(The history of the Confederate
vessels which, despite great obstacles, made themselves the terror and
the scourge of the merchant marine of the United states, and forced her
powerful navy to treat them with respect, would form a most interesting
chapter in the true story of our great struggle. The career of the "Stonewall"
was a glorious one, and our readers will thank us for the interesting narrative
of the gallant captain Page. In presenting this blurred picture of the
"Stonewall," its imperfections should be attributed more to the shortcomings
of the artist than to the absence of intrinsic worth in the subject represented.)
The "Stonewall," a small twin screw ironclad man of war, was built in France by the then most eminent constructor in the Empire. Her tonnage, twelve hundred; armament, one three hundred pounder and two seventy pounder guns, and crew about forty men.
Thus equipped, this little craft was seen one fair morning, after much negotiation, bearing the beautiful Confederate flag in place of the Danish, under which she had arrived from the region of the North sea. She was built with the knowledge and sanction of the late Emperor of France, and on the eve of her completion and readiness for delivery it was rumored that she was designed for the Confederate Government. Every ship then being built in Europe acquired this reputation. This rumor reached the ears of the Emperor, and he was officially informed, from high authority, that if this or any other such vessel should be permitted to leave France and fall into the possession of the Confederate Government, Mexico would be made untenable ground for French troops. However impotent such a threat may have been at that time, it had the desired effect. The Emperor was truly sensitive on this Mexican question. His policy there was unpopular in France, and he was not the man to long debate which of the two to choose when compliance with his word pointed to the right and self interest to the left.
He ran no risk in laying an injunction on his friend and ship builder, that no vessels, under his construction, should pass into the hands of the Confederate Government. Whatever may have been his sentiments individually, policy constrained him to consult those of the French people, who may not have comprehended his aim and object in measures of such remote bearing. He had been challenged to a game of "brag," in which he was not proficient. Astute, sagacious, far seeing as he was, he could not see into his adversary's hand -- he was bluffed -- he revoked the permission he had given the constructor.
A similar diplomatic game had already been successfully played in England, in the case of the "Berkenhead rams" -- as two vessels built on the Mersey were called; for a like issue had been made on the charge that they were designed for the Confederate Government. Had all the vessels charged to the Confederate account so actually belonged, that Government would have been the most formidable of all naval powers.
This case could not be so summarily disposed of in England, where all questions involving the rights of the people had been up to this time invariably adjudicated and decided according to law -- the English people being preeminently conservative and law-abiding. This case was adjudicated, and all the powers of Government brought to the investigation in order to establish the charge that these vessels were built for the Confederate Government. The prosecution exerted a degree of energy unparalleled in the accumulation of evidence from every hole and corner; for there were consequences involved in the decision so momentous as not to be weighed in the balance with tens of millions of pounds sterling, or any other sum of money -- the life of a nation was at stake.
Notwithstanding the disposition on the part of the Government, the earnest hope that the investigations of the Attorney General would discover evidence to sustain the charge, that learned jurist, after a laborious search, was obliged to report that there was no evidence to show that the "Berkenhead rams" were built for the Confederate Government. This was too important a measure to be given up because the law was impotent, or even after the failure of the desperate efforts that had been resorted to. It was a case of life or death. If the law were not strong enough, some other course must be adopted. A threat was made -- it would be a "causus belli" if the vessels in question should come into the possession of the Confederate Government. Impotent as was this threat, it prevailed. The Government succumbed, did what had never before been done -- violate their own laws and take peaceable possession of the vessels; that the law could not condemn -- the surest course by which to satisfy the complainants. This occurred previously to the action of the French Emperor -- in the case before mentioned -- an example he conceived worthy of his following. The "Stonewall" had not, at this time, been baptized with the ever memorable name she subsequently bore, for she was not then a Confederate vessel; and, after much circumlocution, fell into the hands of the Danish Government, at the time, be it remembered, while Prussia and Austria were at war with Denmark. How this occurred is not pertinent to this narrative. We can only conjecture that Prussian spies were not so "wide awake" as had been some other detectives. She was taken to Copenhagen under the direction of Danish naval officers, in order to witness and test her capacity as a "sea going" vessel. Her performance in the North sea somewhat dampened the ardor of these hardy seamen of the North, for they looked upon her as being more of the amphibian kind than of that class of vessels in which they had been accustomed to navigate the ocean.
