United States v. Farragut,
89 U.S. 406 (1874)

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U.S. Supreme Court

United States v. Farragut, 89 U.S. 22 Wall. 406 406 (1874)

United States v. Farragut

89 U.S. (22 Wall.) 406


Captors (Admiral Farragut and others) having filed a libel in the admiralty for prizes taken below New Orleans in April, 1862, they and the government agreed to refer the cause to the "final determination and award" of A., B., and C., "the award of whom," said the agreement of reference, "shall be final upon all questions of law and fact involved, said award to be entered as a rule and decree of court in said case, with the right also of either party to appeal to the Supreme Court of the United States, as from other decrees on judgments in prize cases."

The arbitrators made an award, finding curtain matters wholly or chiefly of fact and also certain conclusions of law, and their award was, after exceptions to it, made a decree of the court where the libel was filed.

An appeal was taken to this Court.

Held as principles of law applicable to the case:

1. That there was nothing in the nature of the admiralty jurisdiction, or of an appeal in admiralty, which prevented parties in the court of admiralty, whether sitting in prize or as an instance court, from submitting their case by rule of the court to arbitration.

2. That the award in the present case was to be construed here and its effect determined by the same general principles which would govern it in a court of common law or of equity.

3. That notwithstanding the expression in the agreement of submission, that all questions of law in the case were to be concluded by the award,

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the agreement was in this respect no more than a submission of all matters involved in the suit.

4. That accordingly where the award found facts, it was conclusive; where it found or announced concrete propositions of law unmixed with facts, its mistake, if one was made, could have been corrected in the court below and could be corrected here; that where a proposition was one of mixed law and fact, in which the error of law, if there was any, could not be distinctly shown, the parties must abide by the award.

5. That the award was also liable, like any other award, to be set aside in the court below for such reasons as would be sufficient in other courts, as for exceeding the power conferred by the submission, for manifest mistake of law, for fraud, and for all other reasons on which awards are set aside in other courts of law or chancery.

6. Held accordingly further, in application of these principles:

(a) That on a question whether the capture was by the navy alone, or by the navy conjointly with the army, the finding that it was by the navy alone was a finding on a point mainly of fact, and conclusive, there being no evidence of any misapprehension of law governing the arbitrators in their decision of it.

(b) That the names of the vessels participating in the capture, and the value of the property captured were questions of pure fact, and that the finding was final.

(c) That whether the property was lawful prize of war and subject to condemnation was the very matter submitted to the arbitrators to be decided by them, and that their award that it was such lawful prize and so subject to condemnation was to be upheld unless it was shown that in making such award, they had acted upon a manifest mistake of law.

(d) That where the award found that certain vessels named were, after capture, given up to their lawful owners, from whom they had been taken by the enemy, the award was to be taken as stating that these vessels had been the property of loyal citizens of the United States, had been seized by the enemy for their own use, and when captured from the enemy by the libellants had been restored by the military power in New Orleans to their original owners, and that on this state of facts, the arbitrators held that when captured they were lawful prize and liable to condemnation as such in a prize court. But that there being nothing in the finding of the court nor in the record, nor anything suggested by counsel in argument, to show that these owners were not domiciled in the rebel states, and it being reasonably to be supposed from all that was known that such was the case, it would, in favor of the award and decree below, be presumed that the arbitrators had evidence of that fact. Held therefore that in holding these vessels liable to capture and condemnation, and lawful prize of war, it did not appear under the decision in the Prize Cases, 2 Black 671, which in their second proposition adjudged that property of persons domiciled or residing within the enemy's lines was enemy property

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and liable to capture as prize of war without regard to their sentiments of loyalty or disloyalty to the United States government, that the arbitrators violated any principle of law.

Held, however, that in awarding as they did the value of these weasels to the captors as prize, and in addition forty percent of that value for salvage, the arbitrators violated law and practice.

(e) That where the award found nothing about the return to their owners of certain other vessels, though there was some evidence (if it had been proper to go behind the award) to show that they were so delivered, but none at all as to the character of these owners for loyalty, this Court could not, in the face of the award that they were lawful prize and subject to condemnation, infer that their owners were loyal men, even if it could look to the evidence to find that the vessels were delivered to them. Held therefore to be clear that there was no sufficient evidence to show that the award as to these vessels was based on any mistake of law.

