Mason and Slidell Arrive in Cuba; More Troops for Kentucky

Thursday, October 17, 1861

The Union Navy was quickly realizing that it stood no chance of catching up with the CSS Nashville, the steamer they thought was carrying Confederate envoys to Europe, James Mason and John Slidell. Two ships, the USS James Adger and USS Curlew had been dispatched to intercept the Nashville. While the Curlew was too short on coal to do anyone any good, the Adger was well on her way to England to await the Rebel ship.

The USS Connecticut was also dispatched with orders to proceed to Bermuda. She was mostly sent to gather information about the Nashville. If nothing could be found out, she was to return to port at the New York Navy Yard.1

Mason and Slidell were actually in Cuba. Their ship, the CSS Theodora (not the Nashville, as suspected by the US Navy), had been bound for Havana when she ran short on coal. She was forced to dock 100 miles east, at Cardenas. Though they were accompanied by a Spanish steamer (the same steamer that showed them the way around the waters off the Bahamas), their papers of clearance allowed them to dock in Havana, not Cardenas. It took a day to sort things out, during which the Theodora sat in the Cardenas docks next to several Yankee ships. On this date, Mason and Slidell finally stepped foot on Cuban soil.

To their dismay, they had missed a ship bound for England (via St. Thomas) by a day. The next steamer wouldn’t leave for another three weeks. For the time being, they were to stay with an acquaintance of Slidell’s named Mr. Casanova, who had married a Virginian and owned several plantations.2

Meanwhile, the USS San Jacinto, commanded by Captain Charles Wilkes, was at St. Thomas in search of the CSS Sumter, a Confederate raider that was preying on United States shipping in the Caribbean. Soon, Wilkes would receive much more specific orders.3


Troops and Guns for Kentucky

Secretary of War Simon Cameron had left Missouri and traveled to Kentucky to see for himself the condition of General Sherman’s men. After an interview with the General in Louisville, Cameron shot off a telegram to Lincoln:

Matters are in a much worse condition than I expected to find them. A large number of Troops & arms are needed here immediately.

He also wired the War Department:

Arms and re-enforcements needed here immediately. How many muskets, pistols, and sabers can be had? Is Negleys brigade ready to march, and where is it?4

On this date5, Secretary Cameron, Adjutant-General Lorenzo Thomas and General Sherman were in Lexington. The situation was much the same.

All in all, Sherman “gave a gloomy picture of affairs in Kentucky, stating that the young men were generally secessionists and had joined the Confederates, while the Union men, the aged and conservatives, would not enroll themselves to engage in conflict with their relations on the other side.”

He expressed his concerns, which bordered on fear, that the Confederates under General Buckner were expected to attack Louisville any day now. Across the state, the Rebels were preparing to attack, Sherman believed. When Cameron asked him how many men would be needed to hold Kentucky, Sherman, who now commanded nearly 20,000 men, replied that it would take 200,000.

Cameron was skeptical, thinking that Sherman was overestimating the Confederate force and was, more than anything, tired of waging a defensive war. “The troops must assume the offensive and carry the war to the firesides of the enemy,” Cameron told Sherman, begging him to take the offensive. Since the campaigning in Western Virginia was winding down, troops could be pulled from that front and used in Kentucky.6

On this date in Lexington, Secretary Cameron ordered General James S. Negley, who commanded about 10,000, to move from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to Lousiville via the Ohio River.7


Conflicting Reports of a Missouri Fight

Missouri State Guard General Jeff Thompson’s 2,500 infantrymen were near Fredericktown. Thompson himself, along with 500 cavalry, had burned the Big River railroad bridge, killed some Yankees and were nearing Fredericktown.

In the early morning, Thompson’s infantry pickets saw Union cavalry advancing on their position (Thompson reported that there were 1,200). Unseen by the Federals, the Rebel pickets were able to ambush them, killing a few in one volley, and then scurry back to their main line.

The two opposing forces each formed line of battle with a small river flowing between them. They were less than 1,000 yards away from each other. Just as the Union troops were marching upon the secessionists, Thompson arrived.

My horsemen came with me at full gallop, yelling like Indians. My infantry received us with three cheers, and, as we thundered over the bridge with 500 horses, it had the effect of a Chinese fight, and the enemy retired at a double-quick. My horses were entirely too much worn-out to take advantage of their retreat, but we nevertheless followed them for several miles.8
-Jeff Thompson

The Union report continued, telling how the Federal cavalry retreated back to a line of 600 infantrymen under Col. Alexander. They waited in ambush for Thompson’s men, and, when they unknowingly rode into the trap, “they suffered severely and rode back with heavy loss.”9

  1. Official Naval Records, Series 1, Vol. 1, p116. []
  2. Official Naval Records, Series 2, Vol. 3, p282-283. []
  3. Official Naval Records, Series 1, Vol. 1, p119-120. This piece required a bit of help from: Gunsmoke Over the Atlantic by Jack Coombe and The Burden of Confederate Diplomacy by Charles M. Hubbard. Mostly for purposes of clarification. []
  4. Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 4, p308 – These were sent the previous day, I’m playing a bit of catch-up. Sorry! []
  5. The report filed by Adjutant-General Lorenzo Thomas seems to skip the 17th (this day). It has he and Cameron arriving in Louisville on the 16th, then traveling to Lexington on the 16th and then to Cincinnati, again, on the 16th. They then left Cincinnati on the 18th, making no mention of the 17th. However, Cameron sent two telegrams from Lexington on the 17th, which makes me believe that they spent the night in Louisville (or maybe Lexington). I’m going to be a bit vague on the details here, sorry. []
  6. Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 3, p313 – 314. []
  7. , Series 1, Vol. 3, p309. []
  8. Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 3, p225-226. []
  9. Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 3, p205. []
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Mason and Slidell Arrive in Cuba; More Troops for Kentucky by CW DG is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 4.0 International


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