It is true she had no very great respect for the heavy waves of the sea -- she defied them -- and if they did not permit her to gracefully ride over, she would go through them -- protruding her long elephantine proboscis as the seas receded; and, rising from her almost submerged condition, would shake the torrent from her deck and again walk the water like a thing of life. She was not so dangerous. She was dangerous only when coming in conflict with one of her own kind; and even in this respect her reputation subsequently grew to vast proportions -- far exceeding her capacity to do damage.
Arrived in Copenhagen, the report as to her sea worthiness was not favorable. Her good qualities were ignored, and her disposition to act the part of the leviathan exaggerated. Moreover, the war in which Denmark was engaged was speedily brought to a close and the services of such a vessel were no longer required. In a word, that Government wished to get rid of her; and after much discussion, deliberation, investigation, &c., as to compliance with contract, it was finally determined to return the little craft to the builders. Their agent received her, and under charge of a Danish merchant Captain and crew, she was dispatched to France.
Before leaving port a Confederate navy officer, who was curiously interested in all such naval architecture, had been often on board and inspected the vessel throughout -- her armament, gun gear, projectiles, naval stores, &c. -- for in her construction, equipment, &c., she was quite unique. Pleased with the appearance of the vessel and all on board, he accepted the invitation of the builder's agent and took passage in her for France. She had scarcely got fairly into the North sea when the weather, always boisterous in those latitudes in the winter season, became so bad that the captain conceived it prudent to put into Christiansand in Norway. Time was precious -- for there were pressing obligations pending. Moreover, the captain and crew were to be discharged after the lapse of a limited time. Under these circumstances, the passenger, Mr. Brown, whose status on board was known only to the captain, urged him to "put to sea" on the least abatement of the gale. They had been out in blue water only a few hours when the vessel began to exhibit her powers of diving and coming up, after the fashion of the porpoise, as if for the amusement of all on board. But the engineers and crew, not amused by these fantastic tricks, as they were neither ducks nor fish, petitioned the captain to "put back" into port. He, quite of their opinion, proposed the same to Mr. Brown; but the latter, though in a minority of one, declined to accede to the proposition of the majority -- the rule of the sea being the reverse of that on land under republican government -- and expressing his entire confidence in the "sea worthiness" of the vessel, advised the captain to assure the engineers that turning back was always attended with danger; that there was bad luck in it; that the only danger lay in stopping the engines; that, in a word, the safety of the vessel and all on board depended entirely on the continuous movement of the engine, and the watchful care of it by the engineers.
She weathered that gale and arrived off the coast of France in clear weather and a smooth sea, where -- a very singular coincidence -- a steamer had taken up her anchorage, as though there had been some pre concerted arrangement for their meeting, for this was neither a port nor harbor. The agent of the builders, who had been up to this time the ostensible owner of the vessel, concluding it would be as well for him to land on the nearest point of the coast, took his departure, accompanied by the captain and crew, and went on shore, indulging the pleasing remembrance of an adventurous passage from the North sea, and the still more pleasing anticipation of the fruitful results he was about to realize.
This procedure would seem inhospitable and unkind towards the little craft that had borne them safely through the tempestuous weather of the North sea, thus to be left with one solitary man on board. But she had not long to remain in this unpeopled state. Boats came, crowded with men, from the steamer that lay close by, not only curious to see, but, perhaps, to minister to the wants of the little craft in her deserted condition and to offer their services which sailor men are prompt to render when duty calls; for "old salts" are proverbially kind, and will often risk their lives in an adventure. It turned out, however, that these visitors were not actuated solely by curiosity, for they consisted of officers and sailors prepared to cast their lot, to do their duty, under the Confederate flag, come weal or woe.
The "spar deck" of the vessel presented, on that bright, sunny morn, a busy scene. The Confederate flag was "run up" at the peak, and the pennant at the main mast head, when the commander, surrounded by the little band of officers and men, with caps in hand, pointed to the pure emblem at her peak, the token of the nationality of the vessel, and announced her "The Stonewall" -- ever to be remembered name, given at the baptismal font of the Bay of Biscay.