On the 22d of January, 1862, the City of New Orleans being then in the possession of the rebel confederacy and access to it from the ocean by the troops of the United States being cut off by the rebel forces in Forts Jackson and St. Philip, below it, a large armament of mortars was sent to the mouth of the Mississippi, which the Western Gulf Squadron of the United States was blockading, and Flag Officer Farragut, afterwards admiral of that name, ordered to its command. These were his instructions:

"When these formidable mortars arrive, and you are completely ready, you will collect such vessels as can be spared from the blockade and proceed up the Mississippi River and reduce the defenses which guard the approaches to New Orleans, when you will appear off that city and take possession of it under the guns of your squadron, and hoist the American flag therein, keeping possession until troops can be sent to you. . . . As you have expressed yourself perfectly satisfied with the force given to you, and as many more powerful vessels will be added before you can commence operations, the department and the country will require of you success."

On the 3d of February, 1862, Flag Officer Farragut sailed from Hampton Roads to assume his command. By letter

Page 89 U. S. 409

of February 10, 1862, from the Secretary of the Navy, he was instructed that:

"The most important operation of the war is entrusted to yourself and your brave associates. . . . Eighteen thousand men are being sent to the gulf to cooperate in the movements, which will give to the armies of the United States full possession of the ports within the limits of your command. You will, however, carry out your instructions with regard to the Mississippi and Mobile without any delay beyond that imposed upon you by your own careful preparation. A division from Ship Island will probably be ready to occupy the forts that will fall into your hands."

A land force of 18,000 men, under Major General Butler, destined to cooperate with the navy in the attack on New Orleans, was dispatched from Fortress Monroe, and entered the Mississippi about the middle of April, landing on Ship Island there, and putting itself into relations with Admiral Farragut.

General Butler, when leaving Fortress Monroe, received orders by which the army under him was to await the reduction of the enemy's works by the navy, and then, after their capture, in case a reduction and capture was made, the army was to put and leave in them a sufficient garrison to render them secure; but in case the navy failed to reduce the works, then a cooperative movement by the united forces -- land and naval -- was to commence, the army, covered by the navy, to make its approaches and carry them by assault.

All preparations being made, the fleet commenced the bombardment of Fort Jackson on the 16th of March, which bombardment lasted until April 24, 1862. At half-past three o'clock on the morning of that day, the fleet, in two divisions, moved up the river and, aided by the mortar fleet, ran past and between Forts St. Philip and Jackson, placed on the east and west sides of it, under a fire described by Farragut "such as the world had rarely seen."

After passing the forts, the fleet, on the morning of the

Page 89 U. S. 410

25th, proceeded to New Orleans, attacked the forts immediately around the city for its defense, reduced them, and demanded the surrender of the city on that day in the name of the United States.

General Butler in the meantime, in accordance with an agreement which he had previously made with Flag Officer Farragut before the bombardment began, rowing seven miles to get a good footing, landed 3,000 men at the quarantine station (Sable Island). He then threw a body of them across the Mississippi and hemmed in the forts. That night the garrison of Fort Jackson mutinied against their officers, and a majority of them surrendered to the government pickets, and on the next day the officers also surrendered, and the government troops were put and left in the forts. He then followed Flag Officer Farragut up the river, and with 2,000 men took possession of New Orleans.

Such at least was one part -- the historical proscenium as it may be called -- of the case, though the evidence adduced in the record of this particular suit, while establishing it, in the main, may or may not have considerably modified it as to the degrees in which the army and the navy shared in the conquest. Whether it did or did not was one of the questions raised and disputed about by counsel, and the reporter states what he has stated chiefly to lead in and make more intelligible what follows.

The result of the reduction of the forts was the capture of a large number of vessels, coal, and other property.

All this property was appraised at the time by a board of officers duly appointed for that purpose. But there being no District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana open at that time, and much of the property being river steamers unfit to be sent to sea, and much of it necessarily used by the army and navy of the United States in their further operations in the gulf and the river Mississippi, none of it was sent in to be condemned as prize at the time of the capture.

