Mr. Seward to Mr. Bigelow

No. 48.]

Sir: I transmit a copy of a letter of the 10th instant, and of the accompanying papers, addressed to this department by the Secretary of War, relative to the capture, in Mexican waters, by insurgents from Texas, of the steamer, Ark, when on a voyage from New Orleans to Matamoras. The abuses of the rights of neutrals which, throughout the present war, have been committed by trade with the pretended neutral port of Matamoras, and the open intercourse and unfeigned good understanding between inhabitants of that port and enemies of the United States in Texas, have materially served to prolong the war itself, and, in our opinion, would perhaps have justified, if not the seizure, at least the blockade of Matamoras, as a measure of self-protection.

Please call the attention of Mr. Drouyn de Lhuys to the subject, with a desire that neutrality may be vigorously enforced there by the French troops in occupation, and so remove a source of embarrassment which seems to be quite annoying.

I am, sir, your obedient servant,


John Bigelow, Esq., &c., &c., &c., Paris.

Mr. Stanton to Mr. Seward

Sir: I have the honor to transmit to you a report of Major General Canby, commanding the military division of west Mississippi, in relation to the seizure of a United States vessel at the mouth of the Rio Grande, together with certain official papers connected therewith, which accompany that report.

Your obedient servant,

EDWIN M. STANTON, Secretary of War.

Hon. William H. Seward, Secretary of State.


Sir: On the 16th of July last, the steamer Ark, Augustus Williamson, master, left this port laden with lumber, &c. She belonged to John Bochino, a citizen of the United States, entirely loyal, and a resident of this city for many years past. The value of this vessel was not less than $25,000, and her cargo was worth about $2,000. In proceeding up the Rio Grande, and when about twelve miles above Bagdad, her machinery became slightly disabled, and she ran aground from eight to ten steps’ distance from the bank of the river on the Mexican side. While in this position and in Mexican waters, she was seized and taken possession of by the confederates, to wit, on the 7th of August, 1864, and carried to Brownsville, Texas. At this port she was condemned as prize, and subsequently sold as such to certain Mexican citizens, to wit, on the 23d October, 1864.

The steamer Ark cleared regularly at this port, receiving all essential documents, exemplifications of which are hereto annexed. She was also duly entered at the port of Bagdad upon arriving there.

The object of presenting this case to you, Mr. Seward, is to obtain restitution of this property, if possible. Mr. Bochino appears to have been divested violently thereof, in violation of the laws of nations, and in violation of the protection afforded our commerce in neutral waters, and Mr. Bochino has thought fit to lay this matter before you, sir, for such action as you. may deem fitting in the premises.


J. S. WHITAKER, Attorney.

Hon. William H. Seward, Secretary of State.

John Bachino, the within named claimant, being duly sworn, deposes and says that all the facts set forth in the foregoing statement are true.


Sworn to and subscribed before me this 26th day of January, 1865.

CHARLES CLAIBORNE, United States Commissioner.

[Page 369]

I, Charles Claiborne, United States commissioner for the eastern district of Louisiana, do hereby certify that John Beaching, the claimant herein, this day appeared before me at my office, and made oath to the facts set forth in this petition.

In faith whereof, I grant the presents under my signature and seal of office, at the city of New Orleans, this 26th day of January, in the year of our Lord 1865, and the eighty-ninth year of the American independence.


CHARLES CLAIBORNE, United States Commissioner.


United States of America, Eastern District of Louisiana, City of New Orleans, State of Louisiana:

On this 21st day of January, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-five, before me, Charles Claiborne, a commissioner duly appointed by the circuit court of the United States for the eastern district of Louisiana, personally appeared at my office, in the city of New Orleans, in the said eastern district of Louisiana, Augustus Williamson, who, having been duly sworn, did thereupon depose and say: That on the 16th July, 1864, he left New Orleans in command of the steamer Ark, bound for Matamoras, with a cargo of lumber, say fifteen thousand feet, and three passengers. We arrived at Bagdad, Mexico, on the 29th day of July, 1864, and there entered the steamer at the custom-house. We laid at this port three days, and then on the 1st of August, 1864, left for our destination, Matamoras. At about 5 o’clock p. m. the machinery became so disabled as to prevent our further progress. I then threw out an anchor on the Mexican side, about twelve miles above Bagdad, say at about fifteen yards from the Mexican side of the river. I caused the vessel to sheer close in to the bank during the night, so as not to be in the way of other vessels that were passing. The river fell during that night about four feet, and the vessel was then left fast aground. I then found it impossible to get her off; went to Bagdad, and obtained a small vessel to take off her cargo, for the purpose of lightening her. On the 6th of August I carried in our yawl an anchor to the Texas side, and had intended to have used this, with a chain attached to the steamer, for the purpose of getting her afloat in deep water; but the chain not being long enough to reach the anchor, I was unable to use it as intended, to wit, to heave her off.

The steamer was not, therefore, attached to the Texas side of the river. On the 7th of August I got out a large portion of the cargo on the deck, for the purpose of putting it on board the vessel referred to. Before I could get any of this on board the small vessel, armed confederates came up in force, from two hundred to three hundred strong, on the Texas side of the Rio Grande, (at this point not over one hundred and fifty yards in width,) and required me to send my yawl-boat across for them, which I found it necessary to do. Twelve came over and took possession of the vessel, and made me and the crew prisoners, my passengers having already left me at Bagdad. On or about the 14th August they took us to Brownsville, the steamer being still left aground, with twelve soldiers on board; we were imprisoned up to the 27th of August, 1864, released then two days on parole, and then sent to Houston, being released eventually on the 8th day of December, 1864. I gave my deposition to the same facts herein stated, while in Brownsville, before the confederate authorities. I should have stated that some two or three days after the vessel was seized by the confederates, General Cortinas sent a courier on board the vessel to Colonel Ford, in command of the confederate force, demanding the vessel, because taken in violation of neutral waters, but the demand was disregarded. The confederates sold the steamer, after her capture, for the sum of thirteen thousand and fifty dollars in gold. She was sold at auction at Brownsville. I do not know who purchased her. Her name has been changed. She now is running on the river between Bagdad and Matamoras.


