Extracts from the journal of Lieut J. N. Maffitt,
C. S. Navy, commanding C. S. S. Florida, May- Dec 31, 1862.
Covering Nassau, Bahamas to Cardenas and Havana, Cuba to Mobile, Alabama, CSA
NASSAU, NEW PROVIDENCE,
May 4, 1862.
At 11 p.m. Mr. Low, provisional master, C. S. Navy, came to my room in private and informed me that he had come over in the C. S. gunboat Oreto, and at the same time handed me a letter from Commander J. D. Bulloch, requesting I would at once assume command and send Mr. Low back.
The Oreto had been here some weeks, attracting much observation and comment. She was in the upper anchorage, and Captain Duguid was her nominal commander. As the Oreto was in an equivocal position, with no regular Confederate States officer to look out for her interest, I gave up the Nassau and privately assumed the entire control.
By the Kate, Cambria and Nassau, I wrote to the Secretary of the Navy giving full information as to the Oreto and my position in regard to her, asking for the command and, if detailed, to be furnished with experienced lieutenants, a paymaster, engineers, an assistant surgeon, money, etc. The return boat brought me a letter from the Secretary, in which he informed me that Commander J. H. North was ordered and would arrive in Nassau by the British steamer Bahama, bringing guns, etc.; but that my conduct was approved, and if Commander North did not arrive I then was to consider myself as detailed. Mr. O. Bradford, provisional master, and Acting Midshipman Sinclair were the officers sent to me. The former had passed through all gradations of business and different appointments; never content one week over the other, and with so little ability of any kind that he may well be termed "Jack of all trades and good at none." Midshipman Sinclair on his passage saw the ocean for the first time. The Secretary complacently ordered me to fit out and cruise, as though I controlled a navy yard, and had engineers, men, etc., at my command.
Mr. Adams, the American minister in London, had sent out full information about the Oreto, and that her guns, etc., would arrive per steamer Bahama. With all these lights, the presence of the vessel as an undoubted build for a man-of-war, it was natural to presume that the American consul would not neglect the interests he represented.
The day after the Bahama arrived, on certain colonial authority, Captain McKillop, of H. B. M. S. Bull Dog, seized the Oreto as a lawful prize, based upon the Queen's neutrality proclamation. The next day she was released by advice of Mr. Anderson, the Queen's attorney. In the meantime the Bull Dog departed, having been relieved by the steamer Greyhound, Captain Hickley, who reseized the Oreto, and in two days relinquished her. On the next day, in consequence of the representation of one Jones (ex-boatswain of the Oreto) having, through the instigation and bribery of the American consul, made declaration that the Oreto was a Confederate gunboat, etc., Captain Hickley reseized her and put the case in the admiralty court for adjudication.
In the Bahama Lieutenant J. M. Stribling, late of the Sumter, arrived. He was on his way home to be reunited with his young and beautiful bride, but on hearing of my situation in regard to officers he promptly relinquished his orders and volunteered for the Florida.
About the 20th of July the yellow fever in its worst form commenced operation. The first victim was my young friend, Lieutenant Brown, of the Fourth W. I. Regiment; a high-toned little gentleman as ever lived. As a nurse my services were constantly required at the hotel; the cases were generally fatal.
August 7 .--The court room was crowded
at 11:30 a.m. At 12 Judge Lees gave his decision in the Oreto case,
and she was free! On the following day the verdict was recorded, papers
made out for any Confederate port, J. Laurens Read (my stepson), captain!
At 11 a.m. she steamed out of the harbor to outer anchorage, and
at 4 p.m. I went on board with Lieutenant Stribling, Master (Acting
Lieutenant) Bradford, Acting Master Floyd, Midshipman Bryan,
Engineers Spidell, Scott, Quinn, and J. Seely, Acting Marine
Officer Wyman, Acting Paymaster Read, Clerk Vogel,
and a few men.
Lieutenant Stribling returned to take charge of the tender with arms, stores, etc., and ship such as could be obtained. On the following day the Cuyler (Federal gunboat) came and ran all round us. The [H. B. M. S.] Petrel, commanded by my friend Watson, immediately went out and ordered her in the harbor or to go without the marine limits. That night the Petrel gave me a hawser and we hung on by it, as we had not men enough to weigh our anchor. At 12 or a little after dropped quietly down under the shadow of the land until off the west end of the island, when we steamed to the southward. At 1, fell in with [the] Prince Albert, schooner, Lieutenant Stribling, and took her in tow. At 3 p.m. on the following day anchored 1¾ miles W. S. W. of Green Cay.
