Robert Mure
Correspondence on the arrest of Mure from

The Official Records of the War of Rebellion

 

 

Laid out below are various correspondences relating to the arrest of Robert Mure, a naturalized American, originally from Kircudbright in Scotland.

OFFICE OF SUPERINTENDENT OF POLICE,
New York, August 15, 1861.
Hon. WILLIAM H. SEWARD, Secretary of State.

DEAR SIR:
This morning I conveyed Robert Mure to Fort Hamilton and delivered him into the custody of Lieut. Col. Martin Burke, who immediately transferred him to Fort Lafayette. On my return to town I found among my letters an anonymous one which is represented to be from an intimate acquaintance of Mure. He says Mure is a Scotchman, not an Englishman; that his relatives reside in the vicinity of Kirkcudbright, Scotland; that he has resided in Charleston about thirty years; that before the breaking out of this rebellion he held a commission in a Charleston militia company; that during the last spring he was acting as a field officer of a Charleston regiment; that he was in such service during the attack on Fort Sumter and that he is a citizen of the United States, having been naturalized many years ago. But he declines to make himself known on account of previous intimacy. From my conversation with Mure I had concluded he was a Scotchman who had resided a long time in this country. He professed to have been perfectly neutral on the rebellion question; that he deplored the existence of war of such a kind; that it had ruined his business of cotton merchant; that he was in the habit of visiting Europe annually and always took with him the dispatch bag of the British consul as an accommodation for himself; that as soon as it became known that he was about to leave for Europe letters were left at his house by everybody; that he intended putting them in the New York post-office on arrival here but was prevented by want of time; that he don't know who any letter in particular is from and supposes they are all on private affairs, as the disarrangement of the mails has nearly destroyed private correspondence between persons in the South and those in Europe, &c. I have examined the letters found on him and none but one addressed to William H. Trappman are apparently for any known secessionist abroad.
Very truly, yours,
JOHN A. KENNEDY,
Superintendent. -----

The following articles were extracted from Army Official Records

CHARLES FRANCIS ADAMS, Esq., &c.

SIR: Alexander Schultz, a special messenger, will deliver to you this dispatch together with a bag containing papers addressed to Lord John Russell.

On the 13th instant I was advised by a telegram from Cincinnati that Robert Mure, of Charleston, was on his way to New York to embark at that port for England and that he was a bearer of dispatches from the usurping insurrectionary authorities at Richmond to Earl Russell. Other information bore that he was a bearer of dispatches from the same authorities to their agents in London. Information from various sources agreed in the fact that he was traveling under a passport from the British consul at Charleston.

Upon this information I directed the police at New York by telegraph to detain Mr. Mute and any papers which might be found in his possession until I should give further directions. He was so detained and he is now in custody at Fort Lafayette awaiting full disclosures. In his possession were found seventy letters, four of which were unsealed and sixty-six sealed. There was also found in his possession a sealed bag marked "Foreign office 3," with two labels as follows:

On Her Brit. Maj.'s service.--The Right Honorable the Lord John Russell, M. P., &c. Dispatches in charge of Robert Mure, esq.

ROBERT BUNCH.

On Her Brit. Maj.'s service.--The Right Honorable the Lord John Russell, M. P., H. B. M.'s principal secretary of state for foreign affairs, foreign office, London.

R. BUNCH.

The bag bears two impressions of the seal of office of the British consul at Charleston and seems to contain voluminous papers.

There were also found upon Mr. Mure's person in an open envelope what pretends to be a passport in the following words. Also a letter of instructions which is as follows.

There were also found several unsealed copies of a printed pamphlet entitled, "A narrative of the battles of Bull Run and Manassas Junction, July 18 and 21, accounts of the advance of both armies, the battles and rout of the enemy, compiled chiefly from the detailed reports of the Virginia and South Carolina press, Charleston steam-power press of Evans & Cogswell, Nos. 3 Broad and 103 East Bay streets, 1861."

This pamphlet is manifestly an argument for the disunion of the United States. Several copies of it were found in envelopes addressed to persons in England.

