A Madcap Scheme at Sea
Major Caleb Huse, a native of Massachusetts married to a lady born in New York, and friend of Stephen R. Mallory, was sent to England by President Jefferson Davis to be chief purchasing agent for the Confederate army. Captain James Bulloch credited Huse’s weapon and munitions acquisition efforts with enabling the South to check McClellan’s advance on Richmond in 1862. He named a swift, British-built blockade runner, “Harriet Pinckney” to honor his wife. Captain Robert B. Pegram (below) commanded the CSS Nashville which had just docked at Southampton, England. William Lowndes Yancey headed the South’s diplomatic mission to England and France early in the war.
A Madcap Scheme at Sea
“My object in calling on Captain Pegram was not one of courtesy alone. A most outrageous proposal had been made to me, involving the capture of a British ship bound from Hamburg to New York, loaded with a hundred thousand Austrian rifles [for the US government]. The proposal, in brief, was:
That I should deposit 10,000 [pounds] in the Bank of England subject to the draft of one of two persons. In the event of success of the scheme, one was to draw out the money; in the case of failure, the other.
The plan was to capture a British ship, then loaded with arms at Hamburg for New York. It had been proposed to me that with a tug, having a gun on board, I should intercept the ship, fire [the] gun, and demand her surrender. The captain would have orders to comply with my demand, and I was to direct him to sail for Charleston.
The scheme was not impossible for anyone holding a privateer’s commission, and I applied to Mr. Yancey for a letter of marque. On hearing my story, Mr. Yancey said he had such commissions, but that they were contrary to the spirit of the age, and he had determined not to give any of them out. However, in this instance, he would issue one if I wanted it.
I believe my land-service commission would protect me, but I asked for the letter- of-marque as an additional safeguard. Captain Pegram, after considering the matter in conference with his executive, Lieutenant Fauntleroy (formerly of the US Navy), determined not to make the attempt, and the matter was dropped. Perhaps it is well that . . . Captain Pegram declined to act; for I had the money ready to deposit, and what seems now to me a madcap scheme might have been attempted.”
(The Supplies for the Confederate Army, Caleb Huse, Ninety-Nine Cent Publishing, original published 1904, pp. 35-36)