksburg to Grant, Lee was preparing to withdraw from Gettysburg for the purpose of recrossing the Potomac. If the battle had been fought in Virginia, Meade would have been preparing, in like manner, to cross the same river, but to a different side. Lee withdrew without serious molestation, Meade being too badly crippled, to do more than follow him at a limping gait. The disproportion of numbers in this battle was greatly in favor of Meade, and he had, besides, the advantage of acting on the defensive, in an intrenched position.

Vicksburg and Gettysburg mark an era in the war. The Confederates, from this time, began to show signs of weakness. In consequence of the great disparity of numbers, we had been compelled, at an early day in the war, to draw upon our whole fighting population. The Northern hive was still swarming, and apparently as numerous as ever. All Europe was, besides, open to the North as a recruiting station, and we have seen, in the course of these pages, how unscrupulously and fraudulently the Federal agents availed themselves of this advantage. We were being hard pressed, too, for material, for the enemy was maintaining a rigid blockade of our [648] ports, and was, besides, with a barbarity unknown in civilized war, laying waste our plantations and corn-fields. We need no better evidence of the shock which had been given to public confidence in the South, by those two disasters, than the simple fact, that our currency depreciated almost immediately a thousand per cent.! Later in the summer, another attempt was made upon Charleston, which was repulsed as the others had been. Dupont, after his failure, had been thrown overboard, and Admiral Foote ordered to succeed him; but Foote dying before he could assume command, Dahlgren was substituted. This gentleman had, from a very early period in his career, directed his attention to ordnance, and turned to account the experiments of Colonel Paixan with shell-guns and shellfiring. He had much improved upon the old-fashioned naval ordnance, in vogue before the advent of steamships, and for these labors of his in the foundries and work-shops, he had been made an Admiral. He was now sent to aid General Gilmore, an engineer of some reputation, to carry out the favorite Boston idea of razing Charleston to the ground, as the original hot-bed of secession. They made a lodgment on Morris Island, but failed, as Dupont had done, against the other works. We have thus strung, as it were, upon our thread of the war, the more important military events that occurred during the first year of the cruise of the Alabama. We will now return to that ship. We left her at Saldanha Bay, near the Cape of Good Hope.

On the morning of the 5th of August, the weather being fine, and the wind light from the south, we got under way for Table Bay. As we were steaming along the coast, we fell in with our consort, the Tuscaloosa, on her way to join us, at Saldanha Bay, in accordance with her instructions. She had been delayed by light winds and calms. She reported the capture of the enemy's ship Santee, from the East Indies, laden with rice, on British account and bound for Falmouth, in England. She had released her on ransom-bond. The Tuscaloosa being in want of supplies, I directed her to proceed to Simon Town, in Simon's Bay, to the eastward of the Cape, and there refit, and provide herself with whatever might be necessary. A little after mid-day, as we were hauling in for [649] Cape Town, ‘sail ho!’ was cried from aloft; and when we had raised the sail from the deck, we could see quite distinctly that the jaunty, newly painted craft, with the taper spars, and white canvas, was an American bark, bound, like ourselves, into Table Bay. As before remarked, the wind was light, and the bark was not making much headway. This was fortunate, for if there had been a brisk breeze blowing, she must have run within the charmed marine league, before we could have overhauled her.

Hoisting the English colors, we gave the Alabama all steam in chase, and came near enough to heave the stranger to, when she was still five or six miles from the land. She proved to be the Sea-Bride, of Boston, from New York, and bound, with an assorted cargo of provisions and notions, on a trading voyage along the eastern coast of Africa. I threw a prize crew on board of her, and as I could not take her into port with me, I directed the officer to stand off and on until further orders— repairing to Saldanha Bay, by the 15th of the month, in case he should be blown off by a gale. The capture of this ship caused great excitement at Cape Town, it having been made within full view of the whole population. The editor of a daily newspaper published at the Cape—the ‘Argus’—witnessed it, and we will let him describe it. The following is an extract from that paper, of the date of the 6th of August, 1863:—

