Wednesday, November 6, 2013

CSS Florida artifacts on display in Virginia

CSS Florida at Brest, France
Courtesy Naval Historical Center
Rare artifacts from the famed Confederate warship CSS Florida can be seen as part of an exhibit at the Hampton Roads Naval Museum in Norfolk, Virginia.

An official museum of the United States Navy, the museum focuses on the 237 year naval history of the Hampton Roads region of Virginia. The artifacts from the Florida are there because she went down at Hampton Roads after being captured by the U.S. Navy in 1864.

A sampling of the exhibit can be seen here:  http://hamptonroadsnavalmuseum.blogspot.com/2013/09/a-few-items-from-css-florida.html.

A screw-propelled steam cruiser of roughly 700 tons, the Florida was built in Great Britain under the name Oreto. The Confederacy purchased her under a secret agreement and the Oreto steamed away from England in March 1862 disguised as a merchant ship. Once she reached the Bahamas, the vessel was refurbished as a warship and in August was commissioned the CSS Florida.

CSS Florida running the blockade into Mobile Bay
Courtesy Naval Historical Center
Commanded by Lt. John N. Maffitt, she headed for Cuba and then ran the Union blockade into Mobile, Alabama, on September 4, 1862 to complete her outfitting.  With Maffitt still in command, she ran back out through the blockade on January 16, 1863.

Over the next eight months, the cruiser captured 22 prizes and outran every attempt by the Union Navy to catch her. The Florida wound up in Brest, France, where she remained until February 1864 when she again put to sea, this time under the command of Lt. Charles Morris. She took another 11 prizes before putting into the port of Bahia in Brazil.

There, in flagrant violation of Brazilian neutrality, the USS Wachusett attacked the Florida and towed her to sea. Brazil protested this illegal act in one of its harbors and U.S. courts agreed, ordering that the ship be returned to that country.

Before the court order could be carried out, however, the Florida was sent to the bottom in an "accidental" sinking that many historians think was carried out at either the suggestion or order of U.S. Admiral David Dixon Porter.

The Hampton Roads Naval Museum is open each day but Monday, although hours vary. To learn more, please visit http://www.history.navy.mil/museums/hrnm/index.html.



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