The Fall of Maximilan's Empire/Chapter III
By the end of April affairs in Mexico appeared to be approaching a final solution, so far as news from the interior could be relied upon. The outer defences of the city of Mexico had fallen, and rumors of a definite shape, although not official, affirmed the flight of Maximilian to Texas. Of course, this was not the case. That unfortunate Prince was closely beleaguered in Querétaro, and great fears were entertained for his safety. The Austrian Minister in Washington, in obedience to instructions from his court, had already begun to communicate with Mr. Seward, asking his friendly intervention to secure, if possible, respect for the person of the Prince in the not improbable event of his falling into the hands of Juarez.
There seemed indeed cause for fears that in case of capture he might not escape with the treatment usually accorded to prisoners of war. To those on the scene this appeared a very much more dubious matter than was even apprehended by the shrewd and anxious statesmen and monarchs of the new and old worlds. In Camp Casa Mata, the head-quarters of General Benavides, there was displayed a small white cord which was said to contain a golden thread; a similar cord was to be found in every camp of the Mexican national army; and it was held up with a half-savage ferocity that indicated a long-sworn purpose should the destroyer of their country's peace fall into their hands. Those desperate soldiers might hold small counsel with laws of war or rights of prisoners, and the power of the Juarist government to resist a popular outburst of fury could hardly be relied on to guarantee a fair trial or humane treatment.
Mr. Seward, after the interview with Count Wydenbruck, had telegraphed to Mr. Campbell, the Minister to Mexico, and at that time in New Orleans, to communicate promptly and by effectual means to President Juarez the desire of the United States government "that, in case of capture, the Prince and his supporters may receive the humane treatment accorded by civilized nations to prisoners of war." News of this having been done did not reach Vera Cruz until the 2d of May, when the usual mail steamer came in, and Captain Roe, who had occasion on the following day to visit Camp Casa Mata (for no less a purpose than to arrange terms of capitulation on the part of Señor Bureau), learned that no knowledge of such correspondence had reached the army. It was hardly to be supposed that it would be made public, but still, in the fear that some disaster or accident might U.S.S. TACONY
have prevented the courier from reaching President Juarez, he decided to make sure that the views of the government should become known to him, and then and there, in the tent of the Mexican general, he wrote the following letter, which was immediately forwarded by special courier:
Camp Casa Mata, Mexico,
May 3, 1867.
His Excellency President Juarez,
Republic of Mexico.
Sir:—I have the honor to inform you that by the last mail received from the United States I have intelligence that the Minister of Foreign Affairs of my government has directed a courier to be sent to you to beg, upon the part of my government, that in the event of the capture, as a prisoner of war, of the Prince Maximilian of Austria, His Excellency the President of Mexico may be pleased, through a spirit of clemency and also of friendship for the United States, that the Prince Maximilian may be spared his life should it be in danger. I thus address you because it is my duty to my government, knowing that its courier may not reach you on account of the uncertainties of the condition of a state of war.
With profound respect, I have the honor to be. Sir,
Your obedient servant,
[Signed]F. A. Roe,
Commander U.S. Navy.
Conflicting as were the various rumors—"galley yarns," to use a ship phrase—regarding the whereabouts of Maximilian, it seemed very certain that a crisis was at hand, and Captain Roe reported to Commodore Winslow that he hoped soon to announce the final settlement of the affairs of the Empire, and the re-establishment of the Republic, not only in Vera Cruz, but in all Mexico. As regarded Vera Cruz, there was immediate tangible reason for the hope, for he and Mr. Saulnier and the British consul had been hammering away at Señor Bureau to make him realize the situation. On the 29th of April the Imperial Governor signified to them verbally his desire to accept the mediation of England and the United States, and to meet on board the "Jason" or the "Tacony" with the Liberal general to arrange the preliminaries for a surrender of the city and fortifications. It was then agreed that the meeting should take place on board the "Tacony," and her commander was requested to exert his influence (known to be so great) as mediator with Benavides. This was gratifying and delightful in every way, and the, proper overtures were made. But then Bureau hesitated, put them off, and in a moment of ill-humor refused to do what he had himself asked. His better sense soon returned, however, and he repeated the offer. So, on May 3d, Roe went on shore to Camp Casa Mata to propose the meeting again, and to ascertain what would be the general basis of terms granted. General Benavides expressed himself as willing to hold the conference at any time. The consuls then addressed themselves to Bureau, who replied in writing, fixing the 6th as the day for the parley, which was communicated to the Liberal general, who acquiesced and promised to hold himself in readiness. A white flag at the "Tacony's" foremast-head was to be the signal to cease firing on both sides, the hostilities to be suspended so long as that emblem of a truce should remain flying.
Unfortunately, on the day appointed one of those heavy northers, that are the terror of visitors to Vera Cruz, had sprung up and prevented any communication with the shore. By the 8th the wind and sea had gone down, and the English and American captains went up to town, and the two consuls selected the 9th as the most convenient day for the meeting; but on applying to the Commissary for his opinion and wishes in the matter, he peremptorily refused to hold any meeting whatever, except upon the basis of the removal of the Liberal forces three days march from Vera Cruz, and, of course, the consequent abandonment of their batteries and investing lines. This was tantamount to another refusal to carry out his own propositions, and it only remained for Roe and Aynesley to express their disgust and retire.
In view of the fact that this was the second time that Bureau had behaved in this way, having each time himself requested the parley that would cause a temporary cessation of operations, some sort of explanation seemed due to General Benavides, and Captain Roe addressed him a letter, giving a plain statement of facts and enclosing a copy of the Imperial Commissary's letter requesting the meeting. In making the offers of mediation, they had acted upon the supposition that the request had been made in good faith, which proved not to be the case, and the desire of the British and United States representatives to save loss and prevent bloodshed was therefore fruitless. They were therefore compelled to leave matters to their natural solution and to the course of war. "There is nothing more to expect in the way of a pacific solution to the question by way of mediation or friendly offers of service."
