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  • Civil War 1861-1865
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Cactus (Sidewheel Gunboat)


The well-known familyu of green, mostly leafless and spiny, plants of arid climates.

(Sidewheel Gunboat: tonnage 176; length 110'; beam 22'6"; draft 7'; speed 15 knots; armament 1 30-pounder, 2 12-pounders)

The sidewheel steamer Polar Star, built in 1863 at Brooklyn, N.Y., was purchased at New York on 9 December 1863. Renamed Cactus, she was commissioned on 4 May 1864, Acting Master Newell Graham in command.

Assigned to the North Atlantic Blockading Squadron with its task of isolating the Confederacy from overseas sources of supply, Cactus served as a supply ship and tender in Hampton Roads until 28 May 1864. She was then ordered up the York River to guard the Army's lines of communication. On 20 June, in concert with the sidewheel gunboat Morse, she fought an engagement with Confederate batteries along the Pamunkey River. After assisting in covering the withdrawal of the Army from White House, Va., the steamer returned to Hampton Roads on 23 June.

Until April 1865, Cactus operated in Hampton Roads and Chesapeake Bay, towing launches and supply schooners. She then served in the Potomac Flotilla until placed out of commission at the Washington Navy Yard on 8 June 1865.

Transferred to the Light House Board on 20 June 1865, Cactus served in the Second Lightouse District, as a supply and inspection tender. Completely rebuilt in 1870, she was then assigned to the Third Luighthouse District, being refitted in 1882 and 1887.

Decommissioned on 31 January 1909, Cactus underwent conversion to a merchant vessel, and served as such until 1921.

Updated, Robert J. Cressman

5 October 2021

Published: Tue Oct 05 09:42:56 EDT 2021