Wednesday, June 28, 2017

John A. Andrew to Gideon Welles, July 16, 1863

Commonwealth Of Massachusetts,
Executive Department, Boston, July 16, 1863.

Sir: I have the honor to acknowledge the receipt of your communication of the 11th instant, in reply to mine of the 1st. I should have answered you at once, but have been prevented from doing so until to-day by absorbing engagements arising from the outbreak here on the 14th instant.

I regret that any expression of mine should be regarded by you as unjust, and as the statement in question is not at all material to the substance of the letter I desire that it may be considered as withdrawn, but with the explanation that it was made upon the authority of municipal officers and citizens of Gloucester, the shipping of which town more than any other was affected by the Tacony, and that it was based by them upon the assurances of their own shipmasters that, after the Tacony first made her appearance in the neighborhood of the Vineyard Sound, four days passed, during which she burned numerous vessels, before Federal cruisers made their appearance there in pursuit of her. I am glad now to be able, on the authority of the Department, to assure my informants that, during these four days, more than twenty vessels of war, of which no less than fourteen were steamers, were engaged in one direction or another in such pursuit. It was not at all my intention to deny that any of these vessels had been sent out after the Tacony, for as to that the sources of information were not open to me. What I was, however, on the authority of intelligent shipmasters of Gloucester, induced to believe and to say was that no such armed vessels were sent along this coast for its protection until after the Tacony had swept the Vineyard Sound. But any discussion on this point is immaterial to the purpose of my letter of the 1st instant. It would be profitless to continue it. I am glad to infer from your statement of the great number of vessels sent in pursuit of the Tacony that some of them must have been chasing her near the Vineyard Sound during the four days in question, in which she captured and burned the Gloucester fishermen, and that therefore the Gloucester people were probably mistaken in their statements to me, and I beg that my remark may be considered as withdrawn.

The purpose of my letter of the 1st instant was to do my duty to the State over which I preside, by urging upon the Navy Department hereafter to guard against such raids as that of the Tacony by stationing armed vessels along this coast, and particularly within easy reach of the Vineyard Sound. My fruitless request in that behalf last February, at the time when the Alabama was reported as in this neighborhood, is perhaps within your recollection. I was then refused. Later in the year the effort was renewed by me, and I was assured on May 2 that, expressly for the protection of this coast, a fast cruiser should be stationed here always prepared for service. If the knowledge that cruisers are now along the coast is likely to prevent a repetition of such outrages as that of the Tacony, surely the same means, if they had been seasonably adopted, would have deterred the Tacony from appearing here at all. But I have no knowledge that during the six weeks which passed between the date of May 2 and the date of the appearance of the Tacony in Vineyard Sound, any fast cruiser was placed here according to the Department's assurance on the former date.

Believe me, sir, that I am deeply sensible of the difficulties as well as of the duties of the Navy Department. It is certainly a difficult duty to guard the Northern coast in addition to blockading the Southern coast, but certainly also the Department has the ability successfully to accomplish it and to prevent the recurrence of a day when, for fear of rebel cruisers, insurance shall be at the rate of 4½ per cent for freight from Philadelphia to Boston.

I beg in conclusion to forward to you copies of communications I have received from the selectmen of Provincetown while I have been writing this letter, and I have the honor to remain,

Very respectfully, your obedient servant,
John A. Andrew,
Governor of Massachusetts.
Hon. Gideon Welles,
Secretary of the Navy.


The inhabitants of Provincetown are extremely anxious for a vessel to be sent to Provincetown for the protection of that harbor, as it is very much exposed to rebel invasion, they having already threatened to burn the town. It being at the extreme end of Cape Cod, the harbor is large and commodious, easy of access, sufficient depth of water for any vessel; consequently, it at times has 300 or 400 sail of vessels there at one time; and should a pirate or privateer enter he could destroy the shipping, village, the Race light, [Long] Point light, and Highland light, as we have no means of defense whatever. Our harbor is generally known, as there are many fishermen belonging to British provinces sailing from our town, and have previously sailed from there, who may now be on board of those piratical vessels already to pilot them in. They have an inducement to do so, as we have a steam packet plying between Provincetown and Boston; also a bank from which they might demand $200,000, more or less.

We therefore pray some vessel of sufficient capacity to repel any rebel invasion may be sent to our harbor as early as possible, to give us protection, until some other means are adopted for our protection, by fortification or otherwise. And not only ours, but for the numerous vessels seeking shelter in that harbor from other places. The harbor is considered to be the key of Massachusetts Bay, and one of the best in the United States.

We also pray for 150 or 200 muskets, with the necessary equipment, that we may be prepared to meet any equal foe that may attempt to land on the back of our town; also two artillery pieces on carriages and ammunition sufficient for the same.

John Nickerson,
Robert Soper,
Committee from Provincetotm.

SOURCE: Official Records of the Union and Confederate Navies in the War of the Rebelion, Series I, Volume 2, p. 347-8

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