News Reaches England: This Act of Piracy Carried Out By Brute Force

November 27, 1861 (Wednesday)

News of the legally-questionable seizure of James Mason and John Slidell, Confederate envoys to England and France, on this date reached England. At the time of their capture, the prisoners were aboard the neutral British vessel Trent in international waters.

The news arrived in London in the form of a report made by Commander Richard Williams of the Royal Navy, who was a passenger aboard the Trent. Commander Williams detailed the story in, more or less, accurate terms, understandably adding his own opinions to the facts.

“The commander of the Trent and myself at the same time protested against, this illegal act, this act of piracy carried out by brute force, as we had no means of resisting the aggression the San Jacinto being at the time on our port beam about 200 yards off, her ship’s company at quarters, ports open and tompions out.”1

The news quickly hit the British press and was on the tongue of every prominent man in England. A large percentage of the population had already sided more with the Confederates than with the Union. Many of the laborers, for example, relied upon Southern cotton. The Union blockade against Southern ports threatened to put them out of work.

Most saw Captain Charles Wilkes’ seizure of Mason and Slidell from the Trent as an attack upon the British flag and the sacred right of asylum. It was a “wanton outrage and an insult,” which should be avenged. Reparations were called for, and, if not received, the people wanted war.2

Charles Francis Adams, grandson of John Adams, and US Ambassador to Great Britain, was in London when the news broke. He described that “while a storm of enthusiastic approval was sweeping over the northern part of the United States in the twelve days between November 15th and November 27th, a storm of indignation of quite equal intensity swept over Great Britain between November 27th and the close of the year.”3


Sherman and Pope Haggle Over Price

Fearing a Rebel attack by the Missouri State Guard on Sedalia, Rolla and the North Missouri Railroad, General William Tecumseh Sherman, who had been sent into the heart of the state on an inspection tour, suggested to General Henry Halleck, in command, that the scattered forces in the area should be united.

Hearing no reply, Sherman, again, wired Halleck, informing him that the enemy was near Osceola and that the troops should be united. Halleck was still not buying it. He believed the bulk of the Missouri State Guard to be no farther north than Springfield. He warned Sherman that “no forward movement of troops upon Osceola will be made.” He allowed for “strong reconnoitering parties” to be sent in the “supposed direction of the enemy,” but the main body must not be moved “till more reliable information is obtained.”

Halleck reported the rumors to General McClellan in Washington, but was unsure of where the bulk of the Rebels were located.

General John Pope, one of the division commanders near Sedalia, reported a different story. His scouts had been twenty-five miles south of the Osage River (not quite to Osceola, however), and assured him that there were “no signs of any enemy, except wandering parties of guerrillas in small numbers.” General Price and the Missouri State Guard, said Pope, were in Greenfield, 120 miles to the south. It was his opinion that there was “not the slightest prospect of his attempting to come north.”4

While he was in Kentucky, Sherman’s paranoia of a Confederate attack completely overtook him. This same paranoia seemed to have followed him to Missouri.


McClellan Again Urges a Move into Eastern Tennessee

The effects of General Sherman’s paranoia in Kentucky were still reverberating. Union commanders, from President Lincoln and General McClellan on down, were chomping at the bit to assist the Unionists in Eastern Tennessee. General George Thomas was en route when he was recalled by Sherman, who was convinced that Louisville was about to be attacked. General Don Carlos Buell, who had replaced Sherman, seemed to be of a similar mind.

Two days previous, McClellan wrote to Buell restating his desires for an advance into Eastern Tennessee. Not hearing a reply, he wrote again. “What is the reason for concentration of troops at Louisville?,” he asked. “I urge movement at once on Eastern Tennessee, unless it is impossible. No letter from you for several days. Reply.”

Buell replied immediately with a long, friendly letter that tried to assure his old comrade that he wasn’t concentrating troops at Louisville and gave little credence to the reports of Sherman. He then detailed a plan for his entire front, which included an advance into Eastern Tennessee, but mostly involved his western and central fronts.5

Meanwhile, the troops under General Thomas were anxious to defend their homes in Eastern Tennessee. The Confederates were rounding up Unionists, sending some to prison, and preparing to court-marshal and possibly execute others. Though his men and Thomas himself wanted and begged for a move southward, none came. It was only the hope that such an order would soon be given that kept the troops from deserting.6

  1. Official Records, Series 2, Vol. 2, p1103. []
  2. The Trent Affair by Thomas Le Grand Harris, The Bowen-Merrill Co., 1896. []
  3. The Trent Affair: An Historical Retrospect by Charles Francis Adams, 1912. []
  4. Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 8, p381-382. []
  5. Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 7, p450-452. []
  6. Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 7, p454. []
Creative Commons License
News Reaches England: This Act of Piracy Carried Out By Brute Force by CW DG is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 4.0 International


View all posts by