Certain preliminaries, the "shipping" of men, assignment to specific duties, &c., having been gone through with, the deck was soon cleared of the various articles, so generously presented and as gratefully received from the steamer in company, which, having been stowed in their appropriate places, all was made snug for the cruise. The anchor was "hove up" under the inspiration of that joyous music, familiar to every sailor man, when the "boatswain calls all hands up anchor for home"; for that is music, though it comes from nature's roughest cut, whose melody touches the soul and causes a responsive vibration of the tenderest chords of the heart.
The Bay of Biscay, whose normal condition is that of a boisterous sea, lay like a mirror, reflecting the bright rays of the sun; while balmy air, fanned into the gentlest of breezes by the "headway" of the vessel, promised a happy entrance into the broad Atlantic. "Man proposes but God disposes." The night was not half spent ere the wind blew and the storm arose, and at the dawn of day the Stonewall was contending against a gale and heavy sea, well calculated to test the sea worthiness of the little craft, and try the faith of the stoutest heart in her capacity to weather the storm. "Battened down," she was "water tight," and, although she was no "Mother Cary's chicken" to gracefully dance on the crest of waves, would, in her lazy way, receive them over her bows, in cataract form, and give them free exit through the quarter ports to their mother ocean. Romantic as this may seem, though not comparable to the grandeur of the Falls of Niagara, it was neither exhilarating nor agreeable; for, apart from these too frequent and overwhelming visitations, the officers and men began to look upon them as an imposition, in compelling them to appear on deck booted up to the knee. This round of amusement continued for three days to the monotonous music of the howling of the storm, and the contention of the sea with the skies; when the Stonewall's friend -- the steamer that had befriended her at the anchorage, and now anxiously watched her performance in this terrific gale, in order to render other assistance if needed -- telegraphed or signaled to know "how she was getting on"; for at times when the Stonewall would be in the trough of the sea, partly submerged, there could be nothing seen of her. Knowing that her friend had some other important duty to discharge, with a heavy heart she replied, "all right, go ahead." The steamer went on her way; in her construction she was better constituted to resist the gale.
Only a few hours had elapsed when it was discovered that all was not right, that water was flowing into the captain's cabin from "abaft" in a very unusual manner; and, although men were set to bailing with buckets, the water gained on them. The storeroom for the men's clothing and other purser's effects was "abaft" the cabin, whence came the water. On opening this apartment a very discomforting spectacle met the eye. The caps over the two "rudder heads" were, by the force of the sea, as the Stonewall would occasionally dive beneath, being gradually lifted, the bolts yielding to the pressure, and the water gushing in every direction with great force. Had these blocks been suddenly lifted from their places there would have been opened two holes of ten inches diameter each below the water line, apertures well calculated to endanger the safety of the vessel. A temporary repair was soon made by malling the blocks into their places, and the rush of water partially arrested.
This disaster rendered it necessary to "put into" the nearest port for repairs; although the great consumption of coals would alone have caused this course to be taken, as but little headway had been or could be made "in the face" of such a gale. No observations for determining the geographical position of the vessel had been made for more than two days. The sun, moon and stars -- those beacons by which the mariner shapes his course mid the trackless ocean -- were obscured by the lurid clouds that spanned the firmament. With exhausted bunkers and paralyzed engine the Stonewall would have been a prey to the raging storm; she was not capable of contending under sail alone against a severe gale. To run the risk of being wrecked on the iron bound coast of Spain should the hoped for port not be reached, was preferable to being swamped in the Bay of Biscay. From the best data available under the circumstances, an imaginary position was assigned the vessel and a course determined upon, which it was hoped would lead into some safe anchorage; for any port in a storm is a sailor's snug harbor.
Trusting to "that little cherub that sits up aloft and keeps watch on poor Jack," the helm was "put hard up," the close reefed fore topsail "sheeted home," and the little craft went off before the wind like a thing of life and proudly said to the foaming seas, "follow me." They did follow, as though frantic to get on board, but however given to taking them in over the bows, the Stonewall refused them admittance over the stern. To "scud " so small an ironclad so little above the water's edge was a dangerous evolution, but necessity makes its own laws, and this was one of those cases in which success proved the propriety of adopting the exceptional rule.
The coast of Spain lay ahead, but what part of it was the doubtful question soon to be solved. The pulsations of every heart beat quickly, and every eye was anxiously strained to descry, midst the obscurity of the atmosphere, the crescent shaped contour of the coast, in which lay the port hoped for. Not more joyously did the cry of "land ho!" find an echo in the hearts of Columbus' crew, than it did in the hearts of the Stonewall's on this occasion, when the anxiously looked for haven was seen directly ahead. None but the wearied mariner, after days of doubtful contest with the angry elements, can appreciate such deliverance from the dangers of the sea. This was the happy lot of the Stonewall, as she steamed into the snug harbor, leaving the raging of the gale behind, and dropped anchor in the placid, hospitable waters of Ferrol.
