Mr. Portman to Mr. Seward.
Sir: On the 3d instant the intelligence was received here that the forces of the Tycoon and those of Satsuma and his confederates were engaged in battle, between Osaka and Kioto, and letters arrived on the next day by her Britannic Majesty’s steamer Rattler with the information that the former had been defeated, after a conflict which commenced on the 27th ultimo and lasted three days.
It also soon became known that the Tycoon was on board of a large steamer, which had been seen going up to Yedo on the previous evening.
On the 5th instant, another steamer, with the governor and all the Tycoon’s civil officers of Osaka and Hiogo, arrived, and also letters from [Page 647] Mr. Van Valkenburgh, with full intelligence of recent occurrences: the immediate departure of the Tycoon for Yedo after the loss of the battle; the destruction by fire of his castle at Osaka; the extensive conflagrations in that city, and the withdrawal of the legations to Hiogo. The impression prevailing that the Prince of Satsuma and those who acted with him would at once attempt to carry the war into the Tycoon’s own territory, and particularly in Yedo, the seat of his government, Mr. Van Valkenburgh furnished me with instructions for my guidance.
Steps for the safety of the archives, under all circumstances that might arise, had already been taken, and after communicating with Commander Carter, of the Monocacy, I proceeded to Yedo, accompanied by a corporal and two marines of that ship.
An assurance was soon given that the government had not the remotest intention of retaliating upon any one for the treachery to which they had recently been exposed, and which caused them the loss of the late battle. No Daimios grounds would be destroyed nor would any prisoners suffer, and they were well cared for.
I had given notice that I had come to Yedo for the purpose of obtaining information concerning the course the Tycoon’s government now intended to adopt in view of the anticipated approach of the struggle in Yedo, and in this part of Japan.
In concert with Commander Carter, I offered the use of the Monocacy for any valuables, such as archives, &c., the Tycoon might wish to place in safety. I also suggested, for the better maintenance of strict neutrality, that an arrangement might be made to keep the war out of Kanagawa and its treaty limits of ten ri, or about twenty-five miles, by issuing a notice to that effect; and I further inquired whether, since the Tycoon’s return to Yedo, it would be his intention to open that city to American trade and residence before the 1st of April next, as the reasons for the extension of the opening to that date had now ceased to exist.
In reply, I was informed that my communication would at once be submitted to the Tycoon, who was in consultation with his council in permanent session.
All information desired, I was assured, would, as far as practicable, be freely and frankly given; and on the strength of this assurance and to test it at once, I asked that the object might be disclosed to me of the mission of Mr. Locock, the English secretary of legation, who had come up from Osaka in the Rattler, and who had then just returned to Yokohama.
Mr. Locock, on behalf of the English minister, I was told, had asked three questions:
1. If a new treaty is to be made, with whom must the foreign representatives make it? 2. Where is it to be made? and, 3. How about Hiogo? Under whose authority is that port?
The Tycoon’s government, evidently “startled by these unfriendly questions,” had replied that they had faithfully observed their obligations under the treaties and would continue to do so; that they had lost a battle, it was true, but that that battle was by no means a decisive one, and as for Hiogo—that the American and Prussian representatives had assured their governor that that port would remain open, and that the people would be protected by them.
I was also furnished with an account, as far as known, of the recent battle. The struggle must have been severe; the losses on both sides were very large, principally in officers; the precise number of the forces engaged could not be given, but as soon as full returns were received they would be communicated.[Page 648]
Considering that but few of the men engaged had ever been under fire before, that a great many of them were armed with breech-loading rifles of the latest invention, both American and European, that they were well provided with rifled artillery, and used it, if not with great skill, certainly with much courage, as their trains of wounded one sees every day on the road to Yedo abundantly show. It is now well proved that the Japanese differ greatly from the Chinese, and that those two nations cannot be measured by the same standard.
The Tycoon’s government remaining the de facto government, with whom I am instructed to transact the current business of the legation, informed me that my communication had been received by the Tycoon with much pleasure. This government had quite as many troops and a much stronger treasury than his enemies, the southern Daimios.
“It was at the invitation of the Mikado that he intended to go to Kioto; his advance guard was suddenly attacked by Satsuma, and no battle was expected. The Mikado, a very young man and a child almost, had been perfectly ignorant of the true state of things; he was not even aware, perhaps, that the officers of his court had been changed by the Prince of Satsuma, who acted in a most outrageous manner, and styling his acts as being in the name of the Mikado without any authority whatever but his own,”
This, however, is a political matter, with which Mr. Van Valkenburgh is much better able to deal at Hiogo, where the statement of the other side can also be received for comparison.
On the 11th instant, by invitation of the minister for foreign affairs, I visited him at his official residence, on which occasion he tendered me the Tycoon’s thanks for the offer of the Monocacy in case he should have valuables, such as archives, &c., to place in safety. He further informed me that the suggestion in regard to issuing a notice to secure the inviolability of the port of Kanagawa within the treaty limits had been accepted, and we then agreed upon a notice in the English and Japanese languages, a copy of which, printed at the government office in Yedo, I herewith have the honor to transmit. Inclosure No. 1.
The minister further informed me, that in order to compensate the American merchants for the absence of trade at Hiogo and Osaka under the present circumstances, it was intended to open Yedo at an earlier day than the first of April; and he at once accepted the suggestion I made, that before proceeding with that measure he would address a letter to Mr. Van Valkenburgh on the subject for the information of himself and his colleagues.
Mr. Van Valkenburgh, who has approved of all my proceedings, will be furnished by the first opportunity with printed copies of the notice, and if it be in harmony with the policy in effect at the time of their receipt, I hope that the principle of inviolability of a treaty port within the stipulated limits may also be recognized by those who now oppose the Tycoon’s government.
I returned to this place to-day, and trust soon to receive more detailed information for transmission to the department and Mr. Van Valkenburgh,
During his eventful residence at Osaka and Hiogo, Mr. Van Valkenburgh has undergone much privation and great hardship, and I hope he will soon be able to return. It is still believed by many that eventually the war may come this way again. I do not share those anticipations. Yedo is still a place with about five times the population and the wealth of Osaka, as it was before the recent conflagrations, and of much more [Page 649] importance than the whole province of Satsuma. The most perfect tranquillity apparently prevails now in Yedo, and the government of the present Tycoon is deservedly popular.
I have the honor to be, sir, very respectfully, your most obedient servant,
Hon. William H. Seward, Secretary of State, Washington, D. C.