Tag Archives: Neutrality

The Capture of the C.S.S. Florida

October 7, 1864 – The Federal steam sloop U.S.S. Wachusett captured the famed Confederate commerce raider C.S.S. Florida under dubious circumstances that threatened diplomatic relations with Brazil.

C.S.S. Florida | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

The Wachusett arrived at Bahia harbor in Brazil on the 2nd to investigate reports that the Florida was nearby. In her career, the Florida had captured 36 Federal prizes totaling over $4 million in shipping, and had once caused panic by threatening New York Harbor. Commander Napoleon Collins led the Wachusett, the sister ship of the U.S.S. Kearsarge, and he had been ordered to do to the Florida what the Kearsarge had done to the C.S.S. Alabama four months before: capture or destroy her.

Two nights later, the Florida anchored in All Saints Bay in Bahia, unaware that the Wachusett had anchored nearby. The Florida’s commander, Lieutenant Charles M. Morris, assumed his ship was safe under international law since Brazil had proclaimed neutrality in the conflict. The U.S. consul, Thomas Wilson, offered peaceful assurances to Brazilian officials, but Collins believed the Florida had previously violated the neutrality by bringing prizes into Brazilian ports. He therefore resolved to confront the Confederate ship.

Through Wilson, Collins sent an invitation to Morris to duel outside the three-mile international limit. Morris declined to even receive the message because it had been addressed to “the sloop Florida,” without acknowledging that she belonged to a nation. Both Collins and Morris pledged not to fight in the neutral area, with Collins removing the shot from his cannon in accordance with international law.

Morris and many of his crew came ashore on the night of the 6th to attend an opera and sleep in a hotel. Around 3 a.m., Collins quietly slipped his cables, backed up, eluded a Brazilian gunboat, then thrust full speed ahead and rammed the Florida in her starboard quarter. The skeleton crew aboard the Florida began firing small arms at the Wachusett, prompting Collins to claim that the Florida had “fired first.”

Though just a glancing blow, the collision crushed the Florida’s bulwarks and snapped the mizzenmast. Collins trained his cannon on the disabled ship and demanded surrender, then he ordered his men to board the Florida and seize the crew. The Wachusett pulled the Florida out of the harbor, bound for Hampton Roads, Virginia. Lieutenant Morris arrived from his hotel to see his ship being towed away.

Florida towed by Wachusett | Image Credit: Harper’s Weekly, Vol. VIII, No. 413, 26 Nov 1864

Brazilian and European officials vehemently protested this violation of international law, as the Florida’s seizure took place in a neutral port, after U.S. assurances that there would be no incident. Diplomatic tensions simmered through this month and into November.

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Sources
Delaney, Norman C., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 793; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 469-71; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), Locations 12303-353; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 505-07; Jones, Virgil Carrington (Pat), Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 264; Linedecker, Clifford L. (ed.), The Civil War A to Z (Ballantine Books, 2002), p. 263; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 579-80; McPherson, James M., War on the Waters: The Union and Confederate Navies, 1861-1865 (Littlefield History of the Civil War Era, The University of North Carolina Press, Kindle Edition, 2012), p. 205-06; Time-Life Editors, The Blockade: Runners and Raiders (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 150-51

Federals Threaten Kentucky’s Neutrality

August 19, 1861 – President Abraham Lincoln received a letter from Kentucky Governor Beriah Magoffin urging the removal of Federal troops from the state to in an effort to maintain neutrality in the conflict.

Kentucky State Flag | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

Kentucky State Flag | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

The Federal military presence in Kentucky continued to threaten that state’s tenuous neutrality. It also helped Unionists get elected to the Kentucky legislature, as Unionists won majorities in the August 5 elections of 76-24 in the House of Representatives and 27-11 in the Senate. This was a greater Unionist victory than the June 20 election. Prior to this contest, Lincoln had resisted banning trade with the Confederacy through Kentucky in fear of forcing that state to go Confederate. But this election emboldened Lincoln to issue a proclamation banning trade with all “rebellious” states.

Meanwhile, Unionists established Camp “Dick Robinson” near Lexington. The camp attracted recruits from Ohio, as well as mountaineers from eastern Kentucky and Tennessee. Although they declared that they were simply “Home Guards” organizing only for defense, secessionists and neutralists argued that the camp blatantly violated Kentucky’s neutrality.

Soon afterward Brigadier General Robert Anderson, the Federal commander at Fort Sumter who had been in command of Federals in Kentucky, was given command of the Department of the Cumberland. This encompassed not only Kentucky but also Tennessee, except for the part of Kentucky bordering Cincinnati belonging to the Department of the Ohio and a part of western Tennessee along the Mississippi River belonging to the Department of the West.

