(SwGbt: t. 341; 1. 170'; b. 23'7"; dr. 8'1"; a. 1 80-pdr. r., 1 8" sb.)
The first Underwriter—a side-wheel steamer built in 1852 at Brooklyn, N.Y.—was purchased by the Navy at New York on 23 August 1861; and commissioned there on 22 August, Lt. James M. Prichett in command.
Assigned to the Potomac Flotilla, Underwriter arrived in the Potomac River off Aquia Creek, Va., ill-prepared for active duty, and proceeded to the Washington Navy Yard on 28 August for extensive repairs and alterations. While laid up, she was transferred to the North Atlantic Blockading Squadron. The vessel sailed for Hampton Roads, Va., on 3 October and joined the blockade off Hatteras Inlet, N.C., on 9 October.
Underwriter, General Putnam, and Ceres left Hatteras Inlet on 14 November and proceeded southwest to Ocracoke Inlet. There, they scuttled three stone-filled hulks, effectively closing the inlet to Confederate shipping. The three vessels also participated in the capture of Confederate works on Roanoke Island, N.C., on 7 and 8 February 1862, and saw action during the capture of Elizabeth City on 10 February.
On 13 February, Underwriter, Lockwood, Shawsheen, and Whitehead proceeded up the North River, N.C., and placed obstructions at the mouth of the Albemarle and Chesapeake Canal. Underwriter aslo assisted in the capture of New Berne, N.C., on 13 and 14 March, knocking out a Confederate battery along the Neuse River during the attack. After additional support duties in both Pamlico and Albemarle Sounds, the vessel returned to Baltimore on 1 June for repairs.
Underwriter left Baltimore in late July 1862 and returned to New Berne. She remained in the Neuse River off New Berne performing various reconnaissance and dispatch assignments—occasionally moving to different points in the North Carolina sounds. Underwriter sailed to Plymouth, N.C., in August and towed the prize schooner Young Rover to New Berne on 13 August. She was ordered to report to Plymouth for reconnaissance duty on 4 December and sailed from there to Hatteras Inlet on 17 December. On 4 January 1863, she sailed down the Chowan River 15 miles beyond Winfield, N.C., and destroyed Confederate supplies.
Underwriter evacuated Union forces from Winfield during the siege and threatened capture of Plymouth in April. She was stationed in Albemarle Sound later that month and returned to Plymouth in May. Underwriter stood down the Neuse River in June and was ordered to report to the blockade off Hatteras Inlet on 16 December. She returned to New Berne on 10 January 1864.
While lying at anchor off New Berne, Underwriter was captured by a Confederate boat crew early on the morning of 2 February. The Southerners were led by Commander John Taylor Wood, grandson of President Zachary Taylor and nephew of President Jefferson Davis. Wood and his ment caught Underwriter by surprise and took her in hand-to-hand combat, killing Acting Master Jacob Westervelt and capturing most of the vessel's officers and crew. The gunboat did not have steam up, forcing the Confederates to burn her as they were under heavy fire from surrounding Union batteries. Underwriter burned to the waters' edge. However, her boilers and engines survived relatively unscathed and were later salvaged.