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DEPARTMENT OF THE NAVY -- NAVAL HISTORICAL CENTER
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Hatteras

 

An inlet on the coast of North Carolina. I

 

(SwStr: d. 1,126 t.; l. 210'; dr. 18'; s. 8 k.; cpl. 126.; a. 4 32pdrs., 1 20-pdr.)

 

The first Hatteras, formerly St. Mary, was purchased by the Navy from Harland and Hollingsworth of Wilmington, Del., on 25 September 1861. She was fitted out at the Philadelphia Navy Yard and commissioned in October 1861, Comdr. George F. Emmons in command.

 

Hatteras sailed for Key West on 5 November 1861, arriving there 13 November to join the 'South Atlantic Blockading 'Squadron which was destined to choke off the South's economic lifeline. After blockade duty off Apa-lachicola, Fla., she was reassigned to Cedar Keys, Fla., reaching there 7 January 1862. Nine days later Hatteras made a highly successful raid on the Cedar Keys harbor, burning seven small would-be blockade runners loaded with turpentine and cotton, the Florida Railroad wharf (an important Southern railroad terminus), several flat-cars, and various buildings. To cap this day's work, Hatteras also captured 14 of the 22-man garrison stationed there, and their commanding officer. Such unceasing attack from the -sea on any point of her long coastline and inland waterways cost the South sorely in losses, economic disruption, and dispersion of strength of defense.

 

After this exploit, Hatteras was transferred to the Gulf Blockading Squadron and arrived off Berwick, La., 26 January. The next day she engaged CSS Mobile but failed to do any serious damage when the light-draft ship withdrew to the safety of shallow water. Nevertheless the Gulf proved to he a profitable hunting ground for Hatteras, as, in less than a year, she captured seven blockade runners with assorted cargoes of cotton, sugar, and other goods the 'South was desperately striving to export. These captures netted Hatteras, among other things, some 534 bales of valuable cotton. Commander Emmons stationed four of his own men on board one prize, 20-ton sloop Poody, and, rechristening her Hatteras Jr., turned the erstwhile blockade runner into a unit of the Gulf Blockading Squadron. Other Confederate ships taken as prizes by Hatteras included : steamer Indian No. 2, schooner Magnolia, steamer Governor A. Mouton, schooner Sarah, sloop Elizabeth, and brig Josephine. The majority of these ships were captured off Vermillion Bay, La., as they ran toward either Havana or the Sabine River area of Texas.

 

However, Hatteras illustrious blockading career was cut short in early 1863 not long after she was ordered to joint the squadron under Real Admiral David Farragut, who was attempting to retake the key Texas port of Gal-veston. Under a new skipper, Comdr. Homer C. Blake, who had relieved Captain Emmons in November 1862, Hatteras joined Farragut's squadron off Galveston on 6 January 1863.

 

As the blockading fleet lay to off the coast near Galveston on the afternoon of 11 January 1863, a set of sails was sighted just over the horizon and Hatteras was ordered to give chase. 'She took off in pursuit of the strange ship at about 3 p.m. and for the next 4 hours followed her closer and closer into shore. Finally, as dusk was falling, Hatteras came within hailing distance of the square-rigged ship. Commander Blake demanded to know her identity. "HBMS Spitfire," came the reply. Still suspicious, Blake ordered one of Hatteras' boats to inspect this "Britisher." Scarcely had the boat pulled away from Hatteras than a new reply to Blake's question rang through the night. "We're the CSS Alabama." With this, the famed Confederate raider commanded by Raphael Semmes broke the Stars and Bars and began raking Hatteras with her guns. Through the gloom, for about 20 minutes, the two ships exchanged heavy fire at distances ranging from 25 to 200 yards. The flashes of the guns and their rumbling were heard in the Union squadron some 16 miles away, and the cruiser Brooklyn was dispatched to investigate and render aid if necessary.

 

But Hatteras had already been badly holed in two places 'by the rebel raider and was on fire and beginning to sink. Captain Blake ordered the magazines flooded to prevent explosion and reluctantly fired a single bow gun, indicating surrender and a need for assistance. Alabama, promptly sent over her boats to help remove Hatteras' crew, and the last boatload of men had barely pulled away when the Union bloekader sank, some 45 minutes from the beginning of the action. Of Hatteras' crew of 126, 2 had been killed and 5 wounded; 6 had escaped back to the squadron in the boat originally sent out to board and investigate "HBMS Spitfire;" and the remainder, including Captain Blake, were taken to Port Royal, Jamaica, and from there paroled back to the United States. Alabama suffered 2 wounded.

 

When Brooklyn reached the site of the battle early the following morning, she found the hulk of Hatteras upright in some 9Vi fathoms of water about 20 miles south of Galveston Light. Only Hatteras' masts reached out of water, and from the topmast the U.S. Navy pendant was still whipping in the breeze. Even in defeat the gallant blockader had not struck her colors.