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necessity of providing gun-boats and shipping suitable for that purpose. In the winter of 1861 Mr. C. K. Prioleau, of the firm of John Fraser & Co., of Liverpool, found a fleet of ten first-class East Indiamen, available to a buyer at less than half their cost. They belonged to the East India Company, and had been built in Great Britain for armament if required, or for moving troops and carrying valuable cargoes and treasure. Four of them were vessels of great size and power and of the very first class; and there were six others, which, although smaller, were scarcely inferior for the required purpose. On surrendering their powers to the British throne, the company had these steamships for sale. Mr. Prioleau secured the refusal of this fleet. The total cost of buying, arming, and fitting out the ten ships and putting them on the Southern coast ready for action was estimated at $10,000,000, or, say, 40,000 bales of cotton. The harbor of Port Royal, selected before the war as a coaling station for the United States Navy, with 26 feet of water at mean low tide, was admirably adapted for a rendezvous and point of supply. Brunswick, Georgia, was another good harbor, fit for such a fleet. The proposal was submitted to the Government through a partner of Mr. Prioleau in Charleston, Mr. George A. Trenholm, who forwarded the proposition by his son, William L. Trenholm. Its importance was not at all
comprehended, and it was rejected by the executive. Captain J. D. Bulloch, the secret naval agent in Europe, who had the Alabama built, states that “the Confederate Government wanted ships to cruise and to destroy the enemy's mercantile marine.” It was of infinitely more importance to keep Southern ports open, but this does not seem to have been understood until too late. The opportunity of obtaining these ships was thrown away. They were engaged by the British Government.
To show the narrow spirit of those in office, an incident concerning Captain Maffit, who figured afterward in command of the Florida, may be mentioned. In May, after the reduction of Fort Sumter, Maffit came from Washington to offer
JUDAH P. BENJAMIN, CONFEDERATE ATTORNEY-GENERAL
THIRD SECRETARY OF STATE. FROM A PHOTOGRAPH.
writer was in a state of indignation and disgust. He said that after having been caressed and offered a command in the Pacific, he had sneaked away from Washington to join the Confederacy, and that he had been received by the Secretary of the Navy as if he (Maffit) had designs upon him.
The Secretary of War has stated that before the Government moved from Montgomery 360,000 men, the flower of the South, had tendered their services in the army. Only a small fraction of the number were received. The Secretary was worn out with personal applications of ardent officers, and himself stated that in May, 1861, he was constantly waylaid, in walking the back way from his office to the Exchange Hotel, by men offering their lives in the Confederate cause.
Another instance of narrowness may be named in the case of William Cutting Heyward. He was a wealthy riceplanter and an eminently practical and efficient man, a graduate at West Point in the class with Mr. Davis. He went to Montgomery to tender a regiment. He sent in his card to the President and waited for days in the lobby without obtaining an interview, and then returned home. He finally died from exposure, performing the duties of a private in the Home Guard at Charleston. The reason alleged for not accepting more men was the want of arms, and Mr. Davis's book is an apology for not procuring them. Insisting that a great war was probable, and inaugurated on the 18th of February,— there was no declaration of war before the middle of April and no efficient blockade of the ports for many months,yet it was in May that he started Major Huse over to England with instructions to purchase 10,000 Enfield rifles! By these facts may be gauged his estimate of the emergency or of the purchasing ability of the Confederate States. The provisional constitution provided that “ Congress shall appropriate no money from the Treasury unless it be asked and estimated for by the President or some one of the heads of departments, except for the purpose of paying its own expenses and contingencies.” The Congress could, therefore, do nothing about the purchase of arms without a call from the executive.
But for the Treaty of Paris in 1778, made by Benjamin Franklin, Silas Dean, and Arthur Lee, with France, the independence of the thirteen original States would not have been established. It was deemed important in the Provisional Congress of the Confederate States to send commissioners abroad to negotiate for a recognition of their independence, and, in case of war with the States of the North, perhaps for assistance. The chairman of the Committee on Foreign Affairs, Mr. Rhett, reported such a resolution, which was unanimously adopted. As the treaty-making power of the Government belonged to the President, Congress could not dictate to him the limit of authority that should be conferred upon the commissioners, in the negotiations desired. But all those who had reflected upon the subject expected the President to give extensive authority for making treaties. The views held by the chairman were that the commissioners should be authorized to propose to Great Britain, France, and other European nations, upon the conditions of recognition and alliance, that the Confederate States for twenty years would agree to lay no higher duties on productions imported than fifteen or twenty per cent. ad valorem; that for this period, no tonnage duties would be laid on their shipping, entering or leaving Confederate ports, but such as should be imposed to keep in order the harbors and rivers; that the navigation between the ports of the Confederate States for the same time should be free to the nations entering into alliance with the Confederate States, while upon the productions and tonnage of all nations refusing to recognize their independence and enter into treaty with them, a discriminating duty of ten per cent. would be imposed. He believed, moreover, that they should be authorized to make an offensive and defensive league, with special guarantees, as was done in 1778. Here was a direct and powerful appeal to the interests of foreign nations, especially England. Would any British Minister have dared to reject a treaty offering such vast advantages to his country? And if so, when the fact became known to Parliament, could he have retained his place?
Up to September, 1862, the United States Government was committed, both by diplomatic dispatches and by the action of Congress, to the declaration that the war was made solely to preserve the Union and with the purpose of maintaining the institutions of the seceded States, unimpaired and unaltered. Hence, at this period, the issue of slavery had not been injected into diplomacy, and was no obstacle to negotiating treaties.
