The European Diary of William L Yancey, March-June, 1861

Edited by Charles Priestley

This article originally appeared in Crossfire, the magazine of the ACWRT(UK) - Summer 2014

Among the William Lowndes Yancey Papers in the Alabama Department of Archives and History is a brief diary of Yancey’s visit to Europe as the first Confederate States Commissioner to Great Britain. Some ten years ago, I was able to obtain from the University of Alabama at Tuscaloosa a photocopy of this diary, together with a typed transcription clearly made some years before. I quickly saw that the typescript had a large number of inaccuracies, some probably because the writer was not familiar with the various British or French references, others because he or she had simply failed to read the manuscript correctly. For example, in describing his visit to Paris from London, Yancey states that he travelled “via Boulogne”; in the typescript, this appears as “in a Bourogue”.

The photocopy of the manuscript is very faint in places, as indeed is that of the typescript, but by comparing manuscript and typescript I was eventually able to produce what I felt was a reasonably accurate version of the diary, although I was unable to identify a number of the Americans mentioned.

I then learned that the veteran Civil War historian W. Stanley Hoole had produced an edition of the diary for the April, 1972 issue of The Alabama Review. Through the kindness of Mr Luke Utsey, Assistant Editor of the Review, I was recently able to obtain a digital scan of Dr. Hoole’s article, and immediately set about comparing it with my version and with the manuscript and typescript.

Unfortunately, it soon became clear that Dr. Hoole’s version of the diary was not the accurate, definitive text which I had been expecting. It seems probable that he was working from the typescript rather than the actual manuscript, since he copies all the errors which I had found in the former; thus he repeats the misreading of “via Boulogne” as “in a Bourogue”, but then tries to explain this by adding “(Barouche)”, as if Yancey had somehow travelled across the Channel in a carriage! Furthermore, he has added a number of errors of his own, and there is at least one quite lengthy omission. Dr. Hoole’s version of the text must therefore, I am sorry to say, be treated with caution. Where his article is of definite value, however, is in his introductory and closing remarks, putting Yancey’s visit to Europe in context, and in his identification of several of the Americans whom I had not been able to identify.

In the light of this, I have further revised my own version of the text of the diary, and have greatly expanded the explanatory footnotes; where I have made use of Dr. Hoole’s notes here, I have given these verbatim and placed them within brackets and in quotation marks.

I cannot claim that the version of Yancey’s European Diary which appears below is the definitive one; apart from anything else, a number of the people mentioned have yet to be identified. What I can say, though, is that it is as accurate as I have been able to make it. Here, then, is William L. Yancey’s European diary:

Left Montgomery, Ala. Sat’y 15. March 1861. Having $40. cash, and Tr’s draft on Tr. at N.O. for $6000 - and draft on Mobile for H. S. Brantley, Paris, France for $500.

Arrived in N.O. on Tuesday morning –18 March – Taken sick on Wednesday & confined to my bed until Thursday 28d (sic) Mar at my friend J M Hugers1. Attended by Dr Morse2, without charge – Invested my funds in Sterling bill on Barings Brothers & Co. London at 7. pr ct premium for the Sterling.

Left N. O. in screw Habana3 – Capt J. B. McConnell, on 31st. Mar. arrived at Habana at 8. P.M. Tuesday, 2d. April, after a pleasant voyage. Mr Crawford, English Consul4 invited us5 to dine with him – We also attended Mrs C’s reception – Was invited to dine with Count San Antonio the Capt Genl – who also sent one of his Aids (sic) to show us over the fortifications.

Was invited to dine by Mr Helm, of Ky6, the Am. Consul.

Capt Hickley7 of her B.M. war steamer Gladiator took us on board & showed us over his ship - & was kind enough to alter the painting of the flag of the Confd States, presented to us by Capt McConnell of the Habana. It had a star in center of a circle of stars.

Took passage on her B.M. Royal Mail St Clyde on Sunday the 6 Ap & reached St Thomas on Friday 11. May (April).

Mr Waring. N. C. Am Consul invited us to dine. He furnished ponies & we rode up the Mts.

Left St Thomas on B.R.M. St. Seine, on Sunday 13. at 12 M & after a mild & pleasant voyage reached Southampton on Sunday 12. M. 27th. Ap. Capt Revett was commander8.

At Southampton Mr Wm Thompson of N.Y. Am Consul9 paid us agreeable attentions – also Dr Wiblin10.

Left Southampton - and reached London, Monday 28th. April 3. P.M. Gen.R Campbell, of Texas, Am. Consul11 & Col Mann12 and Mr Thompson, who had preceded us, met us at the Railway station & accompanied us to the Bath Hotel, Picadilly13 (sic), where Mr T. had engaged rooms for us.

The St.ship-passage money from N.O. to Havana was $20 - & from Havana to Southampton for 1st. class

accomodations (sic) was £48.

My entire travelling expenses from Montgomery to London was $350.

Mr Gregory M.P. from Galway14 called upon us – takes a warm interest in Affairs of the South – and thro him, the Comrs had an informal interview with Lord John Russell on 3rd. May.