Commerce Raiding
Lieutenant Maffitt & the CSS Florida


     Compared to the revenue the Federals had spent on beefing up its forces at sea, the Davis Government did the best they could managing a much smaller force while attempting to wreck the most havoc with it.

     In mid October 1862, Lieutenant John N. Maffitt proposed a plan to the Confederate Navy Department in sailing the CSS Florida out from Mobile Bay causing a nuisance to the Federal commerce vessels and always in hope of capturing a few prizes along the way. The Secretary of the Navy, Stephen H. Mallory approved, giving the naval officer unlimited latitude in its accomplishment.

     The Navy Secretary had informed the ship's skipper that the CSS Sumter was already out raiding and learned that the federal ship masters made it a practice of placing themselves under British protection. Since the queen had already claimed neutrality, and the Confederacy was desperately seeking European recognition, it was a convenient ploy to get the commerce raiders to think twice before engaging them. The last thing Mallory wanted was to see his navy causing an international embarrassment.

     The commandant at Mobile, Admiral Franklin Buchanan instructed Maffit to have the ship painted a lead color. From his sources in Havana, Cuba that particular shade was difficult for another ship to spot after dark, he stood a better chance escaping the bay from the Federal Blockade.

     The ship itself was to follow the route through the Bahamas and West Indies and the commander was to communicate with the department through the use of two small copies of the English dictionary. Secretary Mallory asked that any words requiring concealment used in dispatches to Richmond be encoded with numbers and figures on the page of the dictionary where the word could be found. Marking the page number the word was printed on along with the number of the word by counting from the top of the page.

     Sailing from her haven in Mobile, Lieutenant Maffitt and the crew of the CSS Florida had embarked on their third cruise under the new flag of the Confederacy. It was the 16th of January 1863 when she made her escape from the refuge of Mobile Bay, four and a half months after sustained battle damage while running the blockade.

     Within three days, Florida captured and burned the brig Estelle off the Mexican Coast and continued to sail for Havana, Cuba torching the brigs Windward and Corris Ann upon her arrival. Her biggest prize came in February when the Florida came in contact with the federal ship Jacob Bell bound for New York from China carrying almost 1400 tons of cargo. This prize was valued at nearly two million dollars, and proved to be her largest.

     CSS Florida served the Confederacy on the high seas for another twenty months before being captured in Bahia, Brazil, October 7, 1864 sailing under a new skipper. She followed her course well before striking the colors and becoming a prize herself to the misfortunes of war


Dan (Aldie) Daniel Moran
© 2002

Editors Note: Mr.Moran is a feature writer on the US-Civilwar.com writers staff. He may be contacted with your questions, ideas and requests at dmoran@us-civilwar.net