When Mr. Yancey received the appointment at the head of the commission, Mr. Rhett conferred with him at length, and found that the commissioner fully concurred in the views just mentioned. But he surprised Mr. Rhett by the statement that the President had given no powers whatever to make commercial treaties, or to give any special interest in Confederate trade or navigation to any foreign nations, but relied upon the idea that “Cotton is King.” “Then,” rejoined Mr. Rhett, “if you will take my advice, as your friend, do not accept the appointment. For you will have nothing to propose and nothing to treat about, and must necessarily fail. Demand of the President the powers essential to the success of your mission, or stay at home.”
On the reassembling of the Provisional Congress in April, ascertaining that these powers had not been conferred upon the commission, Mr. Rhett prepared a resolution requesting the President to empower the commissioners to propose to European nations, as the basis of a commercial treaty, a tariff of duties for 20 years no higher than 20 per cent. ad valorem on their imports into the Confederate States. This he submitted to Mr. Toombs, the Secretary of State, who promptly approved it and appeared before the Committee on Foreign Affairs to urge it. It was reported, with the indorsement of the committee, to the Congress, and was not opposed in debate; but Mr. Perkins moved, as an amendment, six years instead of twenty. As this was carrier, Mr. Rhett moved to lay the resolution on the table, which was done; and this was the only effort made to appeal to the interests of foreign nations, to secure recognition of the independence of the Confederate States, or to obtain assistance. Upon his return from abroad, Mr. Yancey met Mr. Rhett and said: “You were right, sir. I went on a fool's errand.” In December, 1863, at Richmond, James L. Orr, chairman of the Committee on Foreign Affairs of the Senate, said to the writer, “The Confederate States have had no diplomacy."
In March, 1863, proposals were made for a loan of $15,000,000 on 7 per cent. bonds, secured by an engagement of the Confederate Government to deliver cotton at 12 cents per pound within 6 months after peace. The loan stood in the London market at 5 per cent. premium; and the applications for it exceeded $75,000,000. In the Provisional Congress at Montgomery, Mr. Stephens proposed that the Confederate Government should purchase cotton at 8 cents per pound, paying in 8 per cent. bonds, running 20 or 30 years. He believed that 2,000,000 bales of the crop of 1860 could be obtained in that way from the planters, and that, of the crop of 1861, 2,000,000 more bales might be obtained afterward. By using this cotton as security, or shipping it abroad, he maintained the finances of the Confederate States could at once be placed on a solid basis. His plan met with much favor, but was opposed by the administration and was not carried through. Money for the long war was to be raised by loans from Confederate citizens on bonds supplemented by the issue of Treasury notes and by a duty on exported cotton.
In April, 1865, after the collapse of the Confederacy, Mr. Barnwell, who had steadfastly supported Mr. Davis in the Confederate Senate, met the writer at Greenville, S. C., where Governor Magrath had summoned the Legislature of the State to assemble. There, in conversation, Mr. Barnwell explicitly expressed his judgment in the following words: “Mr. Davis never had any policy; he drifted, from the beginning to the end of the war."
For practical regret at the issue of the secession movement, the time bas long passed by. The people of the South have reconciled themselves to the restoration of the Union and to the abolishment of slavery. They have bravely and strenuously endeavored to go through the transition period of an enormous change without wreck. In complete harmony with the destinies of the Union, they are working out the future of the United States faithfully.
This is set down to prevent the suppression of important facts in history, and in justice to eminent men, now dead, who have been much misunderstood.
THE movement to capture Harper's Ferry, Virginia, and the fire-arms
I manufactured and stored there was organized at the Exchange Hotel in Richmond on the night of April 16th, 1861. Ex-Governor Henry A. Wise was at the head of this purely impromptu affair. The Virginia Secession Convention, then sitting, was by a large majority “Union” in its sentiment till Sumter was fired on and captured, and Mr. Lincoln called for seventy-five thousand men to enforce the laws in certain Southern States. Virginia was then, as it were, forced to “take sides," and she did not hesitate. I had been one of the candidates for a seat in that convention from Augusta county, but had been overwhelmingly defeated by the “Union" candidates, because I favored secession as the only "peace measure" Virginia could then adopt, our aim being to put the State in an independent position to negotiate between the United States and the seceded Gulf and Cotton States for a new Union, to be formed on a compromise of the slavery question by a convention to be held for that purpose.
Late on April 15th I received a telegram from “Nat” Tyler, the editor of the “Richmond Enquirer,” summoning me to Richmond, where I arrived the next day. Before reaching the Exchange Hotel I met ex-Governor Wise on the street. He asked me to find as many officers of the armed and equipped volunteers of the inland towns and counties as I could, and request them to be at the hotel by 7 in the evening to confer about a military movement which he deemed important. Not many such officers were in town, but I found Captains Turner Ashby and Richard Ashby of Fauquier county, Oliver R. Funsten of Clarke county, all commanders of volunteer companies of cavalry; also Captain John A. Harman of Staunton—my home—and Alfred M. Barbour, the latter ex-civil superintendent of the Government works at Harper's Ferry. ☆ These persons, with myself, promptly joined ex-Governor Wise, and a plan ☆ See page 125 for a letter of Mr. Barbour, regarding the security of the armory.—Editors.