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Volume 27, No. 1 – January 2014

Volume 27, No. 1
Editor: Stephen L. Seftenberg

President's Message

January 8, 2014 Program

The Roundtable’s version of Lunt and Fontanne are at it again. This time, Ms LaRovere will be the intrepid newspaper reporter interviewing Daniel Edgar Sickles (William McEachern), a lawyer, politician, alleged murderer, inventor of the temporary insanity defense, political general, "war hero for losing his leg in a battle that he almost lost due to his incompetence, scandalous womanizer and much more! Any one who witnessed the interview of David Davis last year will not want to miss this!

December 11, 2013 Program
Robert Macomber, "The Bahamas and the Civil War"

As a preface to his entertaining discussion of the role of the Bahamas in the Civil War, Macomber first led us through a short outline of "Admiralty Prize Law." He grew up as a sailor and always wanted to be an Admiralty lawyer because Admiralty lawyers got to go to interesting places, interview a few people and then swizzle rum drinks while relaxing under a palm tree. Unfortunately, 40 years ago while Macomber was a College junior, he met a real Admiralty lawyer. The man looked tired. He explained that there were only three admiralty law firms in Florida, one in Miami, one in Tampa and one in Jacksonville. He told our speaker, "For the first 20 years you will do all the paperwork, you will do research for 10 to 14 hours a day, all for a pittance. After 20 years, you may get to be a Junior Partner and make a little more money. You will be entitled to do all the cool stuff you imagined when you are a senior partner, but by then you will be too old to enjoy it!

The Federal District Courts also sit as Admiralty Courts. The judge wears two hats. Captured blockade runners were tried as smugglers under Criminal Law (they were deemed innocent until proven guilty). However, a prize proceeding during time of war was an in rem proceeding in which the defendant was the ship and its cargo. A U. S. naval officer would literally read a "libel" against the captured ship, which was presumed to be either an "enemy combatant" or an "enemy merchant ship carrying enemy cargo." The presumptions were reversed: the ship and its cargo were presumed guilty and the burden was on it to prove it was innocent! In another reversal of form, "hearsay" (written third party testimony), usually prohibited in a criminal trial, was accepted in a prize trial, which made cross examination impossible. Why was hearsay permitted? The only witnesses were officers and sailors who had gone back to sea. "Real" evidence consisted of the cargo manifest and the log books. Finally, no juries and the judge alone decides the case. If, as usually was the case, the judge orders that the ship and its cargo be condemned and auctioned off by the U. S. Marshall. The proceeds were divided between (1) the U. S. Marshall (to recover his out-of-pocket costs, including dockage fees, costs of unloading the cargo), (2) legal expenses (lawyers’ fees, court costs) and (3) U. S. Naval officers and crews (the Admiral in command of the blockade squadron gets 1/12th, the commander of the victorious ship another1/12th, the officers split 1/12th and the crew splits 1/6th. Prize money is a great incentive for a sailor to enlist in blockade duty, since ordinary seaman’s wage is only $13 a month ($14 after he is promoted). Union officers and soldiers get no prize money and they have to march around in mud and snow, eat lousy food, catch terrible diseases and get shot at.

The East Gulf Blockade Squadron captured over 350 blockade runners and took them to the Admiralty Court in Key West for trial and sale. Many other blockade runners were sunk or scuttled. Many U. S. officers were disgusted with having to chase and capture the same blockade runner over and over. Finally, in 1863. someone in Washington got smart and stopped selling these ships back to the fronts for the blockade runners. From then on, the U. S. Navy condemned the ships and converted them for use against the blockade runners. A prime example was the schooner America, that won the first international race (now called the America’s Cup), in 1851. In the beginning of the war, it was converted to a blockade runner but was trapped up the St. John’s River and scuttled by its crew. The Union Navy raised her and refitted her as the USS America and put her to work catching blockade runners!

AmericaTwo important issues had to be decided with respect to the Union "Anaconda Plan":

(1) The Treaty of Paris (1856) had outlawed privateering. The United States was the only seafaring nation not to sign it because of its history of authorizing privateers in the American Revolution and the War of 1812. After First Manassas (Bull Run to Yankees), the European nations had to decide if the Confederacy was a legitimate "belligerent." If it were not, ships flying the Confederate flag would be deemed to be pirates. If it were a belligerent, would the Europeans side with it or declare themselves to be neutral. England, France and Spain all found the Confederacy to be a "belligerent" but decided to be neutral, at least for the nonce.

(2) Was the Union blockade "effective"? If it were, then the European navies would have to honor it and prevent blockade runners from using the Bahamas, Cuba and Bermuda. At first the blockade was a joke. The U. S. Navy had only 12 ships to man a blockade stretching from Chesapeake Bay to the Rio Grande! To be effective, a blockade must blockade ships attempting to enter every port. One Northern tactic was to reduce the number of ports open by capturing them (e. g. Norfolk, New Orleans, Mobile, etc.) By the end of the war, only Wilmington, North Carolina, remained in Confederate hands. Another tactic was the "stone" fleet: derelict vessels were filled with stone and sunk in Charleston and other harbors. This tactic outraged the Europeans as "vindictive, "vandalism" and "illegal," but Secretary of the Union Navy Gideon Welles stuck by his guns. There were only 1,457 officers and 7,600 seamen in the federal navy; by war’s end this number would increase to 672 ships, 7,500 officers and 51,500 seamen. These men would man an extraordinary fleet of ships built up by the Union, including the new ironclads, which would change the face of maritime warfare. By repairing available ships, building new ones, and adapting commercial vessels the Union Navy had 212 seaworthy vessels in January 1862. As the Union’s feverish efforts progressed, by 1864 the blockade began to choke the life out of the Confederacy.

