Friday, August 3, 2012

CSS Florida is Commissioned and Puts to Sea

In late July, Confederate Lieutenant John Newland Maffitt arrived in Nassau, Bahamas aboard one of his blockade runners.  Soon after arriving, he received sealed orders to take command of the Oreto, anchored six miles from Nassau.  Raphael Semmes, late of CSS Sumter, also happened to be in town.  Maffitt handed him his own sealed orders to return to England and take command of a ship known only as No. 290 (future CSS Alabama). 

Maffitt was ready to take charge of his ship, except she had been placed under arrest by British authorities. Either because he was bribed by Federal agents or had a change of heart, one of his junior officers that helped bring Oreto over from Liverpool announced to British authorities that Oreto was truly a Confederate warship, thus in violation of Queen Victoria's neutral proclamation.

John Newland Maffitt
With Maffitt laying low and keeping out of sight, the local Admiralty court spent the next weeks investigating the claim.  Making matters worse, a serious yellow fever epidemic struck Nassau.  The epidemic struck Maffitt hard, but he still tried to make arrangements for his ship. 

On August 7, the British courts concluded that Orteo was not an armed ship and released her.  Only a few hours after the decision, Maffitt got out of bed and assembled his company on the ship.   Ideally, the ship needed 120 men.  Maffitt only had 22 on hand, some of whom were very ill.  Regardless, the ship slipped out of Nassau harbor at night to Green Quay.  Here, she met up with the British schooner Prince Alfred.  With a skeleton crew, the Confederate ship received her eight guns (two 7-inchs and six six-inches) and ordnance.  Maffitt declared that she was no longer Oreto, but the Confederate cruiser CSS Florida.  He made plans to raid Union shipping along the Gulf of Mexico and ordered his company to began training on the main guns.  At this point,  his executive officer, Lieutenant Stribling, made an unfortunate discovery.

In their haste to break out of Nassau and away from the U.S. Navy, Florida's company accidentally left naval artillery equipment like sponges and ram rods in storage.  As the ship would be totally helpless in combat, Maffitt changed his mind.  Instead of starting his raids, he decided to make for Mobile, Alabama and run the blockade.

No comments:

Post a Comment