Anna Moffett's Civil War - 5
In order to press for a more formal recognition of Southern independence, the Confederate government dispatched James Mason & John Slidell as commissioners respectively to Britain &
France. On October 12, the two escaped from Charleston on a blockade runner headed for Cuba. After spending a number of days in Havana, they boarded the British mail steamer Trent, bound ultimately for Southampton. Their departure was hardly a secret & word of their intentions leaked out to Union naval forces patrolling the Caribbean.
On November 8 the Trent was halted in the Bahama Channel by the U.S.S. San Jacinto, which fired a shot across the bow of the unarmed British ship. The commander of the San Jacinto, Captain Charles Wilkes, sent an armed boarding party aboard the Trent. Mason & Slidell, along with their
diplomatic papers, were declared "enemy contraband." The two men were arrested & forcibly removed, despite their being in international waters & sailing under a neutral flag. This could
well be what might bring England into the war on our side.
I've had a letter from James. On November 13th, his unit, Holcombe's Legion, went into
service with a cavalry unit consisting of five companies along with a battalion & infantry unit with ten companies. It is under the jurisdiction of the Third Military District Department of South Carolina & Georgia under Brigader General Nathan G. "Shanks" Evans. The Legion are camped at Camp Walsh near Adam's run.
George is now safely home & has finally been able to tell me what dangers he was in. Thank God that he managed his mission, as it will make an enormous difference to our war effort. He
& his colleagues managed to get a ship, called the Fingal & filled it with necessary supplies & brought it safely home, but not without quite a lot of drama.
George went with the expedition organised by James Bullock to buy the widely varied supplies. They reach Liverpool on June 4th, & Bulloch quickly arranged for the construction of two fast & powerful cruisers. He also purchased a large quantity of naval supplies. Next - realizing that he must arrange for a steady flow of new funds before he could go much farther with his purchasing program & also prompted by the fact that the materiel of war that he had already acquired would be useless to the Confederate cause as long as it remained in England he decided to buy a steamship, to fill
it with the ordnance that he & George had accumulated & tosail in her to America. To carry out this plan, George chartered Fingal with an option to buy her upon a moment's notice if circumstances should arise which made such a move seem to be advisable. Under this arrangement, the ship would appear to be a British vessel under the command of a certified English master while
she would actually be completely under Bulloch's control. Thus, Fingal would enjoy the protection of neutral English colors; yet, in the event she encountered an over inquisitive but none too powerful Union blockader, the English commanding officer might exercise his power of attorney as the agent of the steamer's owner & sign her over to us. In this way, Fingal, under Bulloch's command, could fight for her freedom without compromising British neutrality.
In an attempt to avoid suspicious eyes, the arms were carried by rail & by a coastal steamer from London to Greenock in Scotland where Fingal was moored. When fully loaded, she got underway on the morning of 10 October; moved down the Firth of Clyde; through the North Channel; & proceeded south through the Irish Sea to Holyhead, Wales, where Bulloch & George & other Confederate officials & passengers awaited.
On the night of the 14th October, as she was slowly rounding the breakwater shielding that port, Fingal suddenly came upon the unlighted brig Siccardi, slowly swinging at anchor. Although Fingal barely had steerage way & despite the fact that she quickly reversed her engines, she collided with the dark sailing ship. The steamer's sharp bow pierced the brig's starboard quarter & it went down before a boat could be lowered.
While Fingal's boats were carrying out rescue operations, Bulloch sent a letter ashore to request that Messrs. Fraser, Trenholm & Co.(Our main trading partners in Charleston but also with offices in Liverpool) to settle damages with the brig's owners. Then, lest Fingal be held up by an investigation of the accident which might well bring his whole project to naught, Bulloch ordered the steamer to get underway immediately.
The ship reached Bermuda on the 2nd of November & she found a Confederate side-wheel cruiser which supplied her with coal & a pilot familiar with Savannah & that area. While Fingal was preparing for a dash to the Confederate coast, the United States consul, suspicious of her purpose, attempted in vain to persuade her crew to leave the ship.
On the afternoon of the 7th, Fingal, got underway again. Soon after she left port, Bulloch informed the crew that the steamer's real destination was Savannah, but he offered to take anyone who objected to the plan to Nassau. However, all agreed to join in the effort to run the Union blockade; & the ship headed for the Georgia coast.
Her two 4½-inch rifled guns were then mounted in her forward gangway ports & her two breech loading 2½-inch boat guns were put in place on her quarterdeck. The weather was clear as
she approached on the night of the 11th & 12th of November; but, in the wee hours of the morning, a heavy fog settled over the coastal waters & screened the ship from Union eyes, enabling her to slip safely into the Savannah estuary.
The cargo which she brought back consisted of 14,000 Enfield rifles, 1,000,000 cartridges, 2,000,000 percussion caps, 3,000 cavalry sabers, 1,000 short rifles with cutlass bayonets, 1,000
rounds per rifle, her own ordnance, 400 barrels of coarse cannon powder, medical supplies, much military clothing, (this was George's contribution & much helped by our relatives in Liverpool, the
Halls) & a large quantity of cloth for sewing still more uniforms.
George told me that he sent a letter from Bermuda back to Robert Hall in England, just in case he was captured, to let our relatives know what was happening. Here is what he said in his letter.
From George Hall Moffett to R.C. Hall
Bermuda 3 November, 1861
I have thought it due to you to inform you that I sailed in the steamer "Fingal" from Glasgow & have got thus far on my journey home. My greatest dangers have yet to be encountered & as there is no small probability that we will be captured I have given you the name of the vessel so that if the worst
happens you will be able to communicate to my friends my fate. Hoping however that you will be spared this unpleasant task,
signed G H Moffett
Keep this quiet. My respects to Mrs. Hall.