Congress, accordingly, on the 3d of March, 1869, passed an act with the following title and enactment:

Page 89 U. S. 411

"An Act relating to captures made by Admiral Farragut's fleet"

"in the Mississippi River in May, 1862 [Footnote 1]"

"Be it enacted &c., that the vessels attached to or connected with Admiral Farragut's fleet in the River Mississippi which participated in the opening of that river and which resulted in the capture of New Orleans in the month of May, 1862, and which by law would have been entitled to prize money in the captures made by said vessels, shall be now entitled to the benefits of the prize laws in the same manner as they would have been had the District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana been then open and the captures made by said vessels had been libeled therein, and any court of the United States having admiralty jurisdiction may take and have cognizance of all cases arising out of said captures, and the same proceedings shall be has therein as in other cases of prize."

"SECTION 2. And be it further enacted that the shares in such captures awarded to the officers and men entitled to prize shall be paid out of the Treasury of the United States."

In pursuance of this statute, Admiral Farragut, on behalf of himself and the officers and crews of his fleet, filed his libel in the Supreme Court of the District of Columbia, on the 26th April, 1869, against thirty-six sailing vessels of different kinds, or steamers, including the ships Metropolis, Farwell, Milan, the barkantine Ocean Eagle, the bark George Alban, and the steamer Sallie Robinson, of the aggregate value, as alleged, of $116,500.

Five steamers, to-wit, the Diana, the Ceres, the Tennessee, the McRae and the Iberville, valued, as alleged, at $613,520.

[The steamer McRae (of the value as alleged of $96,000), the libel averred had been "sent up with paroled prisoners to New Orleans, but not being properly cared for by the Confederate officers having her in charge, was sunk."]

Five Confederate vessels, then in process of construction.

The following steamers, St. Charles, Time and Tide, Louisiana Belle, Empire Parish, St. Maurice, and Morning

Page 89 U. S. 412

Light, appraised in the aggregate at $64,000, and which steamers, among others, the libel alleged belonged to the Confederate authorities or citizens of the Confederate states, and after being captured were delivered over to the United States and used by them in transporting their forces, munitions of war &c.

Sixteen thousand tons of coal worth $20 a ton.

The libel alleged the capture by Farragut's fleet, jure belli, of all these thirty-six vessels, as also of the coal, and setting forth their value, prayed a monition, and that all might be held to be prize of war, and that a decree might be passed directing their value to be distributed among the officers and crews of the Western Gulf Squadron, as to law and justice might appertain.

The Treasury Department having informed the District Attorney of the United States at Washington that it was very questionable whether the captures mentioned in the libel were prize of war, and that it was desired to have this question, besides questions of fact arising in the cases, fully and fairly tried, directed him to take such steps as upon consultation with a gentleman named (Mr. Corwine), who had been retained as special counsel of the government, it might be deemed necessary to take to protect the interests of the government. So far as the reporter could gather things from a confused record, one ground of the question suggested by the Treasury Department, whether the vessels libeled were prize of war, jure belli, was an idea that the captures had been made in a greater or less degree by the aid of the army; it was also of the impression that in asking for so large a sum of prize money as it did, the libellants were disregarding the statutory rule which gave them so large a sum only when the capturing force was inferior to that opposing it.

However, whatever was the ground of its action, the United States, both by the attorney for the District of Columbia and by special counsel employed in the case, appeared and defended the suit, and such proceedings were had that by a written agreement between the United States

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on one side, and the libellant on the other, the whole controversy was submitted to three arbitrators, whose award, or that of a major part of them, should by rule of the court be entered as its decree. It was signed by the counsel for Farragut, by the special counsel of the United States, the Attorney General, the Secretary of the Treasury, and the Secretary of the Navy.

This agreement, after reciting the pendency of the suit which we have just mentioned and another by the same libellant against the United States, which was not found in the record but is supposed to have related to the same subject matter, proceeds as follows:

"Now for the more speedy and economical adjustment of said controversies, it is agreed between the libellants and the United States that these causes shall be referred to the final determination and award of Henry W. Paine, Esq., of Boston, and Thomas J. Durant, Esq., of Washington, and Gustavus V. Fox, Esq., late Assistant Secretary of the Navy, mutually chosen on the part of the libellants and the United States, the award of whom, or the greater part of whom, shall be final upon all questions of law and fact involved in these causes; said award to be entered as a rule and decree of court in said cases in said Supreme Court, with due right of either party to take evidence, as in other like cases, within thirty days from this date, and with the right also of either party to appeal to the Supreme Court of the United States as from other decrees or judgments in prize cases."