Benavides appreciated the situation thoroughly, and simply answered that in a few days he would have his batteries ready and heavy guns in position, and that within eight days the city would be bombarded. This is an extreme measure to take under any circumstances, and one that the General had not entertained at first. It is possible that he received orders from superior authority to mince matters no longer, or else he had come to the conclusion that the circumstances warranted a decisive course of action. The circumstances were indeed peculiar. The English Minister accredited to Prince Maximilian had stated in a despatch to his consul that the Imperial government was practically at an end; Bureau admitted to both English and American consuls that that was the case, but said that to prevent anarchy, riot, and bloodshed he would not relinquish his position "until some one can come to relieve me of my command. "There was no Imperial, Austrian, or French officer that could do this, and the one person left was the Liberal commander, who was certain to relieve him by force before very long; with him he refused to treat. Warnings were sent to him that serious operations were to commence, and a passionate appeal was made to him to let all women and children leave the city. He refused to let them go, but offered as a refuge the castle of San Juan de Uloa, where people were already dying like sheep, of fever.
The secret of all this seemed to be that the revenues of the city and custom-house were passing into his pocket, and that, having a vessel ready in the harbor to take him and his officers away, he proposed to hold on to his lucrative position until driven out. There was no nationality predominant in the city; the Imperial flag of Maximilian's government was flown, but Imperial orders for custom-house money and revenues were dishonored by the Imperial Governor, who disavowed and ignored the Imperial sovereign and his orders. As put by Commander Roe, in a despatch to Commodore Winslow, it seemed clear "That there never was a position or a case where forcible action by all nationalities could and should more properly interfere in behalf of duty and right." But so long as Englishmen and Americans remained individually unharmed there was no reasonable excuse for interference. A single authoritative demand, coupled with offensive measures, might possibly have compelled that man, who acknowledged himself to be without a master, to surrender his command. Roe was in good accord with the English and French captains, but there was no authority for them to do what humanity daily and hourly appealed to them to do. To engage, without orders, in open hostilities with a nation (as Maximilian's Empire was acknowledged to be by most powers), was a more serious step than would be sanctioned by the broadest interpretation of instructions. Most especially were Aynesley's and Pritzbuer's hands tied, as Maximilian's was still acknowledged by their country to be the de facto government.
One other thing was beginning to worry the American commander; his stay in port was approaching an end, from the fact that the provisions in the ship were beginning to be used up. Fresh beef and vegetables twice a week were a great boon, but had no very material effect in putting off the evil day. The bread, it was seen, would not last beyond the end of the month, and although by buying enough for ten days, which he could do, it would hold out with the rest of the rations, yet it had to be reported to the commander-in-chief that, if not relieved or provisioned by the first of June, the "Tacony" would have to leave her station. Commander Roe was, therefore, doubly anxious to put an early end to the chaotic state of affairs on shore; and the pleasant relations that he enjoyed with the Liberals, coupled with the respect he had won from the Imperialists, made his continued presence seem very desirable to all parties.
Although the port was not blockaded, trade was seriously interfered with by petty acts of tyranny on the part of the city authorities, and complaints were constantly being made of such acts. But grievous as it all was, it was beyond the "Tacony's" sphere of action. Captain Roe recommended that the merchants suspend trade for the remaining short time that it could last; if local revenues were cut off by such temporary suspension of business the whole question of the occupation of the city might quickly be settled. This, however, was a matter in which the merchants would have to act by and for themselves, as it was not a case for armed interference.
On May 15th, however, word was received from Mr. Saulnier that the authorities contemplated levying a heavy war tax by armed force upon the inhabitants, including citizens of the United States. This demanded prompt action. Only a few days before that, Captain Aynesley had received a despatch from the British Minister in Mexico, saying that all diplomatic relations had ceased between the Imperial authorities and the representatives of foreign powers. So disquieting had been the tenor of that communication that Captain Gröller of the "Elizabeth," in his anxiety to obtain authentic news of his Prince, had gone the length of begging Captain Roe to ask permission for him to send a courier to the capital, which was accorded him. In the face of this exposé of the situation, Bureau's action seemed perfectly indefensible. Communicating hastily with the English and French commanders, Roe induced them to accompany him to the city, where they called the three consuls together, and then requested Señor Bureau to attend, which he did. When they were all assembled. Captain Roe addressed the Commissary and informed him that it had come to his knowledge that certain extraordinary and high-handed proceedings were threatening Americans. Bureau decidedly and emphatically denied all and every design to annoy citizens of the United States or any other friendly nation, and pledged his word that they should be respected in all their rights and liberties; he furthermore begged to be informed if at any time in the future there should seem to be cause for complaint. This sounded, if any thing, too plausible and courteous, and knowing the craftiness of the speaker, and knowing also the universal distrust among Imperialists regarding the attitude of the United States, Roe thought best to make capital of it, and therefore replied that serious affairs would certainly grieve him very much; that while there were within reach at Tampico, Brazos, and New Orleans an army and a fleet, it would be a matter of deep regret to him to be forced to call upon them for assistance. This little piece of bluster had its effect, and the war tax was not levied. In the city of Mexico and other places a like protecting arm would have been gladly welcomed to avert a similar blow.
At this juncture the fleet was increased by the arrival of another English man-of-war, the "Barracouta." As her commander was junior in rank to the commander of the "Jason," his arrival did not in any way nullify the good effect of the entente cordiale existing between Aynesley and the other captains; on the contrary, he now had an increased force at his command.
In the meanwhile, matters of serious import were occurring in the interior. The treachery of Colonel Lopez had borne its immediate fruit, and, towards midnight of the 16th of May, a note was received on board the "Tacony," from General Benavides, announcing that Querétaro had fallen, and that Maximillian and his officers were the prisoners of President Juarez.
