This is part two of a two-part series. Read part one here.
The first of these two points remaining to be settled was, whether there existed any, and, if any, what, proof of Semmes’s having abused his powers as cruiser or, as captor by illegitimate treatment of his captives, or by other forbidden cruelties.
A hundred rumors of outrage were in circulation. The public mind was inclined to believe them all. Just as the Scotch and English, in the days of John Paul Jones, were ready to credit any story that blackened Jones’s character, so now, no report of Raphael Semmes’s buccaneering misdeeds failed to secure a crowd of willing listeners, more than half credulous of any alleged outrage. But where was the evidence? Who were the sufferers, and who the witnesses? It seemed clear that somehow I must put myself in communication with the victims, accusers, and parties most directly in interest; and that the rights of Semmes, not less than those of the public, required of me such an investigation as would fully prove, or disprove, the current rumors of his cruelty.
As the readiest. method of accomplishing the desired result, advertisements were published in the leading newspapers of the seaboard States, calling upon owners, officers, crews, and passengers of vessels destroyed by the Sumter or Alabama to send me at once full details of Semmes’s conduct towards them and their vessels.
These advertisements were promptly and satisfactorily answered. I received and have now before me multitudes of letters intended to be responsive to those advertisements, from parties interested, pecuniarily or personally, in thirty-six or thirty-seven of the Alabama’s captures.1
Very few of these letters accused Semmes of either cruelty or unkindness, although they all complained of him for capturing their vessels, burning their cargoes, interrupting their voyages, and otherwise treating them as enemies, after the rough fashion of war, instead of behaving as though no war existed, and they were still sailing under “the flag of our Union.”
The case of the SOLFERINO seemed at first to threaten Semmes with fatal results.
This ship was commanded by Captain John Pendleton of Searsport, Maine. She and her commander sailed from the East Indies, in September, 1862, for Queenstown, Ireland, passed the Cape of Good Hope in safety, and were spoken on the 22d of December between that cape and the island of St. Helena, “all well, and ship in good condition,” and were never again heard from.
Mr. Eastman, our consul at Queenstown, communicated these facts to Secretary Seward in February, 1866, and at the same time informed him that there were reports of conversations by some old Alabama men, in which they declared that the Alabama, in “The Southeast Trades,” had fallen in with a ship answering to the description of the Solferino, had pursued and overtaken her, as she endeavored, under heavy press of canvas, to escape; and then, although she hauled down her flag, and gave every signal of surrender, had fired into and sunk her, with every soul on board, making no effort to rescue her crew.
Mr. Seward sent the despatch of Mr. Eastman to the Secretary of the Navy, and upon its receipt I wrote to Captain Pendleton at Searsport. His father received and opened the letter and answered briefly, like one too deeply moved to indulge in many words. He said: “The Solferino sailed September 30, 1862; on the 22d of December she was spoken near the Cape of Good Hope; since which time I have no news from the ship.”2
One of the Alabama’s crew, an intelligent Englishman, was induced to come over from England, in order to be examined on this and kindred matters of inquiry. He denied, as calumnious, all charges of cruelty on the part of Semmes and his officers and men towards prisoners, and said, not only that no such incident as a chase and sinking of a vessel by the Alabama, had ever occurred, but, also, that it could not have occurred to the Solferino at the period and on the route described, because the Alabama was not within five hundred miles of any point which the Solferino could have touched, between December 22, 1862, and the 1st of March following. This, he affirmed, would appear from the narrative, and the tables of latitude and longitude, contained in the book entitled “The Cruise of the Alabama and Sumter,” originally published in London, and afterwards reprinted by Carleton & Co., in New York.
On looking into that work I found the record to be as he had stated. While that tract of ocean known as “The Southeast Trades” is south of the equator, the Alabama was north of the equator from August, 1862, to the end of March, 1863. On the 22d of December, 1862, she was in the Gulf of Mexico. On the 11th of January, as we too well remember, she was off Galveston, Texas, and there fought and sunk the United States steamer Hatteras; and on the 29th of January was at San Domingo.
