Commander Collins Dastardly, Cowardly Act
The Secretary of State mentioned below was also responsible for the "diplomatic insincerity and Machiavellian characteristics" which precipitated the war against the American South at Fort Sumter. Lincoln was his employer and ultimately responsible for his actions. For more on famed blockade runner Captain John Newland Maffitt, see www.cfhi.net and www.csnavy.org.
Bernhard Thuersam, Executive Director
Cape Fear Historical Institute
Post Office Box 328
Wilmington, NC 28402
Commander Collins Dastardly, Cowardly Act:
"The most valuable prize that Captain (John Newland) Maffitt took was, on February 12, 1863 (Lincoln’s Birthday), when the Confederate cruiser sighted a splendid three-masted Yankee Clipper, the "Jacob Bell" of New York. She was in the China trade and was a 1300-ton vessel owned by the house of A.A. Low of New York, the most radical abolitionist of that city. This vessel carried a cargo of choice tea, camphor and general cargo valued at two million dollars. Also on board were 43 persons including several ladies. The gallant Captain Maffitt gave his cabin to these females, whom didn’t bother to even thank him. This rude conduct prompted Maffitt to remark, "Gratitude is a stranger to their abolition hearts."
By July (of 1863), the Florida had burned, or taken as prizes, twenty-one vessels, most of them Yankee Clippers worth $5,854,000. The four Confederate cruisers, the Alabama, the Florida, the Clarence, and the Tacony, had by this time destroyed 72 Northern vessels valued at over fifteen million dollars, and the northern press were screaming for the blood of the Confederate captains. The Radical Republican government in the meantime confiscated (Maffitt’s) Washington home valued at $75,000.
As for the Florida—on October 7, 1864 the Federal warship Wachusett, commanded by Napoleon Collins, entered the port of Bahia, Brazil, a neutral country, and shortly afterward the Florida also entered this port. The American Consul Wilson gave his word of honor that the Florida would not be molested by the Wachusett while she was in port. From old reports we find that at dawn on the following day Captain Collins in a dastardly, cowardly act, slipped his cables and at 3:30AM, rammed the Florida on her starboard as she lay at anchor. This terrific blow destroyed the mizzen mast and the main yard of the Florida and cut down her bulwarks. The Federal warship then backed off and delivered a broadside into the helpless Florida. This treacherous act was unopposed as the 58 seamen and 12 officers were ashore, leaving only a watch of a few men on the Florida.
The craven Collins then attached a line to the Florida and towed her…to Hampton Roads, Virginia, then in Federal hands. President Lincoln was mortified when all Europe denounced this breach of national neutrality. But characteristic of the type of men in charge of the US government—this underhanded plot was not exposed until eight years later. As far as the general public knew, the "captured rebel raider" was towed to Newport News, Virginia and anchored. One day she was there afloat—the next day she was gone—sunk in nine fathoms.
In a personal interview between Captain Maffitt and Admiral David D. Porter in 1872, Porter admitted his part in the plot. He brought out that William H. Seward, Secretary of State for the Radical Administration, "with his usual diplomatic insincerity and Machiavellian characteristics, prevaricated while he plotted with Admiral Porter as to the best way of disposing with the Florida…." Porter promised it would be done.
Commander Collins of the Wachusetts was condemned by all the civilized nations of the world for his cowardly act of attacking a defenseless vessel. It was also the general opinion that Collins was afraid to meet the Florida in a fair sea fight, and so resorted to an act of treachery. To save face, the Radical Republican government dismissed Collins in April of 1865—but he was later reinstated."
(Land of the Golden River, Lewis Philip Hall, Hall Enterprises, 1980, pp. 106-108)