The marks and outward appearance of the bag indicate that its contents are exclusively legitimate communications from the British consul at Charleston to Her Britannic Majesty's Government. Nevertheless I have what seems to me good reasons for supposing that they may be treasonable papers designed and gotten up to aid parties engaged in arms for the overthrow of this Government and the dissolution of the Union. These reasons are:

First. That I can hardly conceive that there can be any occasion for such very voluminous communications of a legitimate nature being made by the consul at Charleston to his Government at the present time. This circumstance, however, is admitted to be very inconclusive.

Second. Consuls have no authority to issue passports, the granting of them being as I understand not a consular but a diplomatic function Passports, however, have in other times been habitually granted by foreign consuls residing in the United States. But soon after the insurrection broke out in the Southern States a regulation was made by this Department which I have excellent means of knowing was communicated to the British consul at Charleston to the effect that until further orders no diplomatic or consular passport would be recognized by this Government so far as to permit the bearer to pass through the lines of the national forces or out of the country unless it should be countersigned by the Secretary of State and the commanding general of the Army of the United States. Mr. Mute had passed the lines of the army and was in the act of leaving the United States in open violation of this regulation. Moreover the bearer of the papers, Robert Mure, is a naturalized citizen of the United States, has resided here thirty years and is a colonel in the insurgent military forces in South Carolina.

Third. If the papers contained in the bag are not illegal in their nature or purpose it is not seen why their safe transmission was not secured as it might have been by exposing them in some way to Lord Lyons, the British minister residing at this capital, whose voucher for their propriety would as Mr. Bunch must well know exempt them from all scrutiny or suspicion.

Fourth. The consul's letter to the bearer of dispatches attaches unusual importance to the papers in question while it expresses great impatience for their immediate conveyance to their destination and an undue anxiety lest they might by some accident come under the notice of this Government.

Fifth. The bearer is proved to be disloyal to the United States by the pamphlet and the letters found in his possession. I have examined many of the letters found upon the person of Mr. Mute and I find them full of treasonable information and clearly written for treasonable purposes.

These I think will be deemed sufficient grounds for desiring the scrutiny of the papers and surveillance of the bearer on my part.

Comity toward the British Government together with a perfect confidence in its justice and honor as well as its friendship toward the United States, to say nothing of a sense of propriety which I could not dismiss, have prevented me from entertaining for a moment the idea of breaking the seals which I have so much reason to believe were put upon the consular bag to save it from my inspection while the bearer himself might remove them on his arrival in London after which he might convey the papers if treasonable to the agents of the insurgents now understood to be residing in several of the capitals in Europe.

I will not say that I have established the fact that the papers in question are treasonable in their nature and are made with purposes hostile and dangerous to this country, but I confess that I fear they are so, and I apprehend either that they are guilty dispatches to the agents of disunion or else that if they are really addressed to the British Government they are papers prepared by traitors in the insurrectionary States with a view to apply to the British Government for some advantage and assistance or countenance from that Government injurious to the United States and subversive of their sovereignty. Of course I need hardly say that I disclaim any thought that Earl Russell has any knowledge of the papers or of their being sent, or that I have any belief or fear that the British Government would in any way receive the papers if they are illegal in their character or dangerous or injurious to the United States. It is important, however, to this Government that whatever mischief if any may be lurking in the transaction be counteracted and prevented.

I have therefore upon due consideration of the case concluded to send the bag by a special messenger who will deliver it into your care and to instruct you to see that it is delivered according to its address exactly in the condition in which you receive it.

You will also make known to the Earl Russell the causes and circumstances of the arrest and detention of Mr. Mure and his papers, adding the assurance that this Government deeply regrets that it has become necessary and that it will be very desirous to excuse the brief interruption of the correspondence of the British consul if it is indeed innocent, and will endeavor in that case to render any further satisfaction which may be justly required.

On the other hand you will in such terms as you shall find most suitable and proper intimate that if the papers in question shall prove to be treasonable against the United States I expect that they will be delivered up to you for the use of this Government, and that Her Britannic Majesty's consul at Charleston will in that case be promptly made to feel the severe displeasure of the Government which employs him, since there can be no greater crime against society than a perversion by the agent of one Government of the hospitality afforded to him by another to design against its safety, dignity and honor.