Now commenced one of the most physically exhausting jobs ever undertaken by naval officers. All hands undressed to the buff, and with the few men we had commenced taking in one 6 and 7¼ inch guns, powder, circles, shell and shot, etc. An August sun in the tropics is no small matter to work in. On the 15th C. Worrell, wardroom steward, died and we buried him on Green Cay. Several cases of fever appear among the crew. At first I thought it but ordinary cases, originating from hard work and exposure to the sun, but in twenty hours the unpalatable fact was impressed upon me that yellow fever was added to our annoyances. Having no physician on board, that duty devolved upon me, and nearly my whole time, day and night, was devoted to the sick. On the 16th of August all the armament and stores were on board; took the tender in tow and ran to Blossom Channel, in which we anchored at sunset.
On the morning of the 17th got underway, hoisted and cheered the Confederate flag, and christened the Oreto by her new official cognomen of Florida, parted with the Prince Albert, and stood to the southward and westward. The yellow fever by this time had gained complete ascendency and in our absolute helpless condition were forced to enter a Cuban port. Moreover, we found that neither beds, quoins, sights or rammers, and sponges had been sent to us.
August 18.--At 11:30 p.m. passed a Federal
cruiser. We were so close to the reef that he did not see us. At 1:20 a.m.
on the 19th August entered the harbor of Cardenas; one fireman on watch
perfectly exhausted and about four men. Anchored in 4 fathoms. At 9
got underway, and stood into the inner harbor; communicated with the authorities,
and represented our helpless condition; received permission, per telegram,
from the governor-general to remain as long as it was necessary.
On the 20th dispatched Lieutenant Stribling and Mr. Vesterling to Havana to obtain, through agents, more men and a doctor. The fever had complete possession of the vessel, but as yet none had proved fatal, for I watched every case with the most particular care. 'Twas a sorrowful sight to see our quarter deck turned into a complete hospital. All the men who were able to work we kept fitting side tackles, breachings, etc.
August 22.--My duties as physician have
prostrated me considerably; do not feel well. At 2 p.m. was taken with
a slight chill, which I fancied originated from getting wet in a thunder
squall. Took a foot bath and felt better for a time. At 4, while giving
medicine to the sick, was seized with a heavy chill, pain in the back and
loins, dimness of vision, and disposition to vomit. The painful conviction
was forced upon me that I was boarded by this horrible tropical epidemic.
I sent for Mr. Floyd and Mr. Wyman, and gave full directions in
regard to the duty of the vessel. Ordered a physician sent for, and the
sick sent to the hospital; then took 40 grains of ----, got into a tub
of warm water mixed with mustard, took several injections, changed underclothes
and sheets, and by this time was in the embrace of a fierce fever. Knowing
that fever always affected my brain, I did all that I thought necessary
with promptness, even directing the medicine and care of the sick for the
From this period until the 29th all was a blank to me, an epoch of horror and suffering that can not be realized save by those who have been the recipients of this fell disease. On recovering my first gleam of sunshine, I found a medical consultation progressing that was not flattering to my recovery, but Dr. Gilliard, of the Spanish gunboat Guadalquivir, was somewhat hopeful, and I told him his prognostics were correct, as I had not time to die. He and Lieutenant Commanding ----, of the Guadalquivir, were very polite and attentive, and I hope some day to have it in my power to demonstrate my appreciation of their courtesy.
The first unpleasant news conveyed to me on becoming quite sensible was that my dear stepson, Laurens, was seriously in with fever. Poor boy! he had set up with me and manifested the most tender solicitude for my recovery. I was distressed that my debilitated condition prevented personal attention to his case. Dr. Barrett, of Georgia, a warm-hearted Irishman, volunteered for the vessel, giving up an excellent situation in the Government hospital in Havana in order to demonstrate his devotion to the South in this time of need.
August 30.--At 6:30 p.m. poor Laurens
was taken with black vomit; at 7 the noble boy went gently to sleep,
beloved and regretted by all who knew him. This blow came like the raven
wings of late, darkening my very soul and nearly producing a relapse.
Poor Mr. Seeley (John), our third assistant engineer and 3 men, departed
this life about the same hour. Mr. Floyd is down with the
fever; also Midshipman Sinclair. Mr. Wyman is
quite sick with the epidemic, but as he was taken when on shore, Mr. John
Cacho, a native of Port Mahon, kindly took him to his house, where he was
attended with so much care that his case proved quite a mild one.