In due time, the arbitrators made their unanimous award, the substance of which is as follows:

1. That the capture was not a conjoint operation of the army and navy of the United States.

2. That forty-two vessels, whose names were given, participated in the capture.

3. That twenty-nine vessels, whose names were also given, and which included the vessels already mentioned by name, were captured, and also five vessels of war in process of construction on the docks in the Mississippi River, and sixteen thousand tons of coal.

4. That the value of each of these vessels separately, and

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of the coal and unfinished vessels was such and such a sum, which the award specified, the aggregate being $966,120.

5. That all this property was lawful prize of war, and lawfully subject to condemnation as such.

6. That in the engagement which resulted in the capture of those ships, the entire force of the enemy was superior to the force of the United States ships and vessels so engaged.

9. That of the above-mentioned captured vessels, the McRae was wholly lost and destroyed, having been used as a cartel by the United States and sunk in the river opposite New Orleans within four days after her capture.

10. That the ships Metropolis, Farwell, and Milan, the barkantine Ocean Eagle, the bark George Alban, and the steamer Sallie Robinson, whose aggregate value was $116,500, were, after capture, given up to the legal owners, from whom they had been taken by the enemy.

The award allowed the captors the value of these vessels, and $46,600 for military salvage due thereon, and closed by giving to the libellants the whole value of all these vessels, $966,120, and the $46,600 salvage just mentioned.

The award, it will be noted, said nothing about any other vessels than those mentioned in the tenth paragraph having been given up to the owners of them, though there was some evidence in the record which tended to prove the bare fact that the steamers St. Charles, Time and Tide, Louisiana Belle, Empire Parish, St. Maurice, and Morning Light had been given up to their owners; but who the owners were, where they resided, or anything else about them did not appear in the said evidence.

This award having come into the court below, it was excepted to by the United States, and a motion soon made to set it aside, the following being the grounds of the exception and motion:

"1st. That the finding that the capture was not a conjoint operation of the army and navy of the United States, is not warranted by the law and the facts, but is expressly contrary to the law and the facts."

"2d. That the finding of the value of the vessels alleged to

Page 89 U. S. 415

have been captured is without warrant of law and wholly unsupported by evidence."

"3d. That the finding that the property alleged to have been captured was 'lawful prize of war, and lawful subject of condemnation as such' is erroneous and wholly unsupported by the law and facts."

"4th. That the finding that the force of the enemy was superior to the forces of the United States ships and vessels engaged in the alleged capture is erroneous and wholly at variance with and unsupported by the law and the facts."

"5th. That the finding that the steamer McRae was lost after that she was alleged to have been captured, and while she was being used as cartel by the United States, is erroneous and not supported by the law and the facts. The evidence shows that the McRae belonged to the United States prior to her use and when she was used by the rebels, and that she was recaptured from them by the naval forces of the United States on the occasion referred to in the award, and that she was not prize of war. At most it was but a recapture."

"6th. That it is erroneous and not warranted by law to allow military salvage as against the United States for the alleged recapture of the vessels set out in paragraph ten of the award. Such property was not recaptured by the libellant and those he represents."

The court refused to set the award aside, and on the contrary made it the decree of the court. From that decree the United States took this appeal.

After the case came into this Court, the Attorney General dismissed the appeal as to the sixteen thousand tons of coal, the five vessels of war in process of construction, and five other vessels, namely, the Diana, the Ceres, the Tennessee, the McRae, and the Iberville, covering $613,520 of the decree, and this sum has been distributed among the captors.

The record as it came to this Court was a very confused one. It was composed, a considerable part of it, of evidence in the cause; some of it received by stipulation, some of it documentary, and more -- the most of it, indeed -- by depositions. Whether any part of this was before the arbitrators, or what part of it, or what other testimony, if any,

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was before them, the confused state of the document rendered it impossible for anyone to know.

Page 89 U. S. 419

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