Mr. Van Valkenburgh to Mr. Seward.
Sir: Less than one week has elapsed since the date of my last dispatch, yet events of grave importance have transpired within that time.
On the 4th instant, at about 2½ p. m., some troops of the Prince of Matsdaira Bezen No Kami, a Daimio, in alliance with those supporting the Mikado, were passing through the street leading from Hiogo, at the rear of the foreign concession, towards Osaka. They had been met on the street, in Hiogo, by several American and English officers, and were reported as ugly in looks and uncivil in demeanor.
The land prepared for the foreign settlement is a large plain or square, graded and levelled, some four hundred yards in width and six hundred in length. This road leads along the rear of it, and is the continuation of a thickly populated street, upon which, in the Japanese town, those foreigners now residing here have rented, temporarily, buildings for business purposes and residences. Near the corner where this road leaves that populated street, and reaches the plain, two Frenchmen attempted to pass across the procession from one side to the other of the road, when one of the men of the troops, armed with a lance, struck him in the side, while another one attempted to lance his comrade; the thrust, however, was parried by his hand, in which he received a slight wound.
Immediately, the officer who seemed to be in command of the detachment (numbering about one hundred and fifty or two hundred men) dismounted from his horse, gave an order in Japanese, and the troops, most of whom were armed with Enfield rifles, commenced an indiscriminate fire upon all the foreigners in sight, and at the flags, which were flying at the American, English, Italian, and Prussian legations across this square. Immediately there was a general flight of all foreigners towards the custom-house, occupied as legations by myself and the representatives of Italy and Prussia.
The English minister and Captain Stanhope of the English navy [Page 642] happened to be near the Japanese, and were compelled to fly across the foreign concession, many balls passing in close proximity to them.
The Prussian and Italian ministers, together with Commanders J. B. Creighton, of the Oneida, and Earl English, of the Iroquois, had left me but a few moments before, and were passing toward this road, in the direction of the flying bullets, while I was standing on the second-story verandah of the legation looking at the troops as they marched along. They, of course, immediately returned towards me, and as all the foreigners were flying in the same direction, we were in direct line, about four hundred yards from the fire. Several balls struck the building, and many more passed in uncomfortable proximity.
I had a guard of but ten marines that had been kindly furnished me by Commanders Creighton and English; immediately I ordered them out, and, following across the square with them, under command of Midshipman Emory, directed a fire at the troops. Some volleys were fired before the English legation guard, composed of about fifty of the soldiers of the 9th English regiment, were out, one-half under the direction of Sir Harry Parkes, following to support the American marines in their pursuit of the Japanese; the other half picketing the street from Hiogo to prevent the arrival of any more of the troops of Bezen.
The French legation guard immediately followed, and in a very few minutes Commanders Creighton and English had landed one hundred and fifty sailors, well armed, and two brass howitzers.
The marines of my guard had gone first in pursuit, accompanied by M. Von Brandt, the Prussian chargé d’affaires, and Mr. E. A. Schoyer, my private secretary. I remained behind in the settlement, and on the landing of our sailors dispatched one company of about seventy-five, together with one howitzer, to support the American, English, and French troops in pursuit of the enemy. The other company I divided into three parties, sending one with one howitzer to stop the ingress to the settlement through the Hiogo street, one other to prevent a flank movement upon our right, and the remainder upon the beach at the American consulate, to patrol against an attack in that direction. The English fleet landed about three hundred sailors and marines, with two rifled guns, and the French about fifty. We had in the course of half an hour about five hundred men picketing the street and following the enemy, who retreated, threw away their baggage, dispersed, and took to the hills.
Several volleys of musketry were fired at them, some of which were returned, but I fear none of the Japanese were killed; and if any were wounded they were carried off. We found quantities of Japanese baggage, medicine chests, and other articles of no value; and three small brass howitzers, easily carried by one man, were picked up by some of the sailors or soldiers on their return.