It became certain, therefore, that the Solferino was never seen by the Alabama. “Foundered at sea” is doubtless the history of her disappearance from the knowledge of men.
So ended one accusation of cruelty.
The case of the AMAZONIAN was, for a short time, clouded by suspicion. My attention was called to it, in the first instance, by an anonymous letter, charging Semmes with homicidal cruelty. From this letter I extract the following sentences: —
“Semmes destroyed a bark. The captain—I think his name was Snow—lived in Chelsea, Massachusetts. A young man named Butler was on board” (the writer’s grammar is dreadfully confused); “and when they were boarded, he fired a pistol at them. When they destroyed the vessel they were put aboard the Alabama, and then on board another vessel, to come home, excepting Butler, who was treated with the utmost barbarity, and starved, so that he died from that cause. It was a very brutal case of death, because the young man would not allow the flag to be lowered.”
Anonymous communications are generally cowardly and treacherous, and I should have paid no heed to this one, had it not given me the address of Butler’s brother, and referred to him in support of the accusation, and thus furnished the means of verifying or falsifying the story. I wrote to the brother, and, in his answer, he informed me that the name of the “bark” was “the Amazonian”; that her captain was William Loveland of Boston, and her first mate Lemuel L. Hatch of Lincolnsville, Maine: to whom I wrote at once for information, but from whom it was long before I received any answer. Butler’s letter further stated that his brother, with the rest of the crew of the Amazonian, was taken to the Alabama; that they were all treated “as well as they could expect,” and were all transferred to a brig bound for Rio Janeiro, where his brother was shipped in the brig Hannah, bound to New York; that he was then taken sick, and placed in a hospital at St. Jago de Cuba, where he died. Subsequently Captain Loveland informed me that none of his “crew resisted when the Amazonian was captured”; that not a gun or pistol was fired by any of them, nor by any passenger; that although the crew were put in irons, they were not starved nor maltreated; that “all were transferred to one vessel from the Alabama, and carried to Rio, where,” said he, “I got a berth for Butler on the American brig Hannah.”
The Amazonian, therefore, like the Solferino, furnished no evidence against Semmes.
Two other cases of reputed cruelty, and only two others, were ever made known to me; and they vanished in like manner before the inquest of careful examination. These were the WINGED RACER and the EMMA JANE, two of the Alabama’s East Indian captures.
Rumor asserted that the captain of the Winged Racer, his family, his officers and crew, after their vessel was burned, were removed from the Alabama, and turned adrift by Semmes, off the coast of Java, in boats intentionally damaged, and damaged so badly as to be unseaworthy, and exposing the passengers to almost certain death.
But this dreadful rumor was unsupported by proof. On the contrary, the captain himself asked for the boats, and requested leave to embark in them for the purpose of proceeding without delay to Batavia. The second mate, Mr. More, informed me that on the day after thus voluntarily leaving the Alabama, they were taken up by an English vessel, and carried to Batavia in safety, where they were provided for by the American Consul.
The story about the Emma Jane, which at first seemed to inculpate Semmes, turned out to be equally unfounded. It was said that Semmes landed the captain of that captured vessel, together with his wife and crew, at some obscure point on the Malabar coast where vessels never touch, and from which there was no escape.
Unfortunately for this accusation, it appeared that “somehow or other” these captives did escape; and it transpired that Semmes furnished them with provisions, and engaged the magistrate of Amjanga, where they were landed, to forward them without charge to a port some sixty miles off, where British ships were sure to be found.
Here ended all charges of cruelty against the commander of the Alabama. In not one solitary instance was there furnished a particle of proof that “the pirate Semmes,” as many of my correspondents called him, had ever maltreated his captives, or subjected them to needless or avoidable hardships and deprivations, however much he may have offended them by taking their goods, burning their ships, and denouncing their country and its government.
This is the more remarkable from the fact that the commander of the Alabama was not adapted either by gentle temper or gracious manners to win the good-will or soften the resentments of those whose vessels and cargoes he destroyed, or incline them to withhold complaint where anything occurred that could furnish good ground of reproach and accusation.
