Daring Raid Nets Union Vessel in 1864

Capture of the USS Underwriter

The attack and capture of the USS. Underwriter. Image from Dickinson College.

On February 2, 1864, the 325-ton federal steamer USS Underwriter was captured at New Bern in a well-executed pre-dawn raid.

Led by Commander John Taylor Wood, the raid involved 14 boats carrying 250 sailors and marines stealthily making their way down the Neuse River from Kinston. Those participating in the mission had been selected from crews of Confederate vessels at Richmond, Wilmington and Charleston.

The Confederates boarded the Underwriter and, following fierce hand-to-hand combat, took control of the gunboat, capturing many of her officers and crew. Fourteen men were killed in the melee, five Confederate and nine Union, including the Underwriter’s commander.

Because the Underwriter’s fires were low the ship did not have enough steam to power it, its capture almost pointless. The Confederates set her afire and headed back up the Neuse River under Union fire from batteries on land, taking the prisoners with them. As the victors made their way away from burning Underwriter, they heard a terrific explosion when fire reached the vessel’s arsenal.

The loss of the Underwriter late during the Civil War proved that areas under heavy Union occupation were not impenetrable to Confederate raids.

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