Lot #: 80533

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Description

Civil War 'Prize Court' captured "blockade-runner" mail: stampless AUG 15 [1861] postmarked cover from PENDLETON South Carolina to "Emilio Puig, Care of Spanish Consul, CHARLESTON S.C.", tied by full single strike of local circular datestamp in blue & [postage] PAID 5 handstamp (CSA type C) at top right. The year of dispatch is confirmed by the rate paid: on 1 July 1862 the domestic letter rate was increased to 10c regardless of distance, so here the 5c rate in August could only apply in 1861.
Puig was a Spanish citizen and resident of Charleston, believed to have been involved in smuggling Cuban commodities into the Confederacy through the Union blockade; he attempted to leave South Carolina for Cuba in 1861, and boarded the Spanish ferryboat "Nuesta Senora de Regla" on its way from NEW YORK to HAVANA, when it was forced to dock at GEORGETOWN (South Carolina) for repairs due to storm damage; the ship was seized at PORT ROYAL (South Carolina) on 1 Dec. 1861. A New York Times dispatch of 21 Dec. 1861 says that after the ship's entrance into the town, "some suspicious circumstances induced General Sherman to order a search... [and] hidden beneath the false bottom of a trunk... in a carpetbag under the pillow of the engineer... mail for Havana [was discovered as well as] other papers under the Consular seal."
Note: available histories of this & other Puig correspondences seized in this case say the Spanish boat was captured by USS Aries under the command of T. W. Sherman. A verification of the details reveals that Army Brigadier General Thomas West Sherman was indeed in charge of ground forces in the Nov. 3-7 "Port Royal Expedition" - but USS Aries was not part of that period's Union "Atlantic Blockading Squadron", and that such a ship - purpose-built for blockade-running & captured from the Confederacy - only entered Union service in 1863. As such the Union vessel involved is unknown at present, but the Spanish ship and cargo were taken to NEW YORK and entered as evidence of contraband in the city's "Prize Court", whereupon the Court Commissioner Henry H. Elliott penned the evidentiary docket "E 6" [evidence 6] case number and his initials "H.H.E" in red ink on the lower front of the cover.
Puig, as a Spanish citizen, was held prisoner for violating neutrality laws, with his letters seized among the material to be used as evidence of the alleged illicit contraband-running, in the Prize Court. In the event, the US Government lost its case in Supreme Court as the ferry was declared neutral and the seizure without warrant (even so, Puig's letters were not returned to him). Reference CSA Catalog PC-01, catalogue value of the cover alone $3,500.
Here, a rare instance of a maritime seizure by the US Army rather than the Navy; also a rare route, as outbound [albeit] blockade-runners from South Carolina were serviced by NASSAU (Bahamas), and HAVANA served as a staging point for Mississippi, Louisiana & Texas.
The concept of "Prizes" lies with admiralty law, which permits the seizure of goods from enemies at sea - and their retainment by the seizor, provided their capture is legal and can be so proven in a "Prize Court". Here this was not the case as the vessel was of a neutral country. Missing back flap, some top edge flaws, open on 3 sides.