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Report of the Committee on Foreign Relations
on the Resolution of the Senate Asking for the Facts
in Relation to the Lawless Seizure and Capture of the
Confederate Steamer Florida in the Bay of Bahia, Brazil,
and What Action Should be Taken by the Government to
Redress the Outrage:

Electronic Edition.

Confederate States of America. Congress.
Senate. Committee on Foreign Relations

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Call number 238 Conf. 1864 (Rare Book Collection, UNC-CH)

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Library of Congress Subject Headings, 21st edition, 1998

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SENATE, November 30, 1864.--Submitted, and ordered to be printed.

[By Mr. ORR.]


On the resolution of the Senate asking for the facts in relation to the lawless
seizure and capture of the Confederate steamer Florida in the Bay of
Bahia, Brazil, and what action should be taken by the Government to
redress the outrage.

        The Committee on Foreign Relations, to whom was referred a resolution of the Senate requesting them to report the facts, so far as they can be obtained, relative to the lawless seizure and capture of the Confederate steamer Florida, in the Bay of Bahia, Brazil, and what action should be taken by this Government to redress the outrage, respectfully report that no official report has yet been received by the Navy Department of the seizure and capture of the Florida, in the Bay of Bahia, by the United States gun-boat Wachusett. A letter has been published in the London Index, by Lieut. Commanding Morris, of the Florida, detailing the facts of the capture of that vessel, which the committee doubt not represent truly the lawless transaction. The report is unofficial, yet it is entitled to the full credence of this Government, and is as follows:

"BAHIA, October 13, 1864.

        "SIR: It is with great pain that I have to report the seizure of the Confederate States steamer Florida, lately under my command.

        "I arrived at this port on the 4th instant, at nine, P. M., to procure coal and provisions, and also to get some slight repairs after a cruise of sixty-one days. Just after anchoring, a boat passing around us asked the name of our vessel, and, upon receiving our reply, stated that the boat was from her Britannic Majesty's steamer Curlew. Next

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morning I found that the United States steamer Wachusett, was at anchor near us, but no English steamer, so I at once concluded that the boat which had hailed us the evening before was from the Wachusett.

        "We were visited on the morning of the 5th, by a Brazilian officer, to whom I stated my wants, and was informed by him that he would report the same to the President, and that until his answer was received we could hold no communication with the shore. At noon, I received a communication (which was left on board the Florida) from the President, stating that he was ready to receive me. At our interview he informed me that forty-eight hours would be allowed me to fit and repair, but that should his chief engineer, whom he would send on board to examine the machinery, deem the time too short, he would grant the necessary extension. He was most urgent in his request that I should strictly observe the laws of neutrality, at the same time stating to me that he had received the most solemn assurances from the United States Consul that the United States steamer would do nothing in port contrary to the laws of nations and of Brazil; and that he desired the same from me, which I unhesitatingly gave. The Brazilian admiral, who was present at the interview, suggested that I had better move my vessel in between his ship and the shore, as our proximity to the Wachusett might cause some difficulty. My assurances to the President seem to set his mind at rest on the score of any collision between the two vessels, and, upon leaving him, I immediately repaired on board and moved the Florida close in shore to the position suggested by the admiral. I found the Brazilian engineer on board, and was informed by him that it would require four days to repair the pipe of the condenser. Feeling now no apprehension of any difficulty occurring while in port, and wishing to gratify the crew with a short liberty, not only on the score of good conduct, but also of health, I determined to permit one watch at a time to go ashore for twelve hours, and sent the port-watch off that afternoon. About half-past seven, P. M., a boat came alongside, stating that she was from the United States steamer Wachusett with the United States Consul, who had an official communication for the commander of the Florida. The letter, with the card of the consul, was handed to First Lieutenant Porter; who, after examining it, and finding it directed to Captain Morris, "Sloop Florida," returned it unopened to the consul, stating that it was improperly addressed; that the vessel was the Confederate States steamer Florida, and that when the letter was so directed it would be received. The next day, (6th,) a Mr. de Vidiky came on board, having a letter from the United States Consul, enclosing one for me. He requested me, before receiving my letter, to permit him to read to me the one sent to him. It was a request of Mr. de Vidiky to carry a challenge to the commander of the Florida, and in case of its acceptance to offer his (the consul's) influence in having the repairs of the Florida speedily finished. I informed Mr. de Vidiky that I had heard quite enough, and, finding the letter to me still improperly addressed, declined receiving it; but at the same time said to him that I had come to Bahia for a special purpose, which