As a native Kentuckian, Anderson set up headquarters in Cincinnati to avoid embarrassing his “neutral” home state. The growing tensions between the Unionists and the neutralists and secessionists ultimately afflicted Anderson, already in frail health, with nervous exhaustion.

To stop any further Federal encroachment on Kentucky neutrality, two commissioners delivered a letter from Governor Magoffin to President Lincoln on the 19th. Magoffin wrote:

“From the commencement of the unhappy hostilities now pending in this country, the people of Kentucky have indicated an earnest desire and purpose, as far as lay in their power, while maintaining their original political status, to do nothing by which to involve themselves in the war. Up to this time they have succeeded in securing to themselves and to the State peace and tranquillity as the fruits of the policy they adopted. My single object now is to promote the continuance of these blessings to this State…

“Now, therefore, as Governor of the State of Kentucky, and in the name of the people I have the honor to represent, and with the single and earnest desire to avert from their peaceful homes the horrors of war, I urge the removal from the limits of Kentucky of the military force now organized and in camp within the State. If such action as is here urged be promptly taken, I firmly believe the peace of the people of Kentucky will be preserved, and the horrors of a bloody war will be averted from a people now peaceful and tranquil.”

Lincoln responded five days later:

“I may not possess full and precisely accurate knowledge upon this subject; but I believe it is true that there is a military force in camp within Kentucky, acting by authority of the United States, which force is not very large, and is not now being augmented… In all I have done in the premises, I have acted upon the urgent solicitation of many Kentuckians, and in accordance with what I believed, and still believe, to be the wish of a majority of all the Union-loving people of Kentucky…”

Lincoln asserted that “While I have conversed on this subject with many eminent men of Kentucky, including a large majority of her Members of Congress, I do not remember that any one of them, or any other person, except your Excellency and the bearers of your Excellency’s letter, has urged me to remove the military force from Kentucky, or to disband it.” Lincoln went on:

“Taking all the means within my reach to form a judgment, I do not believe it is the popular wish of Kentucky that this force shall be removed beyond her limits; and, with this impression, I must respectfully decline to so remove it. I most cordially sympathize with your Excellency in the wish to preserve the peace of my own native State, Kentucky. It is with regret I search for, and can not find, in your not very short letter, any declaration or intimation that you entertain any desire for the preservation of the Federal Union.”

That same day, George W. Johnson delivered a letter from Magoffin to President Jefferson Davis:

“Recently a military force has been enlisted and quartered by the United States authorities within this State… Although I have no reason to presume that the Government of the Confederate States contemplate or have ever proposed any violation of the neutral attitude thus assumed by Kentucky, there seems to be some uneasiness felt among the people of some portion of the State, occasioned by the collection of bodies of troops along their southern frontier. In order to quiet this apprehension, and to secure to the people their cherished object of peace, this communication is to present these facts and elicit an authoritative assurance that the Government of the Confederate States will continue to respect and observe the position indicated as assumed by Kentucky.”

Davis responded to Magoffin on the 28th:

“In reply to this request, I lose no time in assuring you that the Government of the Confederate States neither desires nor intends to disturb the neutrality of Kentucky… The Government of the Confederate States has not only respected most scrupulously the neutrality of Kentucky, but has continued to maintain the friendly relations of trade and intercourse which it has suspended with the United States generally.

“In view of the history of the past, it can scarcely be necessary to assure your Excellency that the Government of the Confederate States will continue to respect the neutrality of Kentucky so long as her people will maintain it themselves. But neutrality, to be entitled to respect, must be strictly maintained between both parties; or, if the door be opened on the one side for the aggressions of one of the belligerent parties upon the other, it ought not to be shut to the assailed when they seek to enter it for purposes of self-defense. I do not, however, for a moment believe that your gallant State will suffer its soil to be used for the purpose of giving an advantage to those who violate its neutrality and disregard its rights, over others who respect both.”

It would be only a matter of time before the two warring factions brought their conflict onto Kentucky soil. A prelude to that clash came on August 22, when U.S.S. Lexington, a Federal side-wheeled steamboat-turned-timberclad gunboat, captured the Confederate steamer W.B. Terry at Paducah. Confederates fled aboard the steamer Samuel Orr up the Tennessee River.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government (Kindle Edition 2008, 1889), Loc 6790-873; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 64, 67-68, 70; Faust, Patricia L., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 397-98; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 54, 56, 58; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 105-06, 109, 111; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 294-95; Nevin, David, The Road to Shiloh: Early Battles in the West (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 70-71; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 199; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 196; White, Howard Ray, Bloodstains, An Epic History of the Politics that Produced and Sustained the American Civil War and the Political Reconstruction that Followed (Southernbooks, Kindle Edition, 2012), Q361