Yesterday, at almost noon, a steamer from the northward was made down from the signal-post, on Lion's Hill. The Governor had, on the previous day, received a letter from Captain Semmes, informing his Excellency that the gallant captain had put his ship into Saldanha Bay for repairs. This letter had been made public in the morning, and had caused no little excitement. Cape Town, that has been more than dull—that has been dismal for months, thinking and talking of nothing but bankruptcies—bankruptcies fraudulent, and bankruptcies unavoidable—was now all astir, full of life and motion. The stoop of the Commercial Exchange was crowded with merchants, knots of citizens were collected at the corner of every street; business was almost, if not entirely suspended.

All that could be gleaned, in addition to the information of Captain Semmes' letter to the Governor, a copy of which was sent to the United States Consul, immediately it was received, was that the schooner Atlas had just; returned from Malagas Island, where she had been with water and vegetables for men collecting guano [650] there. Captain Boyce, the master of the Atlas, reported that he had himself actually seen the Alabama; a boat from the steamer had boarded his vessel, and he had been on board of her. His report of Captain Semmes corroborated that given by every one else. He said the Captain was most courteous and gentlemanly. He asked Captain Boyce to land thirty prisoners for him, in Table Bay, with which request Captain Boyce was unable to comply. Captain Semmes said that the Florida was also a short distance off the Cape, and that the Alabama, when she had completed her repairs, and was cleaned and painted, would pay Table Bay a visit. He expected to be there, he said, very nearly as soon as the Atlas. Shortly after the Atlas arrived, a boat brought up some of the prisoners from Saldanha Bay, and among them one of the crew of the Alabama, who said he had left the ship. All these waited on the United States Consul, but were unable to give much information, beyond what we had already received.

The news that the Alabama was coming into Table Bay, and would probably arrive about four o'clock this afternoon, added to the excitement. About noon, a steamer from the north-west was made down by the signal-man on the hill. Could this be the Alabama? or was it the Hydaspes, from India, or the Lady Jocelyn from England? All three were now hourly expected, and the city was in doubt. Just after one, it was made down “Confederate steamer Alabama from the north-west, and Federal bark from the south-east.” Here was to be a capture by the celebrated Confederate craft, close to the entrance of Table Bay. The inhabitants rushed off to get a sight. Crowds of people ran up the Lion's Hill, and to the Kloof Road. All the cabs were chartered—every one of them; there was no cavilling about fares; the cabs were taken, and no questions asked, but orders were given to drive as hard as possible.

The bark coming in from the south-east, and, as the signal-man made down, five miles off; the steamer coming in from the northwest, eight miles off, led us to think that the kloof road was the best place for a full view. To that place we directed our Jehu to drive furiously. We did the first mile in a short time; but the kloof-hill for the next two and a half miles is up-hill work. The horse jibbed, so we pushed on, on foot, as fast as possible, and left the cab to come on. When we reached the summit, we could only make out a steamer on the horizon, from eighteen to twenty miles off. This could not be the Alabama, unless she was making off to sea again. There was no bark. As soon as our cab reached the crown of the hill, we set off at a break-neck pace, down the hill, on past the Round-house, till we came near Brighton, and as we reached the corner, there lay the Alabama within fifty yards of the unfortunate Yankee. As the Yankee came around from the south-east, and about five miles from the Bay, the steamer came down upon her. The Yankee was evidently taken by surprise. The Alabama fired a gun, and brought her to.

When first we got sight of the Alabama, it was difficult to make [651] out what she was doing; the bark's head had been put about, and the Alabama lay, off quite immovable, as if she were taking a sight of the “varmint.” The weather was beautifully calm and clear, and the sea was as smooth and transparent as a sheet of glass. The bark was making her way slowly from the steamer, with every bit of her canvas spread. The Alabama, with her steam off, appeared to be letting the bark get clear off. What could this mean? No one understood. It must be the Alabama. “There,” said the spectators, “is the Confederate flag at her peak; it must be a Federal bark, too, for there are the stars and stripes of the States flying at her main.” What could the Alabama mean lying there—

As idly as a painted ship
Upon a painted ocean.

