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NavSource Online: Service Ship Photo Archive

USS Underwriter (I)

Awards, Citations and Campaign Ribbons

Civil War Medal

Sidewheel Gunboat:
  • Built in 1852 at Brooklyn, N.Y.
  • Purchased by the Navy at New York, 23 August 1861
  • Commissioned USS Underwriter, 22 August 1861, LT James M. Prichett in command
  • During the Civil War USS Underwriter was initially assigned to the Potomac Flotilla
  • Transferred to the North Atlantic Blockading Squadron, arriving on station , 9 October 1861, off Hatteras Inlet, N.C.
    Participated in the capture of Confederate works on Roanoke Island, 7 and 8 February 1862
    Assisted in the capture of Elizabeth City, 10 February 1862
    Assisted in the capture of New Berne, N.C., 13 and 14 March 1862
    Performed various reconnaissance and dispatch duties in the North Carolina Sounds, between July 1862 and January 1863
    Evacuated Union forces from Winfield, N. C. during the siege at Plymouth, N.C. in April 1863
  • Final Disposition, captured by Confederate forces off New Berne, 2 February 1864, and burned
    Displacement 341 t.
    Length 170' 0"
    Beam 23' 7"
    Draft 8' 1"
    Speed unknown
    Complement unknown
    eight 1" guns
    one 80-pdr rifle
    one 8" smoothbore
    Propulsion steam
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    Underwriter 45k CDR John Taylor Wood CSN. Led attack on USS Underwriter, 2 February 1864 while the ship lay at anchor off New Bern, N.C.
    "It [USS Underwriter] was captured by the Confederates that day [2 February 1864] and burned to prevent recapture by Union forces. The grandson of President Zachary Taylor and nephew of President Jefferson Davis, Commander John Taylor Wood led the Confederate navy against the Underwriter in 1864. The Confederate Navy conducted numerous joint land and sea raids during the Civil War. One important expedition in North Carolina was against the USS Underwriter in early February 1864. The brainchild of a naval officer, John Taylor Wood, the expedition was part of a larger Confederate offensive against the Union stronghold at New Bern, North Carolina. General Robert E. Lee detailed General Robert F. Hoke’s brigade, under the command of General George Pickett, to attack and attempt to retake the city. The army’s assault is largely forgotten because it failed. The navy’s spectacular attack, however, was more successful and proved that Union control in eastern North Carolina, even relatively late during the war, could still be challenged seriously.

    In conjunction with the ground assault, Wood gathered a force of thirty-three officers and 220 enlisted men, including Confederate marines at Kinston. The naval expedition carried out its mission in twelve boats and two large launches, each armed with a 12-pounder howitzer. Men from the James River Squadron (including a number of hand-picked midshipmen from the Confederate Naval Academy), Wilmington Station, Charleston Station, and Savannah Squadron were detailed for the expedition. The attack was spectacular. Wood’s force attacked in two columns, his own striking forward of the Underwriter’s wheel and Loyall’s detachment striking aft. Confederate marines with Enfield rifles in each boat acted as sharpshooters, and Lieutenant George Gift’s launches were held in reserve with extra men, prepared for towing the vessel if necessary. The attack began with five bells of the midnight watch (2:30 a.m.). A lookout on the Underwriter’s deck spotted the raiders, and the Federal sailors on board opened fire. Loyall’s boat reached the target first, and his men boarded the steamer, with Wood and his men close behind. Fierce, hand-to-hand fighting made the ship’s deck slippery with rain and blood. Within five minutes the Confederates prevailed.

    The fires in the Underwriter’s furnaces had been banked, and engineers estimated that it would take an hour to build enough steam to move the ship. Before Wood had time to contemplate the situation, the batteries of Fort Stephenson, a Federal fort on the riverbank, opened fire on the vessel. Wood decided to burn and scuttle the vessel; he could not get the ship back upriver. The fires set on the Underwriter reached the ship’s powder magazine, causing a terrific explosion. The Confederates rowed hastily back upriver toward Swift Creek, where they rested and quickly buried five men."

    Bill Gonyo

    USS Underwriter (I)
    Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships (DANFS)
    Commanding Officers
    01LT. Prichett, James M.22 August 1861 - 1 October 1861
    02LCDR. Lowry, Reigart Bolivar1 October 1861 - 9 February 1862
    03LT. Jeffers, William N.9 February 1862 - 15 March 1862
    04LT. Hopkins, Alfred15 March 1862 - 4 December 1862
    05Act. Vol. LT. Flye, William4 December 1862 - 16 December 1863
    06Act. Master Westervelt, Jacob16 December 1863 - 2 February 1864 (KIA)
    Courtesy Bill Gonyo

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    Last Updated 15 February 2013