center>A record of the birth and very questionable death of the
Confederate cruiser Florida

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Upon his arrival in Liverpool, Bulloch lost no time in arranging for the building of the first Confederate cruiser to be built in England.
To start complying with his orders, Bulloch made a contract for the building of the first of the Confederate Cruisers, theCSS Florida. The shipbuilder he chose was William C. Miller & Sons of Liverpool. Miller had served in the Royal Navy, and was well experienced in the building of wooden ships. He used a scale drawing of a speedy British dispatch gunboat, in designing the Florida.
Bulloch contracted with Fawcett Preston and Company, a Liverpool engineering firm, to build the engines.

N.B. The original designated name for this vessel was the CSS Mannassas, and Bulloch himself was the to be her Master.

Building of the Florida commenced in June 1861. Rumour was encouraged at the dockyard that the ship being built was for an Italian firm in Palermo, on the island of Sicily, Italy. Officially she was the property of one John Henry Thomas, the local agent of the Palermo firm. With an eye to the legal aspect of his shipbuilding activities, Bulloch employed the services of F. S. Hull, a member of a prominent Liverpool law firm. This later proved to be a very wise decision.
With disguise and secrecy wherever possible, the vessel ostensibly called the Oreto took shape. She was a 700-ton steamer, bark rigged with three masts, four gunports and two smokestacks. Her rigging was increased to improve her sailing qualities, and, her hull extended to carry extra coal and supplies.
Bulloch`s activities were not going un-noticed. The U.S. consul in Liverpool, one Thomas Dudley, had offices situated in Tower Buildings, South Water Street. He reported to the U.S. Ambassador in London, Charles Adams, that "There is much secrecy about the Oreto, but my impressions are strong that she is intended for the Southern Confederacy." Later reporting that "no pains or expense have been spared in her construction, and when fully armed she will be a formidable and dangerous craft."
Adams then complained to the British Foreign Office, that the building of the Oreto was in contravention of Britains Declaration of Neutrality. The Foreign Office disagreed, for Bulloch had taken every care to ensure that he remained strictly within the laws of the land. Ascertaining that nothing would be placed on board the Oreto that could be described as equipment for war.

By early February of 1862, the Oreto was on the River Mersey, where,on 10 March 1862 Bulloch found her upon his return from the Confederacy. He had been promoted to Commander, and received instructions while in Richmond, to build ironclad rams in Europe. During the six months that Bulloch had been away, confusion and rumour had been abroad, as to who would command the Oreto. Her presence on the river, excited the suspicions of the U. S. Consul, so he and Charles Adams decided to investigate.
Dudley hired detectives, to make enquiries into what he believed were false rumours, that the Oreto was Italian. The Italian consul told Dudley that he had no knowledge of the vessel being owned in Italy. Dudley and Adams both filed written protests with the British Government. The Liverpool Customs officials insisted that they had kept a close eye on the Oreto, and had seen no ammunition or armament aboard, which would have violated the British Foreign Enlistment Act. This meant that the Oreto was free to sail unmolested out of Liverpool.

Bulloch then realised he had to remove the Oreto from Liverpool as quickly as possible. He wrote to Mallory, stating that the Oreto was "registered as an English ship, in the name of anm Englishman, with a regular official number.
Her tonnage being marked upon the combings of the main hatch, under the direction of the Board of Trade, and she seems to be perfectly secure against capture."

Bulloch instructed Master John Low to take passage of the Oreto, stating that once in Nassau, he should transmit orders, via a letter from Bulloch, to Captain John N. Maffitt to take command of the Oreto, and to inform him that armaments and equipment were to follow on aboard the steamer Bahama.

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Captain John Newland Maffitt CSN

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On March 22nd 1862 the Oreto sailed out of Liverpool Bay, her destination given as Palermo, but in reality she was bound for Nassau, in the Bahamas. Pretending to be a merchant vessel, she was under the command of a British Captain, James A. Duguid, with a British crew of 52. John Low was also aboard, with his instructions for Maffitt. She arrived in Nassau on April 28th 1862. Maffitt officially taking command on May 13th.
The Bahama had sailed from Hartlepool, England loaded with ammunition and guns for the Oreto. and when she arrived, an immediate attempt was made to transfer the equipment, but U.S. consular officials insisted that the British seize the "Confederate vessel", also, some of the British crew objected to serving on a vessel that they now knew to be Confederate, and complained to the British authorities.
The U.S. consul in Nassau entered a protest, because the Oreto had attempted to receive arms from the Bahama. The cruiser was seized by the British authorities on June 15th, then released on June 17th, for lack of evidence. Again she was seized and released, for the same reasons. The armament was by then stored aboard Prince Albert, and Maffitt ordered her to meet him at a deserted island (Las Desertas), about 60 miles from Nassau. Oreto sailed on August 8th, under command of Captain Duguid, carrying fourteen officers, and a crew of thirteen. When the transfer eventually took place, it was discovered that some of the components were missing, and that the guns were useless. This gruelling task was eventually completed, and by August17th the vessel was ready.
The Confederate flag was hoisted, at 4pm on August 17th 1862, and the ship was commissioned into the Confederate States Navy as the Confederate States Ship Florida.

