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Amnesty Petition of John Newland Maffitt, June 1, 1867


Amnesty Petition of John Newland Maffitt, June 1, 1867


John N. Maffitt was a prominent officer in the Confederate Navy during the Civil War who resigned from his post in the United States Navy in order to fight for the Confederacy “on the conviction that free government is founded on the consent of the governed.” (Shingleton 1994, 33) Although Maffitt was extremely devoted to the Confederate cause during the Civil War, he still treated Union prisoners of war fairly and leniently. In his amnesty petition to President Johnson in 1857, Maffitt draws on his honorable nature during the war and never mentions his devotion to the Confederacy in order to advocate that he was deserving of pardon and readmission to the United States of America as a citizen.

John Newland Maffitt was born in Cumberland County, North Carolina in 1819, moved to Washington D.C. once he entered manhood, and resided in Wilmington, New Hanover County, North Carolina during the Civil War. (Rose [1935?], 1-3) Maffitt began his career in the United States Navy at the age of thirteen when he entered as a midshipman cadet and he reached the ranking of Lieutenant prior to his resignation. (Rose [1935], 8-11) One of his jobs during his time in the US Navy was the “protection of American commerce and suppression of the slave trade,” which would prove to be quite ironic when he switched his allegiance to the Confederacy. (Shingleton 1994, 26) On May 2nd, 1861, Maffitt resigned from the US Navy and on May 11th of the same year, accepted a commission in the Confederate Navy where he served as commander of the Steamer Florida. (Item 856) His new goal in this Navy was commerce-raiding of US ships and blockade running. (Rose[1935?], 3) His high-ranking service in the Confederate Navy caused him to not be included in the general amnesty pardons by President Andrew Johnson. After the war, Maffitt wrote an amnesty petition to President Johnson asking for an “Executive Pardon and restoration to the right of citizenship.” (Item 856) In the petition, Maffitt discusses how he previously served in the US Navy, but resigned in order to serve in the Confederate Navy and in particular, serve on the Steamer Florida. Maffitt points out that any “acts of hostility” committed against the United States were done so while he was a “regular Officer commanding a regularly commissioned vessel” for the Confederacy and they were “governed by the rules of civilized warfare.” He also stated explicitly that “all prisoners taken by him were treated with kindness, humanity, and indulgence” and that all hostility on his part ended in April of 1865. After the mention of his leniency with prisoners, Maffitt goes on to ask “respectfully” for pardon and renewal of American citizenship. (Item 856)

In New Hanover County, the place Maffitt lived during the war, there were six men asking for amnesty because they were in either in the Confederate Army or Navy during the war. Of those men, Maffitt and a man by the name of Edward Manning were the only ones who had previously served in the Federal Navy and resigned to join the Confederate Navy. (Koonts 1995, 36-38) When analyzing the petitions of Manning and Maffitt, there is one obvious difference between them even though they shared extremely similar reasons for not being in the general pardon by Johnson. In Manning’s petition, there is no attempt to find ways to justify his service in the Confederacy, there is simply a statement of his jobs in the Navy before and during the war and that he has taken the oath of allegiance and is now a “loyal citizen of the United States.” (Manning 1865) Unlike his fellow sailor, in Maffitt’s amnesty petition, he offers several reasons why his tenure in the Confederacy was not unforgivable and why he deserved pardon. The reasons he gives, as well as an actual look into the life and times of John Maffitt will shed light on his amnesty petition and the Confederate commander.

