Charleston Daily Courier

December 5, 1864

Page 1


The Seizure of the Florida


The London ____ publishes the following account of the capture of the Florida, written by Captain MORRIS, her late commander:

Bahia, October 18, 1864

Sir—It is with great pain that I have to report the seizure of the Confederate States steamer 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 receiving our reply, stated that the boat was from Her Britannic Majesty’s steamer Curlew.  Next morning I found that the United States steamer Wachusett was at anchor near us, but no English steamer, so I at once concluded that the boat which had hailed us the evening before was from the Wachusett.

We were greeted 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 above.  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 our interview he informed me that forty-eight hours would be allowed me to fit 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 should strictly observe the laws of neutrality, at the same time stating to me that he had received the most solemn assurances from the United States Consul that the United States steamer would do nothing in port contrary to the laws of nations and of 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 in 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 close ashore to the position suggested by the Admiral.  I found the Brazilian engineer on board, and was informed by him that it would require 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 I sent the port watch off that afternoon.

About 7:30 P. M., a boat came alongside, stating that she was from the United States steamer 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 Lieut. Porter, who, after examining it, and finding it directed to Capt. Morris, “Sloop Florida,” returned it unopened to the Colonel, stating that it was improperly addressed; that the vessel was the Confederate States steamer Florida, and that when the letter was so directed it would be received.  The next day (6th) a Mr. de Vidiky came on board, having received a letter from the United States Consul, inclosing one for me.  He requested me, before receiving my letter, to permit him to read to me the one sent to him.  It was a request of Mr. de Vidiky 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 Vidiky that I had heard quite enough, and, finding the letter to 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.  That afternoon, the port watch having returned, I sent the starboard watch (the other half of the crew) ashore on liberty, going also myself in company with several of the officers.  From our nearness to the Wachusett, persons on board of that vessel could well see these men leave the ship.  At 3:30 A. M. 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 United States steamer, Wachusett, had run into and seized 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, which he did as soon as steam was raised on board a small steamer belonging to the fleet.  The Admiral’s ship, being a sailing vessel, sloop of war, was taken in tow by the steamer, and went out of the harbor.  He returned in the afternoon with all of 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: Lieut. Barron, Paymaster Taylor, Midshipman Dyke and Master’s Mate King, and 71 men, of whom six had escaped by swimming from the Florida after her seizure.  Of the actual occurrences and loss of life on board the Florida, I have been unable to find out very little.

The substance of which I have gathered from the six men who escaped, is as follows:  That at 3:15 A. M. on October 7, Master T. T. Hunter, Jr., being in charge of the deck, the Wachusett left her anchoring, and taking advantage of the darkness, steamed for the Florida, from whom she was not seen until close abreast; 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 mizenmast, at the same time pouring a volley of musketry and a charge of canister from her forecastle pivot gun upon our decks.  The Wachusett then backed off, and demanded our surrender, to which demand Lieut. 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.  Lieut. Porter answered 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 Lieut. 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 the 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 on 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 could find all the official correspondence in the newspapers.  I then wrote letter, marked 3, in which reference is made to a letter 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.  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 ____.

At the time of her seizure there was about twenty-five tons of coal on board, most of which was dumped.  The list of officers captured is contained in the report of Paymaster Taylor, marked 6.

The enclosed newspaper is an official extract containing all the Brazilian official correspondence in reference to the Florida.

I am very respectfully your obedient servant,


Lieutenant Commanding, U. S. Navy


The London Times of 8th ult, says:

“The capture of the Florida by the Wachusett in Brazilian waters, was reported by telegraph from Lisbon some days ago, but it was not until yesterday that the flagrantly lawless nature of this proceeding could be appreciated.  The story, as it has now reached us from authentic sources, begs those related of Paul Jones and carries as



[Transcribed by Sharon Strout]