A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

For Lincoln's Birthday: Flap Over Confederates Seized in Tangier, 1862

Today is Abraham Lincoln's 204th birthday, as Americans used to know before Lincoln's birthday (February 12) and Washington's (February 22) were merged into a generic "President's Day." The US Civil War generally didn't involve the Middle East (though as I've noted in  "Stone Pasha and the Khedive Ismail's Yanks and Rebs," officers from both sides were actively recruited into the Egyptian Army after the war, and one became the Egyptian Chief of Staff under Khedives Ismail and Tawfiq.) But I thought today we'd focus on one diplomatic incident that did engage some of Lincoln's attention: the arrest by the US Consul in Tangier of two Confederates visiting that Moroccan city in February 1862, 151 years ago this month. It isnt well known but in addition to the Union, the Confederacy, and the Sultanate of Morocco, it also managed to draw in the British and French consuls and home governments.

As I noted a while back, on December 20, 1777, the Sultan of Morocco issued a decree allowing ships flying the new American flag to trade freely at Moroccan ports, which is sometimes seen as the first foreign state to recognize American independence. (The Dutch East Indies had already saluted the flag, but formal recognition by the Home Dutch Government was later.) It wasn't until 1779 that the Americans (who were busy fighting Redcoats) actually noticed, after Ben Franklin in Paris called their attention to it and the Sultan (Franklin called him "the Emperor") had been asking. Finally in 1786 a Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation was signed, the Treaty of Marrakesh. Morocco never asked the US for tribute and avoided the conflicts its neighbors faced in the Barbary Wars. An American Consulate was established in Tangier, and in 1821 the Sultan gave the US the building which has since been the consulate (until 1956, the US' main diplomatic post in Tangier). It's said to be the oldest US diplomatic property still in use.

Against this background (and then as now the Moroccans were proud of their priority as American allies), in early 1862 the Consulate in Tangier became entangled in a messy diplomatic dispute over the seizure of two Confederate agents. Tangier was, at the time, under the typical sort of foreign concession under which European consuls (including the US as honorary Europeans) had legal jurisdiction over their nationals. And Morocco recognized the United States of America, and unlike many European states had not declared neutrality in the American war, so Confederate States citizens had no standing.

Also important background: the United States had just resolved a major crisis with Great Britain known as the Trent Affair, in which an American naval captain, acting on his own, intercepted a British ship at sea and removed two Confederate agents, Mason and Slidell, who were en route to London and Paris respectively. The British reacted with threats of war, including a buildup of troops in Canada, and Lincoln, saying he could fight only one war at a time, had to release the Confederate agents. That was resolved in January; in February a US consul in Morocco created a new, if lesser, diplomatic problem along the same lines.
CSS Sumter Running the Blockade, 1861
The Confederate States Ship CSS Sumter was the first of the Confederate Commerce Raiders. She ran the blockade in New Orleans in 1861 (picture), raided US merchantmen off Cuba and Martinique and in the Atlantic, capturing a significant number, and then put into Cadiz. Damaged and unable to refuel in Spain, she made for the neutral British port of Gibraltar.

Pursuing US vessels stood outside the territorial limit, in effect blockading her in Gibraltar; she was in need of repairs and still denied coal.

Raphael Semmes, CSA Navy
Thomas Tate Tunstall
Now the captain of the Sumter was Commander Raphael Semmes, who within the next two years would become the most famous of Confederate naval heroes as the Captain of the CSS Alabama. Besieged in Gibraltar, Semmes hit upon the idea of sending two agents across the Strait to Tangier, to buy a Moroccan ship carrying coal and sail it to Gibraltar to refuel Sumter. The two men were his own ship's paymaster, Lt. Henry Myers, a Georgian, and an Alabamian living in Cadiz, Thomas Tate Tunstall (usually called Tom Tate Tunstall), who had been US Consul in Cadiz until President Lincoln removed him for his Confederate sympathies. The two men took a French vessel to Tangier. Somehow (Tunstall later blamed two American missionaries on the same ship who had overheard conversations), their mission became known to the Union.

LT Henry Myers, CSN
 (Also, Semmes at the time claimed they were sightseeing in Tangier en route to Cadiz from Gibraltar. Tunstall acknowledged the real mission after the war.)

In any event, someone reported the two Confederates' presence in Tangier. The US Consul at the time, James DeLong, deciding that the Sumter had essentially been engaged in piracy, that Tunstall was a former US diplomat and Myers a defector from the US Navy, decided to have them arrested. Using his consular privilege he got the Moroccan authorities to arrest them and deliver them to the consulate, where they were quite literally clapped in irons.

US Consul James DeLong
The Official Records of the Union and Confederate Navies,one of the main sources I've drawn from in this account, includes an extensive correspondence by an outraged Semmes. He appealed to the British in Gibraltar, who had little to gain from the fight and not only declared neutrality but in delivering Semmes' complaint to Morocco gave the Moroccans what Semmes saw as carte blanche.
 
He then tried the French, since the two captives had debarked from a French ship and, in his view, should have had French consular protection. He wrote to Confederate agents Mason in London and Slidell in Paris, but to little avail. The naval supply ship USS Ino sailed to Tangier to take custody of the captives. There were extensive protests by the European trading community in Tangier, and reportedly the Ino's commander had to draw his sword to the crowd to bring them aboard, still in irons.

To add insult to injury, the Ino sailed first to Algeciras, within full view of Semmes aboard the crippled Sumter in Gibraltar across the bay. It then took them to Cadiz, where another US vessel took them to Boston.

Semmes' efforts, however, did have some eventual effect. The French government eventually complained; pressure from other consulates reportedly led to some questions in Morocco, and there were murmurings in the British Parliament.  Perhaps as a result, Lincoln (while not disavowing the arrests as in the Trent Affair), ordered that the captives be considered not as Americans arrested for treason but as prisoners of war. Lt. Myers was accordingly exchanged for a Union POW in Confederate hands, and Tunstall, the civilian, allowed to return to the South.

Tunstall, however, immediately began a career as a blockade runner, was captured, and this time his captors insisted he could only be paroled if he agreed to stay abroad for the duration. He did.

Interestingly, though, Tunstall after the war again served as a US Consul: President Cleveland sent him to El Salvador, where the Spanish he had learned in Cadiz was of use.

Lincoln didn't apologize, but in March, 1862, a few weeks after all this, he did relieve James DeLong as US Consul in Tangier, the man who started it all. I suspect he wished he hadn't been quite so proactive.

Note on sources: I'm drawing this from multiple sources, including Semmes' memoirs, biographies of him and obituaries of Tunstall, the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Navies, etc. I can't cite them all here.

2 comments:

David Mack said...

Ah, for the days when U.S. diplomatic and consular officials were expected to exercise initiative! Modern communications and State Department micro management has made it increasingly rare. When a U.S. diplomat does so, e.g. Bob Ford driving out to Homs or Chris Stevens traveling to Benghazi, there is the assumption that the Secretary of State, if not the President, is responsible for their precise itinerary and level of security protection.

Wastafarian said...

Very interesting post, I never knew that civil war intrigue took place so far away, especially in the Middle East. Awesome research.