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USS Tulip Wreck Site - 1864

A Union Gunboat in the Potomac River


The little steam-screw gunboat, USS Tulip, and its sistership, USS Fuchsia, were constructed in the winter of 1862 by master shipwright James C. Jewett of New York City. The ship was registered as having two decks, two masts, and a round stern with an eagle for its figurehead. The vessel measured 101 feet 4 inches in length, 22 feet 10 inches in breadth, with a loaded draft of 11 feet 5 inches and weighed 240 tons. Designed as a screw steamer, and the only extant example of its type, the ship was outfitted with a two horizontal, direct-acting engine (two cylinders) and two 15 foot long fire-tube boilers.

Originally named Chi Kiang was intended for duty with China's military in 1863, but the U.S. Navy purchased Tulip for $30,000. She was moved to the New York Navy Yard where its superstructure was modified for a lower profile. Designated as a fourth-rate gunboat, Tulip was assigned to the Potomac Flotilla Base, where it served until lost 11 November 1864. Problems with the starboard boiler were ignored by the ship's captain, Captain Smith, in his desire for a speedy voyage up the Potomac River to the Anacostia Naval Base for repairs. With a full head of steam in both boilers, the starboard boiler exploded and the vessel sank just off Ragged Point, Virginia.

The Wreck

Maryland Maritime Archaeology Program (MMAP) staff, sport diver Uve Lowas, and several volunteers relocated Tulip in May of 1994 and dove on the vessel in June. In August 1995, under a Department of Defense Legacy Resource Management Program Grant, the Maryland Maritime Archaeology Program crew returned to the site for a three-day reconnoiter to study site conditions and record the wreck's structure. The results of that brief visit were incorporated into the planning of a full- scale remote sensing and video taping of the site in October of 1996.

Maryland Maritime Archaeology's two year effort to recover artifacts removed from the site in the late 1960s has resulted in more than 1,500 artifacts being returned to the Naval Historical Center. All classes of artifacts are represented in the collections, including armament, military uniforms, navigation equipment, kitchen items, toiletry items, medicinal bottles, ship's hardware, tools and engine room items.

This important Civil War period grave site has been nominated for listing on the National Register of Historic Places.

Additional Information

Thompson, Bruce F. "Legacy of a Fourth-Rate Steam Screw." Naval History 10, no.3 (Jun. 1996): 36-39.



Published: Wed Dec 02 11:15:03 EST 2020