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Doc. 182. capture of the “Harvey Birch.” November 19, 1861.


The voyage of the Nashville.

The Confederate States steamer Nashville, Captain Pegram, left Charleston on the night of the 26th of October, at eleven o'clock, passing over the bar at twelve. When she started the weather was thick and cloudy, but just as she was crossing the bar the weather cleared up, and the moon rose brightly, lighting up in full view to the eastward, distant about four miles, two steamers of the blockading squadron--one the United States steam frigate Susquehanna, of twelve guns, the other a powerful propeller gunboat. The Nashville, being under the land and from the moon, was not seen by them. She then encountered strong northeasterly winds and very heavy seas, but made the passage to Bermuda in three and a half days. On arriving at Bermuda she received a pilot on board, who took the vessel to the dock-yard, stating that, in consequence of her length, she could not go into St. George's. The next day Captain Pegram, not being satisfied, obtained a second pilot from the dock-yard, who took the Nashville safely round into St. George's, at which place the vessel coaled. During their stay at Bermuda the commander and officers were treated with the greatest hospitality and kindness, both by the citizens and the officers of the English army and navy stationed there, and every facility for getting stores, coals, &c., was afforded them by the inhabitants. A few days prior to the arrival at Bermuda of the Nashville the United States steamer Connecticut had called at the island for the purpose of ascertaining if the Nashville had been there. She had a crew of four hundred men, with six guns mounted. Not hearing any thing of the steamer they were in search of, they again proceeded to sea, without stating their destination. The Nashville sailed again for Bermuda on the 5th instant, and from the next day until the 17th she experienced a succession of gales from [412] all points of the compass. Nothing of interest further transpired until the 19th, when she destroyed the United States ship Harvey Birch.


Captain Pegram's report.

The following is the report of Commander Pegram: On the morning of the 19th instant at eight A. M., sighted the packet-ship Harvey Birch, of New York; immediately bore down upon her; when near enough, hailed her, having unlimbered guns and cleared decks for action. Then spoke the vessel and ordered the captain to haul down his colors and bring his papers on board. The Stars and Stripes immediately went down slowly, and Captain Nelson and his crew came on board the Nashville. Captain Pegram then informed him that he demanded an unconditional surrender, but all private effects would be respected. The crew were then brought on board, and with tile exception of Captain Nelson, his two mates, and a passenger, were placed in irons. The captain and mates were allowed to retain their revolvers, but put upon parole. A few provisions were then brought on board, and the Harvey Birch committed to flames. Before the Nashville left her the three masts were seen to fall, and the entire vessel enveloped in a burning mass. Captain Pegram states that the burning of the ship and hauling down of her flag was the most painful act of his life, having for a period of thirty-two years fought and served under the United States flag.

The crew of the burnt ship describe the officers of the Nashville as young and inexperienced, and their disgust is beyond expression at being taken by such a set of “brats of boys,” as they describe them. To use the expression of one of them, he said, “By----, if only half a dozen of us had been loose, we would have cowhided the whole of the lot over the stern, clean.” A good joke is told of the captain of the Nashville, who, it appears, belonged to the American navy for thirty years before he joined the secessionists. In relating the capture of the ship to a gentleman at Southampton, he observed that he felt bound to treat the captain and officers with every attention and kindness, that he invited them daily to his own table, and behaved with true hospitality and courtesy; “but,” said he, “my mortification was great when I sent them on shore to find that they did not acknowledge my kindness by even expressing their thanks.” --London Times.

Captain Pegram held the following commission under the “Confederate” seal:

The President of the Confederate States of America,

To all who shall see these presents, greeting:

Know ye that, reposing special trust and confidence in the patriotism, valor, fidelity, and abilities of Robert B. Pegram, I do appoint him a lieutenant in the navy of the Confederate States, to rank as such from the 10th day of June, A. D. 1861.

He is therefore carefully and diligently to discharge the duty of lieutenant by doing and performing all manner of things thereunto belonging, and I do strictly charge all officers and others under his command to be obedient to his orders as lieutenant.

And he is to observe and follow such orders and directions as from time to time he shall receive from me, the future President of the Confederate States of America, or the superior officers set over him, according to the rules and discipline of war.

Given under my hand at the city of Richmond, this 20th day of September, in the year of our Lord 1861.

Jefferson Davis. By the President, S. R. Mallory, Secretary of the Navy.

The following statement was taken by the Quarantine officer at Southampton, Eng., from the second mate of the Harvey Birch:

statement of James Stewart, Second Mate of the Harvey Birch.

On Tuesday morning, at nine A. M., about forty miles off Cape Clear, the steamer Nashville came alongside the Harvey Birch, Capt. Nelson, from Havre, in ballast, bound to New York. He ordered us to haul our flag down, the United States color, and the captain to come on board. The captain went on board, and remained about fifteen minutes. He then returned to his ship, and gave James Stewart, second officer of the ship, orders to tell the crew to pack their things up, and bring them to the gangway, (bags only.) with the exception of the officers, who were allowed to bring their chests.

Eleven A. M.--The crew left their ship and went on board the Nashville. The lieutenant of the Nashville, with his crew, went on board the Harvey Birch, and set her on fire.