When the Prince cast his lot for good or ill with those that had offered him a crown and a throne, he fully appreciated the dangers of his situation, but with his characteristic gallantry braved all perils. The end had now come, and he was a prisoner in the hands of fierce and angry men. The intelligence caused no surprise to Commander Roe, who had long expected it, and had matured his plans. Knowing, as he and others did, the difference in the temperaments of the people of Mexico and of the United States; knowing also to what desperate straits the patriots of the former country had been driven, little hope could be derived from the remembrance of the clemency shown to the leader of the gigantic rebellion so recently subdued in the powerful republic north of the Rio Grande. The difference in the positions of the two governments was one of degree rather than fact. Mr. Jefferson Davis was not an invader, but had organized and prosecuted a colossal movement against the integrity of his own country. Prince Maximilian was a foreigner, and had been seated on the Mexican throne by foreign arms. Both were finally defeated, and both became prisoners of war. To the mind of the American commander at Vera Cruz, compelled to think and act without diplomatic inspiration, the possible contrast between the course of the two republics, in these not altogether dissimilar circumstances, was as striking as it was full of food for reflection. The weight of a republican government had been lightly felt in Mexico, and its obligations had hung loosely upon the people. For many years of their history, pronunciamentos, insurrections, revolutions had been of such frequent occurrence that government and people alike had become familiarized with them. Political capacity had not in past years attained to much development, and the nation was passing through the hard school of experience on its way to a better and more stable administration. Parties of opposition in that country almost always assumed a belligerent attitude, and a resort to arms was frequent. Insurrection and rebellion in the outlying provinces were not so serious things as they were in the United States; familiarity made the offence a light one. But when the fact was presented of a foreign power establishing in Mexico a monarchical form of government, with an alien prince at its head, the country had blazed forth in passion and defiance; and the anger against the Notables, the domestic traitors who had offered the throne to the alien, was only eclipsed by the hatred of that alien. The question now was. Might not the popular passion be bent and swayed, and the dictates of humanity as well as policy score a triumph in Mexico as in the United States? Immediately upon the receipt of the brief but pregnant despatch, Captain Roe had the gig manned, and, at that late hour, pulled alongside the "Jason." Calling the captain from his bed, he frankly gave him the despatch to read, saying that he now desired the co-operation of himself and the Austrian captain. There was no time to lose; every effort must be made to save the Prince's life. He wrote a note to the count, announcing the fact of the capture of Maximilian at Querétaro, and stating that Captain Aynesley would explain in full the proposition now agreed upon between them. The English captain consented to go out to the "Elizabeth," anchored at the outer reefs, and urge immediate action. The proposition was that Captain Gröller, as naval aide-de-camp to Maximilian, should go up to the city that night and demand the written authority of Governor Bureau to offer the immediate surrender of Vera Cruz and the castle of San Juan to General Benavides, on the single condition that the person of the Prince, alive and unharmed, should be delivered on the deck of the gun-boat "Tacony."
It was long past midnight when the English captain reached the gangway of the "Elizabeth." A short but impressive interview took place between him and the Austrian officer, and the plan of the American commander was received eagerly and with gratitude. Then while the tedious hours of the midwatch were slowly passing, another boat was lowered from the davit-heads and another captain might be seen threading his way through the reefs in the still, star-lit night, towards the invested city. This was a busy and a sleepless night for those three naval captains working to save the life of a Prince hundreds of miles away. As the "Jason's" gig pulled alongside of her own ship, the "Tacony's" boat was lying manned at the same gangway, her commander anxiously awaiting the return from the Austrian frigate. A few words were exchanged and these two officers once more separated and retired to their own beds, though not to sleep, until the return of the Austrian from Vera Cruz. It was seven o'clock in the morning when the "Elizabeth's" barge was seen coming back towards the anchorage. Rounding-to alongside the "Tacony," the tall, athletic form of the Austrian aide-de-camp stepped over the gangway, and raising his cap received in silence the greeting of the American commander. "The Imperial Governor is a traitor" he finally exclaimed. "He is a traitor, and my Prince put him there." The two captains retired to the little cabin to breakfast, and it was there-the story was told. It had been a violent and stormy night at the palace. Count von Gröller had made his propositions, had argued for their acceptance, had pleaded with passion as the only hope of saving the Prince's life. The Governor remaining inflexible and deaf to all entreaties, he had finally demanded the surrender of the city and defences on the one simple condition offered. Hot and high words ensued, and swords were drawn, peace only being restored through the interference of the attendants in the palace. But the effort failed. The name of the fallen emperor was now insufficient to arouse the loyalty of his own officer. The attempt had been gallantly made, but was unsuccessful.
In the light of subsequent revelations it seems more than probable that the proposition, if it had been made by Bureau, would have been rejected by President Juarez, as Vera Cruz, as well as the city of Mexico, was closely invested without possibility of aid from any quarter, and could not long hold out against the increased forces that would soon be brought to bear. Nourishing a persistent hope, however, that the Imperial Commissary would return to a sense of duty and loyalty, and make a final effort to save his Emperor, Captain Roe and Mr. McGowan went on shore to confer with General Benavides and ask his opinion as to the possibility of any such terms being accepted, and whether or not he would forward a proposition of that or similar nature. It was represented that Mexico did not possess within her own borders sufficient resources to make her independent of the rest of the world, and that it would be better for her to renew friendly relations with foreign powers, and far best to have Austria for a friend in the future. On the subject being first broached the General drew himself up and exclaimed: "We want nothing from any country except the United States. Maximilian has been a robber and a murderer, and as such let him die." Subduing his passion, however, he read over the propositions and afterwards said that while it was very doubtful the President would accept the terms, he still might possibly entertain them; for it was true, as pointed out, that Vera Cruz was the key to the hopes of the city of Mexico, and its surrender would instantly be followed by the fall of the capital. The possession by Juarez of Vera Cruz, the one port of
But it all came to nought. The offer was never made. As had been said by Count Gröller, Bureau was a traitor. Appreciating the fact now that his Prince had friends among the other men-of-war more active than he had any right to hope, the Austrian captain moved his ship in from the outer anchorage where he had remained isolated so long, and took up a berth near the other vessels.