In his petition, Maffitt makes the claim that he only made hostilities again the Union under “civilized” and governed warfare and that he operated in a manner of “kindness, humanity, and indulgence.” This begs the question of really what kind of officer Maffitt was during the war and how he tried to portray himself in his petition. According to Dr. William N. Still Jr., Maffitt was “among the best Southern naval officers who successfully practiced blockade-running.” (1997, 19) During the war, while Maffitt was commanding the Florida in the waters of the Caribbean, his crew was plagued by a yellow fever epidemic that left the “medical duties of the steamer” to Maffitt until he was also struck with the fever himself and almost died. Once he was back to stable condition, Maffitt immediately “expressed a desire to see the young gentlemen who had shared with [him] through the trials and dangers through which [they] had passed.” (Campbell 2008, 233-235) This information shows that Maffitt did not have it easy during the war, but still managed to be very successful in his role of officer in the Navy and was personally devoted to his men as well. Along with his devotion to his men, a strong devotion to the Confederacy can be garnered from sources. In the United Service magazine in 1882, Maffitt commented that he had hoped and worked on the goal of guarding “the interests of the Confederacy.” (Campbell 2008, 232) He also relayed that the object of the war that was given to him through the ‘sea orders’ of the Secretary of Navy was to “cripple the commercial prosperity of the United States by destroying their merchant vessels captured upon the highways of the ocean.” But, sources also show that he did indeed have humane and lenient standards when dealing with warfare and prisoners of war. In the same magazine, Maffitt comments that “prisoners were to be treated with humanity and kindness, their individual baggage respected and preserved from pillage.” He also made the statement that he always “extended humane consideration to those whom the misfortune of civil war cast athwart our pathway,” especially when those people were women. (Campbell 2008, 240) Though Maffitt could be lying or exaggerating with his recount of his service simply to make himself appear in a better light after the war, it needs to be considered that he also frequently and strongly acknowledged his former devotion to the Confederacy in the same essay and there have been no other sources found through the writing of this analysis to say otherwise. With that in consideration, it appears that John Maffitt was an honorable officer that was devoted to his men and the Confederate cause, but also lenient and fair during war. It is important to see that in the amnesty petition, Maffitt nowhere discusses his devotion to the Confederacy or his success as a Confederate commander, but rather solely focuses on his “kindness” during war which he hoped would be the right information and prove sufficient for the federal government to pardon him and restore his citizenship.


Maffitt, John Newland


John Newland Maffitt, Amnesty Petition, June 1, 1867, Case Files of Applications from Former Confederates for Presidential Pardons ("Amnesty Papers"), 1865-67, Records of the Adjutant General's Office, 1780s-1917, Record Group 94, Publication M1003, National Archives, Washington, D.C.




Brinton, Danielle




Wilmington, North Carolina
New Hanover County, North Carolina

Original Format

Government Document


Wilmington N.C.
June 1st 1867

To his Excellency
Andrew Johnson President of the United States

The petition of John N Maffitt of North Carolina for pardon under the Proclamation of your Excellency of May 1865 respectfully represents that he is excluded from the benefit of said proclamation having resigned his commission as Lieutenant in the United States Navy in May 2nd 1861 having accepted a Commission in the so called Confederate Navy in May 11th/61 and having subsequently commanded the Steamer Florida in the latter service. The Florida was regularly commissioned by the said so called Confederate Government and was fitted out in the Harbor of Mobile, Alabama and never made war on the commerce of the U.S. until after she was commissioned and fitted out.

In this way, viz, as a regular Officer commanding a regularly commissioned vessel fitted out within the History of said so called Government has your petitioner committed acts of hostility against the United States, and he vows that all his acts in that capacity were strictly governed by the rules of civilized warfare. That all prisoners of taken by him were treated with kindness, humanity, and indulgence and no private property was ever seized. That all acts of hostility on his part ceased in April 1865.

Your petitioner was absent from the United States at the end of the war, and remained absent until 23rd of May 1867. He is the resident of North Carolina and respectfully asks for an Executive pardon and restoration to the right of citizenship. He took the Amnesty oath in London on the 14th day of November 1865.

Very Respectfully,
Your Gov. Servant
J.N. Maffitt


Campbell, R. Thomas., ed. Voices of the Confederate   Navy: Articles, Letters, Reports, and Reminiscences.  Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers, 2008.

Koonts, Russell S, ed. North Carolina Petitions for Presidential Pardon, 1865-1868 (An Index). [Raleigh: Friends of the Archives, Inc.], 1995.

Maffitt, John Newland. Amnesty Petition. June 1, 1867. Case Files of Applications from Former Confederates for Presidential Pardons ("Amnesty Papers"), 1865-67. Records of the Adjutant General's Office, 1780s-1917, Record Group 94, Publication M1003; National Archives, Washington, D.C.

Manning, Edward Wilson. Amnesty Petition. July 20, 1865. Case Files of Applications from Former Confederates for Presidential Pardons ("Amnesty Papers"), 1865-67. Records of the Adjutant General's Office, 1780s-1917, Record Group 94, Publication M1003; National Archives, Washington, D.C.

Rose, Duncan. The Romantic Career of a Naval Officer, Federal and Confederate: Captain Maffitt of the U.S.S. Crusader and the C.S.S. Florida. [Spray? N.C.: D. Rose?, 1935?].

Shingleton, Royce.  High Seas Confederate: The Life and Time of John Newland Maffitt. Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina Press, 1994.

Still, Jr., Dr. William N., ed.  The Confederate Navy: The Ships, Men and Organization, 1861-65.  London: Conway Maritime Press, 1997.


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Maffitt, John Newland, Amnesty Petition of John Newland Maffitt, June 1, 1867, Civil War Era NC, accessed May 26, 2024,