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Events took a tragic turn shortly after leaving Nassau, yellow fever struck at Maffitt and his crew. Maffitt`s own steward being the first to die, the day after the Florida had been commissioned. With no surgeon on board, Maffitt had to assume those duties as well. By the time the Florida arrived off Anguilla, the fit crew was down to five men, a fireman and four deckhands. He decided to run into Cardenas, on the island of Cuba, for medical assistance. What he (Maffitt) did not know, was that there was a yellow fever epidemic on Cuba. Upon arrival at Cardenas Lt Stribling was despatched to Havana with all haste to procure help, and to try to raise more crew.
By August 13th, Maffitt himself had been struck down with the fever, Stribling returned two or three days later, with eight men and four firemen, but, unfortunately, no surgeon: On the day of Stribling`s return, a Dr. Barrett of Georgia, volunteered to become Surgeon of the Florida.

On August 22nd, Laurens Read, the Captains 16 year old step-son, died, within 24 hours of catching the disease, Maffitt himself was unconcious when Laurens died, only hearing of it at a later date.
Some of the sick crew were transported to the Spanish Hospital on shore, but nearly all of them died. The surgeon from a Spanish gunboat, the Guadalquivir, one Dr Gilliard, visited Maffitt, and assisted in the treatment. A meeting of physicians, at Maffitts bedside, decided that his case was hopeless, he had not spoken for three days, and his situation looked very grave. He then opened his eyes and told them "I have no time to die, there is too too much to do."

By September the First, Maffitt was ready to put to sea again, having visited Havana, and decided to run the blockade into Mobile, for a refit, and to supplement his crew. He arrived off Fort Morgan on 4th Septemeber, only to find that three enemy cruisers lay between him and the bar. Hoisting the English ensign and pennant, he sailed boldly forward. When ordered to stop by the U.S.S. Oneida, Maffitt held his course. Now that his game was up; The Oneida fired a broadside at him from only a few yards, at this point Maffitt struck the English flag, and hoisted the Stars and Bars.The remaining two United States cruisers now joined the battle, with all three vessels firing broadsides into the Florida, during the chase. One 11inch shell is reported to have entered the Florida, just above the waterline, but passed right through the vessel before the fuse had time to activate, although it did decapitate one sailor, while flying timber injured seven others.
This engagement lasted for two hours, with the Florida miraculously surviving, having lost many spars, her fore topmast and fore gaff. No fire was returned by Maffitt, as he had no crew to man his battery. The Florida finally arrived and anchored at Fort Morgan, in what must have been a horrendous condition. By strange coincidence, the Florida would later capture a merchant vessel named the Oneida.

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By September 9th, the gallant Lt.Stribling, who had foregone a visit to his wife in order to assist Maffitt, had contracted the yellow fever, and was very, very ill, but would only permit Maffitt, still seriously weakened himself, to administer treatment. But it was all to no avail, poor Stribling died at 6:30pm on September 12th, never having rallied, and is buried at Melrose.

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Made ready for sea, and with a crew of around a hundred men, on the night of January 15th 1863 the Florida again ran the blockade. Lead coloured, and burning coke, she made a run for it. Several blockading vessels had been waiting for this moment, in particular the R.R. Cuyler, placed specifically capture the Florida. One blockader chased a vessel, seen dimly before daybreak, but that was all. The Florida was now free.
NOTE.

Maffitt wrote to Mallory from Nassau on January 27th 1863, describing how he escaped from Mobile, he wrote;

"Sir, I have the honor to inform the Department that on the morning of the 16th instant I ran through the blockading force, twelve in number, that were clustered around Mobile Bar to prevent the egress of the vessel. We were not discovered until in the midst of them; an animated chase that lasted all day then commenced.
The Florida, under a heavy press of canvas and steam, made fourteen and a half knots an hour, and distanced all her pursuers except two in a few hours, and that night, by changing course, the two that held their way with us were eluded."