In reporting all this to the Secretary of the Navy, by a steamer opportunely leaving for Havana, Captain Roe weighed upon the great desirability of Minister Campbell's presence at his post. Unfortunately, and for reasons not connected with the: thread of this story, that diplomatic officer failed to reach the seat of the Juarist government, and the United States remained unrepresented in Mexico, except by the staunch body of consuls, who reflected such credit on their cloth and their country.
The steamer taking this report had hardly gone, however, before Señor Bureau, repenting his many vacillations, expressed a desire to parley again, and submitted to the United States and British consuls certain general terms for the surrender of the city. These terms he requested them to propose personally to General Benavides, asking that the naval commanders should accompany them. A note from the "Tacony" secured the necessary escort with led horses, and on the morning of the 20th of May this little cavalcade appeared in Camp Casa Mata, and the almost threadbare subject was again broached to the Mexican commander-in-chief. With perfect courtesy that officer listened to the proposals, and accepted them in substance, stating in writing the basis of a negotiation into which he was willing to enter. Up went the peaceful emblem of a truce to the "Tacony's" mast-head, and for three days hostilities were suspended,—only to be renewed again, in consequence of Bureau's failing to meet his adversary as agreed.
Rumors of various kinds, probably shaped to meet the occasion, had reached him, and he alleged that he was not satisfied as to the truth of the report of Maximilian's capture, and would need further confirmation of the fact. Such confirmation probably did not fail to reach him, but with the stubbornness that had characterized his whole line of conduct he clung to the city and to the custom-house, until it dawned upon him somewhat suddenly that he had delayed capitulation too long; that the Foreign Legion of mercenaries had reached such a stage of discontent as to be hardly controllable. He therefore addressed repeated and urgent solicitations to the two consuls to visit him once more. They finally acceded to his request, and he declared his willingness now to accept the terms that had been offered, and begged them to convey the announcement of it to General Benavides. He still retained sufficient authority, he said, to make a peaceful surrender possible, and it was his desire now to be relieved of the charge of the city and fortifications.
The consuls were getting rather tired of being humbugged so often, and felt rather dubious as to the success of their mission; but spurred on by the fear of a general insurrection in the city, and anxious to render such good offices as the interests of suffering humanity demanded, they once more went down to the fleet, and were set on shore abreast of the camp. General Benavides, preserving his equanimity, ratified completely the terms that he had proposed, and which were now so eagerly asked by the Imperialist, and ceased firing from his batteries. The city forts, strange to say, opened again with more than usual activity for a short while at sunset. This may have been through some mistake or misunderstanding; or it may have been intentional, for effect, to show that their powers of resistance were not at an end; or, lastly, it may very possibly have been due to the inability of the officers to enforce their orders. Bureau expressed himself as much pleased, but said he would require a little time to win the officers over to his wishes. This was apparently true, and no objection was made; but most unfortunate was that enforced delay, for, during the interim, on the 3d of June, an entirely new coloring was put on affairs by the arrival of the American mail steamer "Virginia," with no less a person on board than General Antonio Lopez de Santa Ana, with a staff of five officers.
The wholly unexpected arrival of this man caused consternation in the minds of all who were familiar with his history and revolutionary proclivities, and above all at this critical juncture, when he might undo all that had been accomplished, not only in Vera Cruz, but throughout all Mexico. A subaltern in the Spanish army in 1821, during the first war for Mexican independence, he was quickly induced to espouse the cause of his native land, and in 1824 first came into prominence as the governor of the Yucatan peninsula, at the age of twenty-six; nine years later, elected President by the Liberal party, the first organization of the kind in the country, but, after a short voluntary retirement, heading a successful revolution against his own Vice-President, and then governing as a virtual dictator in the interests of the church and the army; exiled in 1837 for trying, while prisoner to the Texans, to negotiate a treaty recognizing the independence of that State,—the beginning of Santa Ana's political career was eloquent as an exponent of his turbulent character. Amnestied, he relapsed into obscurity until the French attack on the castle of San Juan de Uloa gave him an opportunity, when, in December, 1838, he once more came into prominence as the heroic defender of Vera Cruz, the loss of a leg in that fight adding to his prestige. Provisional President and then Dictator until deposed in 1844, tried for treason and banished for ten years; President again by popular movement when the war broke out with the United States, but compelled to fly for his life in 1848 in consequence of the unfortunate termination of that war.; recalled again in 1853 by another revolution and made Dictator,—his name was indeed most intimately and painfully associated with the recent history of his distracted country, and the versatility of his political faith seemed almost without a parallel in modern history. The twenty years that had then elapsed since his first inauguration (by Liberal votes) had sufficed to enable him to become as despotic as he had once sworn to be constitutional. He arrogated to himself the title of Serene Highness for life, with power to name his successor. But that glory was short-lived. The standard of revolt was soon raised, and a serious insurrection broke out. Then did he perpetrate the crime that proved to be the death-blow to his own ambitions,—in giving (July, 1854) to Don José Gutierrez de Estrada full powers to "negotiate with the courts of London, Paris, Madrid, and Vienna, and to make due efforts to obtain from those governments, or any one of them, the establishment of a monarchy derived from one of the dynastic houses of those powers." This step precipitated his ruin; driven out of the country, he was tried once more for high treason, and, being absent, was sentenced to confiscation of all his landed property. Eight years of exile seemed to kill the patriotism once his glory, and in February, 1864, landing in Vera Cruz, he wrote to the Imperial Under Secretary of War stating that he returned to Mexico "to co-operate in the consolidation of the government created by the Intervention." But the Imperialist party declined his offers and refused to permit him to remain in the country. Retiring then to the United States he kept badgering President Juarez with entreaties to be allowed to help defend his native land against the invaders. His country could ill afford, however, to accept such help, as was quite plainly expressed by Señor Lerdo de Tejada, the Mexican Minister of Foreign Affairs. In the closing part of a despatch from this gentleman to Mr. Romero, after touching upon the General's many vacillations, he used the following language:
"Although the government might wish to place in him [Santa Ana] some confidence, it does not believe it possible that it would also be felt by the defenders of the national cause.