What it meant was soon seen. Like a cat, watching and playing with a victimized mouse, Captain Semmes permitted his prize to draw off a few yards, and then he up steam again, and pounced upon her. She first sailed round the Yankee from stem to stern, and stern to stem again. The way that fine, saucy, rakish craft was handled was worth riding a hundred miles to see. She went round the bark like a toy, making a complete circle, and leaving an even margin of water between herself and her prize, of not more than twenty yards. From the hill it appeared as if there was no water at all between the two vessels. This done, she sent a boat with a prize crew off, took possession in the name of the Confederate States, and sent the bark off to sea.

The Alabama then made for the port. We came round the Kloof to visit Captain Semmes on board. As we came, we found the heights overlooking Table Bay covered with people; the road to Green Point lined with cabs. The windows of the villas at the bottom of the hill were all thrown up, and ladies waved their handkerchiefs, and one and all joined in the general enthusiasm; over the quarries, along the Malay burying-ground, the Gallows Hill, and the beach, there were masses of people—nothing but a sea of heads as far as the eye could reach. Along Strand Street, and Alderley Street, the roofs of all the houses, from which Table Bay is overlooked, were made available as standing-places for the people who could not get boats to go off to her. The central, the north, the south, and the coaling jetties were all crowded. At the central jetty it was almost impossible to force one's way through to get a boat. However, all in good time, we did get a boat, and went off, in the midst of dingies, cargo-boats, gigs, and wherries, all as full as they could hold. Nearly all the city was upon the bay; the rowing clubs in uniform, with favored members of their respective clubs on board. The crews feathered their oars in double-quick time, and their pulling, our “stroke” declared, was a “caution, and no mistake.” * * * On getting alongside the Alabama, we found about a dozen boats before us, and we had not been on board five minutes before she was surrounded by nearly every boat in Table [652] Bay, and as boat after boat arrived, three hearty cheers were given for Captain Semmes and his gallant privateer. This, upon the part of a neutral people, is, perchance, wrong; but we are not arguing a case—we are recording facts. They did cheer, and cheer with a will, too. It was not, perhaps, taking the view of either side, Federal or Confederate, but in admiration of the skill, pluck, and daring of the Alabama, her captain, and her crew, who afford a general theme of admiration for the world all over.

‘Visitors were received by the officers of the ship most courteously, and without distinction, and the officers conversed freely and unreservedly of their exploits. There was nothing like brag in their manner of answering questions put to them. They are as fine and gentlemanly a set of fellows as ever we saw; most of them young men. The ship has been so frequently described, that most people know what she is like, as we do who have seen her. We should have known her to be the Alabama, if we had boarded her in the midst of the ocean, with no one to introduce us to each other. Her guns alone are worth going off to see, and everything about her speaks highly of the seamanship and discipline of her commander and his officers. She had a very large crew, fine, lithelooking fellows, the very picture of English man-of-war's men.’

The editor of the ‘Argus’ has not overdrawn the picture when he says, that nearly all Cape Town was afloat, on the evening of the arrival of the Alabama. The deck of the ship was so crowded, that it was almost impossible to stir in any direction. Nor was this simply a vulgar crowd, come off to satisfy mere curiosity. It seemed to be a generous outpouring of the better classes. Gentlemen and ladies of distinction pressed into my cabin, to tender me a cordial greeting. Whatever may have been the cause, their imaginations and their hearts seemed both to have been touched. I could not but be gratified at such a demonstration on the part of an entire people. The inhabitants of the Cape colony seemed to resemble our own people in their excitability, and in the warmth with which they expressed their feelings, more than the phlegmatic English people, of whom they are a part. This resemblance became still more apparent, when I had the leisure to notice the tone, and temper of their press, the marshalling of political parties, and the speeches of their public men. The colony, with its own legislature, charged with the care of its own local concerns, was almost a republic. It enjoyed all the freedom of a republic, without its evils. The check upon the franchise, and [653] the appointment of the Executive by the Crown, so tempered the republican elements, that license was checked, without liberty being restrained.

