The capture of the Underwriter

Like their Federal counterparts, Confederate Marines were occasionally detailed for special service to "cut-out" and capture enemy vessels. In February 1864 men from Co C, under ("apt Thomas S.Wilson, took part in the capture of the side-wheel gunboat USS Underwriter in the Neuse River near New Berne, North Carolina. About 2.30am on February 2, a force consisting of 250 seamen and 25 Marines aboard ten small boats glided up to the Underwriter as she lay at anchor. Discovered too late, the first wave of Confederate seamen, armed with cutlasses and revolvers, boarded the Federal vessel under covering fire from the Marines. Regarding the contribution of the Marines, a Confederate sailor later recalled, "As we came up to the ship they rose and delivered their fire, taking accurate aim, reloading still under the heavy fire from the Yankees." The Marines then joined the boarders, but as they clambered up the sides and over the rail Pte William Bell was "shot through the heart," and landed heavily on the eyewitness, crushing him "down over the thwarts." The remaining Marines "obeyed their orders promptly" and were quickly placed in formation on the hurricane deck, with fixed bayonets. Standing their ground, they shot down any remaining opposition - even when a large shell from a shore battery struck the "upper machinery" of the Underwriter and exploded on the deck nearby.

Henry Melville Doak was commissioned second lieutenant in the CSMC to rank from November 12, 1862. After serving at Charleston Harbor and on the coast of North Carolina, he was seriously wounded defending Fort Fisher on January 15, 1864. This portrait has been crudely retouched, but the original single collar bar and single-braid sleeve knots on his all-gray coat are apparent. (Courtesy of the Tennessee State Library & Archives)

Fire Underwriters Knot

Preparations were made to get the Underwriter underway or to tow her off with launches, but fire spread rapidly through the vessel, foiling all efforts. The wounded and prisoners were passed into the boats, and the expedition returned up river under cover of darkness. The total loss among the Confederates was five killed and 11 wounded, including four Marines. Of the performance of the Marines, the overall commander of the operation, Cdrjohn Taylor Wood, CSN, reported to Col Beall, "As a body they would be a credit to any organization, and I will be glad to be associated with them on duty any time."

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