Seizure of Confederate Commissioners.The Illustrated London News, vol. 39, no. 1120, p. 584.
December 7, 1861
Our Number last week contained an account of the forcible seizure of Messrs. Slidell and Mason, Confederate Commissioners to France and England, on board the Trent, by bodies of armed men from the United States' war-ship San Jacinto; and we now give, on the preceding page, an Engraving representing this violation of international law—which will be attended, it is to be feared, with the very gravest consequences. The purser of the mail-steamer Trent supplies the following narrative of the circumstances attending the boarding of that vessel by the Lieutenant and men of the American sloop-of-war San Jacinto and the seizure of the Confederate Commissioners:—
I hasten to forward some particulars of the grievous outrage committed today (Nov. 8) against the English flag by the United States' steam-sloop San Jacinto, Captain Wilks. You have probably heard how, some three weeks ago, the little steamer Theodora, having on board the commissioners sent by the Confederate States of America to London and Paris, ran the blockade at Charlston, arriving safely in Havannah. Once arrived there, they, of course, imagined that on neutral territory they were perfectly free and safe from all molestation, and therefore made no attempt to conceal their names, position, and intended movements. Mr. Slidell, the commissioner for Paris, was accompanied by his wife, son, and three daughters, and also by his secretary, Mr. G. Eustis, with his wife, Mr. Mason, the commissioner for England, being accompanied by his secretary, Mr. M'Farland. It was well known in Havannah that berths were booked for the whole party to proceed by this steamer to St. Thomas, there to join the homeward West India mail steam-ship for Southampton. They accordingly embarked yesterday morning, trusting to receive the same protection under the English flag which they had already received from that of Spain.
We left Havannah yesterday morning at eight. This morning, about half-past eleven, we observed a large steam-ship ahead, and on a nearer approach found she was hove to, evidently awaiting us. We were then in the narrowest part of the Bahama Channel, abreast of Paredon Grande Lighthouse. As soon as we were well within range we had the first intimation of her nationality and intentions by a round-shot being fired across our bows, and at the same moment by her showing American colours. We were now sufficiently near to observe that all her ports were open, guns run out, and crew at their stations. On a still nearer approach she fired a shell from a swivel-gun of large calibre on her forecastle, which passed within a few yards of the ship, bursting about a hundred yards to leeward. We were not within hail, when Captain Moir, commanding this ship, asked the American what he meant by stopping his ship, and why he did so by firing shotted guns, contrary to usual custom. The reply was that he wished to send a boat on board of us. This was immediately followed by a boat pushing off from the side of the San Jacinto, containing between twenty and thirty men, heavily armed, under the command of the First Lieutenant, who came up on the quarter-deck, and, after asking for Captain Moir, demanded a list of passengers. As his "right of search" was denied, the information required was, of course, peremptorily refused. He then stated that he had information that Messrs. Slidell, Mason, Eustis, and M'Farland were on board, and demanded that they should be given up. This also being indignantly refused, Mr. Slidell himself came forward and said that the four gentlemen named were then before him, but he appealed to the British flag, under which they were sailing, for protection. The Lieutenant said that his orders were to take them on board the San Jacinto by force if they would not surrender. He then walked to the side of the ship waved his hand: immediately three more heavily-armed boats pushed off and surrounded the ship, and the party of marines who come in first boat came up and took possession of the quarter-deck; these, however, he ordered down on the main-deck, to take charge of the gangway ports. Captain Williams, R.N., the naval agent in charge of the mails, who was of course present during this interview, then, in the name of her Majesty, he being the only person on board directly representing her, made a vehement protestation against this piratical act.
During the whole of this time the San Jacinto was about 200 yards distant from us on the port beam, her broadside guns, which were all manned, directly bearing upon us. Any open resistence to such a force was of course hopeless, although, from the loud and repeated plaudits which followed Captain Williams's protestations, and which were joined in by every one, without exception, of the passengers congregated on the quarter-deck, men of all nations, and from the manifested desire of some to resist to the last, I have no doubt but that every person would have joined heart and soul in the struggle had our commander but given the order. Such an order he could not, under such adverse circumstances, conscientiously give, and it was therefore considered sufficient that a party of marines, with bayonets fixed, should forcibly lay hands on the gentlemen named. This was done, and the gentlemen retired to their cabins to arrange some few changes of clothing. A most heartrending scene now took place between Mr. Slidell, his eldest daughter—a noble girl devoted to her father—and the Lieutenant. It would require a far more able pen than mine to describe how, with flashing eyes and quivering lips, she threw her[sic] herself in the doorway of the cabin where her father was, resolved to defend him with her life, till, on the order being given to the marines to advance, which they did, with bayonets pointed at this poor defenceless girl, her father ended the painful scene by escaping from the cabin by a window, when he was immediately seized by the marines and hurried into the boat, calling out to Captian Moir as he he left that he held him and his Government responsible for this outrage.