"In order not to believe in his new protests of patriotism, they would repeat that he has violated before all his oaths, and that he has broken before his most solemn engagements.
"In order not to believe his new protests of loyalty to the Republic, they would repeat the charges that have been made, that as an officer he has been disloyal to all the governments that have employed him; that as the head of the government he has been disloyal to all the parties who have aided him to power; and that as a Mexican he has lately been disloyal to the cause of his country.
"For these considerations the President of the Republic does not believe it compatible with his duty to admit the offer which Mr. Santa Ana has now sought to make of his services. Nor does he believe that his manifestations and protests of patriotism can be in any manner considered as sufficient to relieve him from the very grave charges which exist against him.
"Señor Santa Ana having asked you to transmit to the government his communication, you will be pleased to transmit to him this reply."
Still unabashed, this political mountebank then, in August, 1866, addressed himself to the United States government, saying that the crisis in Mexico had arrived at a climax, and that he could no longer remain inactive, and not endeavor to contribute towards the salvation of his country. In a letter to Mr. Seward, he stated that he relied upon his assistance in this undertaking, where the interests of a sister Republic were at stake, and when the time had come to strike the decisive blow for the expulsion of foreign intruders and the tyrannical domination of France. One paragraph in this letter perhaps showed the not wholly disinterested purpose which swayed him. "Should we now succeed in our endeavors, and once more see Mexico free, and my countrymen reinstate me in the highest position within their gift, it would afford me the greatest pleasure to reciprocate all your kindness, and show my gratitude to your government with a liberal hand."
Mr. Seward's frigid reply speaks for itself.
Department of State,
Washington, August 16, 1866.
The Secretary of State has had the honor to receive from General de Santa Ana, formerly President of Mexico, a communication, in which he states that he wishes to visit Washington, and that he would be pleased to know if he will be received as a private gentleman by the Secretary of State.The distinguished gentleman is hereby informed that, insomuch as his attitude towards the Republican government of Mexico, with which the United States maintain diplomatic intercourse, is pronounced by the President of Mexico to be unfriendly towards the government of the Republic, a reception of the General, in any character, at the present time, by the Secretary of State, would be
[Signed,]William H. Seward.
Such was the self-established character and consequent political status of this celebrated man. Denied on all sides, his every overture sternly rejected, he now appeared suddenly upon the scene of conflict between two parties, to both of whom he had offered his sword, and by both of whom he had been spurned. His frequent and unblushing apostasy certainly made his ultimate intentions ambiguous, and his popular reputation as a soldier made his presence all the more dangerous.
The "Virginia" went to the inner harbor and anchored, and that same evening General Perez Gomez, a friend and adherent of his, who was in command of the castle of San Juan de Uloa, invited him to come there to remain until proper arrangements could be made for a grand reception in the city. Santa Ana accepted the invitation and repaired to the castle, where the regimental band played a march of welcome, and the garrison shouted, "Viva el general Santa Ana."
Before going, however, he had invited Señor Bureau to a conference on board the "Virginia," which was accepted; and to him and to the general-in-chief, Don Antonio Taboada, who was also present, he put forth the idea of setting up a Republic in place of the tottering Empire, stating that he came under American protection. No immediate answer was given, but a council of war was called, which met at ten that evening in the City Hall, and it was there decided not to allow the general to land. He had overreached himself in asserting that the American government sustained him. The opinions emitted were practically unanimous, even those who favored his claims personally rejecting the idea of fighting with American soldiers against the cause they were then upholding. General Taboada, commanding all the military forces in the city, said that the arrival of Santa Ana, under American protection, had aggravated the situation; his duty as a soldier was to defend the Imperial government even to the shedding of the last drop of his blood, and if the decision should be to accept the new proposals, he would resign his command and go abroad. Don Eduardo Soudriet, Lieut.-Colonel of the City Guards, said that so soon as Santa Ana should land at the head of American soldiers, his command was at an end. Lieutenant-Colonel Jorge Murcia said that General Santa Ana held the hearts of the garrison as a leader in the War of Independence, but that he (Murcia) could not agree to his bringing American soldiers there. Don Eduardo Figuerero, Colonel of the Vera Cruz cavalry, stated that he highly esteemed General Santa Ana, but he rejected the idea of fighting against the Empire with soldiers brought from the United States. Don Tomas Marin, in, command of the naval division of Vera Cruz, Tuxpan, and Tehuantepec, said: "I am totally disgusted with General Santa Ana, on account of his abandoning the country in 1855; but I would rather fall into his hands than into those of demagogues, although I distrust his good faith on account of the protection given him by the American government." General Santiago Cuevas, of the artillery, maintained that the general should not be allowed to land since he was backed by American soldiers; said he: "Our country has already felt one foreign intervention and should be spared any more." And so on.
A norther was blowing on the 4th, which prevented communication with the shipping or the port; but on the 5th, the commander of the castle and a part of the garrison were temporarily removed. General Santa Ana was sent back on board the "Virginia," and the consuls notified that he would be sent back out of the country in her.
Santa Ana then sought and obtained a visit from Mr. Saulnier, whom he entertained with a long discourse on his plans, saying that after interviews with President Johnson and Mr. Seward, at their solicitation he had come to Vera Cruz, Prince Maximilian having offered to deliver the government of the country to him. All of this Mr. Saulnier declined to accept, but informed Captain Roe of it, adding that he could not believe that the government was disposed at such a late day to disavow Juarez, or that it would give countenance to such filibusterism. In this, the commander cordially agreed with him. It is not probable that either of them knew of the application to Mr. Seward for material and moral assistance, or of his declining to listen to such overtures; but they were well aware of the general's turbulent character, and the subversive effect of his partisanship on any cause that he espoused; and they certainly knew that such an extraordinary step would never have been taken by the United States government without notification of it having reached them. So not for an instant did they put any faith in such assertions.
