Montague House, London.
New York, May 7, 1863.
My Dear General,—We returned from Havana a few weeks ago, when I found your very kind letter. I am delighted to hear that you and yours continue to enjoy excellent health, and that you have passed a very pleasant winter in your family circle, notwithstanding that general society in Nice had not been on the same agreeable and cordial footing as the winter before. One hardly ever finds the same social resources two consecutive seasons at a small place of resort, and then the impetuous “Prefette” was sure, sooner or later, to conjure up a storm. She has entirely too much electricity to allow continued sunshine around her.
While I am morally convinced that our government, as well as the vast majority of our people look upon a war with England as a fearful calamity, I must confess that the events of the last few months, and the tone of your leading papers, have filled me with the most gloomy apprehensions for the future.
The fitting out of armed war vessels, like the Alabama, Florida, and Virginia, in your ports, in open violation of the Queen’s proclamation and the foreign enlistment act, have produced a most painful feeling here, and I am afraid that it will require the greatest moderation and the most cordial understanding between the two governments to prevent complications of the gravest nature. I know that Mr. Lincoln, as well as his Secretary of State, are very desirous to maintain the most friendly relations with England, and I trust that they will be met by your ministers in the same spirit.
Ten days ago an intimate friend of Mr. Seward, and one of our most prominent and respected members of the bar, Mr. Evarts, went out to England on a semi-official mission from our government. He is to assist Mr. Adams in his endeavors to come to a more definite and friendly understanding about the fitting out of privateers and other knotty questions, and I have the best hopes of his mission. I know him to be a very intelligent, upright, and well-disposed man.
I have taken the liberty of giving him a letter of introduction to you, being sure that you will gladly contribute, by your influence, to aid the good cause of peace and good-will between two kindred nations.
Mr. Evarts is an extremely well-informed man, and I am sure that you will derive pleasure and much valuable information in regard to our affairs from his acquaintance. You will oblige me, personally, very much, by extending that kindness and urbanity to him which I have received at your hands and which I value so much.
The newspapers give you detailed accounts of our present military position. I can safely say that our cause in the Southwest looks more favorable and hopeful than it has for many days past.
The successes of General Banks in Louisiana have placed the most fertile part of that State under Federal control. I have every reason to hope that we shall soon hold the Mississippi and compel the Confederates to evacuate Vicksburg.
The hopes of the whole nation are at this moment centred upon the army under Hooker, who has crossed the Rappahannock with his entire force, and is probably at this moment engaged in battle with the enemy. He has one hundred and forty thousand men under him, his army is in excellent condition, and his friends are very sanguine of success. God grant that these expectations may be realized.
In the stress in which the rebels are for food and all the necessaries of life, a signal defeat of their main army may bring us to an end of the war, by the re-establishment of the Federal authority over the old Union. On the other hand, a defeat of our army will only prolong the strife. The people of the North have never been so determined as they are now to carry on the war until the integrity of the government is re-established.
In this regard a most decided change has taken place, even among the ultra opponents of the administration. The men who were willing to purchase peace even at the surrender of our nationality, and whose number and influence were increasing last autumn and winter by the mismanagement of the Washington cabinet, have been entirely put in the background.
The North is at this moment more unanimous in support of the government and the war than it has been at any time since the beginning of this unfortunate struggle. Of this there can be no doubt, and I see in it the undeniable certainty that the war will never end except by the rebellion being crushed.
An evidence that the people have the utmost confidence in such an ultimate result, is in the eagerness with which, for the last two months, the people of all classes have invested their money in the securities of the government. The subscriptions to the Federal loan average over three million of dollars a day.
The North is united and prosperous, while at the South they are not only in sad want of the elements of life, but serious misunderstandings have broken out between the Richmond authorities and some of the States, particularly the State of Georgia, the most powerful and influential of the Confederacy. The latter opposes the conscription act, and refuses to guarantee the bonds of the Confederacy, notwithstanding a resolution of the Confederate Congress to that effect.
We found Havana very hot and unpleasant. The people do not know what comfort and cleanliness mean, and an Italian albergo is a palace in comparison with their best hotels. We went to some of the plantations of the wealthiest nabobs of the island, and it is really difficult to believe, that within five days’ sail from New York, people of wealth and education should live in such a state of semi-barbarism as I have seen there.
All this is the direct consequence of slavery, which exists on the Spanish sugar plantations in the most revolting form. It is exercised with the most inhuman cruelty on the poor black, and degenerates the white both morally and physically.
I found the Cuban planters generally in favor of the South, because they openly avowed that they saw in the success of the North the end of slavery in the United States, and that they would also be compelled to set their negroes free. You see, thus, that the aid and sympathy which the rebellion receives by a portion of your people, can only be construed into a direct assistance to uphold and perpetuate a most inhuman and degrading institution.
I was very sorry to see the British Vice-Consul, Mr. Crawford, not only an open, uncompromising, and bitter Secessionist, but also to find him engaged in transactions directly opposed to the Queen’s proclamation of neutrality, and entirely incompatible with the dignity of his office. It was generally known in Havana that he was openly engaged in running the blockade, and using his office to assist Confederate vessels to evade our cruisers under the British flag, etc., etc. It was under his auspices that, during my stay in Havana, the captain of the British war-steamer, the Immortality, a Mr. Hancock, sent the band of his ship to play at a party given by the Southern commissioner, Mr. Helm. The Cubans themselves were astonished to see a British officer allow his band to play rebel airs under the rebel flag, and expressed their opinion pretty freely at so questionable a proceeding. How far all these acts are reconcilable with the professions of strict neutrality I must leave to others to explain, but no fair-minded man can be astonished that they should excite bitterness and mortification.