The usual visits of ceremony were made, and on calling on the Captain General, who was an "old salt" holding the rank of Admiral, the character of the Stonewall was stated, and the object of her visit to have certain repairs made and to procure a supply of coals. Permission was politely granted, and authority to employ such hands from the dock yard as might be required.
Ferrol is one of Spain's principal naval stations. I should not pass over the admission of the Stonewall into this port without expressing the obligation under which she lay for this very courteous, hospitable reception at the hands of the Captain General and others, of which there remains a pleasing remembrance not soon to be forgotten. Ship carpenters were immediately at work repairing damages, and at the same time a supply of coals was being taken on board. These operations had scarcely gotten fairly under way when it became known that there were other difficulties and dangers than those she had just escaped that beset the Stonewall. The intelligence of her arrival was not to be confined to Ferrol. There were here, as in every other part of Europe, curious gentlemen, whose avocation was to find out other people's business. The wires soon flashed the news of this arrival, under a novel flag, to the American Minister at Madrid, who forthwith protested to that Government that the admission of such a vessel -- a pirate, an enemy to all mankind, a reckless rover of the sea -- was an infringement of international law, a violation of the rights of nations, and that the Government should eject her from that port and prohibit her entering another, though she might go to the bottom -- the only port the hospitalities of which she was entitled to. Now, it had been supposed that this unpretending little craft had come into the world all right; had been baptized in accordance with the strictest tenets of received public creed, and that she did not come under that class designated by such harsh epithets. She was aware that she was not exempt, in the eyes of some, from the imputation of having been conceived in sin, but, as she had been baptized in the purest of salt water, she intended to take upon herself the responsibilities of her sponsors, to strive hard to do her duty, and to this end she had sought while in distress the hospitable haven of Ferrol.
When a grave complaint is laid before a Government by a foreign minister, it is supposed to be actuated by important considerations and sustained by truthful arguments, in accordance with the dignity of the high position from which such complaint issues. It necessarily commands that respectful consideration demanded by international courtesy. The Government at Madrid was unwilling to believe that their trusted official, the Captain General, had been delinquent in the discharge of the important duties assigned him, but it became necessary that they should be officially advised as to the status of this stranger in the port of Ferrol, thus denounced by such authority as a pirate and all the rest of it, for the pride of the nation would be compromised in extending hospitality to such an enemy to mankind.
The Captain General was therefore required to furnish the Government with positive evidence as to the nationality of the Stonewall. There was no difficulty in doing this. The commanding officer's presence was requested at the office of the Captain General; the information required by the Government stated, with the pleasing assurance that he was satisfied as to the status of the Stonewall; but inasmuch as the American minister had officially made grave charges against the vessel, it became the duty of the Government to place themselves in a position to rebut such charges, if erroneously made; or, if true, to withhold their national hospitality. The required evidence was at hand. The commanding officer presented his commission, showing the authority under which he acted, and the evidence that he was no pirate, nor was the vessel under his command a lawless rover of the sea. He went farther, in order to satisfy the inquiry of the Government -- he exhibited a document, bearing the signature of authority -- "his instructions" -- stating what the Captain General, an Admiral in the Spanish navy, very readily appreciated, "that his instructions were for his guidance solely, and that he would be recreant to his trust were he to submit them to the perusal of another." The Admiral considered the evidence sufficient to satisfy the requirements of his Government, and transmitted the same to Madrid. Orders came to permit the continuance of the repairs that had been suspended.
It is eminently proper here to state the ground on which rested the nationality, not only of the Stonewall, but of every other Confederate man of war, because it was not an uncommon assertion in high places, and eagerly embraced in some quarters, that inasmuch as these vessels under the Confederate flag had been neither built, nor fitted out, nor commissioned in some Confederate port, they were not, in view of international requirements, men of war; and consequently not entitled to the hospitality usually accorded to belligerents in neutral ports. It is sufficient to set at rest all quibbling as to the legal status of the Stonewall, to quote a few extracts from the very many authorities on this point, as laid down in the "British Counter Case" before the "Geneva Convention," and sustained by learned writers on international law: "Where either belligerent is a community or body of persons not recognized by the neutral power as constituting a sovereign state, commissions issued by such belligerent are recognized as acts emanating, not indeed from a sovereign government, but from a person or persons exercising de facto in relation to the war, the powers of a sovereign government.
