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A blog of Nineteenth Century history, focusing, but not exclusively, on the American Civil War seen through the prism of personal accounts, newspaper stories, administrative records and global history.
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Wednesday, May 7, 2014

While in the House of Lords . . .

John Russell, 1st Earl Russell, KG, GCMG, PC

 Wherein Gen. Wistar's actions have international repercussions.

Thursday, May 12, 1864.


THE EARL of ELLENBOROUGH: My Lords: I wish to draw the attention the noble Earl the Secretary for Foreign Affairs to the statements contained in a letter of General Wistar, an officer of the United States army, with reference to the kidnapping of persons, principally foreigners, mostly seamen, and, therefore very likely to be British subject,s with the view of forcing them to take service in the armies of the United States. I believe I shall do most justice to the case, and to the gallant officer who has written this letter, by reading the whole of it The letter certainly does him very great credit. The letter is dated Yorktown, April 15, 1864, and is addressed to Major General John A. Dix ,New York city. It is in these words-
"General,- An extended spirit of desertion prevailing among the recruits recently received from the North in some of the regiments of my command has led me to make some inquiries in apparently well authenticated information, which I beg respectfully to communicate to you in this unofficial manner deeming it required by humanity, no less than by our common desire to benefit the service. There seems to be little doubt that many- in fact, I think I am justified in saying that most of these unfortunate men were either deceived or kidnapped, or both, in the most scandalous and inhuman manner in New York city, where they were drugged and carried off to New Hampshire and Connecticut, mustered in and uniformed before their consciousness was fully restored. Even their bounty was obtained by _the parties who were instrumental in these nefarious transactions, and the poor wretches find themselves, on returning to their senses, mustered soldiers, without any pecuniary benefit. Nearly all are foreigners, mostly sailors, both ignorant of and indifferent to, the objects of the war in which they thus suddenly find themselves involved. Two men were shot here this morning for desertion, and over thirty more are now awaiting trial or execution. These examples are essential, as we all understand: but it occurred to me, General, that you would pardon me for thus calling your attention to the greater crime committed in New York, of kidnapping these men into positions where, to their ignorance, desertion must seem like a vindication of their own rights and liberty. Believe me to be General, with the highest esteem, your servant
J.J. Wistar" (sic)

"To Major General John A. Dix New York city."

These my Lords are the very proper of this American officer. It said that many of those who have kidnapped are seamen and subjects of Majesty; it is scarcely possible that transactions could take place without knowledge of many of the officers of American army; it is scarcely that the Government itself should not cognizant of them. I understand that one case where a Frenchman was the French Admiral interfered, the was released, and the captain in regiment he was placed was the service. Many of your Lordships a few days ago a statement, which know to be true from other sources, the case of a poor man named Edwards, a seaman of one of the Liverpool steamers, and who had only recently been married. He left his clothes on board his vessel, and the money which was due to him, went on shore by direction of the to get a warm bath. He was taken to drinking shop, was drugged, and when recovered his senses found himself in uniform of the United States, was told had enlisted, and carried off to a depot, having no means whatever either of joining his family or informing them of of his case. He sent in Welsh, which his wife Liverpool, and that led to inquiries being made This is a very serious grievance. I am not aware if the noble Earl has been previously made acquainted with the case. If he has I wish to know what steps he has taken; and if he has now heard of it for the first time what steps he proposes to take, for the purpose of protecting Her Majesty's subjects from these monstrous atrocities, not only for the future but in order to obtain the release of those who may have been so seriously ill-treated, and to obtain compensation to them for what they have suffered?
EARL RUSSELL, who was very imperfectly heard, was understood to say that he knew nothing of the letter which the noble Earl had read, further than that a copy of it had been sent to him. Without, therefore, giving any answer to the individual cases stated by the noble Earl, he would say that very great hardships were incurred in such cases. It appeared that the bounty given on enlistment by the general Government of the United States and by the States Government amounted altogether to 600 dols. or 700 dols.; and this large sum, it appeared induced nefarious and unprincipled men to get hold of persons on landing in the United States, who drugged them, kept them without food, and tempted them to enlist, when they were marched off to some depot and deprived of all means of obtaining their liberty. Whenever such cases came to the knowledge of Lord Lyons, he had made immediate representations to the United States Government. He was not so much surprised at the unprincipled conduct of the parties referred to as that attempts should be made to throw protection around them; and he was sorry to say that Lord Lyons had made repeated complaints, but in most cases he had not obtained that satisfaction which he had a right to expect. The noble Earl then read the following passages from a memorandum of similar cases which had recently occurred, and the result of the representations made by Lord Lyons:-
 "Two other cases have been reported to us by the Board of Trade. The first is that of Hugh Bennett, who stated that having gone on shore from his ship, the Edinburgh, at New York, in order to make a purchase, he was induced to enter a public house, where he, in company with eleven other steamboat men, had been drugged and carried off to the United States receiving ship North Carolina. This case having been referred to Lord Lyons, he has succeeded in obtaining the man's discharge. The other case is that of a seamen named Charles Thompson, who wrote from Beaufort, South Carolina on the 25th of February last, to say he had been drugged, and while in that state was enlisted, not knowing anything until he came to himself, when he was informed that he was a soldier. He further stated that as soon as a sailor arrived in the United States was nearly certain to be drugged and made soldier of before he knew anything about it, and that in several cases the British had obtained their release."
Several cases had been brought to the notice of the British agents in the American States in which several British subjects were kidnapped, as was alleged, while in a state of intoxication. In reply to a representation from Lord Lyons, the United States War Department said they would investigate the case, and in a certain sense they did so, examining the recruiting agents and other persons who stated that the men were sober when they enlisted. Lord Lyons answered, very properly, that that investigation was not satisfactory, it having been carried on entirely in the absence of the men themselves, four or five of whom had been sent forward to the army. The recruiting agents were tempted by the very large bounty to use every I fair means of inveigling men to enlist. He must say it would throw great discredit on the United States Government if such practices were allowed to go on. It was their bounden duty to see that these persons were not forced to enter the service against their will. He must say that these proceedings would render it necessary that Her Majesty's Government should make the strongest remonstrance to the United States Government. No doubt if the facts referred to by the noble Earl were authentic they formed a very great hardship and disclosed conduct on the part of agents of the United States Government which was highly reprehensible.

-The Parliamentary Debates (Authorized Edition)
  Wyman, 1864

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