Mr. Harvey to Mr. Seward.
Sir: The apprehensions expressed in my despatches for several months past, when I repeatedly urged the adoption of certain precautions by the Navy Department, have been verified by serious depredations upon our commerce, as you must have learned before this time.
It appears from news just received here that the piratical cruiser Alabama, after destroying a large number of whaling ships near the Azores, steered westward towards the banks of Newfoundland, so as to be in the track of regular trade on the Atlantic, where several other vessels, one of them freighted with flour and grain for this port, were destroyed. I take it for granted that as soon as that intelligence reached Washington prompt measures were adopted to protect our outgoing commerce.
The commander of the Alabama is too shrewd, however, to expose himself voluntarily to capture, and too active in the enemy’s service to remain long in one locality, especially where the presence of an equal or superior force may be expected. It is quite probable that he will recross the [Page 1289] Atlantic by the general route of travel, with a chance of pursuing his criminal vocation to the injury of our people.
Acting upon this theory, and after personally conferring with the commander of the Tuscarora, (which had returned here from the Azores,) I addressed him a letter yesterday, of which a copy is enclosed, marked P, and in accordance with that suggestion he started to-day on a cruise of protection and pursuit with a hope of encountering the pirate.
After being informed of the recent outrages, I could not properly permit a ship-of-war to remain idle in port without making an effort to punish the guilty and defend the innocent. That reason is the justification of my action, which I venture to believe will receive approval.
I transmit herewith papers, marked Q and R, containing a report from Captain Vickering of his cruise to the Azores. The Kearsarge, which he commands, has been quite unfortunate in her machinery. If she were in proper condition, with the aid of the Tuscarora, and another swift and strong steamer, the present service on this side of the Atlantic could be efficiently performed; but if the reports of piratical cruisers being fitted out on the Clyde, and near Liverpool, are true, then one or two others at least would be needed. Unless, however, some organization be perfected, by which every ship can be called into immediate requisition, through regular reports from the commanders to the ministers, no confidence in good results will be felt. Much time, money, and effort have been most unprofitably expended, simply because there has been no plan and no concert in these praiseworthy but inefficient endeavors.
Again, the exigencies which may arise, as hard experience has already shown, are sudden, and can scarcely be foreseen or provided for in the usual orders given to commanding officers for specific cruises. A margin of discretion must either be allowed to the minister who is called upon to act, or to some superior naval authority in charge of the squadron and service. I have never hesitated to take any responsibility that duty required, but it has necessarily been confined to pressing emergencies, as I have not felt at liberty to interfere with positive orders, when having in view precautionary measures only; nor would the officers, in such cases, have felt authorized to ignore, or to depart from their orders. The circumstances are unusual, and to combat them successfully the means must be adapted to the end.
I am, sir, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
Hon. William H. Seward, Secretary of State.