My Dearest Fred,
I must apologize for not writing Saturday. The diaconal meeting took up a greater portion of my time than I had anticipated. However, I do not wish to skip the 8th of November in our lessons, for something of interest took place upon that date.
That incident was the seizure of James Mason of Virginia and John Slidell of Louisiana, two men selected by the Confederate government as commissioners to Britain and France. They were seized from the British mail sloop Trent. Unsurprisingly, this incident precipitated a two-month long battle of words between the United States and Britain, which was concluded only when the Federal's handed the Confederate commissioners back to the British on New Year's Day.
That is the general overview of the situation. However, knowing as I do a boy's love for high seas adventure, I shall go into a little more particulars of the outrage.
The U.S.S. San Jacinto was cruising the Old Bahama Channel on 8 November. Her purpose, to ensnare the Trent as she left Cuba.
The Captain of the San Jacinto, one Charles Wilkes, had accidentally discovered the presence of the Confederate commissioners (as well as their families) in Havana during a port call. It was the impression, at the time, that the commissioners were aboard of Confederate man-o-war. With this intelligence in hand, he left port, but stayed in a position to spring his trap upon the unsuspecting British ship.
Wilkes gleefully undertook the capture Mason and Slidell and take them he did leaving behind him one very irate British sea captain! When Wilkes drew alongside the Trent he threatened them with force, which is, in my opinion, Fred, the only reason the captain of the Trent surrendered his passengers.
Captain Wilkes took his prisoners to Fort Warren, Mass. The praise from the Secretary of the Navy was profuse: "Your conduct in seizing these public enemies was marked by intelligence, ability, decision, and firmness, and has the emphatic approval of is Department." Wilkes became an overnight sensation in the north. He was a hero!
However, the political ramifications were just beginning. It appeared, after a short while, that the United States and Britain would go to war over this outrage of persons seized from a British ship.
The Confederates hoped and prayed that this would bring Britain into the war as their ally--an ally that would have been most appreciated, if for no other reason than her support by means of arms, munitions, food, and medical supplies.
However, neither of these scenarios happened and as 1862 dawned, Mason and Slidell continued their journey to Europe, having been released after Seward decided that he did not want war with Britain after all. Prior to this he had been something of a proponent of it, thinking that it would serve to reunite the North and South.
To catch up to our current date, 10 November, I shall quickly address 9 November, 1861.
November 9 found the Federals at Port Royal making a successful foray against Beaufort, South Carolina. They took it without a fight. This action caused General Lee some discomfort of mind as he clearly saw the threat that continuing inward pushes by the Federals could be. However, as I mentioned in a previous letter, the United States never took full advantage of their foothold at Port Royal.
10 November saw several instances of fighting in various points throughout western Virginia; Gauley Bridge, Guyandotte, and Cotton Hill. I highly recommend you procure a map to further your understanding of these events.
And here, my dear Fred, I shall leave you today. I will return to this history tomorrow.
Your loving grandfather,
The Capture of the Commissioners...
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