The "Tacony" had now stayed several days longer than prudence dictated, in view of the shortness of her rations and the passage to Pensacola. But all the consuls, as well as General Benavides, begged Roe to hold on a little longer; even the Imperial governor earnestly requested him to wait a few days, urging that in case of opposition by the Foreign Legion to his effecting a surrender, he would have to call upon the American and English ships to come up and support the movement mutually agreed upon by him and the Liberal general.
Although Santa Ana was kept on board the "Virginia," The members of his staff frequently went on shore and great popular excitement ensued. Those officers played their cards so well that it was finally arranged that the general should be escorted to the city on the 7th; one hundred and one guns were to be fired from the castle, and workmen actually began to build triumphal arches preparatory to decorating the city. All this was surmised rather than known at the time, but so many stories were bruited about that on the morning of the 7th Captain Pritzbuer of the "Phlégéton" started up to town in his fast gig, and as usual stopped alongside of the "Tacony" to offer a passage to Captain Roe in case he thought of going. Such courtesies had been constantly exchanged between the three ships, and in this case the offer was gladly accepted, as Roe, feeling uneasy about the condition of affairs, was preparing to go up in the sailing launch.
So they went up and joined Mr. Saulnier at the English Consulate, with several persons, including Captain Aynesley. They found the city in a condition of great excitement; the presence of Santa Ana was being forced upon the people by his partisans, and they were angrily opposing him. While affairs were being discussed at the British Consulate, a note was received announcing that a revolution was on the eve of breaking out in favor of this new (or rather old) interloper, and a serious effort would be made to land him that night. This threatened to produce disastrous results and cause terrible scenes to be enacted in Vera Cruz. Bureau when informed declared his intention not to permit the landing, and claimed to be still master of the situation. But as this was very doubtful, and as the slightest weakness, feigned or real, on his part would have been fraught with evil consequences, Captain Roe determined to take the law in his own hands and resort to prompt and vigorous measures.
He had no boat at hand, and as the day was well advanced and one could not be had from the "Tacony" for some hours, he asked Captain Aynesley to grant him the use of his cutter, which was cheer fully done. The English ensign, of course, could not be lowered from an English boat, and Roe could not do what he wanted under any but the American colors. The problem was solved by borrowing the consular flag, and lashing it to the boat's flagstaff alongside of the English. In this way, with both colors flying, with the English midshipman in charge of the boat but the American commander directing her movements, they pulled alongside of the "Virginia," and asked to see General Santa Ana, who was seated on the quarter deck. Roe, on being presented, asked him politely if he would not like to go and pass a quiet night on board the "Tacony" at Sacrificios. The general was naturally surprised at so sudden and cordial an invitation, and asked for an explanation. This led to a dispute, only ended by Roe finally saying, in a tone perhaps more forcible than polite, that he had no further explanations to make; it was intended for an order, which, if not obeyed voluntarily, would be enforced. At the same time two of the English seamen advanced in a threatening manner. One of the general's aides then came up to him and said in a low tone that it would be most prudent for him to take his arm and get into the boat rather than let the men lay hands upon him. So, without active violence, but under certain compulsion, the old firebrand was induced to go into the "Jason's" cutter, accompanied by his interpreter and body-servant, and was taken on board the "Tacony."
There every civility was shown him, and the cabin placed at his disposal. This was not appreciated very highly, however, and the state of his mind was shown by the following conversation with his unexpected host.
Commander.—General, here you have my room, where you will be comfortable, and you can ask for what you want.
General.—Thank you. Commander; but I wish to know first why you took me forcibly from the "Virginia" and prevented me from going ashore as I intended? Without being at war, why have you taken me prisoner?
Commander.—No, General, you are not a prisoner. I wished to spare the shedding of blood in Vera Cruz, when enough has been shed in the country-already. General.—But by what authority and right do you thus proceed against my person, when I am a Mexican returning to my country after a long absence, with the intention of serving it, as I have always done, and now as a mediator for the restoration of peace?
Commander.—It has been said in the city that the General was sent by my government, and it is my duty to prove the contrary, having an understanding with General Benavides.
General.—It is not true that I said I was sent, for the government at Washington could not employ me, nor would I obey the commands of a government not my own. I heard that the American consul prevaricated for the purpose of preventing me from landing, and I thought proper to satisfy him and dispose him to a neutrality that he ought to observe; for that purpose I said to him, substantially, that my mission was one of entire peace, and that his President was not ignorant of my journey, nor of my intentions.
Commander.—Well, but your presence prevented the surrender of the city to General Benavides, who was besieging it, after Commissioner Bureau had agreed to it.
General.—And what is it to you whether the city is held by this or that Mexican, when you have no right to interfere in Mexican affairs? I doubt if your government will approve of your conduct; and, besides, what is the reason of your insult to my person this evening? As long as I am compelled to remain in this ship I will consider myself a prisoner.
Commander.—(Angrily, and rising) I have acted as I thought proper. I have no more explanations to make.
General.—Will you use force against me? I have no rifled cannons, and consequently you have me completely in your power.
Commander.—Good-night, General; you have my room to rest in, and you can call for what you want. (And taking off his cap he bowed politely.)