And although George's ship got through all right, perhaps it was because of this that the Trent had such problems.
Although Wilkes' unauthorized action was at first wildly popular in the North, it set in motion a train of events that quickly brought the United States & Britain to the brink of war. When news of the seizure of the Confederate commissioners reached England on November 27th, both the public at large & the Palmerston government were outraged. The British press boiled with bellicose editorials. The Royal Navy made plans to order warships of the Channel Fleet to sail to North American waters, while the army sent thousands of additional troops to defend Canada from a possible American invasion. Lord Russell, the British Foreign Secretary, prepared a sharply worded ultimatum demanding the release of Mason & Slidell, along with a formal apology.
This provocative document was forwarded to Queen Victoria for her approval, as it seemed likely to provoke an outbreak of hostilities. Prince Albert, though fatally ill with typhoid fever, intervened to moderate the message's language & suggest a face-saving compromise. The British ambassador to the United States, Lord Lyons, also acted carefully to guide Lincoln & Secretary of State Seward towards a resolution acceptable to both nations. In the end, the United States government disavowed Capt. Wilkes' actions as not conforming to international law & released Mason &
Slidell to resume their voyage.
Federal ships are blocking one port after another. The Union troops are now occupying the Sea Islands in the Beaufort area, establishing an important base for the men & ships who would
obstruct our ports. When the plantation owners fled the area, the Sea Island slaves became the first "freedmen" of the war & the Union decided to use them as a sort of experiment to see how
educable they will be. I certainly have my reservations.
The blockage is certainly a powerful weapon, because even though many ships do get through, many others will no longer make the attempt. Freighters who have no hope of evading the
blockages, no longer come to Southern ports.
I thought I should again detail the sorts of things that those of us at home have been doing for the war effort. However by November, some of the work had to be abandoned, due to the supply
areas being over run by unscrupulous confiscators.
Cloth is now scarce. So we are making uniforms as best we can. The pants are made of bed ticking, all blue, except some which look like peppermint candy & are reserved for the non-commissioned officers. Blankets also are lined & quilted before distributing them. In many instances, home made shoes & socks are also provided.
Besides the work pledged as members of the Soldiers' Aid Society, circles of willing workers were formed, meeting at private residences. My friend, Mrs. Stephen Elliott's parlor was converted
into a cap manufactory at short notice; & the home of the Rev. Win. H. Barnwell, "The Castle," was a depot for quilts. No material was too rough or work too arduous to supply the soldiers'
We heard about the dire need of our sick & wounded soldiers after the Battle of Manassus & in a short while, lint, bandages, sheets, pillows, towels & blankets were packed & hauled to the Charleston & Savannah Railroad, & sent with all possible speed to the hospitals in Virginia.
We made tents, uniforms, caps, underwear, knit socks, gloves, comforters, all with our fingers, & often spun & wove the thread & cloth from which they were manufactured.
Missouri has come in as our 12th State & Kentucky soon followed.
Under Abraham Lincoln, the American North tried to keep us from exporting cotton. This angered many Liverpool businessmen, who began to back the Confederacy, helping to smuggle supplies
through the North's blockade. The mill-workers of Lancashire, suddenly found themselves out of work & increasingly short of food. Many cotton workers gathered at Manchester's Free Trade Hall &
issued an extraordinary message to President Lincoln.
They assured him that, though his blockade was imposing great hardship on them, they still supported his battle against slavery. This was a great disappointment to us, but this
extraordinary gesture led not just to a grateful response from Lincoln, but a rich political reward.
What a night this has been! It was warm enough for us to stand bareheaded & without discomfort, on the piazza, & watch an apparently unimportant fire that had broken out in a machine shop, not more than a square away. Before ten o'clock the wind started to rise & we could see the flames reach higher & higher, & burn steadily in a southwesterly course.
All night long vehicles of every kind were passing, laden with the effects of those seeking safety & when some stopped at our door & asked shelter for furniture moved from the southwestern part of the city, it was hard to understand how so much damage had been done in so short a time. Direful, indeed, is the tale we are hearing today of many near & dear to us are now homeless; the public buildings, the pride of the city, are, many of them, in ashes. The Institute Hall, where the Ordinance of Secession was passed, the Circular Church, St. Finbar's Cathedral, St. Peter's, covering an area of certainly a half-mile apart, are all in ruins!
As the year draws to a close, I will end with what I read that Charles Dickens says about our struggle. Who does he think he is to proclaim on our war!
"So the case stands & under all the passion of the parties & the cries of battle lie the two chief moving causes of the struggle. Union means so many millions a year lost to the South; secession means the loss of the same millions to the North. The love of money is the root of this, as of many other evils. The quarrel between the North & South is, as it stands, solely a fiscal quarrel."
Punch have published a cartoon based on his statement.
The rupture between North & South is presented here as a domestic drama more farcical than tragic. Amid the overturned, ruined furniture of their once happy home, Lincoln as would-be master
of the house & his shrewish Southern consort argue furiously, their fists clenched in anger. Lincoln wears a star-spangled shirt & striped trousers, while his "Secesh" wife sports a stars-and-bars apron. In the hallway beyond, a black houseboy tiptoes warily past the open doorway in the exaggerated stage mannerisms used by comic eavesdropping servants in the theater.
Each holds half of a map of the once-United States, now torn asunder.
Another of the Punch magazines had this verse, titled "How We'll Break the Blockade," at first glance seems to voice a threat against the North. Yet, it is frightening in its mention of new sources of cotton being developed in India & Egypt.
You needn't be nervous, no war flag shall flaunt,
Nor powder nor steel will we trouble for aid,
But we'll have all the cotton our mill-people want;
And so - and so only - we'll break the Blockade.