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JAMES MURRAY MASON
IN FORT WARREN, BOSTON HARBOR
WITH OTHER MATTER RELATING TO
THE WAR OF THE REBELLION
SAMUP:L ABBOTT GREEN
JAMES MURRAY MASON
IN FORT WARREN, BOSTON HARBOR
WITH OTHER MATTER RELATING TO
THE WAR OF THE REBELLION
SAMUEL ABBOTT GREEN
JOHN WILSON AND SON
Proceedings of the Massachusetts Historical Society
FOR December, 1911
JAMES MURRAY MASON
IN FORT WARREN, BOSTON HARBOR
WITH OTHER MATTER RELATING TO THE WAR OF THE REBELLION
At a meeting of the Massachusetts Historical
Society held in Boston on Thursday, December 14,
1911, Dr. Samuel A. Green read the following paper:
Agreeably to the suggestion of Mr. Adams that I should
give at this meeting my recollections of Messrs. James Murray
Mason and John Slidell, and other prisoners confined at Fort
Warren, near the beginning of the War of the Rebellion, I will
try to do so, though they are dimmed by the mists of time.
These reminiscences, in the main sifted through the lapse of
half a century, are both few and faint, but certain incidents
were impressed in detail so deep in my memory that a life-
time is not long enough to forget them.
During the War I witnessed many events that have become
of historic interest, but from the want on my part of a due
appreciation of their influence on the great questions of the
day, I paid little attention to them at the time of their occur-
rence. But not so in my intercourse with the two commis-
sioners of the South, whom I met several times a day in a social
and informal manner. They both were gentlemen of educa-
tion, and of great political prominence in their section of the
country. While I could not smooth the roughness nor in any
way soften the asperities of the situation, I had it in my power
in some slight degree to relieve the friction that necessarily
existed. All parcels sent from this city to the Fort, particularly
such packages as were supposed to contain bottles, were ex-
amined by a proper officer at the landing where the steamer came
twice a day, bringing food and other necessary articles for a
large number of men. Anything addressed to me or the Medi-
cal Department — of which I was then at the head ^ was
passed without delay or examination. I knew that the com-
missioners, while leading their customary life, used stimulants
which cheer but not inebriate, when taken in moderation; and
I felt it to be my social duty, as well as professional, to keep
them in their usual and regular habits.
In going my rounds each morning I used to make a long
visit in their quarters, as I took much pleasure in talking with
them. Often I would spend an hour there. They both had
been United States Senators and had seen much' of public life
in Washington and elsewhere, and were familiar with the great
questions of the day. While they were rampant rebels, and
never ceased in their violent denunciations of the govern-
ment, for unaccountable reasons I enjoyed my relations with
them. Perhaps it was the fascination exerted by two men, then
very much in the public eye, over a young man who had never
before heard treason talked so openly and who at that time was
studying the question from a student's or a psychological point
I remember that Mr. Slidell once mentioned to me that he
was a Northern man by birth, and that he was educated at a
Northern college, at which I was somewhat astonished. This
statement I found, later, to be strictly correct; though a few
years after graduation he removed to Louisiana, where he
became eminent as a lawyer and prominent as a politician.
He was always an ardent supporter of the doctrines of State-
rights, and he dechned a cabinet appointment under President
Buchanan. I remember well he told me one morning that, just
as soon as the Enghsh government heard of the "outrage " —
as he called it — on the steamer Trent, the authorities in Lon-
don would demand the immediate surrender of the two com-
missioners with an apology from the American govermnent
for the act. If this demand was not complied with at once by
the authorities here, war would be declared by Great Britain.
He said furthermore that he expected by the beginning of the
new year to be on his way to England, together with Mr.
Alason, his colleague, after being released from the Fort by
orders from Washington. If war was declared by England, a
naval force would be sent to our shores, and the blockade along
the Southern coast would be raised in less than six weeks; and
then the Confederacy would become an acknowledged fact.
He thought that Mr. Lincoln's administration would foresee
this state of alTairs and release them at once.
To all this I listened attentively and respectfull}-, but made no
reply. I had no knowledge of international law, and I could
give no satisfactory answer to his statements. The newspapers,
however, were discussing the question freely, and their columns
were full of leaders on the subject. So far as I had any opinion
on the law, it was gained from the public prints; and, of course,
that was not the view taken by the commissioners.