Bartelli, my faithful steward, was in his element during the continuance of this great levee on board the Alabama. He had dressed himself with scrupulous care, and posting himself at my cabin-door, with the air of a chamberlain to a king, he refused admission to all comers, until they had first presented him with a card, and been duly announced. Pressing some of the ward-room boys into his service, he served refreshments to his numerous guests, in a style that did my menage infinite credit. Fair women brought off bouquets with them, which they presented with a charming grace, and my cabin was soon garlanded with flowers. Some of these were immortelles peculiar to the Cape of Good Hope, and for months afterward, they retained their places around the large mirror that adorned the after-part of my cabin, with their colors almost as bright as ever. During my entire stay, my table was loaded with flowers, and the most luscious grapes, and other fruits, sent off to me every morning, by the ladies of the Cape, sometimes with, and sometimes without, a name. Something has been said before about the capacity of the heart of a sailor. My own was carried by storm on the present occasion. I simply surrendered at discretion, and whilst Kell was explaining the virtues of his guns to his male visitors, and answering the many questions that were put to him about our cruises and captures, I found it as much as I could do, to write autographs, and answer the pretty little perfumed billets that came off to me. Dear ladies of the Cape of Good Hope! these scenes are still fresh in my memory, and I make you but a feeble return for all your kindness, in endeavoring to impress them upon these pages, that they may endure ‘yet a little while.’ I have always found the instincts of women to be right, and I felt more gratified at this spontaneous outpouring of the sympathies of the sex, for our cause, than if all the male creatures of the earth had approved it, in cold and formal words.

I found, at the Cape of Good Hope, the stereotyped American Consul; half diplomat, half demagogue. Here is a letter which the ignorant fellow wrote to the Governor, whilst I was still at Saldanha Bay:— [654]

Sir: From reliable information received by me, and which you are also doubtless in possession of, a war-steamer called the Alabama, is now in Saldanha Bay, being painted, discharging prisoners of war, &c. The vessel in question was built in England, to prey upon the commerce of the United States, and escaped therefrom while on her trial-trip, forfeiting bonds of £ 20,000 (!) which the British Government exacted under the Foreign Enlistment Act. Now, as your Government has a treaty of amity and commerce with the United States, and has not recognized the persons in revolt against the United States as a government at all, the vessel alluded to should be at once seized, and sent to England, whence she clandestinely escaped. Assuming that the British Government was sincere in exacting the bonds, you have, doubtless, been instructed to send her home to England, where she belongs. But if, from some oversight, you have not received such instructions, and you decline the responsibility of making the seizure, I would most respectfully protest against the vessel remaining in any port of the Colony, another day. She has been at Saldanha Bay four days already, and a week previously on the coast, and has forfeited all right to remain an hour longer, by this breach of neutrality. Painting a ship [especially with Yankee paint] does not come under the head of ‘necessary repairs,’ and is no proof that she is unseaworthy; and to allow her to visit other ports, after she has set the Queen's proclamation of neutrality at defiance, would not be regarded as in accordance with the spirit and purpose of that document.

This letter, in its loose statement of facts, and in its lucid exposition of the laws of nations, would have done credit to Mr. Seward himself, the head of the department to which this ambitious little Consul belonged. Instead of a week, the Alabama had been less than a day on the coast, before she ran into Saldanha Bay; and, if she had chosen, she might have cruised on the coast during the rest of the war, in entire conformity with the Queen's proclamation, and the laws of nations. But the richest part of the letter is that wherein the Consul tells the Governor, that inasmuch as the Confederate States had not been acknowledged as a nation, they had no right to commission a ship of war It is astonishing how dull the Federal officials, generally, were on this point. The Consul knew that Great Britain had acknowledged us to be in possession of belligerent rights, and that the only rights I was pretending to exercise, in the Alabama, were those of a belligerent. But the Consul was not to blame. He was only a Consul, and could not be supposed to know better. Mr. Seward's despatches on the subject of the [655] Alabama had so muddled the brains of his subordinates, that they could never make head or tail of the subject.