I think it proper to say that I have apprised Lord Lyons of this transaction and of the general character of this letter, while he is not in any way compromised by any assent given to my proceedings or by any opinions expressed by him or asked from him.

I am, sir, your obedient servant,

WILLIAM H. SEWARD.

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DEPARTMENT OF STATE, Washington, August 17, 1861.

CHARLES FRANCIS ADAMS, &c.

SIR: Among the letters found on the person of Robert Mure mentioned in my dispatch of this date there are many which more or less directly implicate Mr. Robert Bunch, the British consul at Charleston, as a conspirator against the Government of the United States. The following is an extract from one of them:

Mr. Bunch on oath of secrecy communicated to me also that the first step to recognition was taken. He and Mr. Belligny together sent Mr. Trescot to Richmond yesterday to ask Jeff. Davis, President, to ----- the treaty of ----- to ----- the neutral flag covering neutral goods to be respected. This is the first step of direct treating with our Government. So prepare for active business by January 1.

You will submit this information to the British Government and request that Mr. Bunch may be removed from his office, saying that this Government will grant an exequatur to any person who may be appointed to fill it who will not pervert his functions to hostilities against the United States.

I am, sir, respectfully, your obedient servant,

WILLIAM H. SEWARD.

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DEPARTMENT OF STATE, Washington, August 23, 1861.

Hon. GIDEON WELLES, Secretary of the Navy.

SIR: Presuming that they will be of interest to your Department I inclose herewith transcripts of certain letters found upon the person of Mr. Mure, recently arrested under suspicious circumstances at New York.

I have the honor to be, sir, your obedient servant,

WILLIAM H. SEWARD.

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DEPARTMENT OF STATE, Washington, August 27, 1861.

CHARLES C. NOTT, Esq., No. 69 Wall Street, New York.

SIR: Your letter of the 24th instant is received. In reply I have to inform you that it is not deemed compatible with the public interest to permit visitors to hold intercourse at present with Robert Mure.

Very respectfully, your obedient servant,

F. W. SEWARD,

Acting Secretary.

 

LEGATION OF THE UNITED STATES,

London, September 3, 1861.

Right Hon. Earl RUSSELL, &c.

MY LORD: I have the honor to inform your lordship that I have received by the hands of a special messenger of the Government just arrived in the steamer Europe from the United States a sealed bag marked "Foreign office 3," with two labels as follows:

On Her Brit. Maj.'s service.--The Right Honorable the Lord John Russell, M. P., &c. Dispatches in charge of Robert Mure, esq.

ROBERT BUNCH.

On Her Brit. Maj.'s service.--The Right Honorable the Lord John Russell, M. P., H. B. M.'s principal secretary of state for foreign affairs, foreign office, London.

R. BUNCH.

Agreeably to instructions communicated by my Government to me to see that this bag is delivered according to its address in exactly the condition in which I received it, I have the honor to transmit the same by the hands of my assistant secretary, Mr. Benjamin Moran, who is directed to deliver it into your own hands if present, or if absent into those of one of the undersecretaries of state for foreign affairs.

It now becomes my duty to explain the circumstances under which this bag has found its way from the possession of the person to whom it was originally intrusted into that of the authorities of the United States. It appears that the Secretary of State of the United States on the 15th of August last received information deemed worthy of confidence that Mr. Robert Mure, the bearer of this bag, was at the same time acting as a bearer of dispatches from the insurrectionary authorities of Richmond to your lordship. Other information came that he was a bearer of dispatches from the same authorities to their agents in London, and still other information from various sources agreed in affirming that he was traveling under a passport issued by Her Majesty's consul at Charleston. Upon this information instructions were sent forthwith to the police of New York to detain Mr. Mure and any papers which might be found in his possession. He was accordingly detained and is now in custody at Fort Lafayette awaiting full disclosure. A large number of papers were found upon him, an examination of which was found fully to sustain some portions of the information which had been furnished, and to prove that Mr. Mute was acting as the bearer of a treasonable correspondence between persons acting in open arms against the Government of the United States and their friends and emissaries in Great Britain. He had also with him several copies of a printed pamphlet purporting to be a narrative of the events of the 21st of July at Manassas Junction addressed to persons in England and evidently intended to further the purpose of the conspirators in South Carolina. Robert Mure, the bearer of these papers, is represented to be a naturalized citizen of the United States where he has resided for thirty years and as actually holding a commission of colonel in the insurgent forces of South Carolina.

