About Captain Daniel J. Strout
A TRUE STORY.
Federal Case No. 13,549, 23 Fed. Cas. 262, decided by Judge Shipman, Sept. 14, 1861, in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, was a libel in rem against the brig Cuba and cargo by Daniel J. Strout, master and part owner, and by the crew, under a claim of salvage for recapturing her from the prize crew of a Confederate cruiser. The facts as they appeared in the proofs were stated by the judge to be substantially as follows:
The American brig Cuba, on the 2d of July, 1861, sailed from Trinidad, bound to London, with a cargo of sugar and molasses. Her officers and crew consisted of: captain, Daniel J. Strout; chief mate, James Babbidge; second mate, John Carroll; cook, Thomas Oliver; and John Carter, Charles Gasmer, and John Perry, seamen. Nothing unusual or important occurred on the voyage until early in the morning of the 4th of July, when a steamer was discovered bearing down for the brig. The steamer had the American flag flying, but proved to be the so-called private r Sumter. She soon neared the brig, fired a shot across her bows, and ordered her to heave to. The brig immediately came to, and was boarded by a body of men from the steamer, armed with cutlasses and heavy navy revolvers. The leader of the boarding crew ordered the captain of the brig to go on board of the steamer, and take his papers. He did so, and on reaching the cabin of the steamer was introduced to one Semmes, who was alleged to be the commander of the Confederate steamer Sumter. This person examined the captain's papers, and tore them all up, except the register, which he kept. After inquiring to whom the cargo belonged, he announced to Captain Strout that he and his crew were prisoners of war.
After some conversation between Semmes and his confederates, in which the disposition of the brig was discussed, and the proposition to send her, in charge of a prize crew, into Vera Cruz was negatived, Semmes informed Captain Strout that he should take her in tow, carry her into Cienfuegos, and sell the cargo and burn the brig. Captain Strout was then ordered on board of his vessel, accompanied by five men from the steamer, one of whom was called a prize-master, two were marines, and two sailors. The steamer then took the Cuba, together with the Machias, another vessel, captured that morning, in tow, and started for Cienfuegos. This was about 11 o'clock A.m. They continued in tow till 4 A.m. next morning, when the hawser of the Machias parted and she went adrift; but the fact was not discovered on board the steamer till about an hour and a half after the occurrence. When it was found out that the Machias was gone orders were given by those on board the steamer for the Cuba to let go her hawser and make all sail till the Sumter came up again. The latter then left in pursuit of the Machias, and, after finding her, returned to the Cuba. By this time the sea was running so high that she could not fasten again to the Cuba, and Semmes gave orders to the prize-master to take them into Cienfuegos. The brig stood for the last-named port. The prize-crew were heavily armed with cutlasses and revolvers, and the crew of the Cuba, being unarmed, were permitted to have the liberty of the deck, and were required to assist in sailing the vessel.
Captain Strout, who seems to have early formed the idea of baffling the enterprise of his captors, and, if possible, of retaking his vessel, privately told his mates, and the others of his men who took their turn at the wheel, to let her fall off on her tacks as much as possible and not attract the notice of the prize-crew. This was so successfully done that on the third day after they had\ parted company with the Sumter, they were twenty miles farther , off from the port to which they were ordered than they were when they left the steamer.
About this time the prize-master appears to have become somewhat suspicious of Captain Strout and his mates, and at the same time a little more distrustful of his own seamanship. He called Captain Strout and his mates aft, and asked them to assist him in navigating the brig into Fernandina, Florida; at the same time assuring him that if he gave any more orders, or his men refused to work, he would shoot him. Captain Strout promised to assist the prize-master through the Straits of Florida with the brig, and immediately put her before the wind, the prize-master giving the course. This was the third day after the capture.
