Semmes commenced his run, at the last minute the Pilot lost his nerve, saying he did not have any knowledge about the bar at the Pass a L’Outre
, surely a ploy on his part, probably not wanting to be accused by Unionists, on his return, of aiding the escape to sea of a Confederate vessel.
Semmes was about to risk all, and steer for the bar at full speed, when a boat manned by four strong young negroes, with a young Pilot aboard, came alongside.
Sumter gathered speed, aided by a swift current and safely crossed the bar, easing just long enough to disembark this intrepid Pilot.
Finally, the first Confederate Cruiser was finally free and at sea.
soon gave chase and at one stage looked as if she would overhaul Sumter,
the Rebel ship was able to ensure her pursuer was deprived of the prevailing wind. Her combined screw and sails allowed her to slowly draw ahead, and the Union ship gave up her pursuit.
Semmes took his Raider south towards Cuba
, and on the 3rd. of July sighted the Union ship Golden Rocket
of 607 tons out of Maine, her Captain most suprised to find himself, his crew, and his ship, the first victim of a Confederate Cruiser. The crew were taken aboard Sumter
, and a prize crew soon prepared their capture to be destroyed by fire. One of Semmes’s Officers Lieutenant John Kell described their feelings as they torched this ship:
“It was a sad sight to a sailor’s eyes, the burning of a fine ship. We had not then grown accustomed to the sight with hardened eyes.”
Early the next morning two more sailing ships were sighted, a blank shot from a 32 pounder gun brought them smartly to a stop, but the neutral cargo for these two brigs, Machias and Cuba
saved them from burning. With prize crews on board they were taken under tow towards the Cuban port of Cienfuegos
, France under a Proclamations of Neutrality had stopped belligerants from bringing prizes into French ports, but to date Spain had not made up her mind in this regard. By International law, cargoes remained the property of any neutral owners, but their ships were claimed as prizes by their captors.
Whilst under tow, the reduced speed of Sumter
forced the cutting of the tow lines, and Semmes told the captured vessels to follow him into port, but under darkness the crew of Cuba
overcame the small prize crew to reclaim their ship, and she was gone, no where to be seen.
When close to Cienfuegos
, two more prizes were taken, sugar traders Albert Adams and Ben Dunning
, again neutrality saved their destruction.
As Semmes was sheperding his three prizes into port, a tug with three ships in tow, all flying American flags came into sight, he now intended to add these ships to his prize list, just as soon as they were clear of Spanish jurisdiction.
When the Pilot joined Sumter
, imagine his suprise, when Semmes informed him that he would first capture the three ships just towed down to the ocean by the tug, and then he wished to be Piloted into port, but by then with six prize ships in hand. The new vessels were Louisa Kilham from Boston, Naiad ex New York, and West Wind of Westerly, Rhode Island.
When trying to enter the harbour with his captured brood, a fort at the entrance opened fire with muskets, the Confederate Flag not being recognised, and being thought to be flying from a Pirate ship
. All was soon sorted out and Semmes given approval to enter port.
The local Governor referred the request of Semmes for these prizes to be retained by the Confederate States to Madrid. Of course in those times, all mail travelled by sea, and took weeks to arrive, then the matter in hand needed study, and any decision in turn, took weeks to arrive back at its point of origin.
When the Governor of Cienfuegos
was ducking giving Semmes a straight answer to his request, he was unaware that his Queen back in Spain had, on the 17th. of June, already decided to take the same stance on neutrality as had France and Great Britain.
Semmes took on 100 tons of coal, and on the 7th. of July was again at sea.
His first few days at sea had resulted in a flurry of activity and success, but in the end all this effort for little material gain.
It was much later before Semmes learned that Spain had returned his captured prizes to their owners, indicating these ships were taken inside Spanish territorial waters. The Captain of Sumter was furious at this decision, he hoped that when the Southern States were victorious, they would annex Cuba and divide it into a further two new Confederate States, but in hindsight, we know that was never to be
He had however kept all the crews from his prizes on board, reasoning that without their crews, the Union ships, whatever their fate, would remain idle in Cuba
for a long time to come.
after overthrowing the Sumter
prize crew had reached New York, here they were commited on a charge of piracy, but subsequently all were exchanged.
After a number of fruitless days at sea Semmes headed for Curacao, although an experienced sailor, like the famous British Admiral Lord Nelson, the Capain of Sumter suffered the agony of sea sickness, which at times threatened to lay him low, but he was determined to pursue his life at sea for the Confederate cause