For 6 months she sailed the Western Atlantic, capturing a total of twenty one ships. Then, with a Union squadron on her tail, the Florida sailed into Brest in Northern France, for repair and re-fitting. Unfortunately, Maffitt`s condition was not much better than his vessel, and in early September of 1863, he sent a letter from Brest to Commander M.F.Maury CSN in Paris.
Maffitt enclosed a surgeon`s certificate in the letter, attesting to his poor state of health, and requested that he be relieved of command of the Florida on medical grounds, he received the following testament from Maury.

"I am grieved to learn that your health has given way under the severe trial it has undergone in the Florida, and I am sure your countrymen will also learn with regret that they have to lose, even for a time, the services of an officer who has done so much to spread the fame of their flag over the seas. Let us hope that your health may be speedily restored."

Several members of the crew, upon hearing that Maffitt was leaving, seemed to assume he was to take command of a different cruiser, and wrote a letter to him.

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In early 1864 the Florida was back at sea again, this time without Maffitt, Lt. Charles Manigault Morris was now in command. The Florida made another wide sweep of the Atlantic, capturing fifteen more Union ships.

It was during this phase of the Florida`s career, that Morris had the misfortune to lose one of his officer`s to the sea. On the 10th July 1864, the Florida had overhauled and captured the steamer Electric Spark, Midshipman William B. Sinclair was drowned when the second cutter returning from the prize vessel was swamped. Morris wrote of the incident;

"The moment it was known that the cutter was in danger a boat was sent to her assistance. on reaching her she found all the crew hanging on the bottom of the boat, and Mr Sinclair missing.
Mr. Sinclair had nobly refused the assistance of the crew, ordering them to hang onto the boat, and he would swim to the ship, taking care of himself. He was never seen afterwards, and I fear must have been seized with cramp or taken by a shark; one had been seen not long before, swimming about the ship. Every exertion was made to find him, but to no avail.
Mr. Sinclair was a most promising young officer, and esteemed and beloved by officers and crew. His death has cast a deep gloom over all.

Needing coal and supplies, Morris took the Florida into the neutral port of Bahia, in Brazil, on October 4th 1864. Morris arrived in San Salvador Bay, Bahia, Brazil at 9pm on 4th October 1864. He needed coal and provisions, also some slight repairs, after cruising for twenty-one days. Shortly after anchoring a boat passed around the Florida, and asked the vessels name, when told they replied that the boat was from H. B.M.Curlew.
Next morning Morris noted that the U.S.S. Wachusett was at anchor nearby, but there was no English steamer visible, so Morris concluded that the boat from the previous evening had been from the Wachusett. On the morning of the 5th, Morris was visited by a Brazilian officer, and informed him of his needs. Morris was told that his request would be forwarded to the Brazilian President, and that he, Morris, was to have no communication with the shore until an answer was received. At noon Morris received a note, which he left on board the Florida, that the President was prepared to see him.
The President informed Morris that he had 48 hours within which to refit and repair, and that the Brazilian Chief Engineer would be sent on board, to examine the machinery. If the engineer thought 48 hours was too short, then an extension would be granted.
The President was uneasy about the Florida being in port, and insisted that Morris observe the neutrality laws, he seemed to have no worries about the Wachsett observing these same rules. The President stated that he had received assurances from the U. S. consul, that the Wachusett would do nothing to contravene the laws of nations or Brazil.
There was a Brazilian Admiral present at this interview, and he suggested to Morris that the Florida be moved to a position that placed the Admirals vessel between the two warships. Morris agreed to, and in fact did this. Upon hisreturn to the Florida, the Brazilian engineer informed Morris he had four days to complete repairs to the pipe of the condenser. Morris then decided to allow liberty, and sent the port watch off that afternoon.
Around 7:30pm, a boat containing the U.S. consul, came alongside from the Wachusett, the consul stating that he had official communication for the Commander of the Florida. A letter and card were then handed to First Lieutenant Porter. Porter examined the letter and discovered that it was addressed as "To Captain Morris, sloop Florida". Porter returned the letter to the consul, telling him it was improperly addressed; that the vessel was the CSS Florida, and that when the letter was so directed, it would be received.
On October 6th, a Mr L. de Videky came on board, and informed Morris that he (Videky) had received a letter from the US consul, containing a letter for Morris. Mr de Videky`s letter from the consul, contained a challenge to the Florida to meet the Wachusett in battle, with the promise that, if this was accepted, the consul would use his influence to speed up repairs to the Florida. The letter to Morris was still incorrectly addressed, so not accepted. Morris had heard enough, he informed Videky that he had come into Bahia for a special purpose, and that he would neither seek nor avoid a contest with the Wachusett, but should he encounter her outside of Brazilian waters, he would do his utmost to destroy her.
That afternoon (6th) the port watch returned, and the starboard watch, plus Morris and some of his officers, left the Florida for their own liberty.