It turned out to be true that in the hands of this gentleman were found in an open envelope a paper purporting to be a passport, a copy of which I have the honor to append to this note, and a letter of instructions signed by Robert Bunch, Her Majesty's consul for the United States residing at Charleston, a copy of which is likewise appended. In the absence of all other evidence against Mr. Bunch to prove his departure from the line of his legitimate duty it is quite enough to call the attention of your lordship to the fact that in issuing such a paper as this passport he has acted in direct contravention of a regulation issued by the proper Department of the United States, of which he had received notice, which forbids all recognition of any diplomatic or consular passport so far as to permit the bearer to pass through the lines of the national forces or out of the country unless it should be countersigned by the Secretary of State and the commanding general of the Army of the United States. Mr. Mute attempted to do both with a paper bearing no such signatures.

There is, however, other and still more serious cause of complaint against Mr. Bunch as disclosed by the papers of Mr. Mure, the exposition of which I am compelled to reserve for a separate communication. The present purpose is confined to an explanation of the reasons which have actuated the Government of the United States in taking the extraordinary step which has had for one of its consequences the effect of diverting, be it but for a moment, a part of the official correspondence of Her Majesty's Government from the channel in which it was originally placed. I am directed to express the regret the Government feels that such a measure had become imperative, and to assure your lordship of its earnest desire to make any suitable amends which may justly be required. If in the process there may have happened a slight interruption of the correspondence of the British consul it is their desire that the pressing nature of the emergency may induce your lordship to excuse it.

It is needless to say that the bag passes into the hands of your lordship in precisely the same condition in which it came from those of Mr. Mure. Comity toward the Government of a friendly nation together with a full confidence in its justice and honor to say nothing of a sense of propriety would deter the Government which I have the honor to represent from entertaining the idea of breaking the seals which protect it even were there ten times more reason than there is to presume an intention under so sacred a sanction to perpetrate a wrong certainly on one and perhaps on both Governments.

Still less is it the intention of the American Government to intimate the smallest suspicion of any privity whatever on the part of the authorities in Great Britain in aiding: assisting or countenancing a supposed design injurious to the United States and subversive of their sovereignty. Much ground as there is for presuming that it never was the intention of those who prepared the package to forward it to its nominal address but that it was rather the design after bringing bad matter under this sacred sanction safely through the dangers of hostile scrutiny to open the bag themselves and to disseminate the contents far and wide among the evil-disposed emissaries to be found scattered all over Europe, this consideration has never weighed a single moment to change their views of this trust when put in the balance with the strong reliance placed upon the good faith of Her Majesty's constitutional advisers. Least of all has it been in the thought of any one that your lordship would consent in any way to receive the papers if they are really illegal in their character or dangerous or injurious to the United States.

Should it, however, prove on inspection that any abuse has been attempted in America of the confidence to which Her Majesty's Government is in every way entitled I am directed to express to your lordship the hope that any papers of a treasonable character against the United States may be delivered up to me for the use of my Government and that Her Majesty's consul at Charleston if shown to be privy to the transmission of them under such a form may be made promptly to feel the severe displeasure of the Government whose good faith he has sought to dishonor; for there can be no difference of opinion as to the nature of an offense which involves the perversion by the agent of one Government of the hospitality afforded to him by another to conspire against its safety, dignity and honor.

I pray your lordship to accept the assurance of the highest consideration with which I have the honor to be your lordship's most obedient servant,

CHARLES FRANCIS ADAMS.