150 Years Ago This Week: ‘Outrage on the British Flag!’

Forces of the United States landed on Tybee Island, Georgia, on the Savannah River, on Sunday, Nov. 24. Federals now controlled the entrance to the harbor and gained a foothold for an attack on Ft. Pulaski, the brick fortification designed to protect the city of Savannah. There was skirmishing this day at Lancaster and Johnstown, Mo., and in Kentucky, a little-known cavalryman named Nathan Bedford Forrest led a Confederate expedition to Caseyville and Eddyville. In Boston, the U.S.S. San Jacinto arrived with its enforced Confederate passengers, James Mason and John Slidell, seized from the British ship Trent. The would-be Confederate diplomats were imprisoned at Ft. Warren in Boston Harbor. In Washington, President Lincoln and his Cabinet conferred on what was now called “the Trent affair.”

In Washington on Nov. 25, Maj. Isaac Lynde was dismissed from the Army for abandoning Ft. Fillmore, New Mexico Territory, in July. The same day, the Confederate Navy Department accepted a shipment of iron plates for the C.S.S. Virginia (formerly the U.S.S. Merrimac) now under construction at the Norfolk, Va., Navy Yard. Another blockade-runner was captured near North Edisto, S.C. by the Federal navy while the C.S.S. Sumter captured a U.S. merchant brig off the Leeward Islands.

On Nov. 26, a convention in Wheeling, western Virginia, adopted a constitution for a new state, to be called West Virginia, created by the secession of the territory from Virginia. Mr. Lincoln prepared the draft of a bill, never introduced into the Congress, authorizing the Federal government to pay the State of Delaware $719,200 in bonds provided the state would abolish slavery through compensation to slave owners. The C.S.S. Sumter claimed another victim in the Atlantic, and in Boston, a banquet was given honoring Capt. Charles Wilkes, commander of the San Jacinto, for seizing the Confederate commissioners to England and France.

News of the seizure of Mr. Mason and Mr. Slidell from the British ship Trent reached Great Britain on Wednesday, Nov. 27. The word spread rapidly, igniting blazing indignation and widespread infuriation throughout the United Kingdom. In London, placards and newspaper headlines screamed, “Outrage on the British Flag!!” The Trent affair was becoming much more serious. The next day, Nov. 28, the Confederate Congress officially admitted Missouri into the Confederate States of America. In the North, a day of Thanksgiving was observed, with many prominent figures publicly proclaiming thanks that loyal men were fighting for their country. Around Port Royal Sound in S.C., Federal authorities were ordered to take possession of all crops in the area and to use slaves to gather them in and to work on military installations and defenses.

Flames were visible on Nov. 29 along much of the coast around Charleston, S.C. and Savannah as Southern planters burned their cotton to prevent it from falling into Northern hands. “Let the torch be applied wherever the invader pollutes our soil!” the Charleston Mercury exclaimed.

As November closed, war clouds gathered on the Atlantic horizon. In a letter on Nov. 30 to Great Britain’s minister to the U.S., Lord Lyons, the British Foreign Secretary, Lord John Russell, wrote of Britain’s extreme displeasure at the seizure of Confederate commissioners Mason and Slidell by Capt. Charles Wilkes from a British ship. He further requested that the U.S. apologize for the seizure, and release the two diplomats to British jurisdiction. The Royal Navy was placed on alert but instructed to avoid hostilities with the United States. Lord Lyons was directed to leave Washington for London in a week’s time if there was no satisfactory response to Britain’s request for redress in the Trent affair.

Arthur Candenquist
About Arthur Candenquist 193 Articles
A long-time historian, researcher, lecturer and author, Arthur Candenquist serves as secretary-treasurer of the Rappahannock County Sesquicentennial Committee. He can be reached at AC9725@cs.com.