This chapter of complaint and suspicion was, therefore, dismissed as composed of nothing but slanderous rumors and idle gossip.
Nothing now remained for investigation but the conduct of Semmes during the Cherbourg engagement and after the sinking of the Alabama.
At the time of his arrest in Mobile he was charged with violation of the law of war, in that he was guilty of three distinct acts of perfidy, namely, 1. Fraudulently obtaining a cessation of firing on the part of the Kearsarge by showing a white flag, and then reopening his own fire; 2. Perfidiously running away after overtures of surrender; 3. Re-entering the Rebel service without having been exchanged.
The engagement between the Kearsarge and Alabama, it will be remembered, occurred off Cherbourg, on Sunday forenoon, June 19, 1864. It was sharp, short, and decisive; lasting about an hour, at the end of which period the Alabama, then actually sinking, struck her flag and made signals of distress. In twenty minutes more she sank, before any boat from the Kearsarge could board her. Semmes, having sent his wounded men in his own boats to the Kearsarge, leaped overboard as his vessel was going down, and, being picked up by the English yacht Deerhound, Captain Lancaster, was hurried off to England, while some of his crew were yet struggling in the water.
On the day of this fight and flight, and again on the next day, Captain Winslow briefly reported his victory to the Navy Department. But in neither of these reports did he accuse Semmes of perfidy or allude to his escape.
On the 21st of June he wrote to the Secretary of the Navy, enclosing extracts from his ship’s log. This letter stated that after the Alabama struck her flag, she sent an officer to announce her surrender, and ask for help; that at his, Captain Winslow’s, request, the English yacht Deerhound helped save some of the Alabama’s men, and then made off with Captain Semmes. The only comment on this affair was in these words: “I could not believe that the commander of the yacht could be guilty of so disgraceful an act as taking our prisoners off, and therefore took no means to prevent it.”
The “extracts from the log” simply state that the fight began at 11 o’clock A. M. and lasted till noon, when the Alabama showed signs of distress, suspended her fire, and sent a boat with an officer to surrender and ask for help; and that at 12:24 she went down in forty fathoms, leaving most of her crew struggling in the water; that the Deerhound was requested by Captain Winslow to aid in saving the Alabama’s men; that she did take some of them aboard, and “then steamed rapidly away, without reporting how many she had picked up.”
On the 23d of June a copy of Semmes’s official report of the engagement was published in the “London Times.” In that report Winslow is accused of violating the law of honorable warfare by firing into the Alabama five times after her colors had been struck. As the Kearsarge, at the time of this publication, was cruising in the English Channel, Captain Winslow very soon received and read this report and accusation. The report was not long in finding its way to the Navy Department. But not until thirty-seven days after this publication did Captain Winslow write to the department accusing Semmes of misconduct during the Cherbourg fight. On the 30th of July, in an official letter, he stated that, when the Alabama’s flag came down, he could not ascertain whether it had been hauled or shot down; but that “a white flag having been displayed over the stern, our fire was reserved”; that two minutes had not more than elapsed before “the Alabama” again opened on the Kearsarge with the two guns on the portside; that the Kearsarge then renewed her fire on the Alabama, and “steamed ahead and laid across her bows for raking, the white flag still flying”; that the Kearsarge again “reserved” her fire, and that “shortly after this” the Alabama’s boats were lowered, and an officer in one of them came alongside and reported her surrender, and that in twenty minutes she sank.
This statement contains the first accusation of a perfidy so monstrous that the common mind fails to understand how or why Captain Winslow could or should have omitted, for nearly two months, to make even an allusion to the crime, and that nothing was heard from him upon that subject until after he had been accused of a like offence by Semmes.
This dilatory complaint was the basis of the charge on which Semmes was ultimately arrested. To this were added the further allegations, that when he was bound to remain and complete his convention of surrender, by delivering up himself and sword, he either fled, or allowed himself to be carried off by Captain Lancaster in the Deerhound; and that afterwards, without having been exchanged, he re-entered the Rebel service and bore arms against the United States.
