In spite of this skirmish of journalists, the two governments were approaching diplomatically a good understanding when a rash, ambitious, self-conceited and self-willed1 naval Captain not only undid in an hour all the advantage Adams, Seward and Lincoln had gained in six months, but brought the two countries to the brink of war.
James M. Mason and John Slidell, commissioners from the Confederate States to Great Britain and France, left Charleston on a little Confederate steamer and, evading the blockade, reached a Cuban port, whence they proceeded to Havana and took the British mail packet Trent for St. Thomas, where direct connection could be made with a British steamer for Southampton. On November 8, next day after leaving Havana, the Trent was sighted in the Bahama Channel by the American man-of-war San Jacinto, under the command of Captain Wilkes. He fired a shot across her bow without result, and then a shell; this brought her to. He ordered a lieutenant, accompanied by other officers and a number of marines, to board and search the Trent, and, if Mason and Slidell were found, to make them prisoners. The British Captain opposed anything like a search of his vessel, nor would he consent to show papers or passenger list. But Slidell and Mason announced themselves, were seized, and despite their protest as well as those of the Captain of the Trent and of a commander of the royal navy in charge of the mails, were taken by force from the Trent to the San Jacinto.