Capture of CSS Florida by USS Wachusett, 7 October 1864

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Report of Lieutenant Morris, C.S.Navy, late commanding C.S.S. Florida, of the seizure of that
vessel by the U.S.S. Wasusett, October 7, 1864 at Bahia, Brazil

Bahia, October 13, 1864

SIR:
          It is with great pain that I have to report the capture of the C. S. S. Florida, lately under my command. I arrived at this port on the 4th instant, at 9 p. m., to procure coal and provisions, and also to get some slight repairs, after a cruise of sixty-one days. Just after anchoring a boat passing around us asked the name of our vessel, and upon reply stated that the boat was from H. B. M. S. Curlew. Next morning I found that the U. S. S. Wachusett was at anchor near us, but no British steamer, so I at once concluded that the boat which hailed us the evening before was from the W[achusett]. We were visited on the morning of the 5th by a Brazilian officer, to whom I stated my wants, and was informed by him that he would report the same to the president, and that until his answer was received we could hold no communication with the shore. At noon I received a communication (which was left on board the Florida) from the president, stating that he was ready to receive me. At my interview he informed me that forty-eight hours would be allowed me to refit and repair, but that should his chief engineer, whom he would send on board to examine the machinery, deem the time too short, he would grant the necessary extension. He was most urgent in his request that I would strictly observe the laws of neutrality (implying by his manner, and, in fact, almost as many words, that he had no fears on account of the United States steamer, but that I was the cause of uneasiness to him, lest I should attack the Wachusett in port), at the same time stating to me that he had received most solemn assurances from the U. S. consul that the United States steamer would do nothing while in port contrary to the laws of nations of or Brazil, and that he desired the same from me, which I unhesitatingly gave. The Brazilian admiral, who was present at the interview, suggested that I had better move my vessel between his ship and the shore, as our proximity to the Wachusett might cause some difficulty. My assurances to the president seemed to set his mind at rest on the score of any collision between the two vessels, and upon leaving him I immediately repaired on board and moved the Florida closer inshore to the position suggested by the admiral. I found the Brazilian engineer on board, and was informed by him that it would take four days to repair the pipe of the condenser. Feeling now no apprehension of any difficulty occurring while in port, and wishing to gratify the crew with a short liberty, not only on the score of good conduct, but also of health, I determined to permit one watch at a time to go ashore for twelve hours, and sent the port watch off that afternoon. About 7:30 p. m. a boat came alongside stating that she was from the U. S. S. Wachusett, with the U. S. consul, who had an official communication for the commander of the Florida. The letter with the card of the consul was handed to First Lieutenant Porter, who, after examining it and finding it directed to Captain Morris, sloop Florida, returned it unopened to the consul, stating that it was improperly addressed; that the vessel was the C. S. S. Florida, and that when the letter was so directed it would be received. The next day (6th) a Mr. de Videky came on board, having received a letter from the U. S. consul enclosing one for me. He requested me, before receiving my letter, to permit him to read the one sent to him. It was a request to Mr. de V. to carry a challenge to the commander of the Florida and in case of its acceptance to offer his (the consul's) influence in having the repairs of the Florida speedily finished. I informed Mr. de V. that I had heard quite enough, and finding the letter for me still improperly addressed, declined receiving it, but at the same time said to him that I had come to Bahia for a special purpose, which being accomplished I should leave; that I would neither seek nor avoid a contest with the Wachusett, but should I encounter her outside of Brazilian waters, would use my utmost endeavors to destroy her. I enclosed a letter, marked 1, since received from Mr. de Videky. That afternoon, the port watch having returned, I sent the starboard watch ashore on liberty, going also myself, in company with several of the officers. At 3:30 a. m. on the 7th I was awakened by the proprietor of the hotel at which I was staying and told that there was some trouble on board the Florida, as he had heard firing and cheering in the direction of the vessel, but on account of the darkness was unable to discern anything. I immediately hastened to the landing, and was informed by a Brazilian officer that the U. S. S. Wachusett had rammed and captured the Florida and was then towing