Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Murder On Board The Sumter, 1862.

Numbers 18.] CONFEDERATE STATES COMMISSION, London, October 30, 1862.
Honorable J. P. BENJAMIN, Secretary of State. SIR: It becomes my painful duty to inform the Government of an occurrence which has recently happened on board the C. S. ship Sumter, lying in the Bay of Gibraltar. Captain Semmes and his officers having been transferred to the Alabama, the Sumter was left in charge of a midshipman and boat's crew only, a guard deemed sufficient by Captain Semmes. On the 14th of this month I received a telegram from Sergeant Stephenson, of the marines (one of those left in charge of the ship), that Acting Midshipman Andrews (in command(had been shot and killed by one of the men named Hester, who was master's mate; that Hester had been taken into custody by the civil authorities there and asking for instructions. I immediately replied by telegraph to Sergeant Stephenson directing him to take charge of the ship and the public property on board, and that an officer would be sent at once to relieve him. Lieutenant Chapman, a former officer of the Sumter, was then in Paris on duty assigned him by the Secretary of the Navy. In the emergency I wrote to and ordered him to proceed immediately to Gibraltar and take command of the ship, after the death of Midshipman Andrews and the arrest of the master's mate the only person on board having the semblance of authority being the sergeant of marines.

Some days after I received a letter dated on board the Sumter the 17th of October, signed by all the ship's crew (only nine in number), including the sergeant of marines, denouncing in strong terms the act of Hester as a cool, deliberate murder and promising that everything should be done by those on board to take care of the ship until further orders. I subsequently received two letters from a Mr. George F. Cornwell, dated respectively at Gibraltar the 17th and 22nd of October, informing me that he had been engaged as counsel by Hester, and stating that the latter fully owned the act and vindicated it on the ground that Midshipman Andrews had termination to take the vessel out of this port (Gibraltar) and give her up at Algeciras to the U. S. ship Supply, then in the latter port, and had threatened to shot any one who opposed his purpose. Mr. Hester not being (as he says) able to rely on the crew adopted this fatal course and believes that he has only done his duty. I should have stated above that in the letter from the crew of the Sumter no particulars of the affair were given nor anything stated as the cause of the act except as in the following paragraph quoted from that letter:

As regards the accusation made by Mr. Hester against Mr. Andrews being a traitor it is as far as we all know entirely without foundation, for he was one that was beloved and respected by all that knew him, more especially by his crew. Lieutenant Chapman came immediately to London on receipt of my letter (as the shortest route to Gibraltar) and sailed for that port in the mail packet on Monday last, the 27th instant. He should have arrived there yesterday. I instructed Lieutenant Chapman to make full inquiry into the affair and its circumstances and to report them accordingly. In the letters of Mr. Cornwell, the counsel, he reports the earnest request of Hester that I would provide means for his defense, and in his last letter a like earnest request that I would take measures to have the prisoner restored to the jurisdiction of the Confederate States, fearing the result of a trial by the British authorities. He further requests that measures be taken to have certain officers of the Sumter, including Lieutenant Chapman, brought as witnesses on his behalf at his trial. I can form no opinion of what it may be proper for me to do in the premises until I get the report of Lieutenant Chapman. Should there be reasonable foundation for the alleged belief of Hester that Andrews designed the surrender of the ship to the enemy I shall consider it my duty to do whatever may be found best to give him the full benefit of the proofs he may adduce. On the question of jurisdiction it would certainly be right that he should be tried under the authority of our Government, but even should the jurisdiction be yielded by the British Government, (which in our unrecognized condition is by no means certain) I should be at a great loss to know how to bring the prisoner to trial and what to do with him in the meantime.  This, however, can be only or best determined after getting Lieutenant Chapman's report. I have further to state that in the dilemma arising out of his unfortunate affair, and with the entire concurrence and advice of Captains Bulloch and Sinclair, of the Navy, as well as of Lieutenant Chapman, I have determined to have the Sumter sold, and have taken measures to have the sale made by Captain Bulloch, the senior officer in the service here. Her armament and such stores of clothing, &c., as can be used in fitting out other ships will be reserved. Lieutenant Chapman's report shall be transmitted as soon as received to the Secretary of the Navy.I have the honor to be, very respectfully, your obedient servant, J. M. MASON

William Andrews, born Georgia.  Appointed from Georgia.  Acting Midshipman, July 20, 1861.  Killed at Gibraltar on C. S. S. Sumter, October 15, 1862, by Acting Masters Mate Joseph T. Hester.

Joseph T. Hester, born--Appointed from--Acting Masters Mate, April 1, 1862.  Served on C. S. S. Sumter, 1862.  Imprisoned at Gibraltar, for the murder of Midshipman William Andrews, October 15, 1862.

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