Mr. Stribling returned, bringing 8 men and 4 firemen; his difficulties, in consequence of the neutrality law, had been very great. The governor-general telegraphed for me to proceed to Havana, as there were no forts in Cardenas, and a rumor had reached him of an intent on the part of the Yankees to cut me out. The port was already completely blockaded in anticipation of my departure.
August 31.--Committed our dead to their mother earth and settled all bills prior to departing for Havana. 'Twas whispered about that we were about leaving, and the American consul dispatched a swift craft to inform the Federal squadron. At 8 p.m. the Spanish mail boat (for Havana) left, and when outside was chased by the Federals, who fired shot and shell at her until she entered the harbor at Matanzas; they mistook her for the Florida; consequently, at 9:30 we sailed and ran the coast along unmolested.
September 1.--At 11:30 a.m. entered the harbor of Havana; a large concourse of people assembled upon the quay, and our entrance was attended to by a large and favoring audience. Shufeldt notified the Yankee fleet of our being in Havana and an assembly took place off the morro. Finding that I could not get a crew, as 'twas the season of sickness, when sailors did not congregate in this port, and that my ordnance was defective in arrangement, etc., to say nothing of the want of officers, I reluctantly came to the conclusion that there was nothing left to me but to force my way into some Confederate port. In fact, my health was so wretched that I could not well attend to duty, and had to be lifted on deck when necessity called me. Captain Smith volunteered to pilot me into Mobile and was assured that but one man-of-war guarded that harbor; so I settled upon Mobile, and at 9 p.m. sailed, avoiding the enemy's fleet by running some distance close in shore. The passage was pleasant, but cases of fever continued assailing the new men, but not with its original severity, or perhaps Dr. Barrett's experience and extreme devotion may have had much to do with its mitigated form.
September 4.--At 3 p.m. made Fort Morgan
and three blockaders off the bar; they at once ran out to receive me. At
4:50 p.m. the cannonading commenced upon our helpless craft, for we could
not return their shots for want of men and proper provision for our guns.
The Oneida, Commander Preble, of 10 guns, made an effort to cut us off,
but I sheered toward him, and feeling he would be run down he backed, giving
me a momentary advantage. As I ranged ahead of him he poured out a
whole broadside, that swept away hammocks and some running rigging. One
gunboat opened on my port bow, the other on our port quarter, and the cannonading
became rapid and precise. Having passed the Oneida, gave a starboard helm
to bring the gunboats in line, and escaped, by this range, the fire of
one of them, for this grouping around me bid fair to send the little Florida
to the bottom.
Hauled down the English flag, and as soon as the signal halliards could be rerove, ran up the bars and stars.
A shell entered the port quarter but fortunately neither that or the XI-inch exploded. Several expended Parrott shells struck the masts and fell on board. Our boats were much injured and all the standing rigging (except three shrouds) shot away; our hull well peppered. Finding that we did not distance the Federals rapidly, sent the men aloft to loose topsail and topgallant sails, and our sailors responded to the order with alacrity. As soon as they were seen on the yards, all the gunboats commenced firing 24-pound shrapnel; the standing rigging was shot away as our men came down front aloft; several were wounded, and the boats, masts, spurs, and hulls were cut with thousands of the shrapnel. The sea was smooth, and our helpless condition gave the enemy confidence and security, which enabled them to coolly use us as a target. The sails availed us considerably, for a light S. E. wind had sprung up. I sent all below but the officers and two men at the wheel.
As we approached the bar an XI-inch shell entered on our port beam, about 9 inches above the water line, passing through coal bunker, grazing the boiler and entering among the men on the berth deck; by this shot 4 men were wounded and James Duncan's head taken off. Duncan was captain of the maintop and one of our best men. At dusk we were under the guns of Fort Morgan. Soon visited by the officers. Colonel Powell says the scene was brilliant, and he considers it one of the most dashing feats of the war. Sharkey, captain forecastle, and Billups, quartermaster, were at the wheel during the cannonading, and did well; in truth, everybody acted well their part.
MOBILE, ALABAMA, CSA
We were visited by McBlair of the Morgan and Huster of the Gaines, their crews cheering as approaching. Anchored off Melrose. On the 5th I went up to Mobile with McBlair, to recruit. Buried our dead.
September 6.--The admiral sent a small steamer down as a hospital vessel.
