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Teaser I (Tug)


The Navy retained the name carried by this vessel at the time of her capture.


(Tug: tonnage 65; length 80'0"; beam 18'0"; depth of hold 7'0"; complement 25; armament 1 32-pounder rifle, 1 12-pounder rifle)

In April 1861, the government of the state of Virginia purchased the Philadelphia-built, wooden-hulled screw tug Teaser of Georgetown, D.C., and commissioned her in the Virginia State Navy, Lt. J. H. Rochelle, VSN, in command. Upon the secession of that state, Teaser became a part of the Confederate Navy and continued to operate in Virginia waters. With Lt. W. A. Webb, CSN, in command, she took an active part in the battles of Hampton Roads, Va., on 8 and 9 March 1862, acting as tender to CSS Virginia. She received the thanks of the Congress of the Confederate States for this action.

Teaser was a pioneer “aircraft carrier” (balloon ship); she also became a pioneer minelayer when ordered, on 17 June 1861, to assist General Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia. Under Lt. H. Davidson, CSN, she was used by the Confederate Naval Submarine Battery Service to plant and service "torpedoes" [mines] in the James River. While engaging the gunboat Maratanza at Haxall's on the James on 4 July 1862, a Union shell blew up Teaser's boiler and forced her crew to abandon ship. When seized by Maratanza, Teaser was carrying on board a balloon for aerial reconnaissance of Union positions at City Point and Harrison's Landing.

Later that summer, Teaser was taken into the Federal Navy and was assigned to the Potomac Flotilla. With the exception of three brief deployments elsewhere, she plied the waters of the Potomac from Alexandria, Va., south to Point Lookout, Md., to enforce the blockade by interdicting a thriving trade in contraband between the Maryland and Virginia shores.

On 22 September 1861, she captured schooner Southerner in the Coan River. On 19 October, while operating in the vicinity of Piney Point in St. Mary's County, Md., she captured two smugglers and their boat as they were nearing the exit of Herring Creek and preparing to cross the river to Virginia. On 2 November, near the mouth of the Rappahannock, the tug surprised three men attempting to violate the blockade in a canoe. She took them prisoner and turned their contraband over to pro-Union Virginians living on Gwynn's Island. Four days later in Chesapeake Bay, Teaser took the cargo-less sloop Grapeshot and captured her three-man crew.

By December 1862, she had moved to the Rappahannock River with other units of the Potomac Flotilla to support General Ambrose P. Burnside's thrust toward Richmond. On the 10th, she exchanged shots with a Confederate battery located on the southern shore of the river about three miles below Port Royal, Va. After Burnside's bloody rebuff at Fredericksburg on 13 December, Teaser and her colleagues returned to their anti-smuggling patrol along the Potomac.

Teaser joined Primrose to make March 1863 an active month. On the 24th, the two ships sent a boat expedition to reconnoiter Pope's Creek, Va. The landing party found two boats used for smuggling and collected information from Union sympathizers in the area. Almost a week later, on the night of 30 and 31 March, they dispatched a three-boat party to Monroe’s Creek, Va. The previous day, a Federal cavalry detachment had surprised a smuggler in the area; and, though the troops captured his goods, the man himself escaped. Teaser's and Primrose's boats succeeded where the Union horsemen had failed, and they gathered some intelligence on other contrabanders as well.

In April 1863, Teaser left the Potomac for duty with Acting Rear-Admiral S. Phillip Lee's North Atlantic Blockading Squadron at Hampton Roads. On the 17th, she joined Alert and Coeur de Lion in an expedition up the Nansemond River west of Norfolk. However, she ran aground, damaged her machinery, and had to retire from the venture.

By mid-summer, Teaser was back in action on the Potomac. On the night of 27 July 1863, she captured two smugglers with a boatload of tobacco in the mouth of the Mattawoman Creek just south of Indian Head, Md. She destroyed the boat and sent the prisoners and contraband north to the Washington Navy Yard. During the night of 7 October, Teaser and another flotilla ship (extant records do not identify her companion) noticed signaling between Mathias Point, Va., and the Maryland shore. The two ships shelled the woods at Mathias Point, but took no action against the signalers on the Maryland shore other than to urge upon the Army's district provost marshal the necessity of constant vigilance.

On 5 January 1864, Teaser and Yankee landed a force of men at Nomini, Va., to investigate a rumor that the Southerners had hidden a large lighter and a skiff capable of boating 80 men there. The force, commanded by Acting Ens. Philip Sheridan, Teaser's commanding officer, found both boats, destroyed the lighter, and captured the skiff. During the landing, Confederate soldiers appeared on the heights above Nomini, but the gunboats dampened their curiosity with some well-placed cannon shots.

In April 1864, Teaser, Anacostia, Fuchsia, Resolute, and Yankee accompanied an Army expedition to Machodoc Creek, Va. At 5:00 a.m. on the 13th, the four ships cleared the St. Mary's River in company with the Army's steamer Long Branch with a battalion of soldiers under the command of General Edward W. Hincks. Long Branch landed her troops at about 8:00 a.m. while the five ships covered the operation. A contingent of Confederate cavalry appeared on the southern bank of the Machodoc but retired when Teaser and Anacostia sent four armed boat crews ashore. The landing party netted a prisoner, probably a smuggler, and a large quantity of tobacco. By the 14th, General Hincks' troops re-embarked in Long Branch and headed for Point Lookout. Anacostia accompanied the Army steamer while the other four warships investigated Currioman Bay and Nomini. They returned to St. Mary's that afternoon to resume patrols.

During the summer of 1864, Teaser was called upon to leave the Potomac once more. On this occasion, the Union forces needed her guns to help defend strategic bridges across the rivers at the head of Chesapeake Bay near Baltimore against Brigadier General Jubal Early's raiders. On 10 July, she departed the lower Potomac, rounded Point Lookout, and headed up the Chesapeake Bay. That night, she had to put into the Patuxent River because of heavy winds and leaks in her hull. Before dawn the following morning, she continued up the bay. During the forenoon, the leaks became progressively worse and, by the time she arrived off Annapolis, she had to remove her exhaust pipe for temporary repairs. Early that evening, Teaser reached Baltimore where she put in for additional repairs.

The gunboat did not reach her destination, the bridge over the Gunpowder River, until late on the 12th. She was too late. The bridge had already been burned. She returned to Baltimore immediately to report on the bridge and to pick up arms and provisions for the vessels stationed in the Gunpowder River. When she arrived back at the bridge, she found orders to return to the Potomac awaiting her. Teaser departed the northern reaches of the Chesapeake and reported back to the Potomac Flotilla at St. Inigoes on the St. Mary's River in late afternoon on 14 April.

For the remainder of the war, Teaser and her flotilla-mates plied the Potomac and contributed to the gradual economic strangulation which brought the South to its knees by April 1865. Less than two months after General Robert E. Lee's surrender at Appomattox Court House, Teaser was decommissioned at the Washington Navy Yard on 2 June 1865.

Sold at public auction at Washington to Mr. J. Bigler on 25 June, the tug was re-documented as York River on 2 July 1865, and she served commercially until 1878.

James L. Mooney

Updated, Robert J. Cressman

21 July 2022

Published: Thu Jul 21 11:46:28 EDT 2022