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Chapter 16: career of the Anglo-Confederate pirates.--closing of the Port of Mobile — political affairs.

  • The Confederate Navy Department, 432.
  • -- Anglo -- Confederate pirate -- ships, and their equipment, 433. -- capture of the Florida, 434. -- the Alabama in a French Port, 435. -- battle of the Kearsarge and Alabama, off Cherbourg. 436. -- destruction of the Alabama, 437. -- cruise of the Shenandoah, 438. -- the Port of Mobile to be closed, 439. -- the defenses of Mobile, 440. -- naval battle in Mobile Bay, 441. -- destruction of the Confederate squadron. 442. -- capture of Forts Gaines and Morgan, 443. -- the political situation, 444. -- National conventions, 445. -- Peace negotiations, 446. -- Opposition or Democratic Convention, at Chicago, 447. -- a secret revolutionary conspiracy, 448. -- the Chicago platform, 449. -- reception of the Chicago platform by the citizens, 450. -- result of the Presidential election, 451. -- the situation in the autumn of 1864, 452. -- the nation declares for Justice, 453. -- the Confederates defiant, 454. -- proposition to arm the slaves, 455.

Let us now turn a moment, from the consideration of the struggle on the land, to that of some events of the war on the ocean, carried on by pirate ships, and also some important naval events near Mobile.

We have noticed the organization of a so-called Navy Department by the Conspirators, at Montgomery, early in 1861, the measures taken for providing a naval force, and the commissioning of pirates to prey upon the National property on the ocean.1 Also the doings of some of these cruisers in the earlier part of the war,2 and the aid given to the Conspirators by British ship-builders, within the tacit consent of their Government, in constructing powerful sea-going pirate ships for the Confederate service.3 The latter, as we have observed, were fitted out by British hands, and their commanders bore commissions from the Confederate Government so-called.4

These ships were provided with the best armament known to the British marine — Armstrong, Whitworth, Blakely, and other rifled cannon of heaviest weight — which were also liberally furnished to the Confederates for land service, from British arsenals by the swift blockade-runners. By men of the same nation, every other material for destructive use by the pirate

Armstrong gun.5

ships, was supplied, even to the most approved fire-balls for burning merchant vessels. These outrages [433] against a people with whom the British Government was at peace and entertaining the most amicable commercial relations, were for a long time. as we have observed,6 practically countenanced by that Government, which failed to act upon the earnest remonstrances of the American minister in London.

The most formidable of these piratical vessels fitted out in Great Britain and afloat in 1864, were the Alabama and Florida, already noticed, commanded respectively by Captains Semmes and Maffit.7 The former was in command of the Sumter, whose career suddenly ended early in 1862.8 The latter, as we have observed, went out from Mobile in the Oreto, afterward


named Florida, to play the pirate by plundering on the high seas, without authority. Four other vessels were added by British shipmasters in 1864, named, respectively, Georgia, Tallahassee, Olustee, and Chickamauga, whose ravages greatly swelled the sum total of damages already inflicted upon American commerce by Anglo-Confederate marauders.10 they sailed under British colors until a prize was secured, when they hoisted the Confederate flag. They were everywhere greeted with the greatest enthusiasm in British ports, and their officers were honored with receptions and dinners by British officials and British subjects; and wherever these corsairs appeared, whether in “proper person” on the water, or in discussions in the British Parliament, or among the ruling classes of great Britain, they were ever the occasion for an exhibition of the practical hollowness of that neutrality proclaimed in good faith by the Queen at the beginning of the Rebellion.

the Florida hovered most of the time off the American coast, while the Alabama was seen in European and more distant waters. The former was closely watched by Government vessels, especially when the pirate was cruising among the West India Islands,11 but she managed to elude them. [434] she would sometimes skim swiftly along the coast of the United States, leaving a track of desolation in her course, and then shoot off to some distant waters.12 on one of these occasions, while in command of Captain Morris, she went down the Brazilian coast, destroyed the barque Mondamon, off the Port of Bahia, and then ran into that harbor. There Morris saw with alarm the United States steamer Wachusett, Captain Collins. As a precaution, he anchored the Florida in the midst of the Brazilian fleet, and under the guns of the most powerful fort guarding the town. The American Consul, T. F. Wilson, protested against the hospitality thus given to the pirate by the Brazilian authorities, to which no attention was paid.

Captain Collins determined that the Florida should never put to sea again. He tried to draw her into battle outside of the harbor, but did not succeed; and then, in disregard of the rights of the Brazilians in their own waters, he ran down

Oct. 7, 1864.
upon the Florida with a full head of steam, with the intention of crushing and sinking her. He failed. She was damaged, but not crippled. There was a little musket firing on both sides, without injury, when Collins demanded the surrender of the Florida. her commander and half his crew were ashore, and the Lieutenant in charge, having no choice, complied. The pirate ship was instantly boarded, and lashed to the Wachusett, when the latter put to sea under a full head of steam, towing her prize, unmindful of a challenge by the Brazilian fleet, and unharmed by shots from the Bahian fort. Captor and prize soon appeared in Hampton Roads; and not long afterward the Florida was sunk while lying off Newport-Newce.

the capture of the Florida produced much excitement. It was brought to the notice of the Government of the United States by the Brazilian minister at Washington in the form of a protest, with the assumption that the rebels were lawful belligerents, and that the Florida was one of their vessels of war. The Government disavowed the act of its agents in the Port of Bahia as a violation of neutrality laws and the rights of Brazil, and Consul Wilson, known to have been implicated in the capture, was recalled, and Captain Collins was suspended and ordered before a court-martial. At the same time, the assumption of the Brazilian Government was disallowed, and [435] the hospitality it had afforded to the Florida at Bahia, was denounced as an “act of intervention in derogation of the law of nations, and unfriendly and wrongful, as it was manifestly injurious to the United States.” 13

John A. Winslow.

long before the

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