Reprinted in Frank Moore, ed., The Rebellion Record: A Diary of American Events, with Documents, Narratives, Illustrative Incidents, Poetry, Etc. (New York: G.P.Putnam, 1861), III: 412-413.
The following text is presented here in complete form, as it originally appeared in print. Spelling and typographical errors have been preserved as in the original.
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, 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 without 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.
W. H. Nelson.
Sworn before me in the consulate of the United States at London this 22d day of November, 1861.