Mr. Harvey to Mr. Seward.
Sir: Information has reached me from different sources to the effect that two steamships of superior speed and strength are now nearly ready for sea in England, intended as auxiliaries to the Alabama, and destined for the same description of criminal service which that vessel has been engaged in.
In view of this information, and in connexion with the fact that the islands of this kingdom have been recently, and are now constantly being employed as the entrepôts of a large trade, covered by the British flag, intended to violate the blockade in the United States, and of the additional fact that there is too much reason to fear that these islands may be again used for the arming and equipment of cruisers against our commerce, it is imperatively necessary that efficient and prompt measures should be taken to arrest this illegal traffic and to prevent the threatened depredations.
With a full appreciation of the difficulties which have to be confronted, and of the energetic efforts of the Navy Department to meet the requirements of the public service at home and abroad, it still seems practicable to provide against the existing and menaced evils without any new strain upon the national resources.
The first important requisite, as I have heretofore ventured to suggest, is to organize the naval force now in Europe upon some plan that will insure greater efficiency and concert of action, looking to the main object for which that force is kept abroad. The emergencies which arise are so sudden, that it is impossible for specific orders of the Navy Department, directing special cruisers, to foresee such exigencies as have occurred, and may be repeated, however wise and proper those orders may be abstractly, or seem to be, at a distance of three thousand miles from the scenes of these frequent and violent attacks upon our exposed commerce. Hence a reason why some superior officer now in Europe, or one to be detailed for the purpose, shall have the main direction of the movements of the ships-of-war, guided by such reliable information as he should receive from the United States ministers, consuls, and others, or acting upon a satisfactory understanding of their views.
The suggested responsibility is undoubtedly unusual, but the occasion is equally so, and the means should therefore be adapted to the end. Experience and observation have satisfied me that if our naval force had been organized in some such manner as is now proposed, much injury at least might have been prevented, with a strong probability of other desirable results. While the commander of each ship-of-war may decide for himself within certain limits, except when in contact with his superiors, where and how he shall cruise, the best dispositions—such dispositions as I must say animate all whom I have met in the discharge of efficient duty—may be thwarted, as they have heretofore been. Our small force would be nearly doubled in vigor by competent and judicious direction on the spot, and would have the [Page 1299] additional value of relieving the Navy Department of importunities and anxieties which must augment the cares and distract the attention of its distinguished head.
Of the ships-of-war in Europe the Tuscarora alone is efficient for the particular service which claims serious attention. The Kearsarge has broken down several times, most unfortunately, and is now under repair. The gunboat Chippewa I only know by report as being small. The Sabine, which is said to be or to have been at the Azores, and the St. Louis, are sailing vessels, entirely unfit to compete with the steamers of the enemy. The Constellation also is a sailing ship, and has been in the Mediterranean for the last nine months. None of the other ships mentioned in the letter of the Secretary of the Navy to the Department of State, dated October 27, 1862, have appeared in these waters to my knowledge.
It will be thus seen at a glance that, practically considered, our force is reduced to the Tuscarora, with one or two unreliablé auxiliaries. Commerce cannot be protected, and illegal traffic cannot be even checked, without the presence of two swift and strong steamers in addition to the Tuscarora. They are needed to cruise at and among the islands of Madeira, the Azores, and the Cape de Verd group especially. The annual cost of maintaining the Sabine and St. Louis would, if I am informed rightly, almost cover the price of one such steamer as is wanted, since speed, draught, and limited but well provided armament, are the qualities which this peculiar and exceptional service demands.
Every reflection of my own anxious mind and every proper suggestion from other sources have been exerted with the means at hand to give protection to the persons and property of American citizens exposed on the ocean. But all such efforts must be comparatively without beneficial results until it may be found practicable for the government to increase the efficiency of those means.
I am, sir, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
Hon. William H. Seward, Secretary of State.