During the American Civil War, an integral piece of Confederate naval strategy was the deployment of numerous unconventional merchant raiders to devastate Yankee shipping. Utilizing seaborne tactics closely akin to those employed by guerrillas such as Colonel John Singleton Mosby, Confederate raiders played a deadly game of hide and seek with Union warships and merchantmen. One of the more successful raiders was the CSS Florida, a twin-stacked ship built in the United Kingdom and commissioned into the Confederate Navy in August 1862.
Captained by Lieutenant John Newland Maffitt, the Florida preyed on Yankee shipping throughout the North and South Atlantic. Under Maffitt, the Florida and her crew captured or sank 22 ships until she sought safe harbor in Brest, France for a re-fit during the winter of 1863. In addition to the 22 ships Maffitt directly captured, he was also indirectly responsible for another 23 captures performed by CSS Tacony and CSS Clarence – both prizes Maffitt had equipped as raiders.
In February 1864, the ship sailed again, this under the command of First Lieutenant John M. Morris. Morris and his crew captured another 11 ships before anchoring in Bahia, Brazil. While in Bahia on October 7, 1864, Florida was boarded and towed out to sea by the USS Wachusetts. The captain of the Wachusetts, Commander Napoleon Collins, had acted in clear violation of Brazilian neutrality by capturing the ship in Brazilian territorial waters. Even though convicted by courts-martial, Collins was cleared by Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles and became a hero in the North. Less than 8 weeks after capture, on November 28, the Florida sank under mysterious circumstances after a collision with a troop transport in Hampton Roads, Virginia. Had the ship not mysteriously sunk, international law would have required for her to be handed back over to Brazil and eventually back to her Confederate crew.
I will be in Hampton Roads this weekend. Maybe I should go check it out.