"Public ships of war in the service of a belligerent, entering the ports or waters of a neutral, are, by the practice of nations, exempt from the jurisdiction of a neutral power. To withdraw or refuse to recognize this exemption without previous notice, or without such notice to exert or attempt to exert jurisdiction over any such vessel, would be a violation of a common understanding which all nations are bound by good faith to respect.
"A vessel becomes a public ship of war by being armed and commissioned -- that is to say, formally invested by order or under the authority of a government with the character of a ship employed in its naval service, and forming part of its marine, for purposes of war. There are no general rules which prescribe how, when or in what form the commissioning must be effected, so as to impress on the vessel the character of a public ship of war. What is essential is that the appointment of a designated officer to the charge and command of a ship likewise designated, be made by the Government or the proper department of it, or under authority delegated by the government or department, and that the charge and command of the ship be taken by the officer so appointed. Customarily, a ship is held to be commissioned when a commissioned officer appointed to her has gone on board of her and hoisted the colors appropriated to the military marines."
The doctrine set forth in the above extracts clearly and incontrovertibly establish the claim of the Stonewall to the right and title of a Confederate man of war. This claim was immediately recognized by the Government at Madrid, so soon as counter representation was presented, and that international comity usually extended to belligerents was not denied the Stonewall. Neither was it withheld from the powerful man of war "Niagara," for she too had put into Ferrol, not "crippled" nor in want of repairs, but simply to pay a visit, to enjoy the hospitalities of the port, or, as was said, to look after the Stonewall. On the same errand arrived the man of war steamer "Sacramento" in the port of Corunna, situated in the same crescent of the coast and distant from the entrances to Ferrol only a few miles; so near that the departure of a vessel from the latter would be seen from the former.
The telegraph wires had been brought into requisition, and these two powerful men of war summoned to seek out and arrest the mad career of this "rebel rover." They found her, but what then? If actuated simply by curiosity to see and learn something of this novel specimen of naval architecture, their subsequent course would indicate that they had become perfectly satisfied. The Niagara, after remaining a day or two in Ferrol, got under way and proceeded to Corunna, where both she and the Sacramento remained until after the departure of the Stonewall. This was assumed as prima facie evidence that they designed to attack the Stonewall immediately on her leaving Ferrol and having got beyond Spanish jurisdiction. Had the Niagara remained in Ferrol, she could not, under the international rule, have sailed until the lapse of twenty four hours after the sailing of the Stonewall; but from Corunna she could have sailed on the same day and hour, for every movement of this little vessel was promptly telegraphed to the Niagara.
That this procedure is inadmissible in public law is clearly laid down by publicists, and that the international hospitality of the port of Corunna was in this instance violated is clearly deducible from the recognized doctrine as to the treatment of belligerents in neutral ports. It cannot be doubted that the Niagara and Sacramento, while lying in the port of Corunna, were making that neutral port a "base of naval operations" -- a point of departure -- where they lay in wait for and whence they designed to issue and attack the Stonewall on her going to sea. This is clearly prohibited to belligerents, and a violation of the hospitalities usually extended by the neutral power to the vessel in distress. These two men of war had not "put into port" wanting either repairs or provisions. A striking instance of the argument of "meum and tuum" is here illustrated. It was urged upon the Government at Madrid to eject the Stonewall from the port of Ferrol without repairs, without coal or provisions; while the Niagara and Sacramento, wanting neither, were not only to enjoy the hospitalities of the very near port, but be permitted to make that port a "base of naval operations." It seemed, however, that the "bases" was not suited to the "operations" for which these vessels had been summoned.