The following was the reply of the Governor, through the Colonial Secretary:—

I am directed by the Governor, to acknowledge the receipt of your letter of yesterday's date, relative to the Alabama. His Excellency has no instructions, neither has he any authority, to seize, or detain that vessel; and he desires me to acquaint you, that he has received a letter from the Commander, dated the 1st instant, stating that repairs were in progress, and as soon as they were completed he intended to go to sea. He further announces his intention of respecting the neutrality of the British Government. The course which Captain Semmes here proposes to take, is, in the Governor's opinion, in conformity with the instructions he has himself received, relative to ships of war and privateers, belonging to the United States, and the States calling themselves the Confederate States of America, visiting British ports. The reports received from Saldanha Bay induce the Governor to believe, that the vessel will leave that harbor, as soon as her repairs are completed; but he will immediately, on receiving intelligence to the contrary, take the necessary steps for enforcing the observance of the rules laid down by her Majesty's Government.

Another correspondence now sprang up between the Consul and the Governor in relation to the capture of the Sea-Bride. The Consul wrote to the Governor, as follows:—

The Confederate steamer Alabama has just captured an American bark off Green Point, or about four miles from the nearest land—Robben Island. I witnessed the capture with my own eyes, as did hundreds of others at the same time. This occurrence at the entrance of Table Bay, and clearly in British waters, is an insult to England, and a grievous injury to a friendly power, the United States.

This remark about the honor of England will remind the reader of the article I quoted some pages back, from the New York Commercial Advertiser, to the same effect. How wonderfully alive these fellows were to English honor, when Yankee ships were in danger! But as the Consul admits, upon the testimony of his ‘own eyes,’ that the capture was made four miles from the nearest land, the reader will, perhaps, be curious to see how he brings it within British waters. The marine league is the limit of jurisdiction, and the writers on international law say that that limit was probably adopted, [656] because a cannon-shot could not be thrown farther than three miles from the shore. It may have been the cannon-shot which suggested the league, but it was the league, and not the cannot-shot, which was the limit. Now the Consul argued that the Yankees had invented some ‘big guns,’ which would throw a shot a long way beyond the league—ergo, the Yankee guns had changed the Laws of Nations.

But the Consul wrote his letter in too great a hurry. He had not yet seen the master of the captured ship. This clever Yankee, backed by several of his crew equally clever, made a much better case for him; for they swore, in a batch of affidavits before the Consul himself, and in spite of the Consul's ‘own eyes,’ that the ship had been captured within two miles and a half of Robben Island! Imprudent Consul to have thus gone off half cocked! This discovery of new testimony was communicated to the Governor, as follows: ‘I beg now to enclose for your Excellency's perusal, the affidavit of Captain Charles F. White, of the Sea-Bride, protesting against the capture of the said bark in British waters. The bearings taken by him at the time of capture, conclusively show that she was in neutral waters, being about two and a half miles from Robben Island. This statement is doubtless more satisfactory than the testimony of persons, who measured the distance by the eye.’ Doubtless, if the bearings had been correct; but unfortunately for Captain White, there were too many other witnesses, who were under no temptation to falsify the truth. A fine ship, and a lucrative trading voyage along the eastern coast of Africa were to be the reward of his testimony; the simple telling of the truth the reward of the other witnesses. The usual consequences followed. The interested witness perjured himself, and was disbelieved. I remained entirely neutral in the matter, volunteered no testimony, and only responded to such questions as were asked me—not under oath —by the authorities. The following was the case made in rebuttal of this ‘Yankee hash’:—

Statement of Joseph Hopson.