Monday morning, September 8.--At 1 p.m. arrived in the Morgan; the admiral went on board the steamer and made a few complimentary remarks to the crew and then left. On going on board the Florida I was distressed to find poor Stribling down with a serious attack of fever; had him conveyed to the steamer Areal that Dr. Barrett could attend him night and day. His mind wandered, and there seemed no elasticity in his constitution; I think his chances very doubtful.
[September] 9.--Stribling very ill; will not permit anyone to administer his medicine but me, and I am hardly able to stand. Midshipman Sinclair rather worse; case assuming a doubtful phase.
[September] 10.--Am quite exhausted with my efforts to aid poor Stribling; he calls for me all the time. Young Sinclair has a favorable turn. Nothing but sickness. We are quarantined by the authorities and very properly.
[September] 11.--The same; I now have no hope of poor S.
[September] 12.--As I feared, Stribling breathed his last at 6:30 p.m., having never rallied once during his illness. He was a good Christian and excellent officer. Peace be to his soul.
September 13.--Paid the last honors to our highly esteemed friend and shipmate, Lieutenant Stribling. He is buried at Melrose, near Mr. Stone's country seat.
[September] 20.--Passed Assistant Surgeon F. Garretson, C. S. Navy, reported for duty (his original name was Van Biber). The doctor is from Virginia, and enjoys a high reputation, not only in but out of his profession. Cleansed our holds and fumigated the vessel daily.
[September] 26.--Midshipman Sinclair has been under my especial care in the cabin and has benefited so much that he was enabled to proceed to Richmond on leave.
[September] 29.--Lieutenant Comstock reported for duty, a young officer of exceeding delicacy of constitution; in fact, unfit for the performance of the requirements of this vessel. * * * Hauled down the quarantine flag and steamed over abreast of Dog River bar. Received a very complimentary communication from the Navy Department, but no hint of promotion.
On the 9th Lieutenant D. A. Forrest reported as executive.
October 12.--At last, after great exertion, I have some mechanics at work. They all dread the vessel, and desired to await a fever-killing frost ere coming on board. Slow, slow, slow. This fitting out in an open bay, where so much is to be done, is bad business.
[October] 13.--Lieutenant Hoole, of Alabama, a young gentleman who was badly wounded in the head at Roanoke Island, reported. Dr. Barrett returned from leave, and concluded to remain with his family; good old man.
[October] 18.--Second Assistant Engineer Jackson reported, and a more unfortunate appointment could not have been made. Third Assistant Engineer Brown reported.
[October] 20.--Lieutenant Forrest received his detachment. [October] 25.--Lieutenant C. C. Simms reported and a most excellent officer he is. The equipments and repairs now commenced with system and regularity.
[October] 30.--Lieutenant S. W. Averett, an officer of high standing for his period of service, reported; his frank, manly manner pleases me much. Crew coming on board in driblets; many rated as seamen who in the old service would merely pass as very ordinary seamen.
November 1.--Passed Midshipman Walker detached to make room for Midshipman Dyke, of Florida.
November 4.--Lieutenant C. W. Read, the last lieutenant I personally applied for, joined; this officer acquired reputation for gunnery, coolness, and determination at the battle of New Orleans. When his commander, T. B. Huger, was fatally wounded he continued to gallantly fight the McRea until she was riddled and unfit for service. * * * Passed Assistant Surgeon Grafton reported; he is a pleasant gentleman, and enjoys the reputation of being an excellent surgeon.
November 15.--Lieutenant Simms was-telegraphed by the Department that in consequence of the alarming illness of his wife he was at liberty to leave. He referred to the admiral, who at once decided that he must return home, and much to his and my own regret I lost the service of this experienced and excellent officer. I can not have more changes, so will ask for Lieutenant Stone and try how Mr. Averett will get along as executive. Want of experience. Mr. Stone has joined. He is intelligent and will make an admirable officer.
December 1.--Received the admiral, General Slaughter, Lieutenant Rainey, Captain McBlair, T. T. Hunter, Colonel Forsyth, Mrs. Le Vert and daughter, Mrs. Hopkins, Gracie Scott, Mrs. Forsyth. Mrs. Lieutenant Graves, Virginia Hallett, Mrs. Jno. W. Murrell. Entertained them several hours; exercised at target, and at 3:40 they returned in the Crescent steamer. Fitting out slowly; our wants can not be promptly supplied; the ordnance department is as yet in embryo, and Lieutenant Eggleston has much difficulty in fitting us out, even indifferently. Our tarry has far exceeded my expectations, and all hands are very restive. Lieutenant Read suffers particularly in this and has become somewhat bilious; every passing squall is to him a fine night for going out, even though it be of fifty minutes duration only.
