Tuesday, February 26, 2013
CSS Florida Catches the Big One
Upon leaving Nassau, Captain John Maffitt's intentions were to take the war directly to Yankee merchants in New England waters. This was a risky proposition at best, as the U.S. Navy established routine patrols in the Grand Banks after Alabama's Gulf Stream raids. There was also the risk of steaming right into the heavy traffic areas of Cape Hatteras and the Virginia Capes. Maffitt understood the only way the southern guerre de course strategy would work was if the northern merchant class saw their property destroyed up close.
As Florida approached Cape Hatteras, the cruiser encountered a major storm. Maffitt attempted to tough it out, but eventually ordered a retreat back south towards the West Indies. His decision paid off in a big way. After fooling what he believed to be the large steam warship USS Vanderbilt, a watch spotted a large sailing vessel on the morning of 12 February. The cruiser sighted, chased, and overtook the New York-based ship off the coast of Puerto Rico. Owned by Abiel Abbow Low and Brothers, Jacob Bell was one of four well-designed clipper ships Low used to import black tea (and occasionally opium) directly from the Chinese port of Foochoo.
other is from Jacob Bell's vantage point in the book, written by the wife of ambassador to China. She was coming home from China when Florida stopped her ship. Needless to say, she and Maffitt had words. However, by the time Maffitt found a neutral ship to off load his "guests," Mrs. Williams and Maffitt left on good terms.
Artifacts from this capture can be seen at the Hampton Roads Naval Museum.