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Volume 23, No. 1 – January 2010


Upcoming Program: Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Marsha Sonnenblick will be our January 2010 speaker.  The topic will be “Foreigners in the Civil War: Why They came to America and why they decided to fight for the North or the South.  Marsha can be counted on to put an interesting “spin” on any topic!

President’s Message

The Holiday Party was a great success – 43 members and guests helped devour tables groaning with homemade goodies.  Thanks to all who contributed.

We need a speakers’ committee.  Those interested in helping on this please contact me.

Bob Schenkel, a long-time member who has donated many books to the raffle, is now in assisted living. We all wish him well.

Finally, DUES ARE DUE.  Please pay them at the January meeting or by mail as soon as possible.

December 8, 2009 Program

“The Widow Clark” (aka Kathy Clark), reminded us that a Civil War reenactment of a battle would take place over the coming weekend at the Savannas Recreation Area, 1400 Midway Road, Fort Pierce, Florida. She then recounted this story: At an earlier reenactment, a guide was explaining what was going on.  A little boy piped up: “What is that cannon for?”  The guide, not wanting to mention that its purpose was to kill people, replied, “We use it to blow things up.”  The boy responded, “My Daddy uses a pump!”

MacomberOur welcome guest speaker, for the seventh year in a row, was Robert N. Macomber, an internationally recognized award-winning maritime writer, lecturer, and television commentator. He is a lecturer at the Distinguished Military Author Series of the Center for Army Analysis in Washington DC; Caribbean/Latin American lecturer at the U.S. Southern Command’s Notable Military Author Series; guest author and lecturer aboard the Queen Mary 2 since her maiden voyage, as well as the Silver Sea fleet of luxury liners; a maritime commentator for Florida PBS; and a naval history lecturer for the American History Forum and the Civil War Education Association. His lectures span 32 various maritime topics.

Macomber is the author of the acclaimed Honor Series of naval novels, and is proud to have readers in ten countries. He also has written many magazine articles. His awards include the Florida Genealogy Society’s Outstanding Achievement Award for his non-fiction work on Florida’s maritime history, the Patrick Smith Literary Award for Best Historical Novel of Florida (At the Edge of Honor), and the John Esten Cooke Literary Award for Best Work in Southern Fiction (Point of Honor). He is the guest author at regional and international book festivals, and was named by Florida Monthly Magazine as one of the 22 Most Intriguing Floridians of 2006. His sixth novel, A Different Kind of Honor, recently won the highest national honor in his genre—the American Library Association’s 2008 W. Y. Boyd Literary Award for Excellence in Military Fiction. It was awarded, along with the $5,000 in prize money, on July 1, 2008, at the ALA’s annual convention in Anaheim, California.

Each year Macomber travels approximately 15,000 sea miles around the globe giving lectures and researching his novels, including an annual lecture tour across the Pacific. In January 2009, he was guest author and lecturer aboard the Silver Whisper, steaming from Australia to Guadalcanal, New Guinea, Indonesia, the Philippines, and culminating at Hong Kong.  Later in the year Macomber will be on a lecture tour of the Mediterranean aboard Queen Victoria, returning later to the United States as guest author aboard Queen Mary 2.

He is well known for detailed research, even going to the point of making the voyages, visiting the lands, and meeting the peoples he writes about. After the 2007 Pacific lecture tour, he embarked upon treks on the Mekong and Perfume rivers in Vietnam and Cambodia to research and begin writing The Honored Dead, which came out in March 2009.

Macomber lives a simple life in a small bungalow by Serenity Bay at Matlacha Island. The island is an old Florida fishing village on the same southwest coast where he grew up as a sailor. It is his writing refuge when not on lecture, research, or book tour journeys. For more information about Macomber’s fascinating life and work, visit his website at He enjoys interacting with his readers and welcomes email at

The Amazing True Story of the Confederate Navy’s Raid on New York and New England

Robert began his talk with a little background:  Until the Civil War, the United States Navy practiced “guerrilla” war at sea and was very good at it.  Since it could not go “toe to toe” with European navies, it used Ocean Raiders to prey on ocean commerce around the world.  The War of 1812 was a “world war” that extended into the Pacific Ocean.  It was the unenviable task of the British to attempt, unsuccessfully, to blockade the 1000's of miles of U. S. coastline.

At the outset of the Civil War, however, the roles of the Northern and Southern navies were reversed.  In 1861, the U. S. Navy had 45 seaworthy ships, only 12 in home waters.  President Lincoln, without consulting with Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles, declared a blockade of the Confederate coastline.  The only naval station that was never taken over by the South was Key West, which became responsible for blockade duty from the Rio Grande to Georgia, and included Cuba, Mexico and the Bahamas!  By 1865, the commandant at Key West was in charge of 632 ships of all kinds.  The Confederate Secretary of the Navy was Stephen M. Mallory, who had been a U. S. Senator from Florida and had chaired the Naval Appropriations Committee.  Mallory lived in Key West and owned a steamship line.  In view of the paucity of ships at its command, the Confederacy adopted guerrilla tactics at sea, at which it was very good.  It also attempted, with much less success, to conduct “riverine” warfare and coastal defense. 