There were in the port of Hiogo some steamers belonging to different Daimios of Japan and to the Japanese government. The representatives of France, Great Britain, Holland, Italy, Prussia, and myself, immediately held a conference and unanimously agreed to ask the naval commanders present to take possession of and hold these steamers for the present, to prevent any hostile demonstration by them, either here or elsewhere.
There were in the port the United States steamers Oneida and Iroquois, the English iron-clad Ocean, and two gunboats, and the French corvette Laplace.
The naval commanders, at the request of the representatives, on the morning of the 5th, undertook the defense of the settlement, and erected earthworks and batteries, landing about ten guns and howitzers, and in all about six hundred marines and sailors.[Page 643]
They stopped the road passing at the rear of the settlement, and picketed the street towards the village of Hiogo, as far as it was occupied by any foreign resident, and then barricaded it.
On the night of 6th February, some armed Japanese succeeded in getting through a cross street leading from the hills, and in the rear of our barricade on the main street a small skirmish occurred between them and some of the American pickets, in which one marine lost three fingers, cut from off his right hand by a Japanese sword, and a sailor was wounded slightly on the chin.
Troops had for several days been marching towards Osaka, and the operations of our naval commanders entirely closed the main road that had been used for centuries, compelling all armed persons to go in rear of Kobé about one mile, by a way which had been little traveled.
All the men-of-war in port came close in shore, taking position to protect the foreign quarter of the town, and every preparation was made for defense in case of attack. None has as yet been made, although a large number of the troops of Bezen are in camp at Nishinomed, a little village about nine miles distant, and between this place and Osaka.
This afternoon we have received information that an envoy of the Mikado is in the town of Hiogo, desirous of communicating with the foreign representatives, and we have invited him to a conference tomorrow at 12 o’clock, noon, at a large room in the custom-house, stipulating, however, that he shall come here by water, and be accompanied by a small retinue.
In the first fire on the foreigners, Walter G. Clark, an apprentice boy on board the Oneida, was wounded in the breast with a musket or rifle ball. The ball has not been extracted, but the man is improving rapidly and will probably recover. In the skirmish of last night, Michael J. Dewyre, marine, from the Oneida, had three fingers of his right hand cut off, and Gustavus Genders, a sailor of the Iroquois, was slightly wounded on the chin; both are doing well. These are all the casualties, except the two Frenchmen above mentioned, whose wounds were slight.
I transmit herewith inclosure No. 1, a communication immediately made by me to Commander Creighton, similar requests being made by the English and French ministers to their respective commanding naval officers.
Inclosure No. 2, letter from Commander Creighton, under date of February 5, announcing that he had co-operated with the English and French naval commanding officers, and that they had seized four of the Japanese steamers.
Inclosure No. 3, copy of the resolution arrived at by the foreign representatives at a conference held on the morning of the 5th February, inviting the respective naval commanding officers to take military management of the port, and to hold it.
Inclosure No. 4, copy of a communication addressed by me to Commander Creighton, transmitting the resolution last above mentioned.
Inclosure No. 5, copy of communication from Commander J. B. Creighton, transmitting a copy of the answer of the naval officers to the request of the representatives.
Inclosure No. 6, copies of our notices translated, by direction of the representatives, into Japanese, posted in the streets of Hiogo and Kobé, and sent to Osaka, and in different parts of the country on the 4th and 5th instants.
Inclosure No. 7, copy translation of a notice found posted in the streets of Hiogo and Kobé, purporting to be issued by Chashin, one of the large Daimios, and a supporter of the Mikado. This is the same Chashin who [Page 644] recently was at war with the Tycoon, and who has been restored to his position by the present Mikado.
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Having acted in this matter according to my own judgment, and in perfect unison with all my colleagues, I hope such action will meet with the approval of the President and yourself.
It affords me great pleasure to acknowledge the promptness with which Commanders Creighton and English acted upon my suggestions during this affair, and their gallantry, as well as that of the officers and men under their command.
I have the honor to be, sir, your very obedient servant,
Hon. William H. Seward, Secretary of State, Washington, D. C.