Sunday, June 7, 2015

June 7, 1861 - Consul Bunch deals with the blockade; W.H. Russell starts countdown to Manassas

William Howard Russell, the first great war correspondent, was an important contact for British Consul Robert Bunch, Our Man in Charleston. Here, Russell is traveling through  the newly declared Confederate States of America.

From William Howard Russell's My Diary North and South:

June 7th - ... Whilst the Richmond papers demand an immediate movement on Washington, the journals of New York are clamoring for an advance upon Richmond. ... Extraordinary delusions prevail on both sides. The North believe that battalions of scalping Indian savages are actually stationed at Harper s Ferry. One of the most important movements has been made by Major-General McClellan, who has marched a force into Western Virginia from Cincinnati, has occupied a portion of the line of the Baltimore and Ohio railway, which was threatened with destruction by the Secessionists ; and has already advanced as far as Grafton. Gen. McDowell has been appointed to the command of the Federal forces in Virginia. Every day regiments are pouring down from the North to Washington. General Butler, who is in command at Fortress Monroe, has determined to employ Negro fugitives, whom he has called "Contrabands" in the works about the fort, feeding them, and charging the cost of their keep against the worth of their services ; and Mr. Cameron, the Secretary of War, has ordered him to refrain from surrendering such slaves to their masters, whilst he is to permit no interference by his soldiers with the relations of persons held to service under the laws of the States in which they are in.

Mr. Jefferson Davis has arrived at Richmond. At sea the Federal steamers have captured a number of Southern vessels ; and some small retaliations have been made by the Confederate privateers. The largest mass of the Confederate troops have assembled at a place called Manassas Junction, on the railway from Western Virginia to Alexandria.

The Northern papers are filled with an account of a battle at Philippi, and a great victory, in which no less than two of their men were wounded and two were reported missing as the whole casualties ; but Napoleon scarcely expended so much ink over Austerlitz as is absorbed on this glory in the sensation headings of the New York papers. 

* * *

President Lincoln had declared a blockade of Southern ports in April after the confederates seized For Sumter in Charleston Harbor. But Britain would not honor a "paper blockade" that was not enforced or enforceable. The Crown and all the major powers of Europe had signed an appendix to the Treaty of Paris in 1856 at the end of the Crimean war making that clear, even though the United States was not a signatory and, of course, the Confederate States had not existed.

So Her Majesty's Consul Robert Bunch spent much of the month of May and early June sailing out of Charleston Harbor to observe the presence of the Union fleet, or the lack of it, and to make sure that British merchant ships bottled up in Charleston harbor could sail fully loaded with cargo and without undo interference. At the same time, Bunch encountered ever greater difficulties communicating with his superiors in Washington and London, since the U.S. postal service had been terminated. He frequently resorted to private messengers, preferably Britons, to carry official correspondence north.

Passages from one of Bunch's letters to Lord Lyons, the British envoy to Washington, courtesy of the the Duke of Norfolk's Archives, Arundel Castle, West Sussex, U.K.:

June 6 - ... In these hard times, especially, scraps of important news are most welcome. We are beginning to feel the effects of the Blockade and interruption of mails as we get no new books and no papers, whilst the telegrams are exclusively Southern. ... This [letter] is to go by a young Englishman in 'the mercantile line,' Mr. John Baird. He has given me good references and is preferable to an American messenger. 

Bunch had remonstrated with American officers who had stopped a British schooner from sailing, and persuaded them that it met the criteria for passage. He then sent one of them "a loin of veal and some fresh vegetables by way of showing him that he was forgiven." Meanwhile, his observations made it clear that the blockade, in general, was poorly enforced at that point, and he suggested Lord Lyons use that information in his talks with Union Secretary of State William Seward.

I hope that Your Lordship may see fit to let Mr. Seward have a copy of my [report] of arrivals and departures. I should particularly wish him to know that the two privateers [Confederate merchantmen armed as warships for commerce raiding] were goign to sail - this will be so pleasant - One has gone since yesterday. The line of the [Federal] government and its officers seems to be to say that everybody tells whoppers who does not agree with them. The Blockade was entirely at an end here for fourteen days. Mr. Seward, the Secretary of the Navy, Commodore Stringham and the capt. of the "Harriet Lane" to the contrary notwithstanding. 

It is getting dreadfully hot and the summer bids fair to be pleasant. The ice will soon price out and lots of things are missing already. What it will be four months hence Your Lordship may judge."

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