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being accomplished, I should leave; that I would neither seek nor avoid a contest with the Wachusett, but should I encounter her outside of Brazilian waters, would use my utmost endeavors to destroy her. That afternoon, the port-watch having returned, I sent the starboard watch (the other half of the crew) ashore on liberty, going also myself in company with several of the officers. From our nearness to the Wachusett, persons on board of that vessel could well see these men leave the ship. At half-past three, A. M., I was awakened by the proprietor of the hotel at which I was staying, and told that there was some trouble on board the Florida, as he had heard firing and cheering in the direction of the vessel, but on account of the darkness was unable to discern anything. I immediately hastened to the landing, and was informed by a Brazilian officer that the United States steamer Wachusett had run into and seized the Florida, and was then towing her out of the harbor. I hurried off to the admiral's vessel, and was told by him that he was at once going in pursuit, which he did as soon as steam was raised on board a small steamer belonging to the fleet. The admiral's ship, being a sailing vessel, sloop-of-war, was taken in tow by the steamer, and went out of the harbor. He returned in the afternoon, with all his vessels, having been unable to overtake the Wachusett. Upon mustering the officers and crew left on shore, I found there were four officers, viz: Lieutenant Barron, Paymaster Taylor, Midshipman Dyke and Master's-mate King, and seventy-one men, of whom six had escaped by swimming from the Florida after her seizure. Of the actual occurrences and loss of life on board the Florida, I have been able to find out very little. The substance of what I have gathered from the six men who escaped, is as follows: That at a quarter after three, A.M., on October 7th, Master T. T. Hunter, Jr., being in charge of the deck, the Wachusett left her anchorage, and taking advantage of the darkness, steamed for the Florida from whom she was not seen until close aboard; that she was hailed by Mr. Hunter, who, receiving no answer, called 'all hands' to quarters. Before the officers and crew were all on deck, the Wachusett struck the Florida on her starboard quarter, cutting the rail down to the deck and carrying away her mizenmast, at the same time pouring a volley of musketry and a charge of canister from her forecastle pivot gun upon our decks. The Wachusett then backed off, and demanded our surrender, to which demand Lieutenant Porter declined to accede. The enemy then fired again and again into us, which was returned by the officers and crew of the Florida. Another demand was then made for our surrender, and Lieutenant Porter answered, "I will surrender conditionally." The enemy then stopped firing, and the commander called for Captain Morris to come on board; Lieutenant Porter answered that Captain Morris was on shore, and that he, a commanding officer, would come on board as soon as he could get a boat ready. The enemy then sent a number of armed boats to take possession of the Florida. As soon as Lieutenant Porter was heard to surrender, fifteen of our crew jumped overboard, to escape capture, of whom only six succeeded, the remaining nine having been shot in the water by the men on the forecastle

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and in the boats of the Wachusett. Mr. Hunter was wounded and a number of men killed. The enemy made fast a hawser to the foremast of the Florida, and, after slipping her cable, towed her out to sea.

        "I called in person on the President as soon as possible, but could get no further information from him. On the 8th, I sent a protest to the President, of which I send you a copy, [marked 2.] On the 10th, our agent was informed by the interpreter, that the President did not intend to answer my protest, as the Confederate Government had not been recognized by Brazil, and that I could find all the official correspondence in the newspapers. I then wrote letter, [marked 3,] in which reference is made to a letter, [marked 4.] Just before leaving Bahia, having received no answer, I sent our agent, Mr. James Dwyer, to the President. The result of his visit is contained in his letter, [marked 5.] The Bahia papers contain a number of reports as to the killed and wounded on board the Florida, all of which I have thoroughly sifted and find no foundation for the same.

        "At the time of her seizure there was about twenty-five tons of coal on board, most of which was dust. The list of officers captured is contained in the report of Paymaster Taylor, [marked 6.]

        "The enclosed newspapers is an official extract containing all the Brazilian official correspondence in reference to the Florida.

