At the outset of the Civil War, Lt. Second Class Charles W. Read resigned his commission in the
US Navy and joined the Confederate Navy. Initially assigned to the CSS McRae in New Orleans, Read eventually was given an assignment on the CSS Florida. On May 6, 1863, in Brazilian waters, the Florida captured the merchant vessel Clarence, as it headed for Baltimore. The captain of the Florida, John Maffitt, assigned Read and twenty crew members to take command of the Clarence. Armed only with a small howitzer, Read devised a plan to use the innocent-looking ship, along with its valid registry papers, as a decoy to invade the harbor in Hampton Roads, Virginia.
It was the Cushing's last hurrah. Read's crew set it on fire and took to the lifeboats. The steamboats closed in, with Lt. James H. Merryman, captain of the Forest City, in charge. As Merryman approached, the doomed crew members in lifeboats repeatedly gave the Masonic Grand Hailing Sign of Distress. Merryman, undoubtedly a Freemason who reported recognizing the "Masonic signs," spared the Confederate crew.