The newspapers hereabouts very generally, unanimously so
far as my recollection goes, upheld the stand taken by Captain
Wilkes, of the San Jacinto ; and they reflected accurately
public sentiment in the matter. A complimentary dinner was
given at the Revere House to Captain Wilkes and his officers,
at which the Governor of the Commonwealth, the Mayor of
the city, and the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, together
with other prominent citizens, spoke and all warmly applauded
the act of Captain Wilkes. They seemed to vie with each other
in giving praise to the daring naval officer and in bestowing
compliments on him.
During the next few weeks, however, I noticed that Mr.
SUdell's prediction came true. This was owing to the foresight
of ^Ir. Seward, which involved a master stroke of diplomac)'
on his part. When the demand was made by the English govern-
ment for the surrender of the commissioners, the Secretary of
State in substance replied, that they should be liberated most
readily, and that our action in this matter was in accordance
with principles which the United States had always held and
long maintained. He furthemiore said that it was a matter of
special congratulation that the British government had dis-
avowed its former claims, namely, the right of search of foreign
vessels in time of peace; and that it was now contending for
what the United States had always insisted upon.
At this juncture the United States was in a tight fix. If Mr.
Seward had not taken the course he did, the alternative was
war with England, and the raising of the blockade of the
Southern ports. This meant success for the seceding States.
He displayed great wisdom in his poHcy. He showed that his
action in this matter was entirely consistent with the great
underlying principles long held by the American goverimient;
and thus he forestalled the criticism that was sure to be made
by his own countrjonen.
It so happened that some years previously I had known Mr.
SHdell's secretary, George Eustis, in Washington, when he was
a member of Congress from Louisiana. His father was a native
of Boston and a nephew of Governor William Eustis. As
George Eustis was now held in military custody, I tried to
make iiis position as agreeable as possible under existing cir-
cumstances. We talked of our former acquaintanceship; and
our present relations under unforeseen conditions were mutually
It also happened that I had had a slight bowing acquaintance
with Mr. Mason's secretary, James Edward Macfarland, who
was a student in the Harvard Law School, where he took his
LL.B. in the Class of 1849, while I was an undergraduate in
college. It seemed to me very odd and strange that the ex-
igencies of war should have brought together, now under vastly
different circumstances, three chance acquaintances of a former
period within the solid walls of a strong fort, but such is the
whirligig of Time, and the irony of Fate!
The membership of the college as well as of the professional
schools then was much smaller than it is now, and the inter-
course between the young men of the various communities
correspondingly closer than at present. The classes nowadays
are more than ten times as large as in my day; and the dis-
parity in numbers accounts for the greater intercourse at that
period. Under the present circumstances it was my pleasure
as well as duty to smooth the rough places and to soften the
hard spots that lay in the paths of these two young men. They
were fresh from Cuba, and well supplied with cigars — genuine
Havanas — and I could supplement an evening's entertain-
ment with other luxuries in keeping with the occasion. It was
pleasant for me to do so, and presumably for them also.
So far as my knowledge goes, these prisoners never complained
of the restraints under which they were held. They were al-
lowed opportunity to take air and exercise as their health re-
quired; and they were permitted to write and receive unsealed
letters, which were examined by proper officers, who were to
see that they did not contain seditious sentiments. Personal
intercourse with outsiders was not allowed except by permission
from the authorities in Washington.
Less than two years later I was brought often into personal
contact with Lieutenant D. jNL Fairfax,' who had taken the
two rebel commissioners from the English steamer Trent. In
the early spring of 1863 my regiment (the 24th Massachusetts)
had occupied Seabrook Island which commanded Seabrook Inlet,
sometimes called North Edisto Inlet, very near Charleston
harbor, subsequently a place of rendezvous for half a dozen
monitors which were to take part in the assault on Fort Wagner
and Fort Sumter. During the month of June, a hot season ofif
the coast of South Carolina, life on an iron-clad was as uncom-
fortable as it could well be, and in any description of the weather
it might be compared to what Sherman said war was. In con-
sequence of this extreme heat the naval officers passed much of
their time ashore, where I met them often. Of the several
commanders one was Fairfax, now in charge of a monitor.