"I am, very respectfully, your obedient servant,

"Lieutenant commanding C. S. Navy."

        The seizure and capture of the vessel is admitted in the following official telegrams by Commander Winslow and Captain Collins, of the United States Navy, to Secretary Welles, though the circumstances are not detailed with minuteness:


"BOSTON, November 7, 1864.

"Secretary of the Navy:

        "SIR: I have the honor to report the arrival of the Kearsage off Scituate from Ricas Left the Wachusett and Florida at St. Thomas. The Florida was captured at the harbor of Bahia by the Wachusett, October 7. We bring sixteen prisoners and one officer from the Florida.



"October 31, 1864, via Boston, November 7.


        "SIR: I have the honor to report the arrival here of this ship with the rebel steamer Florida in company. The Florida, with fifty-eight men and twelve officers, was captured about three o'clock, on the morning of the 7th of October, in the bay of San Salvador, (Bahia,) Brazi, by the officers and crew of this vessel, without loss of life.

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Five of the officers, including her commander, were on shore. The remainder of her crew were on shore.

        "The Florida had her mizzenmast and main yard carried away, and her bulwarks cut down. This vessel sustained no injury. A detailed report will be handed you by Paymaster W. W. Williams.

"Very respectfully, your obedient servant,

"Commanding U. S. steam sloop Wachusett."

        The communications above establish the seizure and capture of the Florida by the Wachusett, and the wanton violation of the neutral rights of Brazil, as well as the rights of the Confederate States within her neutral territory. But the base treachery and falsehood of the officers of the United States, in executing their piratical enterprise; is abundantly exhibited by the following correspondence between one Thomas F. Wilson, Consul of the United States at Bahia, and his Excellency the President of the province of Bahia:


"Bahia, Oct. 5, 1864--9 A. M.

"To his Excellency, ANTONIO JOAQUIM DA SILVA GOMES, President of the Province of Bahia:

        "SIR: This morning a steamer anchored in this port, bearing the flag adopted by those who are involved in the rebellion against the Government of the United States of America, and I am informed that the said vessel is the Florida, which is engaged in capturing vessels navagating under the flag of the United States of America, and in destroying them, by making bonfires of them and their cargoes.

        "The vessel in question is not commissioned by any recognized government whatever, and her officers and crew are composed of persons of various nationalities, who are not subject to any international or civilized law, and are, consequently, not entitled to the privileges and immunities conceded to vessels navigating under the flag of a civilized nation. I, therefore, protest, in the name of the United States of America, against the admission of this vessel to free practice, by which she might be enabled to supply herself with coal, provisions, tackle, or utensils of any kind whatever, or receive on board any persons whatever; finally, against any assistance, aid, or protection which might be conceded to her in this port or in any other belonging to this Province.

        "I likewise claim that the piratical cruiser, in combination with the pirate Alabama, violated the sovereignty of the Imperial Government of Brazil by capturing and destroying vessels belonging to citizens of the United States of America within the territorial waters of Brazil, near the island of Fernando de Noronha, in April, 1863, be detained with all her officers and crew, in order to answer for so flagrant a violation of the sovereignty of the Government of Brazil and the rights of citizens of the United States within the jurisdiction of the Brazilian Government. I avail myself of this occasion to

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renew to your Excellency the assurance of distinguished consideration. I have the honor to be with the greatest respect,

"Your obedient servant,

"Consul of the United States."


October 5, 1864.

        "In a note dated this day, Mr. Thomas F. Wilson, Consul of the United States, claims that the steamer Florida, now anchored in this port, shall not be admitted to free practice, nor obtain permission to provide herself with coal, provisions, supplies, and utensils of any kind whatever, nor receive on board any person whatever; he likewise requests, that as this cruiser, in combination with the Alabama, violated the sovereignty of the Imperial Government of Brazil, by capturing and destroying vessels belonging to citizens of the United States of America, within the territorial waters of the empire, near the island of Fernando de Noronha, in April, 1863, she maybe detained, with all her officers and crew, in order to answer for this flagrant violation of the sovereignty of the Government of Brazil, and of the rights of citizens of the United States, within the jurisdiction of the Brazilian Government.

