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Florida on the High Seas

Battleship, U.S.S. Florida, 1910-1931
Ship model of the battleship U.S.S. Florida, ca. 1910, displayed at the Museum of Florida History
(on loan from the U.S. Navy)

Naval Ships Named Florida

In the 19th and 20th centuries no less than ten ships have been given the name of our peninsular state, Florida. Each of these vessels has been unique. They have had different missions, armaments, and architecture. They have been powered by everything from the wind to the atom. Some have served in wartime and earned high honors and distinctions. Despite their differences they have all had the common bond of their special name. This chronology documents the ships which have carried to the seas the name Florida.


Sloop, U.S.S. Florida, 1824-1831

Sloop, U.S.S. Florida, 1824-1831
This tiny ship, powered only by sails, served as a survey vessel along the southern coast of the United States including the Florida area. She was also known as a cutter and saw some revenue service. She was built from one of three designs drawn in 1815 by William Doughty. Along with survey duties the cutters on southern station also worked to suppress illegal slave importation and piracy.


Sidewheel steamer, U.S.S. Florida, 1861-1867

Sidewheel steamer, U.S.S. Florida, 1861-1867
A sidewheel steamer, the second United States ship to bear the name Florida began her career on October 15, 1861. Until November 1862 she served as a Union blockading vessel outside of ports in South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida. Later in the war she cruised between Wilmington, North Carolina and Halifax, Nova Scotia. She was instrumental in the capture or destruction of ten enemy, or "unfriendly," merchant and naval vessels.


Cruiser, C.S.S. Florida, 1862-1864

Cruiser, C.S.S. Florida, 1862-1864
The C.S.S. Florida was built in 1862 by William C. Miller and Sons, Liverpool, England. Supposedly consigned to the Italian government she was, in reality, owned by the Confederacy and intended for use as a raiding ship. The Confederates changed her original name, Oreto, to Manassas and then to Florida. She rapidly became a successful and dreaded commerce raider and on February 12, 1863 took the largest prize of any of the Confederate raiders when the Jacob Bell was captured. This clipper ship was carrying tea and silks valued at $1,500,000.
The Florida was captured by a Union ship in the neutral harbor of Bahia, Brazil while the captain and most of the crew were on shore leave. She was escorted under guard to Hampton Roads, Virginia. The Brazilian and Confederate governments protested the breach of neutrality and demanded the return of the vessel. The United States government agreed to return the ship but before that could be effected the Florida was struck by a Union army transport off Newport News. She sank several days later on November 28, 1864.


C.S.S. Floridas

Cruiser, C.S.S. Florida, 1862-1864
In addition to the cruiser, the Confederate government named at least three other ships after Florida, the third state to secede from the Union. The C.S.S. Florida (renamed Selma in 1862), took part in the Battle of Mobile Bay. Another Florida was a screw-driven steamer impressed into service at New Orleans in January 1862. Originally intended to serve as a river defense ship, she actually served as a blockade runner. During a run to Havana, Cuba in April 1862 she was captured by Union naval forces. The U.S. Navy bought the ship from a prize court and renamed her Hendrick Hudson. The third Confederate Florida was a North Carolina pilot schooner armed with a 6–pounder rifled gun. She was a "junior privateer" since she had no letter of marquee (a document allowing a private vessel to prey on the shipping of certain nations during wartime).


Steam frigate, U.S.S. Florida, 1864-1883

Steam frigate, U.S.S. Florida, 1864-1883
This ship began her career near the end of the Civil War as the Wampanoag. Renamed Florida in 1869, she was a wooden steam frigate and carried no sails. The ship set records for speed, economy of fuel, and length of time steaming at high speed. Her top speed (16.758 mph) surprised many experts of the day. Unfortunately, she saw little active service because of design flaws: the superstructure prevented the guns from firing straight ahead and she took more time in turning than other warships. She served as a stores ship from 1874 until 1883.


Monitor class, U.S.S. Florida, 1903-1921

Monitor class, U.S.S. Florida, 1903-1921
This vessel, a coastal defense monitor, was the direct descendent of the Union ship Monitor. The U.S.S. Florida served as a coastal defense ship, later as a submarine tender, and as a naval training ship. In 1908 her name was changed to Tallahassee to free the state name for the battleship that soon would be launched.


Battleship, U.S.S. Florida, 1910-1931

Battleship, U.S.S. Florida, 1910-1931
Date commissioned: 1911
Builder: U.S. Navy Yard, New York
Numerical designation: BB-30
Length: 521 feet, 6 inches
Width: 88 feet, 2.5 inches
Displacement: 21,825 tons
Speed: 20.75 knots
Main armament: ten 12-inch guns, sixteen 5-inch guns
Status: decommissioned in 1931 and scrapped in 1932

The battleship U.S.S. Florida, BB 30, was launched on May 12, 1910. During World War I the Florida served with the British Grand Fleet and assisted in maneuvers against the German fleet. Following the armistice she helped to escort the German fleet to anchorage for internment. The Florida also served as escort to the George Washington, on with President Woodrow Wilson sailed to France to promulgate the Treaty of Versailles officially ending the war.
In the peacetime navy the Florida was a training and exercise vessel. She was decommissioned in April 1931 in accordance with armament restrictions imposed by the London Naval Treaty and was scrapped in 1932.


Trident class submarine, U.S.S. Florida, 1983-

Trident class submarine, U.S.S. Florida, 1983-

Date commissioned: 1983
Builder: General Dynamics Electric Boat Division, Groton, Conn.
Numerical designation: (originally SSBN-728) now SSGN-728
Length: 560 feet
Width: 42 feet
Displacement: 18,750 tons
Speed: 20+ knots
Main armament: (originally 24 nuclear-tipped Trident ICBM missiles) now up to 154 conventionally-armed cruise missiles
Status: in service, home port at Kings Bay, Georgia

Submarine U.S.S. Florida: Converted for a New Mission
After twenty years of service as part of the U.S. nuclear deterrent force, the U.S.S. Florida underwent a three-year conversion to extend its service in a new fighting role. Its huge missile tubes, which formerly held nuclear-armed ballistic missiles, were altered to carry up to 154 conventionally armed Tomahawk cruise missiles.
According to the Navy, "The new platform will also have the capability to carry and support more than 66 Navy SEALs (Sea, Air, And Land special operations forces) and insert them clandestinely into potential conflict areas."
The U.S.S. Florida returned to active service in May 2006. When not deployed at sea, the submarine is based at Kings Bay, Georgia, just north of the Florida-Georgia border.