On the morning of the 7th, Morris was awoken in his hotel at 3:30am, and informed that there was some sort of trouble on his ship. He could here firing and cheering coming from her direction, but due to the darkness, had no idea what was happening. When he reached the landing of the hotel, a Brazilian officer informed him that the Wachusett had rammed and captured the Florida, and was towing her out of the harbour.
At around 3:15am, the Wachusett passed the Brazilian corvette Dona Januaria, and her commander Gervasio Macebo sent an officer on board the Wachusett to find out what she was doing, and why she was not still at anchor. The Brazilians also gave notice that if the Florida was attacked, all the Brazilian ships, as well as the forts, would fire on the Wachusett. Napolean Collins replied that he would comply and do nothing further. Shortly after this confrontation the Brazilians heard the Wachusett "fire a shot loaded with ball". They then saw the vessel appearing to return to her anchorage, it was only as she passed them that they realised she was "tugging the Florida." The Brazilians did fire one "cannon shot loaded with ball" at the Wachusett, but were unsuccessful.
Commander Macebo had anticipated that something like this may happen, and had ordered the Paraense to be made ready to sail. Immediately this was possible she went after the fleeing Wachusett. The breeze was very light so a signal was sent to the yacht Rio De Centes to join the chase. Both Brazilian vessels starting the chase approximately 3 miles adrift of their quarry. By 7am, the Paraense had gained considerably on the fleeing vessels and Commander Macebo had high hopes of saving the Florida, and Brazilian honour. Then the wind began to calm, as it did so, Collins, realising that he had the faster vessel, started steaming at full power.
He quickly began to outpace the Brazilians, and by 11:45am was out of sight. Both Brazilian vessels returned to port, dropping anchor at 3:15pm.


Morris immediately went to the Brazilian Admiral`s vessel, who told Morris he was going after the Wachusett, to bring her back. He returned in the afternoon, having been unable to overtake her.
Morris mustered the officers and crew left on shore, and found that there were four officers, Lieutenant Barron, Paymaster Taylor, Midshipman Dyke and Master`s Mate King, plus seventy one men, six of whom had escaped from the Florida after her capture.

The Capture

Before entering Salvador Bay, Captain Morris had ordered all shot to be removed from the guns and once moored near the Brazilian vessel the fires were let down. Collins, after his discussion with the Brazilians maintained his course and went directly for the Florida, ramming her abreast of the mizzenmast, which broke into three pieces, destroyed the bulwarks, knocked the quarterboat on deck, jammed the wheel and carried away the main yard. At the same time around 200 shots from small arms, and two from her guns were fired into the Florida.
The Wachusett then backed off around a hundred yards, and demanded that the Florida surrender. Acting Master T. Hunter was on deck, and on hearing the demand for surrender, he contacted Lt Thomas K Porter, who was in command in Morris`s absence. Porter replied to the Wachusett that he would reply in a few moments.
The reply from the Wachusett was surrender immediately or be blown out of the water. Porter discussed the matter with Lt. Stone, but in reality had no option but to agree to surrender.

The captain of the Wachusett, Napolean Collins, called for Morris to come to his ship, Porter told Collins that he was in command, as Morris was ashore, and that he would come as soon as a boat could be prepared. Porter went onboard the Wachusett and handed Collins the ship`s ensign and his sword. Collins then sent a number of armed boats to take possesion of the Florida.
When the crew heard Lt. Porter agree to surrender, fifteen men jumped into the water to escape capture, only six succeeded, the rest being hit by fire from the forecastle and boats of the Wachusett. Mr. Hunter had been wounded, and a number of men were killed. Collins then had a hawser made fast to the foremast of the Florida, and proceeded to tow her out to sea.

During the daylight hours of October 7th, Collins transferred about two thirds of the Florida crew to the Wachusett, where the officers were paroled, and the men placed in double irons. The Wachusett called at St. Thomas on her return Journey to the United States, where Collins found the U.S.S. Kearsage in port, and transferred Assistant Surgeon Thomas J. Charlton and eighteen men to her. This was the beginning of their period of imprisonment by the United States.

