Hattaras In Battle

Union Ship Hattaras Went Down With Guns Blazing

By James Donahue

Some of the bloodiest fighting in human history occurred during the American Civil War, when Americans were shooting each other. While we remember some of the great battles fought on land, there were some ugly fighting among ships on the high seas as well. Among the casualties of the war was the iron-hulled steamship Hatteras, sunk in a battle with the Union's Alabama off Galveston, Texas, in 1863.

The Hatteras was launched as the steamship St. Mary, 210-foot-long side-wheeler, in Wilmington, Delaware in 1861 for the Charles Morgan Line of steamships serving ports along the Gulf coast.

Like many commercial vessels of that era, the St. Marys was purchased by the U.S. Navy and converted into a gun boat as the nation prepared for war with itself over the issue of state's rights. She was renamed the Hatteras and armed with four 32-pound cannon. The steamship then was assigned to a South Atlantic blockading squadron in the gulf and commanded by George F. Emmons.

Within months the Hatteras earned acclaim after capturing seven Confederate blockade runners off Vermilion Bay, Louisiana.  After that she joined the blockade squadron under Rear Admiral David Farragut, where the ship was engaged in the interception of various blockade runners and successfully captured numerous steamers and sailing ships. One of these, the Poody, was taken as a prize and renamed USS Hatteras Jr.

In January, 1863, Hatteras was placed under the command of Henry T. Blake and was assigned to patrol off Galveston. It was there, on Jan. 11, that she encountered the Confederate raider Alabama, commanded by Captain Raphael Semmes, flying the British flag in disguise.

The Hatteras was suspicious and approached the vessel with plans to send a boarding party. But as she approached the Alabama broke out the Confederate ensign and opened fire. After a fierce 40-minute battle the Hatteras was overpowered. Holed in two places and on fire, the steamer was sinking. Captain Blake fired a single bow gun, a signal of surrender and a need for assistance. Alabama sent her boats to remove the Hatteras crew. The last boat had just pulled away when the vessel sank.. In the end, two crew members were killed, five were wounded and the remaining members of her 126-member crew was taken prisoner aboard the Alabama.

The wreck of the Hatteras remains today an historical landmark and favorite visiting place for sports divers. She lies in about 60-feet of water 20 miles off Galveston. The wreck remains the property of the U.S. Navy. The Texas Historical Commission and Texas A&M University at Galveston. cooperate in preserving the site.

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