Friday, September 21, 2012

CSS Florida's Mad Dash into Mobile

To say Confederate Lieutenant John Newland Maffitt had a tough decision to make would be an understatement.  After the Florida's release from a British admiralty court in Nassau, Maffit's executive officer reported their vessel lacked the proper equipment to fire the main guns.   After being denied the equipment in Havana, Cuba, Maffitt decided the only thing to do was to run the blockade and make port in Mobile, Alabama.  Adding to Maffitt's difficulties was yellow fever.  The dreaded tropical disease had incapacitated or killed half of his company, including Maffitt.  This decision caused Florida's executive officer, Lieutenant John Stribling, to question his captain's wisdom.  He commented to Maffitt, "Sir, in this attempt we cannot avoid passing close to the blockade-squadron, the result of which will be our certain destruction."

George Prebble after the war
Maffitt acknowledged the risks, but felt he had no choice.  Watching the approaches to Mobile were the steam sloop-of-war USS Oneida (commanded by Commander George H. Prebble), the "90-day gunboat" USS Winona, and the fast sailing schooner USS Rachel Seaman. 

With a British flag raised, Florida approached the blockading squadron at high speed.  Florida and Oneida passed within 90 yards of each other before Prebble realized the ruse.  Oneida opened fire at Florida, but missed.  Winona joined in and put an XI-inch shot into Florida's boiler room, decapitating one of the fireman and injuring several others.   Florida continued steaming.  The two U.S. Navy ships switched over to shrapnel shot in an attempt to take out Florida's sails.  The shrapnel injured several more of Florida's sailors, but failed to stop the cruiser from making it to the safety of Fort Morgan. 

Maffitt was safe.  Prebble, however was not. Upon hearing about the incident via Farragut and Welles, President Lincoln personally ordered Prebble to be removed from command and dismissed from the Navy.  Welles wrote a letter informing Prebble of his dismissal.  Being what communications were in 1862, Prebble learned about his firing in a newspaper article. 

Prebble was furious and fought the charges.  Coming from one of the U.S. Navy's most famous families (he was the nephew of Commodore Edward Prebble), he had major political clout to work with.  For the next six months, he sought to be reinstated.


  1. What is the source of Florida's drawing? It looks familiar, but I checked my files and didn't find it.

    1. Hi Kazimeirz,

      I can not for the life of me remember where i found that image. I looked several places thatI thought it might be, it was not there. I will keep looking.
      -gordon calhoun