Semmes himself furnished a part of the evidence in support of these charges. His official report, already mentioned, contained an admission that he first exhibited to the Kearsarge the ordinary tokens of surrender, which led to a cessation of the fight, and then evaded the performance of the promise thus implied, and from which no act of Lancaster could absolve him. Whether he requested that officer to carry him off; or was carried away contrary to his own will, his perfidy was equally great. But his subsequent failure to place himself, at the earliest or at any opportunity, in our hands as a prisoner, is conclusive proof that his flight was his own voluntary act, — an act base and disgraceful to the Rebel actor and to his British accessory, and doubly infamous in view of the circumstance that he hurried off without caring for many of his own men, still struggling in the water.
I had an official copy of that official report of Semmes in one of the public documents of the Confederate House of Representatives. It bears date, “Southampton, England, June 21, 1864,” the second day after the fight. It states that, when Semmes found the Alabama to be in a sinking condition, he hauled down his colors, sent a boat for help to the Kearsarge, ordered his men to jump overboard as their vessel sank; leaped overboard himself to save his own life, and, with a number of his officers and men, was picked up by the Deerhound, and was, as he says, “fortunate enough thus to escape to the shelter of a neutral flag.” What he thus describes as fortunate, is pronounced by every naval officer whom I have consulted unfortunate for the Rebel commander; because, in their judgment, it was his incumbent duty to have placed himself in Captain Winslow’s hands. His surrender made this a sacred obligation. Had he, as some desperately gallant officers have done, determined to die rather than surrender, had he nailed his flag to the mast of the Alabama, and gone down with his shattered ship, the whole world, not excepting his bitterest foes, would have pronounced him to be a hero. But “he that fights and runs away,” though he may “live to fight another day,” is never regarded as heroic.
His overture of surrender and his subsequent evasion were also admitted by Semmes in one of the aforementioned letters to the President, in which, as well as in his binominal book of 1869, he makes what seems to me “a lame and impotent” attempt to justify his conduct. In that letter he says, “There was no cessation of the engagement from beginning to end, until the fight was over. When my ship was beaten I hauled down my colors, and ceased firing the few disabled guns that remained; but the Kearsarge continuing to fire upon me, notwithstanding, I caused one of the seamen to wave in his hand a white flag, to attract the attention of the enemy to the fact that my colors were down and that I had ceased the combat. In the few minutes that my ship floated after my colors were struck, I filled the only remaining boat that I had with my wounded men, and shoved her off to the Kearsarge, remaining on board my ship myself until the last moment, ready to yield possession to the enemy, and expecting him every moment to take possession. No enemy’s boat having reached me, and my ship sinking from under me, I leaped into the sea, after having ordered my officers and men to do so likewise, to endeavor to save my life. I was still at the mercy of the enemy, and he might have picked me up at any moment, and thus have completed his conquest by making me his prisoner. Being in the sea, and having no longer any ship to deliver him, I was not bound by the laws of war to seek him personally. It was his business to seek me, and failing to obtain manual possession of me, I was, in no sense, his prisoner, but had the undoubted right to make my escape if I could.”
Besides these two confessions of surrender, I had also the proof, furnished in like manner by Semmes himself, that after his escape he re-entered the Confederate service, and engaged in active hostilities, first as a Rear-Admiral in the Confederate Navy, and then as a Brigadier-General in the Confederate Army, without having been previously exchanged.
These three pieces of evidence were enough to convict him of two of the three specified offences; but as yet there was no competent evidence of the other, namely, perfidiously obtaining and abusing a cessation of the engagement.
To supply, if possible, this defect, the Secretary of the Navy summoned to Washington seven of the officers of the Kearsarge, namely, Captain Winslow, and Mr. Hartwell, his clerk Executive-Officer Thornton; Acting-Masters Stoddard and Wheeler; Boat-swain Walton, and Signal-Quarter-Master Saunders. They came in obedience to this order, and I interrogated them all, separately and with great care, recording their statements, and, after record, reading aloud to them what I had written, and asking them to suggest corrections or alterations, to make their narrative complete.
