Northerners could be excused if they were more filled with gloom than cheer on New Year’s Eve 1861.
There were small victories, along the Atlantic Coast and in the West, but the debacle of Bull Run loomed and it was beginning to look like Gen. McClellan was in no hurry to grapple with the enemy in Virginia,
But most of all, as the reader of the Mount Vernon Democratic Banner scanned the news on Dec. 31, the paper was filled with reports of preparation for war in England over the seizure of the Confederate envoys while they were aboard the British mailship Trent.
For example, one report that had come in from Halifax reported: “Warlike sentiments and preparations were unabated in England. . . . Paris papers assert that the British government, in answer to petitions from the manufacturing districts, had stated that the cotton ports of the Southern States would be opened by February at the latest. . . . A considerable number of additional English troops were to be sent to Canada.”
But maybe some readers had heard that on Dec. 27 Secretary of State William Seward had delivered a letter to the British ambassador basically saying the American commander had acted without orders and had erred in not taking the Trent to a prize court. The envoys would be released.
It would also eventually be revealed that Prince Albert, already suffering from the illness that would kill him, had also intervened to tone down the language in some of the messages sent by the British prime minister.
The contents of the letter were released on Dec. 29, and as the final diplomatic exchanges slowly crossed the Atlantic, the whole affair closed peacefully. The result was probably a great disappointment to the Confederates, who had hoped for British recognition, but now were not even being received by British government officials. However, the British were also, at least for a while longer, ignoring shipbuilding efforts on behalf of the south.
The Banner editorialized on Jan. 7: “In the early part of last week the country was astounded by the dispatches from Washington that our Government had agreed to give up Messrs. Mason and Slidell to England.” The Banner Editor Lecky Harper cited the sanctioning of the seizure by the secretary of the navy and commendation by Congress has evidence there would be no backing down, especially as soon as Britain began blustering about war.