Page:Southern Historical Society Papers volume 14.djvu/461

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Building Confederate Vessels in France. 455

of the arrangements, in respect to the above contract, I received a cypher despatch from the Secretary of the Navy on the subject of getting ships in France, and as it affords conclusive proof of the hopes that were held out, and the expectations which were aroused at Richmond in consequence, I think a portion of its contents may .properly be given here as a part of the facts necessary to a full understanding of that strange episode in the war which forms the chief subject of this chapter. The following is an extract from the above-mentioned despatch, dated " Richmond, May 26th, 1863" :

" My letter of the 6th instant, enclosed you a copy of a Secret Act of Congress relative to building ships abroad. Since that letter was written, I have received additional assurances, which I regard as satis- factory, that iron-plated ships-of-war can be constructed in France by French builders, and delivered to us ready for service upon the high seas or elsewhere.

" Heretofore I have brought to your attention an intimation which I deem not unworthy of notice, from the quarter whence it reached me, that one or more of the ironclads of the French Navy might be so transferred as to come into our possession, and as I have heard, only incidentally from you on the point, and know that you have recently, by your visit to France, had an opportunity of learning the value of this suggestion, I again ask your attention to it.

" The immediate possession of two or three good armored ships, capable of entering the Mississippi, would be of incalculable value to us, and though the hope of thus obtaining them is not sanguine, I still deem it proper to attempt it. You will, therefore, if you have not already acted, take such measures for this purpose as you may deem best."

In reply to the portion of the foregoing despatch, which referred to the possible purchase of one or more ironclads from the French Navy,- I informed Mr. Mallory that "inquiries have been, and continue to be, made. Most of the ironclads already built, or now under con- struction for the European powers, are either too large, and of too heavy draft, for our especial purposes, or they are mere floating batte- ries, too small and heavily armed to cross the Atlantic."

The subject was fully discussed with Mr. Slidell, and he did not see how the negotiation could be opened in such a way as to get the proposition before the Emperor, unle?s it should appear that he had determined to recognize the Confederate government independently of England, and there was no evidence that he intended to take any such decisive step alone. Mr. Slidell thought that we should be con •