Since it could not build ironclads at home, the South had them built in England, despite the profession of “neutrality” by England, France and Spain in 1861.  The CSN Alabama was the most successful ocean raider in history, with 86 ships to its credit taken in every ocean.  It and its sister raiders siphoned off Northern ships from blockade duty.  The Caribbean Sea was a Confederate “lake” for the first two years of the war.

CSS FloridaThe CSS Florida, a steam screw cruiser of about 700 tons, built in Liverpool, England, was commissioned in August 1862 as the Oreto , since England did not allow the ships it built for the South to be openly commissioned as Confederate Navy ships.  Instead, Flag Officer Baron and a CSS crew sailed it to Nassau.  However, the Governor did not want the ship to be armed and commissioned within his territory, so it was taken to Green Key, a remote island near Andros Island, where it was fitted out and then, under the command of  First Lieutenant John Newland Maffit, sailed to Brazil, a “choke point” where Northern merchant ships were easy pickings.  Aboard was Charles Reed, 23 years old, and a June 1860 graduate of the US Naval Academy.

When Moffit captured the Clarence, carrying fruit and coffee, Reed persuaded him not to sell the prize but to put him in command so he could raid the US Navy’s anchorage at Norfolk, Virginia!  Imagine, a 23-year old ensign commanding 16 sailors and armed with one 6 pound boat howitzer and 2 “Quaker” fake guns, planning to sail into the biggest naval base in the US!  Sailing North from Brazilian waters, Moffit makes his target New York City.  Outside the harbor, he destroys two merchant ships. Meanwhile, by sheer coincidence, Reed in the Clarence is sailing along the north coast of Long Island.  Their efforts were not planned but were brilliantly successful, causing pandemonium among shipping circles with consequences with us today.

In Boston, the port’s commandant ordered to sea the only two ships capable of taking on the CSS Florida:  the Shenandoah and the Ethan Allen.  They cannot find the Florida.  Insurance rates are skyrocketing and the merchant fleet is staying in port.  By June 1863, the Clarence has destroyed two merchant ships.  Now Reed decides to burn the Clarence and shift his “command” to a third captured ship, which he christened the CSS Tacony, and sails unscathed through the US Navy!  Meanwhile the Florida has sailed to Bermuda to refit and refuel.  The rest of the infamous raid is carried on by Reed alone.  He even enlists six sailors from captured merchant ships!  Over the next six days, he destroys six ships.  Cleverly, he puts the crews of these ships in life boats, while he burns their ships (he has no harbor to put in to and sell them).  The sailors will inadvertently help him by spreading panic once ashore.

On June 17, 1863, Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles is besieged by complaints from insurance companies, shipping line owners, the fishing industry and chambers of commerce, all saying, “Do something!”  In his diary, Welles comments, “shore defense is for the Army!  The communities affected should bear part of the cost.” 

According to the New York Chamber of Commerce, by mid-1863, 150 vessels and 60,000 tons worth $12 million, have been captured by CSS raiders worldwide.  Rather than remaining idle, merchant ships are being registered under foreign flags.  Before the Civil War, the American merchant marine had been the largest in the world.  That ended permanently.

By the end of June 1863, 38 US naval ships, diverted from blockade duty and European waters, are converging to capture the Confederate raiders, who are no longer there!  Moffit is in Bermuda, while Reed has sailed for Maine!  On June 25, 1863, Reed captures the fishing schooner, Archer, and transfers his gun and crew to it.  The next night he reaches Portland, Maine, where two ships are at anchor at Federal Wharf. He plans to capture the steamer, Chesapeake.  He takes over this ship only to discover that its boilers are cold.  It will take hours to be able to steam away, so he goes to the other side of the wharf and takes the Revenue (now Coast Guard) Cutter, Caleb Cushing, whose boiler has steam up.  He christens it as a CSS and sets out to sea, towing the Archer.

The militia unit at Fort Preble is aroused, as are men from the town, who go aboard the unarmed  Forest City.  The men manhandle a gun onto the foredeck.  They also get the Chesapeake’s boilers going.  Reed is in trouble – the wind is against him, the gun on the Cushing cannot bear aft where his pursuers are, and in any event he cannot find the powder charges for the gun!  It turns out that the charges are kept in a secret locker in the captain’s cabin.  The Forest City is now shooting at him.  Reed’s only option was to surrender, but before doing so, he torched both of his ships.  That’s when he discovered where the powder was hidden!