The Union naval blockade ships often illegally intruded within three miles of Cuban or Bahamian shore, but whenever complaints from the foreign nations finally reached Welles, he primly responded, "Our navy would never do that." Of course, when three ships from the East Gulf Squadron actually ran aground on Cuban reefs, he finally had to admit the violation of international law. The last wreck was of USS San Jacinto, which had become famous in the Trent affair. It turned out that at 12:14 A. M., January 1, 1865, an ensign was left alone on deck while all the other officers were enjoying themselves below. The hapless ensign ran the vessel onto the reef. The San Jacinto is still visible! Then the salvors sprang into action. First they did save Captain Richard N. Meade and his crew, who were then reduced to living under tents on the beach. The salvors extracted $300 in gold from Meade before they flagged down a Bahamian ship to take two officers to Key West. Not all of Meade’s crew were willing to wait for "rescue" which would mean returning to the tough life aboard a blockade ship. At least one-third of his crew deserted to a nearby Confederate blockade runner. The Confederate skipper suspected a Yankee trick and put them in irons for five days before releasing them.

BahamasOf course, the European nations also violated national and international laws: Spain and France took the opportunity to reclaim the Dominican Republic and Mexico, counting on the distraction of the Civil War to blunt any action by the North to enforce the Monroe Doctrine.

Who benefitted the most from the Civil War? Not the South, which was prostrated. To an extent the North expanded its economy and was on its way to becoming a world power. But one little English colony, the Bahamas , owes its economic boom to the blockade! A glance at the map shows the herculean task facing the East Gulf Squadron if it wanted to stop blockade runners from entering or leaving the many islands. When the war started, the Bahamas’ economy was flat on its back, but by 1862 it had become the number one blockade running port and its population had expBay St.anded six-fold! All the big buildings you now see along Bay Street were built in 1862! The Royal Victoria Hotel was filled 24/7 with blockade runners, British naval officers and cotton brokers. Fortunes were made in the hotel bar! The colonial government was pro-Southern and soon brought any British naval officers who attempted to enforce neutrality to heel.

A prime example: CSS Florida, built in Liverpool under a false name, Oreto, reached Nassau in April 1862, but not without some misadventures. First HMS Bulldog seized the ship but after being talked to by the governor released her! Then HMS CSS FloridaGreyhound seized her and towed her into Nassau harbor. The Admiralty Court proceeding took all of thirty minutes – court was convened at 11:30 AM and the ship was returned to its commander at noon! Later HMS Petrel actually towed the ship (still calling itself Oreto) during a storm! While Oreto was allowed to fill her bunkers with coal (despite being entitled to only enough coal to make it to the nearest Confederate port), the governor of Nassau drew the line at permitting Oreto to take on arms and stores in the middle of Nassau harbor. Instead he looked the other way when she sailed to isolated Green Cay and there took on stores and arms and was commissioned CSS Florida on August 17, 1862 with CSN. John Newland Maffitt in command. In an earlier talk Macomber had described Maffitt’s epic raids on New England in 1863. Ironically, many if not most of the seamen manning the Confederate raiders were Englishmen.

Hopetown LightIn 1864, the Bahamian government built a "candy cane" lighthouse especially for the blockade runners, over the objections of the salvors, who profited from salvaging wrecks! In addition, the blockade runners got the best charts and the best pilots. Business was so profitable that many blockade runners and cotton brokers were able to bribe Union blockade skippers. A small sailing vessel would pay $1,000 up front and $5,000 when the vessel returned to Nassau, while a larger schooner paid $5,000 up front and $15,000 in gold upon return.

For the Bahamas, the Civil War did not end with Lee’s surrender at Appomattox, because Judah Benjamin, who had served the Confederacy in three cabinet positions: Attorney GJudah Benjamineneral, Secretary of War and Secretary of State, escaped to England via the Bahamas. In June 1866, Benjamin began a successful and eventually lucrative career as a barrister. In 1868, he published his Treatise on the Law of Sale of Personal Property, which was regarded as one of the classics of its field and as Benjamin's Sale of Goods remains authoritative. He was influential in commercial law that supported the rise of Great Britain as an imperial power. In 1872, he was selected as Queen's Counsel. Benjamin retired in 1883 on his doctor's advice. He had earned $720,000 during his nearly two decades at the bar in London. He moved to Paris, where his daughter Ninette and three grandchildren lived. He died there on May 6, 1884.

After responding to several questions, Mr. Macomber received a well-deserved round of applause.

Last changed:  12/16/13

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