Monticello-Peterhoff Encounter, 1863

A cannon from the USS Peterhoff, on display at Fort Fisher

On March 6, 1863, only one week into blockading duty, the USS Peterhoff met an untimely end, south of New Inlet near Confederate-held Fort Fisher.

The incident was the result of a misunderstanding. Off-duty blockading vessels were not supposed to travel inside the blockading lines at night, but the wooden-hulled, screw steamer USS Monticello violated that rule while heading to Beaufort for refueling, and in the process, mistook the Peterhoff for a blockade runner. The Monticello rammed the Peterhoff and, in less than a half hour, the latter lay on the bottom of the sea.

An artifact from the Peterhoff now on display at the N.C. Maritime Museum at SouthportThe audacious captain of the Monticello, Lieutenant Commander William B. Cushing, was not held responsible, nor was the ship’s commander Acting Volunteer Lieutenant Thomas Pickering, though Pickering later was put on another assignment. The ensign who was in charge of the deck at the time of the incident was blamed with “irresponsibility and carelessness.”

One hundred years later, the wreck of the USS Peterhoff was discovered by recreational divers. Cannons and other artifacts recovered 1974 can be seen at area museums. North Carolina has more Civil War shipwrecks than any other state. The Peterhoff wreck is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

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