That examination was very surprising in its progress and in its conclusion. The seven statements were not only irreconcilably at variance with each other on many leading points, but were severally so confused and contradictory as to show that, in the heat, smoke, confusion, and excitement of battle, the perceptions of these men and their recollections were obscured and distracted. They did not furnish any safe material to be used in any prosecution as against the accused, but left upon my mind two distinct convictions, namely, first, that no perfidious attempt of the Alabama to procure a cessation of hostilities on the part of the Kearsarge was provable by these witnesses; and, second, that no such attempt was in fact made. Honest and truthful as these men doubtless were, their testimony could not he relied upon to support any charge or specification against Semmes. Some of them saw the Alabama’s flag come down three times, some twice, and some only once, before the firing ceased on both sides. Some saw two white flags, and some saw but one. Some said that one of the Alabama’s guns was fired after the Kearsarge ceased her fire, some said two, and some said none at all. In short, the hour of the fight was one of those occasions when no man is so cool as to observe attentively and remember clearly; and in regard to which countless differences of detail will be found in the narratives of several witnesses, each and all of whom are honest and truthful and all of whom had equal opportunities of observation.
Such being the result of this examination of witnesses, there remained only the charge of running off in the Deerhound, and re-entering the Rebel service.
By this time I had come to the conclusion that, although Semmes was culpable in that he did not either remain until picked up by Captain Winslow’s boats, or, on reaching England, give himself up as prisoner of war, and also in that he re-entered, unexchanged, the Confederate service, and that, although for either of these offences, had he been caught and tried and brought to conviction flagrante bello, he would have been sentenced to death, yet now it was scarcely worth while to bring him to trial for these offences, before a military court,3 a tribunal, in time of peace, repugnant to the American, jury-loving mind, and especially when offenders of far deeper and bloodier dye were left undisturbed.
The legal aspect of the case seemed free from difficulty or doubt. Here, too, I had the strong support of President Woolsey and Professor Lieber. Dr. Woolsey says, with characteristic clearness, that the manifestation of an intention to surrender requires that the surrender shall be carried out in good faith; otherwise it is an act of perfidy. If anything prevented Semmes from completing the surrender at the time, he was bound to complete it on the first opportunity.
“It is true, indeed, that when once a prisoner of war, but not on parole, he might have gone away; but the forms of surrender ought to have been gone through with, in order to bring him into the category of escaped prisoners, the essence of surrender being to place one’s self in the other party’s hands.
“The forms of surrender, when they stop the actual process of war, are a convention in fact; and that convention Semmes was bound to observe. He was acting perfidiously as long as he forbore to give himself up to complete his surrender. His presence in Johnston’s army was thus an act of perfidy; for he was not an escaped prisoner of war.”
Of precisely the same opinion was Professor Lieber, although he thought it would, as an administrative act, be unwise to try Semmes, unless some other and more serious violation of the law of war could be alleged and proved against him. He said, “If we consider that his offence was universally known when the special agreement of May 1, 1865” (the Sherman-Johnston convention), “was signed, and that, in view of this fact, Semmes signed the parole, undoubtedly believing that he would not be tried for his Alabama offence; that his offence, disreputable though it be, is not one of deep moral turpitude, such as Wirz’s cruelty was; and that taking up so odious an offender on this single charge would look very much as though we were desirous of getting at him, but cannot find a better handle, — if we weigh these considerations, it would appear that he had better be sent away.”
