Mr. Harvey to Mr. Seward

No. 319.]

Sir: The following telegram reached me yesterday morning:

“Madrid, February 9.

“Has the Sacramento sailed? Send her. Lose no time. I am afraid the ram will be off to-morrow.


The only answer which I could give was, that the repairs to the Sacramento were proceeding, and it was uncertain when they would be completed. Not satisfied, however, with the reports which had reached me on that subject, I determined to go on board immediately and make an investigation on the spot which should clear away all doubt.

That purpose was at once put into execution, and Captain Walke summoned the chief engineer, at my request, to a conference in his cabin. I interrogated him as to the nature of the injury to the machinery, the possibility of its being properly repaired here, and the time that would be absolutely necessary to complete the work Without going into details, it may be said, in brief, that the engineer stated ten days were required for this labor. That reply necessarily precluded all hope of employing the Sacramento for the capture of the rebel ram at Ferrol; and, upon returning on shore, I notified Mr. Perry by telegraph of the result of my inquiry, so that he might shape his proceedings upon a certain knowledge of the unpleasant fact.

I received his answer an hour ago, substantially as follows, so far as it can be made out, for the telegram is confused in the transmission:

“Madrid, February 10—10.50 p. m.

“If that ship (Sacramento) cannot move forward immediately, ought to have help of Commodore Craven on the scene of action. This is certainly a most unfortunate condition.


I have not been able to put myself in communication with the Niagara, and, indeed, am wholly ignorant of her whereabouts. Upon the suggestion of Mr. Sanford’s telegram of the 5th instant, I supposed she was at Dover, and therefore telegraphed Mr. Adams, informing him of the urgency of her presence in these waters. As he has not replied, I must infer that the Niagara was not at Dover, or within reach of notice from him.

This state of things is not only unfortunate for the public interests, but is most mortifying in every respect, for, with means to capture or destroy the vessels [Page 107] which have recently been set afloat to depredate upon our commerce, we are wholly unable to employ them; in one case, because of an unlucky accident; and in the other, because, for the want of a proper system, there is no mode of ascertaining where to find a substitute.

Every ship-of-war is provided with a clerk to the commander, whose ordinary duties are easy and light. If the commanders now in Europe were simply required to notify the United States ministers when starting out on a cruise, long or short, of their intended movements and destinations, much confusion would be avoided, and some degree of efficiency would be given to the service. Under the imperfect arrangements which have heretofore existed, it is quite impossible, except by mere chance, to assure the presence of any ships-of-war for the exigencies which are constantly occurring. This experience is by no means new or recent, and it has involved most serious and costly consequences.

I avail myself of this opportunity, without making a special despatch on the subject, to state that the Portuguese government has withdrawn its offer of mediation between Brazil and England, and, therefore, that the original status of the question which complicates these two powers is necessarily resumed.

I have the honor to be, sir, your obedient servant,


Hon. William H. Seward, Secretary of State.