An English visit to the Florida.
A correspondent of the London Times
writes a highly interesting account of a visit to the C. S. steamer Florida
, now lying at Brest, France
We make some extracts from the letter which will be found to repay perusal:
I had no difficulty in making out this now celebrated vessel, as she lay at anchor among some of the giants of the French
navy — a long, low, black, rakish looking craft, not over smart in appearance, yet useful every inch of her — a pigmy among these monsters, and yet a formidable pigmy, even to the unpracticed eye, the palmetto flag flying proudly from her mizen.
We happened to have a French Vice Admiral
, a Russian Vice Admiral
, and a Senator of the Empire
on board, and you may imagine there was an infinity of gossip, but no reliable information.
When we landed at the Cale in the harbor the crowd which usually assembles to welcome or pester new comers was full of "La Floride
" and her doings. "Ellea
" cried an enthusiastic commissionaire
to me, "elle a, Monsieur, je vous assure sur ma parole d'honneur, pour deux millions de lieres sterling a bord, tout en or, je vous assure.
" cried a smart little mousse
from the Turenne.
I could not help agreeing with the mousse
that the sum named was certainly a great deal.
That evening, (aided by my fellow traveler, Mr. Henry Tupper
, Vice Consul
, and one of the jurats of that Island,) I found some of the officers of the Florida
at the Hotel
de Nantes (rue d'aiguillon.) Lieut. Lingard Hoole
(a young man, who apparently did not number more than three and twenty years,) received us courteously, and gave us his card to assure us admission on board.
He stated, however, that his superior officer, Capt. Maffit
, was generally to be found on board his vessel, and would be glad to see us. The frankness, courtesy, and total absence of boasting, manifested by this young officer impressed us most favorably.
All next day it blew a gale of wind in the Rade, and we could not find a boat to venture out. To-day, however, the weather was most propitious, and early morning found us alongside of the Florida
We sent our cards to Capt. Maffit
, and were immediately admitted on board, the Captain
himself coming to the top of the companion to receive us. Directly Capt. Maffit
understood that we were British subjects he invited us below into his little cabin, and when I told him that there were many people in England
who regarded his career with great interest he entered very freely into a recital of his adventures.
Of the Captain
himself I may say that he is a slight, middle-sized, well knit man, of about 42, a merry looking man, with a ready, determined air, full of life and business — apparently the sort of man who is equally ready for a fight or a jollification, and whose preference for the latter would by no means interfere with his creditable conduct of the former.
His plainly-furnished little stateroom looked as business like as a merchant's office.
The round table in the centre was strewn with books and innumerable manuscripts, and on the shelves were formidable looking rows of account books, charts, &c. I may observe of the cabin, as of every part of the Florida
, that none of it appears to have been built for ornament — all for use. "You see," said the Captain
, pointing to the heaps of papers, letters on files, account books,&c, which literally littered the table, "you see I've no sinecure of it. Since my paymaster died I've had to be my own paymaster.
There's a young man, named Davis
, (no relation to our President
,) who does paymaster's duty; but he's not yet quite up to the work."
forthwith began an animated recital of his careeer and adventures.
He is forty-two years old, and is the oldest officer on board.
All the officers were born in the Confederate States
, and most of them were officers in the United States Navy before the outbreak of the war. The oldest of the officers is not more than twenty-three.
The men are more mixed.
There are one hundred able seamen on board the Florida
, and about thirteen officers.
Four fine fellows are from the neighborhood of Brest
says that he has hardly ever taken a prize but what some of the crew of the prize have come forward to say, "Should like to serve with you, sir." Generally speaking, he has to refuse; but if he sees a very likely fellow he takes him on.
was a Lieutenant of the United States Navy before the outbreak, and in that capacity distinguished himself greatly.
In 1858 he commanded the brig Dolphin
, when he captured the slaver Echo
with 400 slaves on board, and took her into Charleston
For this feat his health was drunk at a public dinner at Liverpool
; and it is a curious fact, for those who maintain that the civil war in America
is founded upon the slave question, that the commander of this important Confederate cruiser should be the very man who has distinguished himself actively against the slave trade.
In 1859 Captain Maffit
commanded the United States
, and captured four slavers.
had a great deal to say about his successful feat at Mobile
In his opinion it has been the greatest naval feat of modern times.