In our frequent intercourse we spoke of the Trent episode,
but never spent much time on the subject, as it was then a
On another occasion I dined at the same table with Charles
Bunker Dahlgren,- eldest son of Rear Admiral Dahlgren, who
in a ship's cutter accompanied Lieutenant Fairfax, going from
the San Jacinto. In this way I heard anew the description
of the scene which took place aboard the Trent when the
commissioners were transferred.
After all, the world is rather small, and in any quarter of
the globe one is apt to run across somebody he has met some-
where or has known before. But Mason and Slidell were not
the only men of distinction who were in custody at the Fort.
There was Mr. Charles James Faulkner, who had been United
States Minister to France, where he was appointed by President
Buchanan. He had been prominent as a politician in Virginia
• Donald MacXeill Fairfa.^. " Died, January 10, 1912.
and a member of Congress from that Commonwealth. He
was a man of education and refinement, and an agreeable person
to meet. It was said that he had influenced the French emperor
to sympathize with the South in their struggle, for which
reason he was recalled by President Lincoln. On his return to
this country he was arrested as a disloyal citizen and confined
in Fort Warren. At a later period he was exchanged for a
member of Congress, Alfred Ely, of New York, who had been
confined in Libby Prison, at Richmond, after his capture at
the first Battle of Bull Run.
Other political prisoners were George W. Brown,' Mayor of
Baltimore, Governor Charles S. Morehead,- of Kentucky, and
Marshal George P. Kane,^ of Baltimore, all prominent in the
early days of the Rebellion as sympathizers with the South, but
who hved to see their hopes crushed. There were also a thousand
men, more or less, who had been captured at Hatteras Inlet,
when the two forts there had been taken. They were about
as motley a crew as could easily be collected, varying in their
ages from sixteen to sixty years. Their clothing was anything
but uniform, and in their appearance might well be compared
to FalstafT's soldiers near Coventry. These men, I remember,
were very proud of the name "rebel," and wished to be known
as rebels. They never would give up the struggle and were
ready to die in the last ditch. During the campaign of the
next year in North Carolina, after some of the battles and
skirmishes in that State, I met several of these men again who
had been duly exchanged for Union soldiers held by the rebels
During the time of my service at the Fort I received a note
from a distinguished citizen of Boston,^ and a member of this
Society, whose loyalty to the government was undoubted and
whose liberality was unlimited, authorizing me to buy for Mr.
Eustis anything needed for his comfort or pleasure. After
' George William Brown, who served as mayor less than one year, having
been elected on a "reform" ticket. He was one of the Founders of the Mary-
land Historical Society in 1S44.
- Charles Slaughter Morehead (1S02-1868). He lived in England during
the war, and passed his last years on liis plantation near Greenville, Mississippi.
' George Proctor Kane (1817-1878), a merchant, who had been collector of
customs at Baltimore. He was mayor of the city at the time of his death.
' William Appleton.
the receipt of the note I called on the writer and told him what
in my opinion would be most acceptable to the gentleman in
question, who in this matter represented the group from the
Trent. I was then given a carle hlancltc to procure whatever was
wanted by them and to distribute the articles as I saw fit. In
accordance with these liberal instructions I bought fruit,
flowers and other luxuries that were conducive to their comfort
or pleasure; and at the same time I was careful to let the
recipients know the source of the bounty.
While there was not one drop of blood in my veins sympa-
thizing with the attempt to break up the Union, I did feel a sort
of compassion and pity for these prisoners, — they were men of
education and refinement, and now bereft of all the pleasures
that go with Thanksgiving cheer; and I tried to treat them as I
would have wished my friends to be treated in a similar situa-
tion. It was a source of some satisfaction to me that I was
able to enliven in a slight degree the tedious hours of their
monotonous life. When I took my leave of them, they wished
me health and happiness; and I watched the outcome of the
arrest with much interest. The two commissioners died within
z. few weeks of each other some years after the end of the war.
The two following papers are copied from the Executive
Letter Files at the State House; and they give the reasons why
the 24th Massachusetts Volunteers were ordered to Fort Warren :
September 28, [1861.I
Colonel Thomas A. Scott,
Assistant Secretary of War, Washington, D. C.
