The Siren - 80 U.S. 389 (1871)
U.S. Supreme Court
The Siren, 80 U.S. 13 Wall. 389 389 (1871)
80 U.S. (13 Wall.) 389
1. The right of vessels of the Navy of the United States to prize money comes only in virtue of grant or permission from the United States, and if no act of Congress sanctions a claim to it, it does not exist.
2. No such act gives prize to the navy in cases of joint capture by the army and navy.
3. In cases of such capture, the capture enures exclusively to the benefit of the United States.
Prior, and up to the morning of the 17th of February, 1865, a naval force of the United States, composed of the Gladiolus and twenty-six other vessels of war, were blockading the port of Charleston and assisting to reduce the city, a force operating also by land in the same general designs. During the night of the 16th and 17th, the rebel forces evacuated the forts about the harbor and abandoned the city. At 9 o'clock on the morning of the 17th, an officer of the land force raised the national flag upon Forts Sumter, Ripley, and Pinckney. At 10, a military officer reached Charleston and the city surrendered itself and the rebel stores, arms, and property there to him. Contemporaneously with these transactions the army approached the city and the fleet moved towards its wharves. As the latter came near
to land, a boy on shore gave information that the Siren, a blockade-runner, a vessel of force inferior to the Gladiolus, had run in during the night and was lying in Ashley River, which makes a west entrance inland from the bay where the blockading fleet was stationed. The Gladiolus, one of the leading vessels of the fleet, dispatched a boat's crew towards the vessel. When they got there, they found that her crew, learning of the success of the federal arms and seeing the Gladiolus coming, had cut the injection pipes of the vessel, set her on fire, and abandoned her. She was now in flames, filling with water, and surrounded by boats filled with negroes from the shore. The Gladiolus herself arrived at the scene soon after her boat's crew got there, and, with the people about, managed to put out the fire and tow the vessel to shallow water, where after great effort her leaks were stopped. She was then taken to Boston and condemned as a prize of war and sold, all questions as to the distribution of the proceeds being reserved. From the proceeds in the registry (less a certain sum, which on libel filed had been decreed to the owners of a vessel that the prize crew of the Siren in bringing her into Boston for condemnation, had carelessly ran into and injured), the Gladiolus claimed both salvage and prize money, claiming as the latter one-half of the proceeds. The other vessels named as part of the blockading force set up a right to participate in the proceeds as captors with the Gladiolus.
The statute under which the claim of all the vessels was made [Footnote 1] is in these words:
"The net proceeds of all property condemned as prize when the prize was of superior or equal force to the vessel or vessels making the capture shall be decreed to the captors, and when of inferior force to the vessel or vessels making the capture, one-half shall be decreed to the United States and the other half to the captors."
There was no statute which provided for joint captures by the army and navy.
The court below decreed in favor of the claim of the Gladiolus for salvage, and gave the residue of the proceeds, after paying the sum decreed as damages for the collision, to the United States alone. From this decree, depriving them of all prize money, the present appeal was taken by certain of the blockading vessels.