her out of the harbor. I hurried off to the admiral's vessel and was told by him that he was at once going in pursuit. He returned in the afternoon with all his vessels, having been unable to overtake the Wachusett. Upon mustering the officers and crew left on shore, I found there were four officers, viz. Lieutenant Barron, Paymaster Taylor, Midshipman Dyke, and Master's Mate King, and seventy-one men, of whom six had escaped by swimming from the Florida after her capture. Of the actual occurrences and loss of life on board the Florida I have been able to find out very little. The substance of what I have gathered from the six men who escaped is as follows: That at 3:15 a. m. on the 7th, Acting Master T. T. Hunter, jr., being in charge of the deck, the Wachusett left her anchorage, and taking advantage of the darkness steamed for the Florida, from which she was not seen until close aboard; that she was hailed by Mr. Hunter, who, receiving no answer, called all hands to quarters. Before the officers and crew were all on deck the Wachusett struck the Florida on her starboard quarter, cutting her rail down to the deck and carrying away her mizzenmast, at the same time pouring a volume of musketry and a charge of cannister from her forecastle pivot gun upon our decks. The Wachusett then backed off and demanded our surrender, to which demand First Lieutenant Porter declined to accede. The enemy then fired again and again into us, which was returned by the officers and crew of the Florida. Another demand was then made for our surrender, and Lieutenant Porter answered, "I will surrender conditionally." The enemy then stopped firing, and the commander called for Captain Morris to come on board. Lieutenant Morris answered that Captain Morris was on shore, and that he as commanding officer would come on board as soon as he could get a boat ready. The enemy then sent a number of armed boats to take possession of the Florida. As soon as Lieutenant Porter was heard to surrender fifteen of our crew jumped overboard to escape capture, of whom only six succeeded, the remaining nine having been shot in the water by men on the forecastle and in the boats of the Wachusett. Mr. Hunter was wounded and a number of men killed. The enemy made fast a hawser to the foremast of the Florida, and, after slipping her cable, towed her out to sea. I called in person upon the president as soon as possible, but could get no further information from him. On the 8th I sent a protest to the president, of which I send you a copy, marked 2. On the 10th our agent was informed by the interpreter that the president did not intend to answer my protest, as the Confederate Government had not been recognized by Brazil, and that I would find all the official correspondence in the newspaper. I then wrote the letter marked 3, in which reference is made to a letter from the president, marked 4. Just before leaving Bahia, having received no answer, I sent our agent, Mr. James Dwyer, to the president. The result of his visit is contained in his letter, marked 5. My next thought was for the care of my officers and crew then ashore. Finding that it would be impossible to negotiate a bill for an amount sufficient to pay off the crew, all of whom desired to remain in the Confederate service, I deemed it best to secure a passage on some merchant vessel bound to England. Arrangements were made with Captain Bray, of the English bark Linda, to take the men at £10 each and the officers at £20 each, we to pay the expense of fitting up the berths, etc., which would cost about £80. The Linda is expected to sail for London on the 15th, two days after I leave. I have taken passage for Paymaster Taylor and myself on the English mail steamer, so that on our arrival such arrangements may be made for the reception and disposal of the men as you deem best. The Bahia papers contain a number of reports as to the killed and wounded on board the Florida, all of which I have thoroughly sifted and find no foundation for the same. At the time of her capture there were about 25 tons of coal on board the Florida, most of which was dust. The amount of funds and the list of officers captured are contained in the report of Paymaster Taylor, herewith enclosed and marked 6. The enclosed newspaper is an official extra containing all the Brazilian official correspondence in reference to the Florida. All of my papers, the signal book, and cipher were captured in the ship, but I hope they were destroyed, as the first lieutenant, the surgeon, and the captain's clerk all knew where they were kept.

        I am, very respectfully, your obedient servant,

D. MANIGAULT MORRIS,
Lieutenant, C. S. Navy, Commanding,
Late in Command of the C. S. S. Florida.


Flag-Officer SAML. BARRON, C. S. NAVY,
       Commanding C. S. Naval Forces in Europe.

Source: Official Records of the Union and Confederate Navies in the War of the Rebellion. Series 1, vol. 3 (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1896): 631-633.