        "In reply to the consul, I have to inform him that as the said vessel belongs to the Confederate States, in whom the Imperial Government recognized the character of belligerents, all the assistance required by humanity may be furnished her, which does in no wise constitute assistance for warlike purposes as laid down by international law, and does not conflict with that neutrality which this Government studiously seeks to preserve, and has always preserved, in the contest between the States of North America. The undersigned cannot, therefore, admit the first portion of the claim of the consul, in the general manner in which it was presented, and particularly in relation to those articles considered as contraband of war, in conformity with instructions issued on that subject by the Imperial Government, and according to which the said vessel will only be permitted to remain in this port for a length of time absolutely indispensable.

        "In regard to the second part of his note, it is my duty to observe to the consul that, even if it were fully established that the Florida had previously violated neutrality, such a proceeding would scarcely authorize us to refuse her permission to enter the ports of the empire, and could never warrant us to commit the acts required by the consul, which would be equivalent to a hostile rupture, without the intervention of the supreme Government of the State, which is alone competent to authorize such a rupture.

        "I renew to the consul the assurance of my esteem and consideration.



"To Mr. THOMAS F. WILSON, Consul of the United States."

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        "The communication of the President of the Province of Bahia terminating all official communication with Thomas F. Wilson, as Consul of the United States, exposes the personal and official treachery of that functionary, and merits preservation in this report, not only because of the fact stated, but because it is an indignant protest by the highest Brazilian officer in that province against the violation of the neutral rights of his insulted country. The following is a copy of his spirited communication:


"October 7, 1864

        "SIR: The undersigned having been informed of the serious outrage perpetrated by the steamer Wachusett, of the United States of North America, in violating the neutrality of the empire and contemning its sovereignty by capturing treacherously, and under shade of the night, within the very port of this capital, the steamer Florida, of the Confederate States; and, as in addition to the most sacred regulations of international law observed among civilized nations, prohibiting the commission of such reprehensible acts by civilized nations, the undersigned regarded as a pledge of respect for the neutrality of Brazil the word of honor of Mr. T. F. Wilson, the Consul of the United States of North America, who, in the most explicit terms, undertook to secure a compliance on the part of the captain of the said steamer Wachusett with his duty by respecting the sovereignty the empire, and by abstaining from all hostile acts whatever within its territorial waters--the undersigned cannot refrain from professing solemnly and energetically against the outrage alluded to, and the more so as he considers the consul himself as implicated therein, inasmuch as, notwithstanding his formal promise, he has volunteered no explanation tending to diminish his responsibility.

        "And as the occurrence, and the silence hitherto observed on the subject by the Consul of the United States, evidently prove that the undersigned can no longer confide in the said consul to cause the neutrality and sovereignty of the empire to be respected by the belligerent vessels of the said States, he has resolved to interrupt official relations with him, until the Imperial Government, which is about to be informed of this unexpected and deplorable event, shall have deliberated upon the subject, in full possession of all the facts and according to its superior wisdom. The consul is likewise hereby notified, that positive orders have been to-day issued to the different authorities to refuse admission to the Wachusett into any of the ports in this province. For this purpose the most energetic and forcible means will be employed, (according to the instructions of the Minister of Foreign Affairs, of June 23, of last year,) if such shall be rendered necessary by the reluctance and criminal obstinacy manifested by that steamer in failing to comply with the intimation conveyed to her, thus continuing to infringe upon the duties imposed by international law and the honor and dignity of her own flag.


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        The Florida was a screw sloop of six hundred and fifty tons and six guns, and was in commission in the Confederate States navy. The Wachusett is a screw sloop of one thousand and thirty-two tons and ten guns, and is in commission in the United States navy.

        The foregoing are all the facts which your committee have been able to obtain with reference to the seizure of the Florida, and they now proceed to consider the second branch of the resolution, to wit: What action should be taken by this Government to redress the outrage?