Joseph Hopson, keeper of the Green Point Light-house, states:— [657]

I was on the look-out on Wednesday afternoon, when the Alabama and Sea-Bride were coming in. When I first saw them, the steamer was coming round the north-west of Robben Island, and the bark bore from her about five miles W. N. W. The bark was coming in under all sail, with a good breeze, and she took nothing in, when the gun was fired. I believe two guns were fired, but the gun I mean was the last, and the steamer then crossed the stern of the bark, and hauled up to her on the starboard side. He steamed ahead gently, and shortly afterward I saw the bark put round, with her head to the westward, and a boat put off from the steamer and boarded her. Both vessels were then good five miles off the mainland, and quite five, if not six, from the north-west point of Robben Island.

Statement of W. S. Field, Collector of the Customs.

I was present at the old light-house, on Green Point, on Wednesday afternoon at two P. M., and saw the Alabama capture the American bark Sea-Bride, and I agree with the above statement, as far as the position of the vessels, and their distance from shore are concerned. I may also remark that I called the attention of Colonel Bisset and the lighthouse keeper, Hopson, to the distance of the vessels at the time of the capture, as it was probable we should be called upon to give our evidence respecting the affair, and we took a note of the time it occurred.

Statement of John Roe.

I was, yesterday, the 5th day of August, 1863, returning from a whale chase in Hunt's Bay, when I first saw the bark Sea-Bride standing from the westward, on to the land. I came on to Table Bay, and when off Camp's Bay, I saw the smoke of the Alabama, some distance from the westward of Robben Island. When I reached the Green Point lighthouse, the steamer was standing up toward the bark, which was about five miles and a half to the westward of Green Point, and about four and a half from the western point of Robben Island. This was their position—being near each other—when the gun was fired.

Statement of the signal-man at the Lion's Rump telegraph station.

On Wednesday last, the 5th day of August, 1863, I sighted the bark Sea-Bride, about seven o'clock in the morning, about fifteen or twenty miles off the land, standing into Table Bay from the south-west. There was a light breeze blowing from the north-west, which continued until mid-day. About mid-day I sighted the Alabama, screw-steamer, standing from due north, toward Table Bay, intending, as it appeared to me, to take the passage between Robben Island, and the Blueberg Beach. She was then between fifteen and eighteen miles off the land. After sighting the steamer, I hoisted the demand for the bark, when she hoisted the American [658] flag, which I reported to the port-office, the bark being then about eight miles off the land, from Irville Point. No sooner had the bark hoisted the American flag, than the steamer turned sharp round in the direction of, and toward the bark. The steamer appeared at that time to be about twelve miles off the land, from Irville Point, and about four or five miles outside of Robben Island, and about seven miles from the bark. The steamer then came up to, and alongside of the bark, when the latter was good four miles off the land, at or near the old lighthouse, and five miles off the island. The steamer, after firing a gun, stopped the farther progress of the bark, several boats were sent to her, and after that the bark stood out to sea again, and the Alabama steamed into Table Bay.

At the time of the capture, her Majesty's steamship Valorous was lying in Table Bay, and the Governor, in addition to the above testimony, charged Captain Forsyth, her commander, also, to investigate the subject, and report to him. The following is Captain Forsyth's report:—

her Majesty's ship Valorous, August 6, 1863.
In compliance with the request conveyed to me by your Excellency, I have the honor to report that I have obtained from Captain Semmes, a statement of the position of the Confederate States steamer Alabama, and the American bark Sea-Bride, when the latter was captured, yesterday afternoon. Captain Semmes asserts, that at the time of his capturing the Sea-Bride, Green Point lighthouse bore from the Alabama, south-east, about six or six and a half miles. [The Yankee master said that it bore south, by east.] This statement is borne out by the evidence of Captain Wilson, Port-Captain of Table Bay, who has assured me, that at the time of the Sea-Bride being captured, he was off Green Point, in the port-boat, and that only the top of the Alabama's hull was visible. I am of opinion, if Captain Wilson could only see that portion of the hull of the Alabama, she must have been about the distance from shore, which is stated by Captain Semmes, and I have, therefore, come to the conclusion, that the bark Sea-Bride was beyond the limits assigned, when she was captured by the Alabama.