Sir, — I am instructed by His Excellency Governor Andrew to
acknowledge the receipt of your communication of 24th inst., and
to state that iMassachusetts is now organizing eight regiments
of infantry, one of cavalry and three batteries of artillery, besides
which recruiting is going on here for the regular army to fill vacan-
cies in the regiments from this State now in the field and for the
regiments of other States.
Tlie Governor is therefore anxious to avoid any steps which
might delay the filling up of these regiments by starting any new
organization at present, and if a company is to be raised especially
to guard the prisoners at Fort Warren it would in effect take so
many men from these regiments.
It would seem to him moreover that raw recruits entirely un-
drilled and undisciplined ought hardly to be entrusted with this
delicate duty. And again one company could not furnish a suiScient
guard, with the proper relief, for so large a work: as when it was
garrisoned by Massachusetts volunteers a whole company was
required for the guard each day.
The Governor therefore would suggest that instead of raising a
new company for this duty he should be allowed to place in Fort
Warren one of the regiments he is now raising. The 24th Mass.
Volunteers, Colonel Thomas G. Stevenson, would answer admirably
for this duty. Colonel Stevenson was in command of Fort Inde-
pendence, Boston Harbor, for two months last spring, and dis-
tinguished himself by the neatness, order and discipline he enforced
as well as by the drill of his battalion. This battahon is being now
increased to a regiment — it numbers at present but 400 men;
but these are well uniformed, equipped and drilled, and commanded
by officers who are gentlemen of education and experience. The
regiment while guarding the prisoners could go on with its own
organization, and when ready to march its place might be supplied
By this plan the expense of a new company would also be saved.
I am further to request that if this plan meets your approval
you will please answer by telegraph. Very respectfully,
Lt. Col. and A. D. C
Telegram. Boston, Oct. 16, 1861.
To Lieut. General fWinfield] Scott,
Washington, D. C.
Failing to receive authority for muster of Colonel Stevenson
into service, have ordered Lieutenant-Colonel Francis A. Osborn,
Twenty-foiurth Regiment Massachusetts Volunteers, with two
hundred men, into Fort Warren, where he will be ready to receive
prisoners on and after Saturday [the nineteenth]. Have also noti-
fied Col. Loomis.
A. G. Browne, Jr.,
Lieut. Col. and Military Sec'y.^
The following letter will explain itself. When I called on
the writer, as already mentioned, I found him in feeble
health, and he lived only a short time afterward. He died at
■ Executive Letter Files, v. 481-483. ^ lb., vi. 318.
LongAvood, on February 15, 1862, at the age of seventy-five
Boston Nov 23'^ 1861
Dear Sir, — I asked you to ascertain what was required and
essential to the comfort of those confined at Fort Warren. My son
Charles tells me, you said that fruit would be very acceptable.
The season for fruit, as you are aware, has not been good; and we
have almost none at this time except apples.
Among the prisoners daily expected, is Mr. Eustis in whom I have
much interest from personal acquaintance and a long intimacy with
Ivis family to whom I am untlor many obligations. I wrote him
some days since, proflering my services in any way consistent with
our position, and the unhappy state of our Country. I have no
knowledge of what is allowed to be communicated between those
once intimate, and now severed and struggling for the destruction of
It must be very troublesome to the Commander to examine so
many communications as must be brought to his eye; but lest I
aggra\-ate the evil, I will to the point.
When attending Congress in July, as I was told, Mr. Eustis and
wife were on their way to Washington, and again that he was de-
tained in Alabama by fever, and that afterwards they were at the
White Sulphur Springs in Virginia, for his health; whatever may
have been his success in gaining health the transition to our climate
must be fearful. Please see him, and inform me on the subject.
I have said to him, that he would want some warm clothing &c.,
and to send to me for it and it should be attended to. I sent him
some wine, and newspapers, some days since. The periodicals, such
as the London Westminster and Edinboro Reviews, I would cheer-
fully send him if desired. You are aware my health would not
allow me to visit the Fort were I permitted so to do.
Should you get this in time to write me in reply on Monday, I
\Aish you particularly so to do, as I expect to be absent from Boston
for some days. Sincerely yours
T)' Green, Fort Warren.