On the next day, the 8th of July, and the fourth day after the capture, Captain Strout and his crew having come to some general understanding to retake the brig, obtained complete possession of her in the following manner: The captain discovered that the prize-master was asleep on the after-house, and immediately, with his mates and steward, went to securing the arms. They succeeded in obtaining possession of all, or nearly all, of the weapons. At this time there were two of the prize crew, besides the master, asleep; one a marine, lying alongside the after-hatch. The other marine was lying on deck, alongside the boat, with his head on a revolver wrapped up in a jacket for a pillow, reading. Captain Strout appears to have secured the other arms without the observation of any of the prize-crew, and immediately approached this marine, and jerked the pistol from under his head, demanding his surrender. He yielded at once. But several of the prize-crew at this moment discovered that something was in the wind, and went for their arms, and finding them gone, two of them drew their sheath-knives, one seized the axe, and all rushed aft, whither Captain Strout had gone with the pistol he had taken from the marine. The rush aft awoke the prize-master. The mainsail was at this time down, and lying upon the boom; and the prize- . crew gathered on one side of it, and Captain Strout and his crew on the other. The mates of the latter and the cook were armed with revolvers, and one of the men had a cutlass. Captain Strout had a heaver. The prize-crew had no arms except the two sheathknives and the axe. One of the prize-crew attempted to jump over the mainsail, when Captain Strout struck him with the heaver, and staggered him. He then ordered his mate to fire on them if they moved. They were then ordered by Captain Strout to surrender, and they made no further resistance, but went forward, followed up by the captain and his crew. Captain Strout had but two pairs of irons, one of which he put on the prize-master, and the other on the most dangerous of the sailors. The rest were tied with marline.
These occurrences were all on the 8th. On the same day they fell in with the brig Costa Rica, which took off two of the sailors of the prize-crew, and the Cuba then set sail for New York. Notking else of importance occurred until the 13th or 14th of July, when the prize-master (whose irons had been taken off at his urgent entreaty) repossessed himself of a pistol and went into the maintop. He then called to Captain Strout and told him he wanted to speak with him and all his crew. The captain asked him what he wanted. He asked Captain Strout if he intended to carry him to New York. He replied that he did. The prizemaster then said, "You won't carry me alive." Captain Strout replied, "Then I will carry you dead." Captain Strout immediately started below for a pistol, when the prize-master called out, and threatened to shoot him if he went below. The captain then jumped below, got a pistol, and fired two shots at the prize-master, who still remained in the top, one of which took effect in his arm, and the other struck near his head in the main cross-trees. He then took him, dressed his wound, and put him in the after-cabin under lock and key, and kept a guard over him until they reached New York, where the vessel arrived with all her crew and cargo safe, and her three prisoners, on the 21st of July.
The brig Cuba was owned at this time by parties in Boston and Maine, and by Captain Strout. Upon examination of the authorities the court came to the conclusion that the captain and his crew were entitled to salvage for the rescue. The opinion of the court concludes as follows: "The only remaining question is at what rate salvage should be awarded. The only settled rule in the case is that it should be liberal. The libelants claim that one-half would not be too liberal in this case, as they were diligent, from the hour of capture till that of the rescue, in watching for an opportunity to recover the control of their vessel, and that they performed a perilous act in securing their object. That their conduct was meritorious and praiseworthy I cheerfully concede. Captain Strout was young, but vigilant, thoughtful, brave, and discreet; and every man of his officers and crew performed well his part. But the peril of their enterprise, though considerable, was not of the most imminent kind. There were seven of them, all with the liberty of the decks, and with opportunities for consultation. There were but five of the prize-crew, and they appear to have been of indifferent character, both as to intelligence and spirit. Captain Strout seemed to hold them in just contempt when he told their leader that he did not fear them nor their pistols. I think, as the value of the brig and cargo amounts to at least $12,000, and perhaps $15,000, that an award of two-fifths of the whole property salved will be fair; the whole costs to be paid out of the remaining three-fifths; the vessel and cargo to bear the same in ratable proportions on their respective values. The arms taken will be distributed to the captain and mate, unless some further objection is interposed."
Source: "Law Notes Vol. 7", pg 147