The repairs had been finally completed, the Stonewall "stripped" to lower masts and "standing rigging," in order that neither spars nor running rigging, if shot away, should entangle her propellers -- when the commanding officer called to make his acknowledgments to the Captain -- General and others; for the hospitalities extended in the work of making her again seaworthy. It was kindly suggested, in view of the great odds against her, that the Stonewall should avail herself of the obscurity of the night to make her escape from the superior force supposed to be lying in wait in Corunna. The suggestion was the prompting of gallant, generous spirits, who invariably sympathize with the weaker party in all conflicts. It was gratefully acknowledged, but the Stonewall had been built to fight not to run -- especially in this case, where the pursuer would have the speed of two to one of the pursued. Her boats, save one at the stern, had been sent on shore, lest they should obstruct the free use of the after guns in time of action, for if sunk or captured the boats of her kind friends would be amply sufficient to rescue from a watery grave those who might be on the surface. The gallant spirits on board of the Stonewall were not dismayed in the face of this superior force; but trusting in the Omnipotent Ruler, and in the justice of the cause represented by that emblem at the "peak," they were of one mind to do their duty. The small sum of Government money on hand was sent on shore, and the officers sent, each one, his watch -- a memento of his last gallant deeds -- to some dear relative.
One bright spring morning, after the men had broken their fast, the Stonewall "put to sea," to face the momentous ordeal awaiting her, as it was supposed. She was followed by a very imposing Spanish frigate, whose object -- doubtless coupled with a little curiosity to witness a fight -- was to see that in the impending conflict between the belligerents there should be no violation of Spanish territory. A few minutes only served to put them both in blue water. Doubtless the anticipations of the frigate's officers were wrought to the highest pitch of interesting excitement; but they were destined to disappointment. When the Stonewall had passed beyond the "marine league" from the Spanish coast, the frigate fired a gun, from which the inference was that she had got beyond Spanish jurisdiction. Assuming an imaginary line between the headlands of the crescent formed coast, the Stonewall "stood" on that line, to and fro, taking care not to approach either headland within three marine miles. The Niagara and Sacramento, lying in Corunna, were plainly in sight, with "steam up" and issuing from the steam pipe.
The sloping sides of the mountains, both north and south, presented a beautiful panoramic spectacle. Curiosity had led thousands of persons from both Corunna and Ferrol, as on some gala occasion, to assemble on these mountain slopes to witness the anticipated conduct; but they, too, were destined to disappointment, and as the day waned, convinced that no performance would come off, they retired to their homes, as it was reported, giving vent to their feelings in no measured terms, against those actors who were to come from Corunna and without whom there could be no performance.
The dinner hour of the crew had come, while the Stonewall "stood" on the line she had taken back and forth, her screws slowly revolving, seeming to think there was a screw loose in Corunna. The men had been at "quarters" - - that is, at their several stations in time of action -- for some hours since an early breakfast, sitting, standing, walking by the side of their respective guns, chatting in low tones among themselves as cheerfully as though they were going into some home port. They ate their dinner at "quarters," for the distance between the Stonewall and her anxiously looked for friends from Corunna was too short to admit of the usual formalities of a set dinner. They imagined that after the settlement of the "slight unpleasantness," should any of them happen to "turn up" alive, they would be invited to a more formal dinner on board of the Niagara or Sacramento.
Thus passed the day, in hopeless anticipation. The spectators on the mountain side had disappeared, and the Spanish frigate, seeing there would be no violation to Her Majesty's territory, had returned to Ferrol while the Stonewall, at the close of the day, abandoning all hopes of meeting her fellow travelers of the sea, for they evidently desired none of her company, stood on her course for Lisbon. It became necessary to "put into" this port, though so near, because the Stonewall had taken on board in Ferrol only a limited quantity of coals. This was done in order to enable her to carry the "4' bow gun" as high as possible above the sea, and thereby be more efficient. She conceived the chances of victory greatly against her, and that she would not require coals if captured or sent to the bottom.
