CSS Florida (blockade runner)

CSS Florida (blockade runner)

:"For other ships named "Florida", see ""CSS "Florida"."

The Confederate blockade runner CSS "Florida", built at Greenpoint, New York in 1859, was thrice considered for a gunboat before she became one. Contrary to previous interpretation of the official records, closer comparison of entries reveals that she did not serve the Mississippi River Defense Fleet as originally intended but became a Government-owned blockade runner; most authors have confused her with the Mobilian CSS "Florida" who did not receive her name CSS "Selma" until July 1862. CSS "Florida" of New Orleans was one of 14 steamers of Charles Morgan's Southern Steamship Co. which Major General Mansfield Lovell "impressed for public service" at New Orleans, January 15, 1862, acting on Confederate Secretary of War Judah P. Benjamin's orders.

The colorful Lieutenant Beverly Kennon, CSN, had sought "Florida"'s command but had to be content with CSS "Governor Moore". He nostalgically described "Florida" to a court of inquiry as "a very fast and a very handsome vessel indeed... A direct-acting screw of about 100 horsepower [75 kW] …about the same size in all respects as the U.S. steam sloop "Pocahontas"."

Of the several ships of the same name, she apparently is the "Florida" who arrived at Havana, Cuba on March 23, 1862 with 1,000 bales of cotton. Attempting to repeat her success, she had loaded 211 bales in St. Joseph Bay near Pensacola, Florida when captured by Acting Master Elnathan Lewis, USN, with armed boats from the bark USS "Pursuit" on April 6.The boarders had just captured a sloop, "Lafayette", at St. Andrew's, Florida, 20 miles below, and the latter's Captain Harrison volunteered to pilot Lewis' party on up to capture "Florida". Surprised at 4 o'clock Sunday morning, "Florida"'s crew were unable to fire their ship.

It later appeared that the pilot, chief mate, first and second engineers were Union sympathizers. Mr. Lewis, after running "Florida" aground twice and jettisoning 30 bales of cargo, found "it was impossible to bring her out without the assistance of the engineers, pilot, and mate; so rather than burn her he considered it prudent to bargain with them, and gave his word that they would receive $500.00 each. They were faithful."

In the 30 mile (50 km) passage to the bar, "Florida" and "Lafayette" were almost recaptured by the Confederates on April 8 after Captain R. L. Smith, CSA, and his company of dragoons had galloped 24 hours from Marianna, Florida to intercept them off St. Andrew's. A ship's boat was ambushed with four casualties, one dead, but the prizes continued on to Key West. There, on April 19, 1862, Commodore William McKean reporting to United States Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles confirmed that "Florida" had never been converted: "I have examined her, and find that her upper deck is too light to carry guns of any weight. I have not the means to strengthen her sufficiently, or I should retain and convert her into a gunboat." Despite this rejection, the U.S. Navy bought "Florida" from the Philadelphia prize court on September 20, 1862, changed her name to USS "Hendrick Hudson" and placed 4, later 5, guns on board.



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