Mr. Harvey to Mr. Seward.

No. 171.]

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.



Sir: It is known, from various sources of information, that the piratical cruiser Alabama is still pursuing the career of destruction and depredation upon American commerce, which was recently commenced off the island of Flores.

By the last accounts it would seem that this cruiser, after leaving the Azores, took a western course towards Newfoundland, and in that vicinity destroyed and burnt other ships bound on regular voyages between New York and the ports of Europe. Among them was one laden with a valuable cargo for this port.

I have reason to believe that a large number of vessels freighted with [Page 1290] cereals have already left, or soon will leave, New York for Lisbon. It is of great consequence that they, and others in similar category, should be protected. Your ship is the only one now available for the purpose on this side of the Atlantic, the Kearsarge being temporarily disabled.

My decided opinion is, and my advice conforms to it, that the Tuscarora should proceed forthwith to those waters and places where the most efficient succor and protection can be afforded to merchant vessels destined for Europe, or vice versa, from and to the northern ports of the United States.

I would, therefore, strongly recommend a cruise between the Azores and the west Atlantic coast, along the general track of commerce, until proper relief is furnished by the Navy Department, which may soon be confidently expected, if it has not already been provided. Afterwards I would advise you to return to these waters, since it may be supposed that the scene of depredation will be changed, and we should be prepared for all such contingencies.

I am, sir, very respectfully,


Commander T. Augustus Craven, United States Steamer Tuscarora, Lisbon.

Captain Pickering to Mr. Harvey.


Sir: I have the honor to acknowledge the receipt of your communication of the 20th ultimo, enclosing a description of the rebel steamer Alabama, and a translation of the proclamation of the King of Portugal.

In compliance with your request that I should communicate with you as often as practicable on the progress of events, &c., I have to inform you that the reported destruction of ten American whalers by the Alabama was confirmed by our consul, Mr. Charles Dabney, from whom, and from other authentic sources, I learned that the Alabama sailed from Liverpool under English colors and the name of “290,” followed shortly after by the Barcelona, ladened with guns and ammunition. These steamers effected the transfer of armament, ammunition, stores, &c., at a small bay to the southward and westward of the town of Angra (Terceira) under English colors, and, I believe, in opposition to the remonstrance of the authorities of Angra, where, after the transfer was completed, guns mounted, &c., a small man, with gray moustache, and until then in citizens dress, appeared in confederate uniform and took command; his name was “Semmes.” In justice to the Portuguese government and to the authorities of the Western islands, I will here state my conviction, founded upon personal observation and intercourse, that nothing but respect to the neutral flag prevented the seizure of both steamers while engaged in this transfer. It is to be regretted that the English government has not the power or the inclination to prevent this abuse and prostitution of her time-honored flag.

My cruise among the Western islands, I regret to say, was cut short by the report of my chief engineers upon the condition of the engines, after a chase of nineteen hours in pursuit of a double smoke-pipe, paddle-wheel steamer, which I lost sight of during a dark and rainy night. She was standing to eastward and probably bound to England.

Finding myself crippled, and needing five or six days’ repairs, which it would have been imprudent to have attempted at this season of the year at [Page 1291] the Western islands, even could the castings have been obtained, I resolved to return; and leaving the enclosed order with Commander Craven, of the Tuscarora, I cruised through the islands, touched at Madeira, and arrived here on Sunday morning. I propose sailing for Cadiz in a few days.

I have the honor to be your obedient servant,

C. W. PICKERING, Captain.

Hon. James E. Harvey, United States Minister, Lisbon.



Sir: So soon as you have satisfied yourself that the rebel steamer Alabama has left the vicinity of the Azores, you will proceed with the Tuscarora to Lisbon, Portugal, for the purpose of conferring with and obtaining such information from the United States minister, James E. Harvey, as may guide your future movements for the protection of our commerce against rebel cruisers.

I am respectfully, &c., your obedient servant,

C. W. PICKERING, Captain.

Commander T. Augustus Craven, Commanding United States Steamship Tuscarora.