The CSS Tallahassee was a twin-screw steamer and cruiser in the Confederate States Navy, purchased in 1864, and used for commerce raiding off the Atlantic coast.
The iron Confederate cruiser Tallahassee was named after the Confederate state capital of Tallahassee in Florida and was built on the River Thames by J & W Dudgeon of Cubitt Town, London for London, Chatham & Dover Rly. Co. to the design of Capt. T. E. Symonds, Royal Navy, ostensibly for the Chinese opium trade. She was previously the blockade runner Atalanta and made the Dover-Calais crossing in 77 minutes on an even keel. She had made several blockade runs between Bermuda and Wilmington, N.C. before the Confederates bought her.
After the Tallahassee was commissioned and prepared for sea she was placed under Commander John Taylor Wood, CSN. Wood was a grandson of President Zachary Taylor and a nephew of Jefferson Davis, who at the time was President of the Confederate States of America. The officers and crew were all volunteers from the Confederate gunboats on the James River and North Carolina waters.
The Tallahassee went through the blockade on August 6, 1864 from her home port of Wilmington, North Carolina. Her first day out, four cruisers chased the Tallahassee without incident.
She made a spectacular 19-day raid off the Atlantic coast as far north as Halifax, Nova Scotia. The Tallahassee destroyed 26 vessels and captured 7 others that were bonded or released. Wood sailed the Tallahassee into Halifax Harbour on August 18 to take on bunker coal and water. Neutrality laws limited her stay in Halifax to 24 hours. Tallahassee was granted an extra 12 hours to fix a broken mast but was only allowed to load enough coal to take her to the nearest Confederate port. Two Federal war ships, the USS Nansemond and USS Huron, had chased her north and were believed to be waiting for the Tallahassee at the harbour entrance. Wood hired a legendary Halifax pilot John “Jock” Flemming, who is believed to have guided the warship through the narrow and shallow Eastern Passage between Dartmouth and Lawlor Island, a route only suited for small fishing vessels. Tallahassee succeeded in negotiating the passage out of the harbour, although no Northern warships were in fact waiting. The first Northern warship, the gunboat USS Pontoosuc, arrived at the harbour entrance several hours after the Confederate cruiser departed.
Being unable to procure enough coal to continue, Wood was forced to return to Wilmington where he arrived safely on August 26.