Morris`s next thoughts were for the crew, and what to do with them. They all expressed a desire to remain in the Confederate service, so Morris decided to do his best to secure a passage to England for them. Captain Bray, of the English bark Linda agreed to take the men to England, at a charge of 10 each for crew, and 20 each for officers.Morris also had to pay the cost of fitting up their berths, about 80. Morris arranged for passage for himself and Paymaster Taylor on the English mail steamer, departing Bahia on the 13th, two days before the Linda.

The unlucky Mr de Videky, upon realising that he had been duped by the U.S. consul wrote the following to Morris.

October 7th 1864

Dear Sir: I feel bound to address you after the fatal affair of last night has happened. When I accepted to go on board your vessel, I did so firmly believing that the mission I had to you was meant honestly and in good faith. Had I only the slightest idea, that the man who sent me to you on a mission , as I thought of honor, at the same time meditating (as it appears now), such an infamous, blackguardly trick as he played, I certainly never should have accepted it. How could I think such villainy to be possible? Be sure that whenever I shall meet the faithless scoundrel who calls himself a consul of the United States of America, and goes by the name of Wilson, I will take my revenge, and treat him as he deserves it. I am very sorry for what has happened, and I am still more sorry for having accepted that mission of carrying a letter or verbal communication from him. My services are at your orders if you should require them. I am still in possesion of the two letters, which I did not deliver to him, as I could not find him after I saw you. He has not got your answer at all, which proves still more that miserable and lawless trick must have been meditated before and at the same time when he pretended to offer a fair engagement outside the juridiction of the Government of the Brazils.

I am dear sir, your very obedient servant,

L. DE. VIDEKY.

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There was a great outcry against the actions of the United States navy in a neutral port, particularly from England and France, where the U.S. was castigated in the national press. Gideon Welles, U.S.Secretary of the navy, had little option but to have Commander N. Collins appear before a court martial, which took place on the U.S. steamer Baltimore, April 7th, 1865.

Extracts from the Court martial of Commander Napoleon Collins U. S. Navy.

Charge and specifications preferred against Commander Napoleon Collins, U.S.Navy,
in the case of the seizure of the C.S.S. Florida in neutral waters.


CHARGE: Violating the territorial jurisdiction of a neutral government.
Specification.--In this, that on or about the seventh day of October , eighteen hundred and sixty-four, the said Commander Napoleon Collins, being then in command of the United States steamer Wachusett, in the Bay of San Salvador, Brazil, and manifestly within a marine league of the shore at the port of Bahia, in said Bay of San salvador, did unlawfully attack and capture the steamer Florida and a portion of her officers and crew within the territorial jurisdiction of the Government of Brazil, then and now a neutral power.
This was signed by Gideon Welles.

The judge advocate called upon the accused, the said Commander Napoleon Collins, to plead to the charge and specification preferred against him by the honorable Secretary of the Navy, whereupon the accused to the said charge and specification tendered the following plea:

Of the charge "Guilty"
Of the specification: "Guilty, excepting the single word "unlawfully""
Thereupon the court was cleared for deliberation.
After some moments spent in deliberation the court was opened, the accused being in attendance.

Whereupon the judge advocate announced that the plea tendered by the accused was received and ordered to be recorded.
The plea tendered by the accused rendering it unnecessary to call witnesses for the prosecution, the judge advocate called upon the accused to adduce such testimony as he might deem material in his defense.

Whereupon the accused responded that he had no testimony to offer, and submitted to the court the following paper.

I respectfully request that it may be entered in the records of the court as my defense that the capture of the Florida was for the public good.

Napoleon Collins
April 7, 1865

And the same having been read, the court was cleared for deliberation. The court thereupon proceeded to the reading of the proceedings heretofore had in this case and to the consideration of the charge and specification preferred by the honorable Secretary ogf the Navy against the sccused, the said Commander Napoleon Collins, and their finding upon the same

After full and mature deliberation on the premises the court doth find the specification of the charge proved.

And the accused having pleaded guilty to the said charge, the court doth sentence the accused,Commander Napoleon Collins of the Navy of the United States, to be dismissed from the Navy of the United States of America.

Gideon Welles then exhibited a display of hypocracy, and total disregard for international law, by refusing to either accept the decision, or exact the punishment. He wrote to Collins in September of 1866.

The CSS Florida sank at Hamptom Roads on November 28th 1864

There can now be little doubt that this sinking was the result of a deliberate act, by person or persons unknown, on behalf of the U. S. Navy, to prevent the return of the Florida to Bahia, Brazil, where she would have been handed back to the Confederate Navy.

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Officers & crew captured

Ships

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