The general passed a sleepless night, not stirring from the chair he had taken on first entering the cabin. He had indeed food for bitter reflection, over the complete frustration of all his plans, and the dashing of all his hopes of once more occupying the presidential chair. A gaudy, decorated uniform displayed through the awkwardness (?) of the cabin steward, showed how complete had been all his preparations, even in such matters of detail. His reception at the castle, and the demonstrations that his officers had succeeded in eliciting from the turbulent part of the community on shore, had seemed to augur favorably for the success of this new attempt to seize the reins of government. But, at the eleventh hour, forcible intervention by the representative of a neutral power had put an end to it all, and his bright dreams were rudely dispelled. His secretary, Colonel Luis de Vidal y Rivas, who was on shore at the time of his leaving the "Virginia," did all in his power to have him released. Immediately upon hearing of the occurrence, he called upon the Imperial Commissary and related to him what had been done, dwelling with emphasis on the great disrespect shown to the authorities in plain, sight of the town and in presence of Mexican officials. Señor Bureau was probably not very much grieved over the turn affairs had taken, and replied that he could do nothing lest the two steamers should bombard the city. The colonel then went to the United States Consulate to make a formal protest; but Mr. Saulnier contented himself with replying that what had taken place had been done without his knowledge, but that he had just been assured that the general would be released the next day.
The detention of the general was indeed to be only temporary; but when released he was not to be put on shore, but sent out of the country. General Benavides sought to have this intention given up, and to have him guarded until affairs could be arranged. In his letter urging this upon Captain Roe, he represented that the general was a fugitive from justice. "You know he has fled from debts, and that he is at liberty under a bond of thirty thousand dollars, which he laughs at. This conduct is not strange in Santa Ana. He is a man who does not know modesty, and he is a trickster. Well, then, I believe you would do right to secure his person, since he is a fugitive, and hold him pending the action of the tribunals of the United States. You will permit my friendship to give you this indication and advice. Besides, it is in the interests of humanity that we secure this fatal man, who has caused so many evils in the world."
These representations, however, did not influence Captain Roe. Whether or not Santa Ana was a fugitive from justice was of no interest to him in his line of duty. But he deemed it necessary to distinctly prove to Mexico, and to the world, that the government of the United States had not in a day changed its entire line of policy, as had been asserted by the general, and lent the moral support of its countenance to such schemes. To do this effectually, he had decided to simply send him out of the country, and had ordered the "Virginia" to stop at Sacrificios on her way to sea the next morning, and anchor off the "Tacony's" port bow. This was done, and Mr. Saulnier came down in her to announce that her papers were settled and that she was ready for sea. General Santa Ana was transferred to her, and Captain Deaken was directed to proceed on his way to New York. Permission was given him to touch at Sisal and Havana, his ports of call, but he was positively ordered not to land Santa Ana anywhere in Mexico. At about noon-the "Virginia" started out, followed by the "Tacony." Every precaution was taken to prevent any communication being had with the shore, an officer, Acting-Ensign Bell, being put on board with a boat's crew as a guard. The pilot, on leaving, was thoroughly searched, even to his boots, to make sure that no papers were concealed about his person. When twenty miles had been made, and Vera Cruz had sunk below the horizon, this officer returned on board the "Tacony," and the two vessels parted company, the man-of-war heading up to the northward, the merchantman steering away for Sisal.
Bad luck seemed to follow the latter and her illustrious passenger. They reached Sisal on the 11th of June, and Santa Ana's presence on board attracted the attention of the authorities of the port, and naturally caused some alarm. His constant passion to provoke disturbances, seize on command, and use it to his profit, were recollections too alarming not to arouse suspicion. These suspicions were fully verified by his despatching a letter by Colonel Hilario Mendez, one of his staff, to General Martin Cepeda Peraza, governor of the state of Yucatan. With this letter was a copy of a revolutionary address to the people of the state, which, on his way to Vera Cruz, he had sent on shore to be circulated there, and to which he now invited the governor to give publicity. Colonel Medina, the captain of the port, Stationed three armed schooners around the "Virginia" to watch her, until he could communicate with General Peraza, The next day, in obedience to instructions. General Santa Ana was invited to land. Captain Deaken of the "Virginia" protested against this, stating that he was a passenger in transit, and a prisoner to the United States, and was to be delivered at the city of New York. The three schooners had their guns trained on the steamer, however, and a file of soldiers came on board, which settled matters, and Santa Ana succeeded in landing on Mexican soil.
He immediately despatched a letter to the governor relating the circumstances, and adding: "Now I am at your disposal, and I hope I shall soon see you. . . . An old veteran places himself under your orders to be sent where you think he can be of the greatest service to the nation. . ." The result of this, however, was even more disappointing than the outcome of his appearance at Vera Cruz, for General Peraza's opinion of his services was such as to prompt him to place the old veteran under arrest with a view to the safety of the Republic; and for greater security he was sent off to the neighboring state of Campeche in custody, to await the action of President Juarez.
This unexpected finale caused reclamations to be made by various parties in the United States, and as it was uncertain whether or not the "Virginia" was within the marine league from the shore at the time of the seizure (as some termed it), many American journals denounced the affair and called upon the government to take proceedings against the government of Mexico to cause the restoration of Santa Ana and his secretary within the jurisdiction of the United States. Other appeals were made also, one being on the distinct ground that the creditors of the general in the United States had large pecuniary interests in the safety of his person. His financial status certainly seemed in a complicated condition, and many different stories were rife regarding him. Some journals suggested that he was the victim of a well-arranged conspiracy by which large sums of money were fraudulently obtained from him ostensibly to fit out an expedition to reinstate him in power in Mexico, but really for division among the conspirators.
Regarding the legitimacy of the "Virginia's" proceedings it is certainly strange that she neither took in nor discharged cargo at Sisal, although that was presumably the object of her touching there, and this with other things seemed to point to the possibility of her having been chartered specially by Santa Ana for a filibustering expedition, and that she was not on one of her customary, peaceable, commercial trips. A discussion of that question, however, would lead into deeper water than this story was intended to navigate. To wind up Santa Ana's history in a few words, he was tried for the fourth time for treason and sentenced to be hanged; but the extreme penalty was commuted by President Juarez to banishment for eight years. Taking advantage of the general amnesty in 1871 he returned to Mexico, and passed the remaining five years of his life in obscurity and neglect.