CHARLES CLAIBORNE, United States Commissioner.


United States of America, Eastern District of Louisiana, City of New Orleans, State of Louisiana:

On the 21st day of January, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-five, before me, Charles Claiborne, a commissioner duly appointed by the circuit court of the United States for the eastern district of Louisiana, personally appeared at my office, in the city of New Orleans, in the said eastern district of Louisiana, Antonio Miguel, who, being duly sworn, did thereupon depose and say:

I left New Orleans on the steamer Ark on the 16th day of July, 1864. We left for Bagdad, Mexico, with the intention of going from that place to Matamoras. We reached Bagdad on the 29th July, 1864. We laid there three days, and then left for Matamoras; on the same [Page 370] day, when we were about twelve miles from Bagdad, the captain, with one of the deck hands, was at the helm; the captain was intoxicated and could not steer the steamer properly, and ran her aground on the Mexican side. He got her off, and backing her out she struck the Texan side; and when we had hardly started to go up the river the engineer cried out that the engine was disabled, and the captain then dropped anchor on the Mexican side, on the same place where we had been aground before. We remained there until the next morning. The water having fallen four feet during the night, the vessel was hard aground. Not being able to heave her off, the captain went down to Bagdad to see the owner. We remained there two days, and then returned to the steamer in the yawl. We took the cargo or a portion of the cargo from the hold and put it on deck, for the purpose of having it ready for a small steamer, the Valdez, which I understood had been chartered to take off the cargo of our steamer and transport it to Matamoras. The Valdez was alongside of us when a confederate force of two or three hundred men hailed us from the Texas bank and asked for the yawl, so that they could come on board. The yawl was sent to them. Twelve came on board and took possession of the vessel. They asked for her papers and for her American flag. The Mexican flag was flying at her masthead; it had been sent that very day by the owner to protect her. The papers and the American flag had been placed by the captain in a tin box and dropped in the water where they could have been found when necessary. The captain told the confederates that he had no papers on board, and that the only flag he had was the Mexican flag.

That same night the captain was drunk and told them that the steamer was American; that he had buried the American papers of the vessel and her American flag, and that he would get them and give them up. The next morning Colonel Ford came on board and told the lieutenant in command of the capturing force that the steamer could not be held; that she should be released. The lieutenant answered that she was a good prize, and gave to Colonel Ford the information he had received from Captain Williamson. Colonel Ford then told us that if the papers and flag of the steamer were delivered to him he would release us all. We were two or three days before making up our minds to deliver them up. After a consultation between the officers and crew, we all agreed to deliver them up and take their word that we should be immediately released. They did not keep their word; the flag and papers were delivered to them, and they took us prisoners to Brownsville, where we remained until the 1st day of September, 1864. We were carried to Houston and released on the 8th of December, 1864.


[seal.] CHARLES CLAIBORNE, United States Commissioner,


District of New Orleans, Surveyor’s Office, Port of New Orleans:

I do certify that the steamboat Ark, of New Orleans, is American built; that she has one deck, no masts; her length is eighty-two feet—inches, her breadth seventeen feet—— inches, her depth three feet five inches, and measures forty-four tons ninety-two feet; has a round stern; has—galleries and—head; and that her name, and the name of the port to which she belongs, are painted on the stern in the manner required by the third section of the act for registering ships or vessels of the United States.

J. P. TUCKER, Acting Surveyor,

I, owner of the aforesaid, do agree to the foregoing description and measurement.


I, J. C. Woolverton, of New Orleans, shipwright, do swear that the steamer Ark, having one deck, and being in length eighty-two feet, in breadth seventeen feet, in depth three and five-tenths feet, and measuring 44 92/95 tons, having one gallery and no head, was built by me, or under my direction, at New Canal, parish of Orleans, Louisiana, in the United States, in the years 1863 and 1864.

J. C. WOOLVERTON, Shipwright.

Witness: P. E. Hugon.

No. 107.—Permanent.

In pursuance of an act of Congress of the United States of America, entitled “An act concerning the registering and recording of ships or vessels.”

John Bachino, of New Orleans, State of Louisiana, having taken or subscribed the oath required by the said act, and having sworn that he is a citizen of the United States, and the [Page 371] only owner of the ship or vessel called the Ark, of New Orleans, whereof D. Bachino is at present master, and a citizen of the United States, as he hath sworn, and that the said ship or vessel was built at New Orleans, State of Louisiana, in the year one thousand eight hundred and fifty-four, as per enrolment No. 147, and documents on file in this office having certified that the said ship or vessel has one deck and two masts, and that her length is eighty-two fee t—inches, her breath seventeen feet—inches, her depth three feet 5 inches, and that she measures 44 tons; and that she is a steamer, has a round stern and a plain head; and the said John Bachino having agreed to the description and admeasurement above specified, and sufficient security having been given according to said act, the said steamer has been duly registered at the port of New Orleans.

Given under our hands and seal, at the port of New Orleans, this 6th day of July, in the year one thousand eight hundred and sixty-four (1864.)

JOHN N. COLLINS, Collector.