No. 594.
Mr. Fish to General Sickles.

No. 404.]

Sir: You will receive by the mail of this date a copy of the telegrams which have been sent to you with reference to the capture of the. “Virginius,” and also of those from you relating to the same subject, as they have been received and deciphered here.

The first intelligence was received here late in the evening of the 5th instant, from Mr. Hall, acting consul-general in Havana. I was absent from Washington the 6th, returning on the evening of the 6th. Your telegram was received announcing the instructions of the Madrid government not to inflict any penalties until the matter should have been reported there.

On the 7th the public journals announced the execution on the 4th of four persons who had been captured on the vessel, one of whom was represented to be an American, who is said to have entered the military service of the insurrectionists in Cuba, and who claimed to hold a military commission from the insurrectionary authorities, and to have been in actual military service on the island.

The execution, as it is called, of those persons was forced on with indecent and barbarous haste, and in defiance of all humanity and regard to the usages of the civilized world.

It was perpetrated in advance of the knowledge of the capture reaching Havana or Madrid, and it would seem to have been thus precipitated in cold blood and vindictiveness, to anticipate and prevent the interposition of any humane restraints upon the ferocity of the local authorities from the government at Madrid or its representative in Havana.

This is but another instance in the long catalogue of the defiance of the home government by those intrusted with authority in Cuba, and adds another page to the dark history of bloody vengeance and cruel disregard of the rules of civilized war, and of common humanity, which the military and other officials in Cuba have but too frequently made part of the history of Spain’s government and of its colony.

The promptness with which the Madrid government responded to your suggestion, and forwarded instructions to the captain-general to await orders before inflicting any penalties on the passengers or crew of the Virginius, is accepted as evidence of their readiness to administer justice, and gives promise of the promptness with which they will condemn, and punish the hot thirst for blood and vengeance which was exhibited at Santiago de Cuba.

Condemnation, disavowal, and deprecation of the act will not be accepted by the world as sufficient to relieve the government of Spain from participation in the just responsibility for the outrage. There must be a signal mark of displeasure and a punishment to which the civilized world can point, and which other subordinate or local officials will have cause to look to as a beacon on a dangerous rock, to be forever after avoided.

You will represent this to the government at Madrid, and you will further very earnestly, but avoidiug any just cause of offended sensibility, represent that the failure of some speedy and signal visitation of punishment on those engaged in this dark deed cannot fail to be regarded as approval of the act, and in view of the orders given to abstain from any punishment which the home government had passed upon them, will be regarded as admission of the inability of the government of the [Page 929] peninsula to control the affairs of the island of Cuba. The omission to punish the acts of the 4th of November in Santiago de Cuba, will be a virtual abandonment of the control of the island, and cannot be regarded otherwise than a recognition that some power more potent than that of Spain exists within that colony.

You may read what precedes to the minister, and you may say that this Government has confidence in the sincerity and good faith of the present government at Madrid, and of its desire to have executed in Cuba the promises made in Madrid.

We fear, however, that unaided, Spain has not the power to control the resistance to its authority under the attitude and profession of loyalty and support which is more formidable than the insurrection of Yara to her continued ascendency. The rebellion and insurrection of the Casino Espagnol and its pretorian volunteers present the most formidable opposition to the authority of the peninsula.

With regard to the “Virginius,” we are still without information as to the particulars of her capture. There are conflicting representations as to the precise place of capture, whether within British waters or on the high seas, and we have no information as to whether she was first sighted within Spanish waters and the chase commenced there, or whether it was altogether in neutral waters.

Mr. Hall has been requested to furnish full particulars, and a vessel of the Navy has been dispatched thither. Mr. Hall informs me that telegraphic communication between Havana and Santiago de Cuba has been interrupted.

There is also some doubt as to the right of the Virginius to carry the American flag, or of her right to the papers which she unquestionably carried. This is being investigated, and, of course, no admission of doubt as to the character of the vessel can be allowed until it become apparent that the Government cannot sustain the nationality of the vessel, while the doubt imposes on the Government the necessity of caution in ascertaining the facts before making a positive demand.

While writing this instruction, a telegram from Mr. Hall mentions that Havana papers of this morning published a statement, apparently from official sources, that the captain and thirty-six of the crew of the Virginius and sixteen others were shot on the 7th and 8th instant.

Such wholesale butchery and murder are almost incredible; it would be wholly incredible but for the bloody and vengeful deeds of which Cuba has been the theater. No government deserves to exist which can tolerate such crimes. Nature cries aloud against them. Spain will be loud and earnest in punishing them, or she will forfeit her past good name.

Your request to the government that our consul be permitted to see and to confer with American citizens who may be prisoners at Santiago de Cuba was considerate, and is approved; but it had been anticipated through the Havana consulate.

I am, &c,