He dwelt long and warmly upon the incidents of the affair, and pointed proudly to the marks of shrapnel, which are numerous enough, upon the masts and smokestacks.
was struck with three heavy shots on that occasion, and one can easily perceive in the side of the ship where the mischief caused by the 11 inch shell has been repaired.
made no endeavor to reply to the fire which she received, the sea running too high to admit of steady aim, and her small crew being too much occupied in the management of the ship.
showed us a water color sketch (very well drawn by one of the midshipmen) of the Florida
running the blockade.
It would not have disgraced a professional artist.
The only broadside which the Florida
has fired in anger was against the Ericsson
, an armed merchantman, which she encountered some forty miles from New York.
, a very large vessel, did not reply, but made the best of her way off, and succeeded in escaping.
When they ventured within forty miles of New York they did not know that the arrival of the Tacony
(one of their "outfits,") had put the New Yorkers on their guard, and they soon found that there were about seventy armed vessels out searching for them, and so were glad to retreat. "We never seek a fight," said Capt. Maffitt
, "and we don't avoid one.
You see, we've only two vessels against 1500, so we should stand a poor chance.
Our object is merely to destroy their commerce, so as to bring about a peace.
We have taken altogether seventy-two prizes, and estimate the value at $15,000,000. The Jacob Bell
alone was worth $2,100,000."
exhibited a book in which all the prizes were regularly entered and all particulars relating thereto.
He explained that their mode of procedure was to burn and destroy the property of the Northern States
wherever they found it. I asked if they took gold and precious articles, and the reply was, "Pretty quick, when we get them." The papers of the burned prizes are all kept and a valuation is made before the destruction of the vessels, in the expectation that when peace is restored the Confederate Government will make an appropriation of money equivalent to the claims of the captors.
In consequence of this arrangement there is very little actual treasure on board the Florida
, and the officers and crew are working mainly on the faith of the future independence and solvency of the Confederacy
. "Anyway," said Capt. Maffit
, "we have cost the Government
very little, for we've lived on the enemy.
Oh, yes, we've served them out beautifully."
In reply to some questions as to the method of capture the captain said, "We only make war with the United States Government, and we respect little property.--We treat prisoners of war with the greatest respect.
Most of those whom we have captured have spoken well of us. To be sure we have met with some ungrateful rascals, but you meet with these all the world over.
The last prize we took was the Anglo Saxon
, which we took in the English Channel
, about sixty miles from Cork.
She had coal on board, and we burnt her. The pilot was a saucy fellow, and maintained that he was on his piloting ground.
He insisted on being landed in an English port, but we could not do that.
I brought him and twenty-four men here to Brest
, and sent them to the English Consul
If the pilot has any just claim upon us it will be settled by the Confederate Government.
That's not my business.
My business is to take care of the ship."
When the Florida
came into Brest
she had been at sea for eight months without spending more than four entire days in port.
Before entering the port of Brest
she had not been more than twenty-four hours in any one port, although she visited Nassau
, and Sterra (Brazil
.)--"Yes, indeed, sir," said the Captain
, "two hundred and forty five days upon solid junk, without repairs or provisions." During all this time they had only lost fifteen men, including those who were killed and wounded at Mobile
, the paymaster (who died of consumption) and one officer (who was accidentally drowned.) They have come into Brest
to repair the engines, which are some what out of order, the shaft being quite out of line.
has given orders that the Florida
is to be admitted into the port for all necessary repairs, and is to be supplied with everything she may require except munitions of war.
In the course of conversation Capt. Maffit
gave me an account of what he called "the outfits" of the Florida
These have been three in number.
was captured off Pernambuco
on the 5th of May, and Lt. Reed
was put on board with twenty men and one gun. These were afterwards changed to the Tacony
, a better vessel, which was captured shortly after, and (to borrow Captain Maffit
's expression) "she captured right and left." Finally, she took the revenue cutter off Port and harbor.
The other "fit out"was the Lapwing
, on board of which Lieut. Avrett
was put to cruise on the Equator.
He made several captures and has now returned to his ship.
showed us over his ship, which was in pretty good order, considering the eight months almost uninterrupted cruise, and he presented us both with a photographic picture of her which was taken at Bermuda
mounts only eight guns--six forty-eight pounders of the Blakeley
pattern, made at Low Moor
, and stern and bow chasers.
On taking our seats I asked Captain Maffit
whether he expected to be interrupted on leaving Brest
, pointing at the same time to the Goulet — the narrow passage which affords the only ingress and egress to and from the Rade. "Well," replied he, "I expect there will be seven or eight of them out there before long; but I'm not afraid.
I've run eight blockades already, and it'll go hard, but I'll run the ninth."