The Governor, after having thus patiently investigated the case, directed his Secretary to inform the Consul of the result in the following letter:—

With reference to the correspondence that has passed, relative to the capture, by the Confederate States steamer Alabama, of the bark Sea-Bride, I am directed by the Governor to acquaint you, that, on the best information he has been enabled to procure, he has come to the conclusion, that the capture cannot be held to be illegal, or in violation of the neutrality of the British Government, by reason of the distance from the land at which it took place.


The Consul was foiled; but he was a man of courage, and resolved to strike another blow for the Sea-Bride. He next charged that the prize-master had brought her within the marine league after her capture. He made this charge upon the strength of another affidavit—that ready resource of the enemy when in difficulty. Enclosing this affidavit to the Governor, he wrote as follows:—

From the affidavit of the first officer, it appears that the alleged prize was brought within one mile and a half of Green Point lighthouse, yesterday, at one o'clock A. M. Now, as the vessel was, at the time, in charge of a prize-crew, it was a violation of neutrality, as much as if the capture had been made at the same distance from the land.

And he required that the ship should be seized.

Without stopping to inquire into the truth of the fact stated, the Governor directed his Secretary to reply, that—

His Excellency is not prepared to admit that the fact of a vessel having been brought, by the prize-crew, within one and a half mile of the Green Point lighthouse “was a violation of the neutrality, as much as if the capture had taken place at the same distance from the land,” although both the belligerents are prohibited from bringing their prizes into British ports. The Governor does not feel warranted in taking steps for the removal of the prize-crew from the Sea-Bride

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.
Alabama (Alabama, United States) (42)
Table Bay (Montana, United States) (15)
United States (United States) (11)
Robben Island (South Africa) (7)
England (United Kingdom) (7)
Cape Town (South Africa) (5)
Gettysburg (Pennsylvania, United States) (4)
Port Hudson (Louisiana, United States) (3)
Baton Rouge (Louisiana, United States) (3)
Baltimore, Md. (Maryland, United States) (3)
Tennessee (Tennessee, United States) (2)
Shelbyville (Alabama, United States) (2)
Murfreesboro (Tennessee, United States) (2)
Mississippi (United States) (2)
Maryland (Maryland, United States) (2)
Louisiana (Louisiana, United States) (2)
Texas (Texas, United States) (1)
South Africa (South Africa) (1)
Run (Texas, United States) (1)
Port Royal (South Carolina, United States) (1)
Perryville (Kentucky, United States) (1)
Pennsylvania (Pennsylvania, United States) (1)
Natchitoches (Louisiana, United States) (1)
Morris Island (South Carolina, United States) (1)
Kentucky (Kentucky, United States) (1)
Hydaspes (Pakistan) (1)
Harper's Ferry (West Virginia, United States) (1)
Galveston (Texas, United States) (1)
Fredericksburg, Va. (Virginia, United States) (1)
Fort Pillow (Tennessee, United States) (1)
Florida (Florida, United States) (1)
Falmouth (United Kingdom) (1)
Europe (1)
East India (1)
Chancellorsville (Virginia, United States) (1)
Brighton, Mass. (Massachusetts, United States) (1)

Download Pleiades ancient places geospacial dataset for this text.

hide People (automatically extracted)
hide Dates (automatically extracted)
Sort dates alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a date to search for it in this document.
August 6th, 1863 AD (2)
August 5th, 1863 AD (2)
July 4th (2)
1863 AD (1)
September 17th, 1862 AD (1)
September, 1862 AD (1)
August, 1862 AD (1)
1862 AD (1)
1800 AD (1)
1152 AD (1)
August 5th (1)
July (1)
1st (1)
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: