The Sinking of the Confederate Steamer Florida, in the James RiverThe Illustrated London News, vol. 46, no. 1296, p. 5-6.
January 7, 1865
It would have been disagreeable to the national pride of the Americans if the Federal Government at Washington, unable to answer the diplomatic remonstrances provoked by the late violation of a neutral harbour of Brazil, had been obliged to send back the Confederate steamer Florida, captured illegally by the Wachusetts at Bahia on the 7th of October, and to replace their prize where she was taken, beneath the sheltering jurisdiction of the Brazilian sovereignty. From this mortification they have been saved, as already reported, by the happy accident or expedient of sinking the Florida ten fathoms under water in Hampton Roads, at the mouth of the James River, where she was unaccountably run down by a Federal transport-steamer, the Alliance, on the 19th of November, going to the bottom a few hours afterwards.
The Illustration we now publish is from a sketch by Mr. Edward L. Henry, of New York, who witnessed the event. The Florida is shown as she appeared, having lost her mizenmast in the conflict with the Wachusetts at Bahia. The ship seen to the right hand is an ironclad or Monitor, named the Atlanta, which was stationed as a guardship at the mouth of the river. In the distance is Newport News, with a military camp on shore. The following account of the destruction of the Florida is given by the correspondent of a New York paper:--
"On the 19th the Florida went to Norfolk to coal, and just before starting was run into by the transport-steamer Alliance. She was was [sic] in very bad condition when captured, and all the time since her arrival here she has leaked so badly as to keep the steam-pump engaged continually. The collision with the Alliance greatly increased the volume of the water which constantly poured into her. About nine o'clock on Sunday evening one of the pumps on board suddenly gave out. Before more assistance arrived the water had risen considerably above the fire-room floor, so that it was found necessary to put the fires out. The pump-engine was thus stopped, and the water came pouring in at a fearful rate. It was impossible at any time, after it was found the ill-fated ship was sinking, to move her toward the shore, as there was but 7 lb. pressure of steam--just sufficient to work the pumps. Neither were there means at hand for towing her ashore. In a few minutes after sending the two boats to the Florida, Captain Woodward, of the Atlanta, came himself on
Page 6board to see what could be done to keep her afloat. But it was apparent that she must soon sink, and the men were ordered to save their effects and prepare to leave her to her fate. The Florida kept rapidly filling, so that at seven o'clock the water was a foot above the berth-deck. At the same time that Mr. Baker signalled the Atlanta he sent a telegraphic message to Admiral Porter at this place that the Florida was sinking. The Admiral immediately ordered the tug Page to steam up to the Florida and tow her into shoal water towards the shore. The tug came alongside at 7.15, but the Florida was by this time so near sinking that it was deemed dangerous to attach it, as in going down she would take the tug along with her. A few minutes after, with eight feet of water in her, she careened over, and disappeared stern foremost. Mr. Baker and Captain Woodward remained alongside in the tug until she went under. The Florida had all her guns and everything on board just as when she was captured. There is a feeling of general satisfaction among naval officers here at her fate. It is considered much preferable to have her disposed of here, and then indemnity be offered to the Brazilian Government, than suffer the humiliation of taking her back and seeing her saluted as she would enter the harbour of Rio Janeiro in triumph, with the rebel flag flying. This would have been a most bitter pill to the American officers who would have had to accompany her."