Half-past 6 P. M.--I saw the masts go over the side. The Nashville then proceeded to Southampton to land the crew of the Harvey Birch.

James Stewart, Second Officer.


Protest of Captain Nelson.

The following is the protest of Captain W. H. Nelson, master of the Harvey Birch:

I, William Henry Nelson, of the city of New York, in the United States of America, Master Mariner, do solemnly, sincerely, and truly swear that I sailed from the said city of New York, on the 20th day of September last, as master of, and in, the ship Harvey Birch, of New York, a ship owned and registered in New York, in conformity with the laws of the United States, bound for the port of Havre de Grace, in France, with a cargo consisting of wheat. About the 9th day of October I arrived at Havre, and having discharged the cargo of my ship and ballasted her, I sailed in her again for the port of New York, on the 16th day of November, first having received the register, crew list, [413] articles, and all papers belonging to the ship in proper form from the United States consul there. On the morning of Tuesday, the 19th instant, the ship then being in about lat. 49° 6′ N., long. 9° 52′ W., a steamer was made out bearing for the Harvey Birch, which, on getting nearer, was found to be an armed vessel, and hoisted at the peak the flag of the so-called Confederate States; and when within hailing distance a person on board, who I learned was the captain, hailed my ship, saying, “Haul down your colors and heave the ship to,” the ensign of the United States being at this time set at the peak of my vessel. This order was complied with, and I then received the order, “Lower your boat and come on board,” which I also complied with, taking my ship's papers with me. After arriving on board the steamer I was introduced by the first lieutenant, by name Fauntleroy, to Captain Pegram, as commander of the Confederate States steamer Nashville, to whom I produced all the papers of my ship for examination, to show that I was engaged in legal trade. Captain Pegram took the ship's papers. He did not return them, and still holds them, and then told me that he should hold me a prisoner of war by authority of the Confederate States. He then told me I might go on board my ship, and I was ordered to send my crew on board the steamer as quickly as possible. I returned to my ship, and at once made preparations to leave her, but orders were repeatedly given from the steamer to hurry up, and sufficient time was not given to enable either myself or my crew to get our effects out of the ship. The second lieutenant, with other officers, came on board the ship and took charge of her, and orders were given to seize fresh stores, etc., and in consequence thereof all the fresh meat, poultry, pigs, eggs, and butter were taken out and put on board the steamer, and especially it was ordered that all the oil, tea, coffee, and sugar should be put on board the steamer, which was done.

When all this had been accomplished, the crew left the ship by order of the second lieutenant, I being last on board, leaving the second lieutenant and his boat's crew in charge of the ship. After arriving on board the steamer we saw that the Harvey Birch was in flames, and the second lieutenant returned on board the steamer with his boat, which was secured, but the ship's quarter boats, which had been used in communicating, were cast adrift. Captain Pegram now said, “Now, as it is all over, we will give her a gun,” or words to that effect and a gun was discharged at the ship, but with-out apparently hitting her. The steamer then was put on an easterly course, the crew of the ship having been previously put in irons. I, with my officers, was summoned to the captain's cabin, and there signed, at the request of the captain, a document stating that we would not take up arms against them while in their custody; he having said that I and my officers should have our liberty on board when we had signed it. I was frequently told that an oath would be exacted of us “not to take up arms against the Confederate States” before I could be liberated, but I was liberated without any such being taken. The steamer steamed up the English channel, and arrived at Southampton at about eight A. M. on the 21st instant, and came to anchor in the river. Captain Pegram then told me that I and my crew were at liberty, and might go on shore, but he refused to put us on shore, and I therefore employed a steamtug at my own expense, and landed my crew in Southampton docks between nine and ten A. M., and they were taken charge of by the United States consul there. Repeatedly while on board the steamer, in conversations with her officers, I was told that she was not fitted out as a vessel of war, that she was on a special mission to England, but naval officers were in command of her. I was told by one of the crew, that the crew originally signed articles at Charleston, South Carolina, to go to Liverpool, but that before sailing the officers were all changed, and new articles were brought on board, which the crew were compelled to sign by threats of force. I was also informed that the crew was composed of English and Irish.

The chronometer and barometer belonging to the Harvey Birch, were taken by Captain Pegram, who refuses to deliver them up. The Harvey Birch was a ship six years old, and of 1,482 tons register. Before we lost sight of the ship her masts had gone over the side, and she was burnt to the water's edge.


Sworn before me in the consulate of the United States at London this 22d day of November, 1861.

Captain Nelson stated that Commander Pegram endeavored to compel himself and crew to take the oath of allegiance and not to take up arms against the Southern States. This was denied by Commander Pegram and officers, who stated that the only document that Captain Nelson and officers were requested to sign was one of which the following is a copy:

Confederate States steamer Nashville, at sea, November 19, 1861.
We, the undersigned, officers and passengers on board the United States ship Harvey Birch, being now prisoners on board the Confederate States steamer Nashville, do pledge to our own captain our sacred honor not to bear arms against or in any manner to countenance hostilities against such Confederate States till our regular exchange or discharge.


[414]

The remainder of the crew, not having signed the above document, were placed in irons until their arrival at Southampton.

--London Times, Nov. 23.

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