Santiago de Cuba , November 16, 1873. (Received December 2.)
[Original handed to the Secretary of State by the Secretary of the Navy, December 2, 1873.]
Commander Cushing to Mr. Robeson.
Sir: As a steamer is unexpectedly about to leave here for Havana in an hour’s time, I write this at the consulate, as I have not time to go off to the ship anddo so, I left Aspinwall on the morning of the 11th [Page 1099] instant, in consequence of urgent telegrams from the United States vice-consul in Santiago. He represented the urgent need of a man-of-war, and had received no answers to his dispatches to the consul-general in Havana. He described the shooting of the captain and a large portion of the crew of the Virginius, and said that more American lives were in immediate peril. I deemed it my duty, therefore, to take the responsibility of coming here.
The trial took place before a drum-head court-martial, ordered by the commanding general of this department, and fifty-three men were summarily shot.
There are more in prison who are subject to the same fate if tried. Our vice-consul was treated with great disrespect by the Spanish general when he made his protest. I inclose herewith a copy of letter that I have to-day sent to the commanding general. I will send all correspondence by the next opportunity. The court-martial and shooting were authorized on the sole responsibility of the general to whom I have written. The British steamer Niobe is here, and has demanded that none of the British citizens that are imprisoned shall be executed until the whole matter is investigated by the higher powers. 1 shall await the orders of the Department, and protect American citizens in the best manner that is possible. Ido not think that any more of the Virginius’ crew will be executed at present, or that the court-martial will try them until orders are received from Havana. I will write by the regular steamer leaving two days hence, and give a detailed account of matters here, and my full reasons for coming, inclosing the telegrams received at Aspinwall that induced me to leave there. Our vice-consul here sorely needed backing, and has sent complaints to the consul-general at Havana regarding the insulting letters and personal behavior of the general who commands this district, in answer to his proper official protests against the barbarous order of the general to treat the crew of the Virginius as pirates. When this matter is over we can return to Aspinwall, as we left some important matters there unsettled.
I am, &c,