Papers Relating to Foreign Affairs, Accompanying the Annual Message of the President to the Second Session of the Thirty-ninth Congress
Mr. Seward to the Marquis de Montholon
Sir: I have the honor to enclose for your information a copy of a communication of the 30th ultimo, from the War Department, in regard to the case of the French merchant vessel Le Verrier, which formed the subject of your note of the 30th of September, 1865.
Accept, sir, a renewed assurance of my high consideration.
The Marquis de Montholon, &c., &c., &c.
Mr. Eckert to Mr. Seward
Sir: I am directed by the Secretary of War to transmit herewith a copy of an additional report from Major General Sheridan, relative to the case of the French merchant vessel Le Verrier, with reference to which a copy of a former report made by him in pursuance of an investigation, requested at the instance of the French minister in your communication of October 4, 1865, was forwarded to you from the War Department, on the 1st of February last.
I have the honor to be, sir, your obedient servant,
Hon. William H. Seward, Secretary of State.
Respectfully forwarded to the Adjutant General of the army, in connection with report of military commission appointed to investigate the case, forwarded from these headquarters January 15, 1866.
In the absence of the major general commanding, and by his order:
Respectfully forwarded to headquarters military division of the gulf, for consideration, in connection with previous papers relative to the same matter.
In absence of the major general commanding.
Sir: In answer to a communication addressed to Colonel Barrett, sixty-second United States colored troops, commanding at Ringgold barracks, in reference to the alleged pillage of the French merchant vessel Le Verrier, I have received the enclosed affidavit of Captain Looby, of his regiment, which I have the honor to forward as supplementary evidence in that case.
I have the honor to be, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
Colonel D. D. Wheeler, A. A. General.
General: I have the honor to submit the following facts in reference to the French bark Le Verrier, which was wrecked on the coast of Texas on or about the 4th of February, 1865.
On the morning of the 28th of January, 1865, I was ordered by Major J. K. Hackon, commanding the sixty-second regiment United States colored infantry, then stationed at Brazos Santiago, to proceed across Boca Chica Pass on to the mainland, in command of a detachment of the sixty-second United States colored infantry, consisting of forty (40) enlisted men, accompanied by two (2) six-mule teams, for the purpose of gathering firewood for the regiment.
On the morning of February 4, 1865, I started down the beach towards the mouth of the Rio Grande. The morning was quite foggy, so that I could not see far ahead. After I had marched some two and a half miles the fog cleared away, and I saw a large crowd, perhaps half a mile ahead; also a vessel with all sails set, a short distance from the shore. I approached cautiously, not knowing but that they were rebels, but as soon as they discovered my approach the greater portion of them commenced moving in the direction of Clarksville.
When I arrived opposite the vessel, I found the captain and crew lying in front of a fire on the beach, all of whom were in a beastly state of intoxication, except the captain and one or two of the sailors.
They were all French. The captain, alone, could speak English, and he but very little; sufficient, however, to enable me to understand him. I asked him how he came on the shore with his vessel, to which he replied, “that the bark was anchored at the mouth of the Rio Grande, taking on a cargo of cotton; and that during a heavy gale last night the ship slipped her cable and was blown ashore, notwithstanding we did everything in our power to keep her off. As soon as she struck, we got into those two small boats, (pointing to them,) and succeeded in getting ashore.”
He informed me that there were four pirates aboard of his ship, taking his valuables, and requested me to order or get them off the best way I could. I asked him if he knew who [Page 381] they were, or where they came from. He informed me that they came from Bagdad, Mexico; he thought they came in a small boat from the direction of Bagdad, and said that there were a great many bad men there.
I ordered them off from the ship repeatedly, but they paid no attention to me whatever. I deployed my men as skirmishers along the shore, with instructions to fire on the men when they got into their boat, if they attempted to go to sea. I then gave the command “ready.” When the men on board the ship saw this, they got into their boat and started towards shore; in a moment afterwards they turned their boat and commenced rowing out to sea. I ordered my men to fire. After some forty shots the firing ceased, as they had got out of reach. I was told the following day that the men belonged to Bagdad, Mexico, and that one of them was shot through the leg; also, that they had sworn that if they ever found me in Bagdad they would kill me. This I learned from a man from Bagdad, who was going to Brazos Santiago.
The captain seemed to be very angry because they had got away, and seemed to think that I ought to have captured them.
The vessel was about 150 yards from shore, and the waves were washing over her.
I placed a guard over the vessel, and sent a messenger to notify Colonel Jones, thirty-fourth regiment Indiana veteran volunteers, then commanding the forces at Brazos Santiago, and asking him for instructions. The messenger returned during the day with orders from Colonel Jones to keep a guard over her until I heard from him again.
The captain sent four of the sailors (two of whom were those referred to as being sober) in one of the small boats to get some provisions from the vessel; also to bring off his papers, chronometer, &c., but the other two being so drunk the boat could not be well managed, and the consequence was it capsized and the later were drowned, while the former, being sober, swam ashore.
The morning of the 5th of February, 1865, two gentlemen came to me and represented themselves as the owners of the bark and cargo. They informed me that they resided in Matamoras, Mexico, and expressed a desire to take possession of the vessel. I referred the gentlemen to Colonel Jones, but they insisted on my turning the ship over to them, and asked me if I could not be induced to do so, and offered to pay me, but I informed them that I could not receive any pay, and told them it was useless to talk further about the matter, and they must, therefore, go and see Colonel Jones. One of these men, I was reliably informed afterwards, was the wreck-master of Bagdad, Mexico. Went to Brazos that day, and I received orders from Colonel Jones to relieve my guard. What arrangement was made in reference to the vessel, I am unable to say.
I regret exceedingly to say that the order I received was but verbal, brought to me by a messenger from Colonel Jones.
On the morning of the 5th, the captain and crew went to Bagdad, Mexico, and the boat that was left was taken around into the Rio Grande. I was informed by an old ferryman at Clarksville that it belonged to the “French bark which was wrecked on the beach below there,” referring to the same vessel which I had in my charge.
I saw no more of the captain and crew after they went to Bagdad.
As soon as the boats were taken away there was no chance for any person to go on board the ship; and as I was with my party at all times, I am sure that none of them went on the ship, and indeed I do not think that they could be induced to have gone on board of her, even if there had been a boat there.
On the 7th, I recrossed and returned to camp.
The vessel lay where she struck until she was broken to pieces by the waves. Some of the cotton was found on the beach along the island, but I understood that the greater portion of the cargo washed ashore near the mouth of the Rio Grande, and was taken into Mexico.
I am, general, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
Major General Giles A. Smith, Com’dg First Division Twenty-fifth Army Corps, Brownsville, Texas.