Arrived in Lisbon, and while in the act of taking on board a supply of coals, the Stonewall was honored with an official visit, the object of which was to ascertain when she was going to sea. The tone and nervous manner accompanying this inquiry were strongly indicative of an earnest desire that she should leave the port without delay. This Portuguese reception, in contrast with that of the Spanish, was very striking. The official was given to understand that the Stonewall had availed herself of the hospitalities of Lisbon only with the view of procuring coals, and that if he would kindly expedite the delivery of them on board she would hasten her departure. The truth was the authorities on shore had received information of the sailing of the Niagara and Sacramento from Corunna, and, doubtless, the phantom of a naval engagement in the Tagus floated before their eyes. Before the setting of the sun on that mild, calm day, these two men of war appeared off the entrance to the port. This, in no small degree, added to the nervousness on shore. It had certainly the appearance, if not confirmation strong, of a pursuit, and seemed as though these vessels had not seen enough of the Stonewall. But this idea was dispelled by their coming into the port and anchoring. By so doing they subjected themselves to the international rule prohibiting them from leaving the port until the lapse of twenty four hours after the departure of the Stonewall. The weather was good, the sea was. smooth, and it was argued that if they desired to meet the Stonewall in action they would have remained outside. Perhaps the weather was too good, the sea too smooth -- conditions most favorable to the Stonewall, for in a heavy sea she could not have fought her guns at all, while the Niagara could have not only fought her but, towering above, could have run over her, provided she had not run "afoul" of her most salient point, the spur at the bow. It is not, however, my purpose to express an opinion as to how the Stonewall might have been destroyed.
The coaling of the vessel was not finished until after the night had set in, when the pilot of the port refused to take her out to sea, as he did not consider it safe to attempt doing so. Although the quiet of the night, for all was calm and still, had not brought peaceful rest to the slumbers of the Lisbon officials while these belligerents lay in their port, relief came at early dawn when they saw this troublesome little craft turn her bow towards the ocean and proceed down the river. On passing the Niagara and Sacramento (they had anchored about a mile below), the commander of the Stonewall was pleased to see on the "quarter deck" of the Niagara his quondam shipmate and friend, bearing the rank of commodore. They had cruised in the West Indies on board of the same ship, the "old Erie," when one was "sailing master," the other a "green midshipman." This midshipman, ere the end of the cruise, had seen some service, had passed some dangers during the three years spent in those boisterous latitudes. When the "Erie" was visited by that dire disease, the yellow fever, it pervaded the ship from cabin to forecastle, striking down the captain, most of the officers and forty of her crew in the course of a few days. The captain, ere he became too ill, gave this midshipman orders, with the appointment of an "acting lieutenant," to take the ship into Norfolk. This was safely done after a stormy passage, and anchoring off the navy hospital the sick were sent on shore. It may be asked, what this little episode has to do with the Stonewall? Nothing, save that this midshipman, after the lapse of years, became the commander of the craft whose short life and shortcomings are here treated of.
Taking an unceremonious leave of her friends lying quietly in the Tagus, for they seemed to think her unworthy their steel, the Stonewall stood out to sea, touched at Tanariffe, the most eligible point from which to cross the Atlantic, and filling up with coals, shaped her course so as to reach the latitude of the "trade winds" in the shortest possible time, where her sails would come into requisition. It was advisable to avail of those winds in order to economize coals, as she could not carry enough to steam the whole way across. It was also important to have enough on board for the emergency of "falling in" with any of those cruisers that it was supposed were keeping a sharp lookout for her. But the lookout could not have been very much on the alert, inasmuch as no man of war was seen throughout the entire passage to Havana, although the conclusion was inevitable that she must call either at Bermuda or Nassau to replenish her bunkers. That her departure from Lisbon was speedily made known in the United States cannot admit of a doubt. Her arrival at Ferrol had been made the subject of diplomatic correspondence with the Government at Madrid, and before her departure from Lisbon she was honored with a visit from a gentleman attached to the American Legation at Madrid, who availed himself of the privilege granted all persons wishing to visit the vessel, but omitted the observance of the usual courtesies on such occasions and presented his card at the "gang way" from his boat, only when in the act of going on shore in company with many other visitors. He doubtless satisfied his curiosity, saw all that he cared to see, perhaps little more, for there was nothing to conceal on board of the Stonewall, and boasted on shore of the gallantry of his conduct; though it was closely akin to that of a spy -- a character recognized by the laws of war as entitled, if caught, to hanging; but the dignity of his position should have deterred him from the commission of an act of vulgarity. There was a low bravado in boasting of the accomplishment of a design in which there could be no detection, unbecoming the office he held and the gentleman he assumed to be. His acquaintance would, doubtless, have been politely acknowledged by the