Red Sky at Night with JB Cornwell | Hurrah for the Stars and Stripes!! The Rescues of Martin Costa and the Virginius
Article courtesy of JB Cornwell
July, 1853 at Smyrna, (today Izmir, Turkey).
U.S Sloop of War St. Louis, Captain D.N. Ingraham, Commanding. Member of the wardroom, newly Passed Midshipman D. L. “Larrie” Braine, age 24.
St. Louis is on a Mediterranean cruise, representing the United States. She had been visiting various Mediterranean ports since joining the Mediterranean Squadron in August of 1852.
It was here that Captain Ingraham learned that a Hungarian refugee named Martin Costa, who had an American protection or declaration of citizenship, had been kidnapped ashore by the Austrians and was being held in irons aboard the Austrian brig, Huzzar.
The Austrians had a small squadron there. In addition to the Huzzar’s 16 guns, there was a sloop of 10 guns and three steamers of 6 guns each.
The status of Martin Costa had become an International Incident. Strongly worded messages were flying back and forth between the Austrian and French (representing U.S. interests in Smyrna) Consulates. Captain Ingraham did not know about that. He only saw a person documented to be an American being held in irons by another country.
Captain Ingraham anchored the St. Louis in the midst of the Austrian squadron, his guns “out”, and demanded immediate release of Costa. His guns being “out” was a clear threat.
After 4 tense hours Costa was delivered to the French Consul.
Young Larrie Braine was very impressed by his Captain’s action. He wrote in his journal, “Hurrah for the Stars and Stripes!!”
Twenty years later Commander Braine would have this experience to draw on in another International Incident.
In October of 1873 a Spanish warship had seized the Virginus, a Cuban owned vessel, crammed with 155 persons and flying the United States flag, and took her to Santiago de Cuba.
Fifty three of the persons aboard were court-martialed and summarily shot. Some of them were Americans.
It was the Spanish position that the Virginius was illegally flying the U.S. flag and that those executed were Cuban rebels. The U.S. did not agree and the press raised an uproar that was heard across the world, describing the massacre of Americans taken off of an American vessel.
Queen Victoria intervened with the Spanish Crown and got agreement to release the survivors to an American vessel. She sent a warship to Santiago to keep the peace.
USS Juniata, Commander D.L. Braine Commanding, was dispatched to Santiago to receive the surviving prisoners.
From Commander Braine’s journal:
On November 19, 1973 most unexpected news was received of the massacre of some Americans at Santiago de Cuba taken from aboard the merchant steamer Virginius. I received immediate orders to proceed to that port. Also I (unclear) and investigate the affair, getting all the facts in the case.
The Juniata, under my Command, arrived Nov. 26/73. Found English war Steamer Niobi and USS (unclear) there. Communicated with the Spanish authorities and entered upon the question of delivery of the Virginius prisoners to me. English war stmr (unclear) and French war vessel (unclear) also USS Kansas.
December 18, after communication with the Spanish authorities at Santiago de Cuba. Upon demand of Commander D.L. Braine 102 prisoners from the USS Steamer Virginius were delivered aboard the USS Juniata.
The Juniata got under weigh and anchored off the city of Santiago. Met USS Pinta, bearing dispatches a copy of agreements between US and Spanish authorities and instructions which I had carried out without a word of orders from the Secretary of the Navy. December 28 arrived in New York Harbor.
Also in Commander Braine’s memoir is the original letter, as follows:
USS Juniata, 25 December, 1873
To: Commander Daniel L. Braine, USN
Commanding USS Juniata
We, the undersigned, the survivors of crew and passengers of the American Steamer Virginius desire to express our great gratitude to yourself and, through you, to Lieut. DeLong, the Executive Officer, Doctors Walton and Rogers and every officer and on the ship under your Command, for your great kindness to us.
You have visited us in prison, and mitigated the horrors of our confinement, have worked untiringly for our release, and when released, have clothed and fed us, treated us with every consideration, and made us happy. We can never forget it. It will be a tradition in our families and wherever we may go, will be sounded the praises of “the famous Juniata”.
May this “Merry Christmas” be the forerunner of many more.
There follows 102 personal signatures.
History tells us that the Spanish paid reparations, but successfully proved that the Virginius was not a US vessel and that she was flying false colors.
Nevertheless, this incident’s successful conclusion by CDR Braine probably postponed war between the US and Spain for 25 years.
JB Cornwell writes from “The Hideout” in Whitt, TX, and is also an expert moderator, instructor, and fountain-of-knowledge in the iboats.com Boating Forums, where he may occasionally share a yarn of his own.