        The Emperor of Brazil has not formally recognized the Confederate States as an independent sovereign, but her recognition of this Government as a belligerent, with the Government of the United States, secures to our vessels of war that complete protection on her soil and within her waters accorded by all neutral nations to belligerents, to wit: That no hostile act can be inaugurated or consummated within the jurisdiction of a neutral power by one belligerent against another. This principle is well stated by Sir William Scott, in the case of the Twee Gebroedus, cited in 4 Chitty, Law of Nations, 114. The learned judge says: "I am of opinion that no use of a neutral territory, for the purposes of war, is to be permitted. I do not say for remote uses, such as procuring provisions and refreshments and acts of that nature, which the law of nations universally tolerates, but that no proximate acts of war are in any manner to be allowed to originate on neutral grounds; and I cannot but think that such an act as this, that a ship should station herself on neutral territory, and send out her boats on a hostile enterprise, is an act much too immediate to be permitted. For, supposing that even a direct hostile use should be required to bring it within the prohibition of the law of nations, nobody will say that the very act of sending out boats to effect a capture is not itself an act directly hostile, not complete indeed, but inchoate, and clothed with all the characters of hostility. If this could be defended, it might as well be said that a ship lying in a neutral station might fire shot on a vessel lying out of the neutral territory. The injury in that case would not be consummated nor received on neutral grounds; but no one would say that such an act would not be a hostile act, immediately commenced within the neutral territory; and what does it signify to the nature of the act, considered for the present purpose, whether I send out a cannon shot, which shall compel the submission of the vessel lying at two miles distance, or whether I send out a boat, armed and manned, to effect the same thing at the same distance? It is, in both cases, the direct act of the vessel lying in neutral ground. The act of hostility actually begins, in the latter case, with the launching and manning and arming the boat that is sent out on such an errand of force."The Florida was lying at anchor in the Bay of Bahia, within the territory of Brazil. She was a vessel of war of the Confederate States, and her errand into the bay was perfectly legitimate. She had gone there to procure provisions and refreshments, and was entitled to absolute immunity from attack whilst she remained within the jurisdiction of Brazil, and for twenty-four hours after her departure.

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        It follows, then, that the attack made upon her by the Wachusett, and her capture by that vessel, was a reckless and flagrant outrage upon the sovereignty of Brazil, and in violation of the neutrality of her territory. The injury done the Confederate States was a grievous one. But our redress can only be sought from his Majesty, the Emperor of Brazil, who failed to protect us, within his territory, as he was bound to do, under the laws of nations, from the lawless spoliation of an enemy.

        It is a well settled principle of international law, that the neutral sovereign of the port, bay or river, in which a capture shall be made, from one friendly belligerent by another, shall use his utmost endeavors that the captured property be fairly and justly restored; and it must be done at his own expense. He has the right, even, to go to war with the wrong-doer to enforce restitution of the captured property; and this right flows from the universally conceded principle, that it is not lawful to commit violence within the territory of another; and that ports, bays and rivers, are within the territory of the sovereign of the country.

        This rule was admitted and enforced by President Washington, in 1792. Great Britain and France were at war. The United States maintained its neutrality. The British ship Grange was captured by the French frigate L'Ambruscade, in the waters of Delaware Bay. The prize was taken into Philadelphia, to which port she was bound. The French minister insisted that Delaware Bay was an open sea--that it was not within the exclusive jurisdiction of the United States, and that the capture of the Grange was therefore unlawful. President Washington, recognizing the justice and propriety of the rule aforesaid, ordered the vessel to be delivered up to her owners. Many other cases might be cited where the rule has been recognized and enforced by most of the maritime powers of the earth, but it is considered unnecessary. It is then clearly the duty of Brazil to the Confederate States, to require the authorities of the United States to restore immediately the Florida, together with her officers, crew, armament and other property, to the authorities of the Confederate States, in the Bay of Bahia --the vessel, armament and other property to be returned, in the like condition as when seized, and such indemnity be required as will cover all losses and damages.

        For the purpose of urging the Brazilian Government to prompt and energetic measures, to secure the restitution of the Florida, her officers and crew, your committee recommend that the President appoint, forthwith, a commissioner, who shall, without delay, proceed to Brazil, and formally lay before the Government of his Majesty, the Emperor, the earnest remonstrance of this Government against the seizure of the Florida within his territory; and that this Government insist that he shall make full and complete satisfaction, by requiring a speedy restitution of the Florida, her officers, crew and armament, by the authorities of the United States, in the Bay of Bahia, and such indemnity as will cover all losses and damages.

        Your committee recommend the adoption of the accompanying resolutions, as also a joint resolution herewith reported.


JAMES L. ORR, Chairman