commanding officer, and quarters suited to his rank assigned him. On the slow, monotonous passage across the Atlantic, nothing worthy of note occurred, save the appearance of a clipper built bark, bound from Baltimore to Rio de Janeiro, laden with flour She was under all sail, going rapidly through the water, with a free wind. There is but one object, either in nature or art, given to the eyes of man to behold more beautiful than the ship under "full sail." The French flag was hoisted at the "peak" of the Stonewall, and immediately the American flag was shown by the bark. When she had come within a suitable distance, the French flag was hauled down, the Confederate hoisted in its place, and a "nine inch " shell thrown across her bow. The music of such a projectile, flying through the air with ignited fuse, is not that of the Aeolian harp. With "flowing sheets," the bark "came up into wind" as gracefully as are the movements of the swan when gliding through the waters of a placid lake. Here was presented an unpleasant conflict of duty and inclination. To destroy such a craft was repulsive; and yet duty might demand it. The commander of the Stonewall would gladly avail himself of a justifiable excuse to avoid such an alternative. The captain of the bark was brought on board. His troubled appearance may be more easily imagined than described. In great anguish he declared that he had been in that trade many years, and this was the first time he had brought his wife and little daughter with him. Here was an appeal that added to the embarrassment of the situation, not easily disregarded. The Stonewall had no accommodations for such passengers, and moreover this was not the kind of game she was in pursuit of. The captain of the bark was given to understand that a bond would be required of him for the release of his vessel, and that he should assure his owners they were indebted solely to his wife and daughter for the rescue of their vessel and cargo from the flames. A heavier oppression was never lifted from the human breast, and his countenance beamed with all the kindly feelings the human heart is susceptible of. He begged that he might be allowed to present to the Stonewall some of the luxuries with which his pantry was supplied. His offer was gratefully acknowledged, but declined. The bark went on her way rejoicing, and the Stonewall pursued her course to Nassau, a convenient port at which to procure coals.
She did not enter the harbor, but received the coals outside -- an unpleasant indication, for there were rumors on shore, though not authentic, which made the Stonewall an unwelcome visitor. She was permitted to take on board coals sufficient for the passage to Havana.
Arrived at Havana, the usual visits of ceremony made, the vessel was admitted to the customary hospitalities of the port, with no limitation as to the time she would be permitted to remain. Mark the difference of the Stonewall's reception here and that at Nassau! The sad intelligence here received, which I need not describe, was not to be questioned, and the feelings of both officers and men may be imagined, but not expressed.
The little craft that had so bravely breasted the storms of tempestuous seas, to do her duty in a holy cause, found herself a useless hulk, an encumbrance.
The political state of affairs in the Confederacy had not been as yet officially announced to the authorities of Cuba. When that shall have been done, the Stonewall would no longer be entitled to the flag she so proudly bore off Ferrol.
Negotiations were entered into with the authorities of Havana, which resulted in the acceptance of the Stonewall as a present, subject to the decision of the Queen of Spain. By the terms of the agreement, there was advanced to the Stonewall the sum of $16,000 in order to pay the officers and crew what was due them, as set forth in the books of the paymaster. A much larger sum would have been advanced, and was suggested, but her commander was in honor bound to the crew for the payment of what was due them -- the vessel being fully responsible -- and he would receive nothing more.
An Admiral, with his attendant staff of officers, came on board to formally receive the Stonewall. The delicacy and courtesy of this distinguished officer on this occasion will ever be remembered. He appreciated the painful position of the commanding officer, and before proceeding to the details involved, remarked to him, "My barge is at your service, and Captain will attend you to the arsenal, and thence to your quarters on shore." Officials of some governments would have avoided a Confederate officer at that time as they would have done a contagious pestilence. Captain performed the duty assigned him with all that courtesy for which the Spanish race has ever been preeminently distinguished.
Thus terminated the career of the Stonewall under the Confederate flag.
What was her ultimate fate? It is said she came into the possession of the United States Government, was sold to the Japanese Government, and was wrecked during a severe typhoon while lying at anchor. It may be proper to mention as a pertinent episode in the last days of the Stonewall, that among the arrivals which soon followed her into Havana was an imposing looking American man of war steamer. She anchored only a very short distance off. One morning a letter was handed to the commander of the Stonewall, which bore the signature of an old acquaintance -- the captain of the man of war close by. The purport of this communication was suggesting the propriety of surrender of the Stonewall to him. Its receipt was promptly acknowledged, and although its kind suggestions were fully appreciated, they were politely declined.
The Stonewall was in a position to present herself to the Captain General, or, through him, to the Queen of Spain; but she was not the craft to surrender on demand or solicitation.
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Copyright 2001, John E. Ellis, www.csnavy.org