The gentlemen knew nothing of my orders, nor that having formed plans on consultation with Admiral B., who controls me, I shall abide by them, notwithstanding all their presumed superior judgment.
In the winter season N. E. gales, as a rule, are prevalent. They last several days with a misty sky, and heavy sea upon the bar, both favorable to the Florida's safe exit, and 'tis to the interest of the Confederacy that we get out intact, as my orders are to assail their commerce only, that the mercantile part of the Northern community, who so earnestly sustain the war by liberal contributions, may not fatten on its progress, but feel all its misfortunes.
As the Alabama and Florida are the only two cruisers we have just now, it would be a perfect absurdity to tilt against their more than three hundred, for the Federals would gladly sacrifice fifty armed ships to extinguish the two Confederates.
When a man-of, war is sacrificed 'tis a national calamity, not individually felt, but when merchant ships are destroyed on the high seas individuality suffers, and the shoe then pinches in the right direction. All the merchants of New York and Boston who have by their splendid traders become princes in wealth and puffy with patriotic zeal for the subjugation of the South, will soon cry with a loud voice, peace, peace; we are becoming ruined and the country damned!
I doubt not but that there will be much criticism and condemnation among the restless spirits of the service, who are always finding fault, yet most faulty themselves. 'Tis a curse in military as well as naval life that gossiping is carried to such reprehensible extremes, and as general rule it belongs to weak-minded, shallow-pated persons, living in glass houses, but always throwing stones.
I am impatient for that N. E. gale. Singular, this winter has been almost entirely exempt from bad weather, and my tarry has not been a matter of satisfaction. Everybody but the admiral is impatient; he seems to fancy the retention of the Florida, considering her not badly employed in keeping a large fleet to watch her.
December 30.--I have been summarily detached and Lieutenant Barney ordered to relieve me in command. The Department expresses astonishment at the delay of the Florida, but fails to address the admiral on the subject or seek any explanation. My services (unrequited as they have been) surely entitle me to a slight consideration and call for information. The commanding officer was indirectly hit over my shoulder.
Fortunately, the President was in Mobile, and Admiral Buchanan went to him and represented the gross injustice done me; that the Secretary had failed to consult with him, the commanding and responsible officer, which he should have done, as by so doing he would not have committed so grave an error or gross an act of injustice. The President telegraphed, and the action of the Department was annulled. My command was fully endorsed by Mr. Davis.
End of Journal
Editor: Here is a copy of that order from Pres. Davis:
MOBILE, ALA., December 31, 1862.
Please suspend order in relation to Captain Maffitt. Admiral Buchanan will write to you fully.
To: Hon. S. R. MALLORY,
Secretary of the Navy, Richmond, Va.
Abstract from log of C. S. gunboat Florida, August 17, 1862, to January 15, 1863.
List of officers.--J. N. Maffitt, commanding; J. M. Stribling, lieutenant; O. Bradford, acting lieutenant; R. S. Floyd, acting master; J. Spidell, acting first assistant engineer; J. L. Read, acting assistant paymaster; C. W. Quinn, acting second assistant engineer; Dr. Barrett, acting assistant surgeon; G. D. Bryan, midshipman; G. T Sinclair, midshipman; L. Vogel, captain's clerk; A. Vesterling, paymaster's clerk.
August 17, 1862.--Blossom Channel, Bahama Bank. Parted this morning from the schooner Prince Albert at 8 a.m. and hoisted the Confederate flag. Latitude, 22° 48' N. From meridian to 4 p.m. running along the banks on a due west course.
August 19.--At 1:35 a.m. came to anchor, Cay Piedras light bearing N. W. by W. At 9:25 steamed up Cardenas Channel. At 1 p.m. dispatched the cutter to town with Acting Lieutenant Bradford in it for official calls upon the authorities. Lieutenant Stribling and Mr. Vesterling went to Havana on duty.
September 1.--Arrived at 12 m. in Havana and left at 7:30 for Mobile, where we arrived after having successfully run the gauntlet of three of the enemy's vessels in broad daylight at 5 p.m. on the evening of the 4th.
September 4, 1862, to January 15, 1863.--Remained in Mobile Bay fitting ship.
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