On leaving her consort on the 8th of June, the "Tacony" shaped the course for Pensacola. She had lingered on in Mexican waters longer than was convenient or prudent. Her hold contained now but few provisions for the crew. Amid all the anxieties and distractions connected with the situation and the progress of events, her commander had been counting the weeks, then the days, finally the hours which remained to him. The possibility of a mishap to the machinery, or of delay caused by a northerly gale, or by the many accidents liable to happen on the sea, rendered it imperative to allow some slight margin of time for the passage across the gulf. On the other hand, what momentous events might not supervene during his absence and nullify all his endeavors. With the deepest regret had he seen at last that further delay was inadmissible. The old double-ender started northward under full steam, and arrived before daybreak of the 13th, with two days' bread on board.
One can imagine the vexation felt on board on learning that on the same day that they had been compelled to leave their station, the tug "Yucca" had left Pensacola, to call at Vera Cruz, with provisions for them. The delay in sending that supply vessel seemed strange and was most unfortunate; but there was no help for it then, and all that could be done was to coal and provision ship and execute a few repairs with all possible despatch, so as to return and take further part in the interesting scenes of the last days of the Empire.
The part that the "Tacony" had already taken in the stirring events just related became the subject of much criticism, both adverse and favorable, and Captain Roe had to run the gauntlet of much censure from various quarters. It seemed, indeed, to be a high-handed proceeding to remove by force a pretender to the throne of a country, however much embroiled at home and abroad. That country, after a disheartening and desperately protracted struggle, had at last begun to triumph over all its enemies, including that most intolerable of all political evils, foreign armed intervention, and to have reached a crisis when, if left alone, it might be expected to restore tranquillity and reorganize itself upon permanent foundations. A notorious agitator, backed by adventurers who would ruthlessly sacrifice country to party, and perhaps both to money or gain, was about to undo in a day what had been accomplished by years of bloodshed and suffering. On general principles an officer of a foreign government could have nothing to do with either side of the question. The mere judgment of right or wrong, or the desire to help a friendly nation, should not even for one moment influence the action of a naval commander compelled to decide and act for himself. But the circumstances in this case made such action seem imperative, and the more closely the matter is studied, the more proper does it appear.
As the United States had never ceased to acknowledge the Republican government of Mexico, and Benito Juarez as its President, it was fair to suppose that Santa Ana's assertion of being backed by President Johnson was false. Furthermore, the relations of the two countries were really very delicate, in spite of the fact of the United States having caused the departure of the French army. Many Mexicans were inclined to still regard their powerful northern neighbor with great distrust. Therefore, to allow the idea (which he knew to be false) to gain ground, that material aid and assistance was to be afforded by his government to influence their internal affairs, would have brought about complications, and, however vigorously refuted afterwards, would probably have reacted on the party that had been recognized since the beginning of the troubles. It would also have placed the United States in a false light before the world. By acting as he did Captain Roe was certain not to thwart the desire nor run counter to the policy of the State Department, however much it might disapprove his taking positive action.
In the history of many a diplomatic tilt it has been found necessary to disapprove publicly a certain line of action taken by an individual officer, however much such action may have been secretly applauded. In this particular case the United States was certainly interested in having Santa Ana's incipient revolution nipped in the bud; should international complications demand it, the officer guilty of over-zeal could afterwards be reprimanded or, if necessary, temporarily disgraced, but the object would have been gained. No single-minded officer would ever hesitate before such an alternative; the only difficulty would be in accurately divining the wish of the government.
The press were somewhat divided on the subject, and, as usual, did not fail to express their various opinions with greater or less warmth. But what was of most importance to Captain Roe was the following paragraph in a memorandum published by the Secretary of State: "In the opinion of the President, Commander Roe has truly stated the character of the transaction which occurred in Vera Cruz, in these words: 'The attitude then of Santa Ana was this: He was on board of an American ship, under the flag of the United States, in a city besieged by the government of Mexico, declaring and fomenting the civil war against that government, with which the United States are in friendly relations, under an assumed authority from the United States; and while he claimed to be under the protection and shield of their flag, he prevented the act of surrender of Vera Cruz, after the terms of that surrender had been agreed to and accepted by both parties; and this under the declaration that he was acting under the authority of the United States.' In this view of the subject, this department not only does not disallow nor censure, but it approves the proceedings of the United States consul and of Commander Roe, at Vera Cruz."
A copy of this memorandum was sent to Captain Roe, personally, by Mr. Seward, thus becoming a direct message of approval.
- It is not generally known that the officer to whom the Prince delivered up his sword was an American, Colonel Geo. M. Green.
This gentleman went to Mexico in the darkest days of her desperate struggle, at the head of a body of fellow countrymen, mostly veterans of the Union armies, but reinforced afterwards by many gallant ex-wearers of the gray. At the Rio Grande, the extreme limit of Mexican territory, they met President Juarez, pursued and harassed by the Imperial forces, but still undaunted. Drawing fresh inspiration from the appearance of this staunch little band, he formally enrolled it in his army as the "Legion of Honor," and issued a fresh appeal to his despairing countrymen, in which he but thinly veiled the hope of armed assistance from the United States Government. The patriots rallied; from that hour the tide of battle turned. From Chihuahua to Querétaro victory followed victory, unchecked save in one instance: surprised by a superior force at Zacatecas, the Liberal army was completely routed, and so impetuous was the charge of the enemy that Juarez and all his Cabinet would probably have been captured, and the Liberal government extinguished, but for the Legion of Honor, who threw themselves into the narrow defile of the Bufa and checked the onslaught long enough for them to escape.
When the remains of the devoted Carlotta regiment surrendered to the Legion of Honor at Querétaro, Colonel Green allowed Prince Maximilian to retain his sword, and took him, in custody, to General Corona.
- The same ambassador who ten years later headed the deputation that waited on the Archduke Maximilian to offer him the Imperial throne of Mexico.
- Dialogue certified to by Edward Gottlieb, interpreter.