I am tempted to add to this paper a bit of personal matter
which has no connection with the Mason and Slidell affair,
though it relates to the War of the Rebellion. I was among
the last persons that ever had any long conversation with
Robert Gould Shaw, the brave and fearless Colonel of the 54th
Massachusetts Volunteers (a colored regiment), who lost his
life in the assault on Fort Wagner. His regiment was drawn up
on the beach, together with other troops, directly in front of
my tentx)n Morris Island. Havang known Bob Shaw and his
father's family for many years, I stepped down to the beach
and had a long talk with Mm. He was moving about at random
among his officers and men, some of whom I knew; and the
subject of conversation among them was anything but what
was uppermost in their minds. Everybody knew that there was
to be a fearful fight, and that each one stood on the edge of a
perilous battle; but this was not talked about. Each one
tried to be cheerful, but the clouds hung low. Sopn the column
started to march up the beach; and it was not long before the
roar of cannon and the rattle of musketry proclaimed the fact
that the battle had begun in good earnest. In due time we
had visible proof of it by the arrival of the wounded at the
Post Hospital which was under my charge as Chief Medical
Officer of the Island.
To me July 18, the day of attack on Fort Wagner, was a
memorable anniversary, as a sharp skirmish just two years be-
fore took place in Virginia, which is now known as the fight
at Blackburn's Ford, the forerunner of the first Bull Run,
where I was present. A few days after the assault I accom-
panied Dr. John J. Craven, Medical Director of the Depart-
ment of the South, aboard the hospital ship Cosmopolitan,
under a flag of truce, which sailed up under the guns of Fort
Sumter, where we were met by another steamer coming from
Charleston, with surgeons in charge of our wounded, when we
exchanged prisoners. On that occasion we received more men
than we gave, as so many of ours had fallen in Fort Wagner
that the defenders had the advantage of us in the numbers
captured. While engaged in this exchange of prisoners I im-
proved the opportunity to swap late New York newspapers
for those of Charleston with the Southern medical officers.
In going back to Morris Island I examined with much in-
terest the account there given of the assault on the Fort.
One account said that a young officer with Colonel's shoulder
straps was killed, and undoubtedly he was Colonel Shaw; and
it added that they had buried him with his niggers. This ex-
pression seemed to me, for various reasons, to be in bad taste.
On my return to the Island I took this newspaper to General
Gillmore and gave it to him.
Two or three days before the attack on Wagner there was a
skirmish on James Island in which Shaw's men met with some
loss. It was the first time that this colored regiment had ever
been in action, and they received great credit for their conduct
under fire. The engagement was commanded by General Terry,
on whose staff I was then serving.
The skirmish was fought over a low piece of sandy land near
the coast, covered with marsh grass of considerable height;
and the ground was honeycombed with the holes of fiddler-
crabs. Word came to me that the bodies of some of the colored
men killed in this fight had been mutilated by the enemy; and
I felt it to be my duty to look into the matter and find out the
truth. With that object in view, after the action I walked over
the field, examining carefully the ground and looking for the
mutilated remains of soldiers. As a result I found several
bodies, which were almost wholly concealed by the tall marsh
grass; and, sure enough, the small crabs had eaten away the
cuticle in spots off the faces of the dead men, leaving a grue-
some sight. The little wretches had attacked parts under the
eyes, behind the ears, and other tender places; and there were
scores of the ravenous crustaceans still at work when I found
them, which disappeared as if by magic, as soon as they were
disturbed. This discovery explained satisfactorily the rumors
then circulating among the men. I went at once- to Colonel
Shaw and reported to him the facts, telling him at the same
time that he had better return with me and see the exact state
of affairs for himself, which he promptly did. The Colonel was
soon satisfied that my statement was correct. I was afraid
that some exaggerated account would get into the partisan
newspapers of the North, and make a mountain out of a mole-
hill. My only object was to settle the matter aright. So far
as my knowledge goes, the subject was never mentioned in
the pubHc prints.
Shaw was a brave officer and was buried where he fell; and
today he fills an unknown grave. His memory, however, is
preserved both in bronze and marble elsewhere, and it is of
little moment where his mortal remains lie. His name has been
given to schools in different parts of the country, where it is
cherished by the rising generation. He never thought of fame,
but only of duty; and in his death he gained the one and did
Facts he at the foundations of history, and they are the raw
material of all narrative writing; and this is my excuse for
adding a bit of personal matter.
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