“These considerations” were “weighed,” and the result was a determination to discharge Semmes without trial. This determination was reached after patient thought and thorough investigation, — processes that consumed several months, during which Semmes was naturally vexed and annoyed by what seemed to him a needless and cruel delay. But he was the gainer by this deliberation and delay, and the administration was not dilatory in any of its movements in his case, except in making his arrest. Reviewing the various steps of the investigation, we see that it was resolved not to try him by military court for mere piracy or treason; not to try him at all, unless, upon due inquest, it should appear certain that he had offended against the code of the laws of war; that his violations of neutral rights should be left for the consideration of neutral powers; that his adoption of “the destructive plan” as to his captures should not be charged as an offence; that his treatment of captives had been far from cruel or unjust; that to destroy the lighthouses of blockaded ports is no crime in one of the belligerents; that he, as a belligerent, was entitled to practise all the strategems and deceptions known to civilized warfare, and was, also, entitled to all the protection and advantage which the law of war confers upon belligerents; and that he was not chargeable with perfidy at Cherbourg until after his vessel went down. And now, at last, it was determined that, because his neglect to complete his surrender, and his return to the Rebel service, just at the end of the war, had produced no appreciable difference in the result of the Rebellion, but were, practically, of no consequence to either party to the strife, and because the leaders of that Rebellion were still at large, and even the most red-handed raiders and “bushwhackers” and “jay-hawkers” were left “unwhipped of justice,” he should be set at liberty, and allowed to return, if he pleased, to his Southern home.
As soon as this conclusion was reached, Semmes was released from custody. Had he been hurried to trial as soon as arrested and brought to Washington, although nothing but his escape in the Deerhound, his subsequent neglect to give himself up, and his return to actual service in the Confederate Army and Navy, might have been proved against him, and no evidence but his own admissions might have been produced upon the trial, his conviction would have been certain; and, with the feelings of dislike and hatred which then burned against him, he might have been sentenced to death, and, like Marshal Ney, have been promptly executed. But four months of delay diverted the public feeling to matters more interesting than his case, and to persons more important than him. And during those four months the persevering search for proofs of his actual conduct had dispelled a hundred calumnious rumors against him, and relieved his character from a vast amount of undeserved obloquy, so that, although not shown to have been free from all violation of the law of war, he was discovered to be by no means the guilty monster of the belief that prevailed against him up to the close of 1865.
Without expressing any opinion as to the wisdom of his arrest prior to a careful examination of his case, I am free to declare that no person under military arrest was ever treated with greater fairness or with more substantial kindness. From the moment his case was referred to me as Solicitor and Naval Judge Advocate General, I was resolved that, so far as depended upon me, it should be, as I can safely affirm that it was, conducted and disposed of with absolute justice and impartiality. Such had been my method in all of the many hundred cases which I had investigated or tried, as Judge Advocate and Provost Judge, in 1862-1865, while in the military service. During all those years, and in all those cases, I had had the good fortune to satisfy alike the government and the accused by this system of “even-handed justice”; and in Semmes’s case, I found the Secretary of the Navy and the President of the United States disposed to continue that system. To these facts, and not to any special or secret motive, plan, or influence, was Semmes indebted for his liberation.
He has, in the volume already quoted, attributed his deliverance to motives less creditable to the government, — to political causes, to the quarrel between Congress and the late President, to Mr. Johnson’s desire to build up for himself a Southern party. “I was only saved,” he says at page 825, “by the circumstances which will be presently related”; and then he relates as follows: —
“At the time of my arrest there was a newspaper called ‘The Republican,’ published in the city of Washington in the interests of President Johnson. There had been some little struggle between Congress and the President as to who should take the initiative in the wholesale hanging of ‘traitors,’ which had been resolved upon. ‘The Republican,’ speaking for President Johnson,” declared “his readiness to act. ‘He is only waiting,’ it said, ‘for Congress to move in the matter.’” Semmes continues thus: “There is an old adage which says, ‘when rogues fall out, honest men get their rights.’ Fortunately for the ‘traitors’ of the South, Andrew Johnson and the Congress quarrelled. Johnson undertook to reconstruct the Southern States in his interests, and Congress claimed the right to reconstruct them in its interests. The Constitution of the United States was equally disregarded by both. It was a struggle between usurpers, which should be master; that was all. The breach widened from day to day, and the quarrel at last became bitter. Johnson, finding that his quarrel with Congress had ruined him with his party, now set about constructing a new one, — a Johnson party. His scheme was to ignore both the Democratic and the Republican party. If he could succeed in reconstructing the Southern States to the exclusion of Congress, he might hope to get the votes of those States in the next Presidential election. But, to conciliate these States, it would not do to hang five hundred of the military and political leaders of the Rebel government as a mere ‘beginning.’ He must pursue a different policy. He now issued first one amnesty proclamation, and then another, — doling out amnesty grudgingly, in broken doses, — until he had issued three of them. By the last of these proclamations, the writer of these pages, who was true to his State, was ‘graciously pardoned’ by Andrew Johnson, who had not only been a traitor to his State, but had betrayed, besides, two political parties. A glorious opportunity presented itself for him to show himself a statesman. He has proved a charlatan instead.”