In the eyes of the residents of Portland, Maine, Reed and his men are pirates and the militia had to hold the crowd, which wanted to lynch them, at bay.  Reed was taken to Fort Warren where Confederate naval officers were kept.  In the hulk of the Archer, the US Navy found prize money consisting of $100,000 in Confederate bonds payable after the war.  On October 18, 1864, Reed was exchanged for a US Naval officer.

Under the command of First Lieutenant Charles M. Morris, Florida took another eleven prizes between August 1863 and October 1864, when she arrived at Bahia, Brazil.  Union and Confederate captains had promised never to violate Brazilian neutrality.  In reliance on that, the Morris and half of his crew were given shore leave.  At 4 A. M., October 7, 1864, Florida was attacked, captured and towed to sea by USS Wachusett, in violation of Brazilian neutrality. After being taken to the U.S., her return to Brazil was ordered by the courts. However, before this could be done, on November 28, 1864 Florida was accidently sunk off Newport News, Virginia.  In June 1864, CSS Alabama was captured in Cherbourg, France.

Reed returns to his home in Mississippi, where he is feted as a hero and awarded the Confederate Medal of Honor.  Reed is given command of the CSS Webb in Louisiana.  On April 22, 1865, while attempting to run the blockade, he again is captured.  After the war, he fights with Cuban revolutionaries and is captured by the US Navy for the third and last time.  He lives until 1890.

Reed’s contribution to history far exceeds any possible expectation.  Union commerce was completely disrupted even after his capture since the North believed other Confederate raiders were at large.  Insurance rates continued to escalate.  The US merchant marine lost 22 ships, but shrank by 40%, because many merchant ships were sold to England, and has never recovered.

At the end of his talk, Macomber was given a rousing round of applause.  A round of questions followed.

Your editor thought you might enjoy the differing viewpoints of the capture of the CSS Florida:


The following is a detailed report of the capture of the rebel steamer Florida in the Bay of San Salvador, Brazil, by the officers and crew of this vessel, without loss of life:

At 3 o'clock on the morning of the 7th day of October instant we slipped our cable and steered for the Florida, about five-eighths of a mile distant. An unforseen circumstance prevented us from striking her as intended. We, however, struck her on the starboard quarter, cutting down her bulwarks and carrying away her mizzenmast and main yard. This ship was not injured.

USS WachusettImmediately upon striking we backed off, believing she would sink from the effects of the blow.  In backing clear we received a few pistol shots from the Florida, which were returned with a volley, and, contrary to my orders, two of my broadside guns were fired, when she surrendered.  In the absence of Captain Morris, who was on shore, Lieutenant Thomas K. Porter, formerly of the U.S. Navy, came on board and surrendered the Florida with fifty-eight men and twelve officers, making at the same time an oral protest against the capture.  Five of the Florida's officers, including her commander and the remainder of her crew, were on shore.  We took a hawser to the Florida and towed her to sea.

In contemplating the attack on the Florida in the bay I thought it probable the Brazilian authorities would forbear to interfere, as they had done at Fernando de Noronha when the rebel steamer Alabama was permitted to take into the anchorage three American ships, and to take coal from the Cora [Louisa] Hatch within musket shot of the fort, and afterwards, within easy range of their guns, to set on fire those unarmed vessels.  I regret, however, to state that they fired three shotted guns at us while we were towing the Florida out.  Fortunately, we received no damage. After daylight a Brazilian sloop of war, in tow of a paddle gunboat, was discovered following us. With the aid of sail on both vessels we gradually increased our distance from them.  We had three men slightly wounded; one only of the three is now on the sick report.

I enclose the list of the prisoners. Those who have a star opposite their names were formerly in the U.S. Navy.  This vessel is ready for service. The Florida will require repairs of machinery, a new mizzenmast, etc.  The officers and crew manifested the best spirit. They have my thanks for their hearty cooperation, in which I beg to include Thomas F. Wilson, Esq., U.S. consul at Bahia, who volunteered for any duty.

I am, sir, very respectfully, your obedient servant,

N. Collins,

Hon. GIDEON WELLES, Secretary of the Navy.

Bahia, October 13, 1864


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

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,

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): 255-256.]


Thanks to the Peace River Civil War Round Table for the following quiz (answers at the February meeting):

1.  Slavery was abolished in Washington, D. C., in 1862.  Slave owners were paid $___ for each freed slave.

2.  What was the name of Frederick Douglass’ home in Washington, D. C. (now a National Historic Site)?

3.  Jefferson Davis appointed a succession of unsuccessful generals in the West to avoid appointing ____.

4.  What three Cabinet positions did Judah P. Benjamin hold?

5.  What famous English relative did Judah P. Benjamin have?

6.  The Gamble Mansion is located in what Florida city?


Last changed:  08/10/10

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