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208

MASON AND SLIDELL CAPTURED.

General Dix, who commanded in Maryland, made a sudden move during this month into the counties of Northampton and Accomac, Virginia, and occupied them without bloodshed.

But the most exciting event of this month, and which, for a time, so engrossed the public mind that military movements were almost forgotten, was the capture of Mason and Slidell, who had been sent by the southern confederacy to represent its interests in England and France. Their escape from Charleston in the steamer Nashville was known to our government, and a steamer was sent in pursuit of them. These rebel leaders, however, landed at Havana, and took passage in the English mail packet Trent for England. Captain Wilkes, on his way home from the African coast, heard of it, and waylaying the Trent, brought her to, under his guns. He then transferred these gentlemen with their secretary, Mr. Eustace, to his own ship, and brought them into port. The news of their capture was received with unbounded delight; and judging from the extravagant joy, one would have thought that some immense success had been achieved, instead of the capture of two rebels, who were far better out of the country than in it. The exultation, however, was soon tempered by the serious question, “what will England say to this insult to her flag?”

The press, with scarcely an exception, vindicated the act of Captain Wilkes, and declared that the government, rather than surrender the prisoners, should go to war with England.

But whatever the result would be to us, of having two such momentous wars on our hands at the same time, the rashest defender of our rights could not but see that the southern confederacy would be established. Reflecting men stood appalled at this new evil that threatened us.

At length, the response came from England. The outrage

THE PRISONERS GIVEN UP.

203

to the British flag, as it was regarded, threw the Kingdom into a tumult of passion. One voice rang from limit to limit —the prisoners must be immediately surrendered, or war declared. The press helped to inflame the public feeling, and it was evident that the government itself would be bɔrne away by the torrent. Troops were ordered to Canada, and war preparations set on foot.

The south was elated. It had begun to despair of furc ing England to interfere for the sake of obtaining cottoa, but now an unexpected event had precipitated a quarrel be. tween her and the general government.

In the mean time, Mason and Slidell lay in fort Warren, near Boston, waiting the action of the two governments. In process of time, the demand for their release came, and the answer of the Cabinet at Washington was waited 0}] both sides of the water with the deepest solicitude. The reply of Secretary Seward was long and able, and ended with the surrender of the prisoners, on the single groud that Captain Wilkes did not take the vessel into a neutral port to have the case adjudicated. This was a satisfactory reason for the surrender of the prisoners; for the duty of a vessel of a nation engaged in war towards neutral shij:s 51:9pected of carrying contraband articles is the same as that «f a sheriff on land: to arrest and bring to trial, not to seize ar d adjudicate both. If the act of Captiin Wilkes was justifiable, then the coinmander of eve y gun boat or war schoo:er can seize any ship: and converting his deck into a court, adjudicate on his own seizure. That so monstrous a doctrine could be upheld, only shows how feeling will warp the best judgments. It was, in fact, defending a species of legalized ;' ràcy.

The case, however, was weak in another point: the vessei was nut bound to a belligerent, but to its own, port; and if Mason and Slidell could be legally seized in going from the

210

MASTERLY INACTIVITY."

West Indies to England, it is hard to see why they could not hare been, while passing from Southampton to Havre.

It was supposed that the administration would be overwhelmed by the popular clamor, and not dare to do right, even if it wished to. But the country, much to the surprise of the English nation, quietly submitted to the decision of the government.

Much solicitude was felt respecting the course Congress would take when it met in December. The history of our Congress in time of war, from the Revolution down, does not reflect much credit on the nation. Too often, individuals and party have received the first, and the country a secondary consideration. Some of the western members, who arrived in Washington the latter part of the month, were loud in their denunciations of the “masterly inactivity," as it was termed, of McClellan; and it was evident that a party would be formed against him. Various reasons were assigned for his immobility: some asserted that whenever he was ready to make a move, his plans were rendered abortive by being divulged to the enemy, and suspicion began to rest on persons in high position. Others declared that the Secretary of War blocked his path; others still that he was not yet ready to move, and till he was, no outward pressure co::ld make him. It was evident, however, that he had the President's confidence, and that the latter had decided to stand firmly by him, in spite of friends or foes.

At this time the public irritation towards England was still farther increased by the news that the Nashville, which started with Mason and Slidell, had arrived in English waters with the crew of the Harvey Birch, an American merchantman, on board, she having burned the vessel at sea, and was receiving the same protection afforded to vessels of any other nation. The Tuscarora, which had been sent in pursuit of her, had also arrived, and aiter waiting á

BOMBARDNENT OF FORT PICKENS,

211

while to seize the pirate when she put to sea, was informed by the British government that she could not leave in pursuit till the rebel steamer had twenty-four hours start, thus securing the safety of the latter. This privilege was accorded to all belligerent vessels when forced by stress of weather or want of supplies into a neutral port, and it must be granted to the southern rover. This Shylock view of legal right, without any regard to moral obligation, exasperated the American people, and made many wish for peace at home that they might have a war with England, and teach her that the country would brook no such insults, though committed under technical forms.

With the foreign war cloud still resting on the horizon, the last month of autumn drew to a close. McClellan, fear- . ing ihe effecı of an idle camp life on his army, grew moro strict respecting grog shops and intemperance, and issued an order requiring the observance of the Sabbath, and a regu. lar attendance of the troops on the services of the chaplains.

South, no especial advantage had been gained. Men ceased to talk of an advance from Port Royal, inland, and the country seemed occupied with the question, what should be done with the vast crowd of slaves claiming our protection there. For a while they were employed in gathering the cotton ; but some permanent system was needed, and yet no one seemed able to devise a satisfictory one. Meanwhile the little cotton that had been seized was forwarded to New York; but where one bule passed along the coası in transports, fifty lighted the midnight heavens with flames kindled by the owners to prevent them from falling into the hands of the hated “Yankees."

On the twenty-second of the month, the long-looked-for attack of fort Pickens on the rebel batteries oprosite, took place. These extended from the navy yard to fort McRae, a distance of four miles, and were mounted with heavy ord.

13

212

THE ROYAL YACHT.

nance.

The steamers Niagara and Richmond took part in the engagement, and all day long till dark, thunder answered thunder, shaking the solid land with the terrific explosions. The next morning it was resumed, but the ships took very little part in the action, as a change of wind had made the water too shoal to allow them to approach within effective range. Fort McRae was silenced and the navy yard at Warrington and other buildings set on fire, making a frightful conflagration.

The enemy's winter quarters were evidently badly broken up and his works deranged, but no serious loss was inflicted on him.

On the other hand, the Richmond had received an agly shot between wind and water, which killed one and wounded seven, and fort Pickens showed the marks of heavy pounding, but no breach was made in its walls. One killed and six wounded was the only loss sustained by the garrison from the enemy's fire.

For nine months both parties had been occupied in mak. ing their defenses so complete that but slight results could be expected, from a mutual cannonade, though it was of the most terrific kind.

Previous to this, on the seventh, a gallant exploit had been performed by Lieutenant Jouett of the frigate Santee, off Galveston harbor, in burning the rebel schooner Royal Yacht. Taking with him two launches, he set out just before midnight, and pulling for seven miles through an intricate channel and against a head sea, wind, and tide, boarded her and set her on fire. Two officers were killed and six men wounded in this daring expedition, the chief object of which was the destruction of the man-of-war steamer General Rusk, lying under the Pelican fort, if they could

approach her without being discovered. Failing to do this, they were compelled to abandon the desperate undertaking, and content themselves with the destruction of the schooner.

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