This relation of Semmes furnishes a curious revelation of his character, by showing that the writer, though “saved” by President Johnson, could vilify and abuse his savior. It also shows that Semmes is as mistaken in his facts as ungrateful in his sentiments. Semmes was “saved,” so far as discharge from imprisonment and trial constituted salvation, sixteen months before the issue of the first proclamation to which he refers. He was not “saved” nor “graciously” or ungraciously “pardoned” by either of the three amnesty proclamations. His discharge was in April, 1866. The first proclamation is dated September 7,1867, and did not include within its provisions any person who had held rank or title in the Rebel Navy higher than that of captain. Of course it excluded Rear-Admiral Semmes. The second proclamation, bearing date July 4, 1868, extended only to cases of treason not under presentment or indictment. It did not touch pirates, nor offenders against the law of war. The third proclamation, by which, in particular, Semmes claims to have been “saved” and “pardoned,” is dated December 25, 1868, and includes no other crime than treason.
Reference to the Statutes at Large, Volume XV. pages 700, 703, and 712, would have shown his mistake to this discharged culprit, and might have led him to perceive that he was still amenable to the courts, both civil and military, for every offence except treason.
I will not call this carelessness wilful or criminal, for my object is not to reproach the Rebel Rear-Admiral; and I refer to it chiefly for the purpose of showing that Semmes’s discharge was not due to any of the causes which he has specified. I have stated fully and fairly the true answer to the question, “Why was not Semmes of the Alabama tried?” — a question asked very often at the time of his release, and repeated, with more or less interest, up to the present hour. The recent treaty with Great Britain, and the assembling of the Geneva Conference, have revived the inquiry; and the foregoing pages furnish as complete an answer to that question as can be furnished by any one familiar with the facts.
This is part two of a two-part series. Read part one here.
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- These vessels were the Alert, Altamaha, Amazonian, Benj. Tucker, Chastelaine, Contest, Cape Cora, Charles Hill, Dorcas Prince, Daniel Trowbridge, Eben Dodge, Emma Jane, Elisha Dunbar, Golden Eagle, Golden Rocket, the United States steamer Hatteras, the Jabez Snow, Kingfisher, LaFayette, Levi Starbuck, Lamplighter, Martha Wenzell, Martaban (alias Texan Star), Nye, Nora, Ocean Rover, Ocmulgee, Rockingham, Sea-Lark, Solferino, Tycoon, T. B. Wales, Union Jack, Virginia, Wave Crest, and Winged Racer. ↩
- Recently (October, 1871) he has again written to me, to the same effect. ↩
- After some hesitation on the part of Secretary Welles and President Johnson, it had been resolved that Semmes, if tried at all, should he tried lay a military commission, composed of five naval and four army officers, with an officer of the navy for president of the court. When asked lay the Secretary of the Navy if there were any precedents for such a mixed commission, I answered that the case itself was unexampled, and that in trying this odd compound of Rear-Admiral and Brigadier-General, a mixed court was most appropriate, especially as it would have to consider and decide questions peculiar to each one of these two arms of the service, army and navy. The Secretary of War, on the contrary, approved of this proposition the moment it was laid before him. “Certainly,” said Mr. Stanton: “that is the very method, and I will give you the four best officers in the army.” ↩