The Pursuit November 8, 1861
The USS San Jacinto had just left St. Thomas in the Danish West Indies. It is a warm and clear day. It is better than it usually is up in North in Maine. It gets cold in Portland during the fall. Captain Charles Wilkes up deck. “ALRIGHT! We are pursuing the RMS Trent. The Reb bastards are trying to sneak some of their Reb Diplomats to the Brits to get them to recognize their sham of a nation.”
Oh lord I hate that man. He is impulsive and cruel. Back in 1840 Wilkes was in Fiji and had around 80 native Fijians slaughtered. He was court-martialed but unfortunately acquitted. The recent days have been tense with the hunt for the Confederate Ambassadors James Murray Mason and John Slidell. I go to my post at the pivot gun. I look out towards the sea and meet my friend Thomas Perry.
“Thomas you enjoying the weather?” Thomas gives a sigh of enjoyment. “Oh yes. Fall and winter in Erie is the worst. The lake effect snow makes the weather bitter cold and the snow… Oh the snow is unbearable.” We have been spoiled by all the sun and warm weather from being off the African Coast last month. Before getting sent to the Caribbean. “We should have been attacking Port Royal in South Carolina.” Thomas says
“Yeah. I can’t wait to crush the Confederacy and bring those treasonous slave drivers to justice.” I add with excitement.
“Hey remember we are fighting this war primarily to end the rebellion and save the Union. Not to end slavery.” Thomas says correcting me.
“Yeah well it could happen eventually.” I say hopefully. Thomas rolls his eyes and chuckles. “You really think Lincoln can abolish slavery. If he tried to do it, we would lose the border states like Maryland which surrounds our nation’s capital.”
Our ship parks itself in the Bahama Canal ready to ambush the RMS Trent. A few hours pass by. I loosen my uniform while Wilkes isn’t looking to soak up more sun. Suddenly the lookouts scream. “Trent Spotted Captain!”
I look out and see the Trent it flies the Union Jack as it sees us coming. It is clear they are trying to warn us that they are a neutral natural nation.
“Fire a warning shot across the bow!” shouts Captain Wilkes.
I comply reluctantly and fire a warning shot across the bow. My heart is racing and sweat is pouring down my face. It feels wrong shooting at a mail ship of a neutral nation. The shot thankfully didn’t hit the Trent. Usually ships stop when warning shots are fired. However, the Trent just paddles ahead completely ignoring our shot. I look back at the Captain. Wilkes is seething with rage.
“Damn it! Fire another one!” Captain Wilkes shouts at me. I hesitate.
“Damn it Bailey shoot or be shot! That is an order!” Thomas reloads the cannon and I light the fuse for the cannon. The shot is fired. It hits the bow. My God what have I done! Smoke and fire begins to rise from the bow. Captain Wilkes gasps in horror.
“DAMN IT!! FUCK! FUCK! FUCK! FUCK!” Wilkes starts pacing the deck. His face is as red as a turnip and he is sweating like a pig. What are we going to do? We could salvage this by approaching the ship and trying to rescue the passengers.
Wilkes pushes me aside. Perry reloads. Oh lord what is he doing now? He aims and points the pivot gun at the Trent hitting it again.
“All guns’ fire on the Trent! Send her down to the sea floor!” The crew obeys and all guns sink the Trent. The ship explodes and sinks.
Captain Wilkes looks at me and whispers. “You keep your fucking mouth shut, Bailey. I swear to God I will kill you.” “You will hang for this Wilkes! You can’t keep this a secret the world will know what happened! You have damned us all!” Wilkes nails me with a right hook and I black out.
The Wreckage December 1, 1861
It is a cold morning on December. I am in a Boston tavern polishing off another bottle of hard cider, trying to repress the memories of what happened back in November to the Trent. It appears that Wilkes was unable to keep the Trent Tragedy a secret. Some British and Danish ships spotted the explosion and sinking Trent. Some men onboard the ship survived and were saved by the British. James Murray Mason and John Slidell the Confederate ambassadors on board the Trent were killed in the explosion. Others died as it sank. Lord Palmerston the Prime Minister and Queen Victoria who were previously neutral were outraged that British Civilians were killed by the US Navy.
I am on my third bottle when Thomas Perry grabs it, trying to stop me from drinking myself to death. “John don’t do this to yourself!”
“Ahhhhhg! You are drunk too, hypocrite.” Thomas had a whole bottle.
“There is a difference between a bottle and three bottles. Besides John, it isn’t your fault. Wilkes is to blame for this mess.”
“Yeah, he ordered it, but I pulled the trigger. I have as much blood on my hands as he does. If only I shot higher or disobeyed him those innocents would not be dead and we wouldn’t be facing war with Britain.”
“Oh, I am sure it’s all just chest pounding. I am sure nothing will happen. Lincoln has announced Wilkes will be court martialed and hung.”
I pull out the paper. “Look at this,” I say pointing to the front page announcing buildup of British and Canadian forces along the northern border. Thomas sees this and shivers.
“Oh, and not only that.” I open the paper to the second page. “They also announced they will be constructing ships for the Confederate Navy while providing navy support to force open the Northern blockade. Without the blockade the Confederacy will be able The Union has also lost most of the public support that we had in Britain due to the Trent sinking.”
Thomas is trying desperately to be an optimistic. “Well the British need wheat from the Midwest more than they need Southern Cotton.”
“One word Thomas. Canada. The British can get their wheat from Canada.”
Thomas gives me the look of a defeated man and proceeds to follow my plan of drinking to death. I leave the tavern after drinking five bottles of cider. I walk down the street tripping over my feet. Everyone else seems too worried about the British fleet anchored outside Boston to even care about the drunk man that is me. I reach the harbor and see the Union and British ships staring each other down. The water below me is dark and icy.
God forgive me.
I fall into the freezing water. I don’t even bother to struggle. I allow myself to sink into the darkness.