(Str: 1. 210'; b. 28'; dph. 15')
Union side wheel steamer Vanderbuilt siezed blockadrunning British steamer Peterhoff off St. Thomas 25 February 1863. The prize was subsequently condemned by the New York prize court and purchased by the Union Navy.
An international dispute over the legality of the seizure delayed her active service for almost a year. She commissioned in February 1864, Aet. Vol. Lt. Thomas Piekering in command, and was assigned to the North Atlantic Bloekading Squadron on the 20th. The steamer departed Hampton Roads on the 28th for Wilmington, N.C. Stationed off New Inlet, N.C. Peterhoff collided with Monticello 6 March 1864 and sank. The next day Mount Vernon destroyed Petcrhoff's hulk to prevent possible salvage by the Confederates.
Source: Cape Fear Civil War Shipwreck District
The Peterhoff was built prior to the Civil War as a pleasure yacht for the Czar of Russia
in Petrodvorets on the Gulf of Finland. It was a screw-propelled, iron steamer, 210 feet in length,
28 feet in beam with a hold depth of 15 feet. During the war the Peterhoff was acquired by
English interests and outfitted for blockade running. On its maiden voyage it was intercepted and
searched by Union sailors. Finding contraband cargo on board, the Peterhoff was seized and sent
to New York where it was condemned and purchased by the Union Navy.
The USS Peterhoff kept its name when it was converted to a warship at the Hampton
Roads Naval Yard. Because of its narrow beam and long length it was fast and an excellent
vessel for blockade duty. In addition, since the USS Peterhoff was screw propelled, its decks
were free of the usual crankshaft and fenders of side paddlewheelers and allowed deck guns to
be mounted from stem to stern. After only a week on the Wilmington station, the USS Peterhoff
accidentally collided with the USS Monticello in the morning mist of March 6, 1864. Within thirty minutes the ex-blockade-runner sank unceremoniously in 5 fathoms of water off Fort Fisher.
Site 0002NEI was located in 1963 by sport divers and later that year three 32-pound
smoothbore cannon were salvaged by U.S. Navy divers. A 30-pound Parrott rifle and part of the
carriage of a brass howitzer were recovered during a 1974 field school, as well as a porcelain
bowl bearing the name, 'PETERHOFF'. As a result of these investigations, the wreck was listed
as an individual property on the National Register of Historic Places (1975).
At the present time site 0002NEI is heavily encrusted with marine growth, but is in
relatively good condition. This is due to its greater depth (35 feet to 40 feet) and distance from
shore (1.5 miles) where current movement and surf surge are diminished. With only moderate
collapsing of its hull plates the USS Peterhoff wreck still retains much of its upper deck
structure. Although the bow and stern sections have broken from the main body of the wreck
they remain in proper alignment. Besides significant portions of the hull and interior structural
members, the boilers and steam machinery are prominent features. Two cannon as well as a
variety of miscellaneous ship's equipment are still present on the site.
The Peterhoff was a 416-ton iron-hulled yacht originally built for the Tsar of Russia by C. J. Mare & Co. of Blackwall, London, with 140 hp steam engines by J & G. Rennie. Launched in 1850, the ship was eventually acquired by British interests and fitted out as a cargo ship.
Peterhoff sailed from Falmouth, Cornwall on 27 January 1863. On 20 February she was boarded and searched by the USS Alabama off the island of Saint Thomas in the Danish West Indies. Alabama found her papers in order and released her. Peterhoff then entered the harbour at St. Thomas where two U.S. Navy ships commanded by Acting Rear Admiral Charles Wilkes were at anchor. Wilkes, already notorious for his part in the "Trent Affair", ordered that the Peterhoff be boarded by the USS Vanderbilt just after she had left harbour on 25 February.
Peterhoff had papers that stated that she was bound for Matamoros in Mexico, but then a sailor aboard let slip that she was really bound for Brownsville, Texas, just across the Rio Grande. This comment was taken as sufficient justification for Vanderbilt to seize the ship as a blockade runner, and she was sent to Key West. Both the Danish and British governments vigorously protested the seizure, but the ship was eventually condemned by the New York prize court and bought by the Union Navy. She was commissioned in February 1864 with Acting-Volunteer Lieutenant Thomas Pickering in command, and assigned to the North Atlantic Blockading Squadron.
The ship departed Hampton Roads, Virginia, on 28 February to blockade Wilmington, North Carolina. However, early on the morning of 6 March 1864, the Peterhoff was rammed by the gunboat Monticello who mistook her for a blockade runner. Although Peterhoff sank within half an hour, all of her crew were saved. On the night of 7 March men from Mount Vernon and Niphon boarded the wreck at low tide and destroyed as much as they could, cutting down the masts and spiking all the guns that they could reach.
After the Civil War, the Supreme Court overturned the prize court's decision, and the owners of the Peterhoff received compensation for their loss.
The wreck of Peterhoff was rediscovered by divers in 1963 in 30 ft (9.1 m) of water off Kure Beach, North Carolina. Three 32-pounder smoothbore cannon were later salvaged. In 1974 a 30-pounder Parrott rifle was raised, and is now on display at the University of North Carolina Wilmington. Other guns from the ship are on display at Fort Fisher State Historic Site and the Carteret County Museum of History at Morehead City, North Carolina. The wreck site was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1975.
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Staff (2010-07-09). "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service.
"George Rennie". craig-telescope.co.uk. 2012. Retrieved 15 June 2012.
"Ships 1849-1851". Illustrated London News Archive. 2011. Retrieved 15 June 2012.
Norris, David (2012). "USS Peterhoff and UNC-W's Civil War Cannon". Cape Fear Civil War Round Table. Retrieved 15 June 2012.
"USS Peterhoff'". Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships. Navy Department, Naval History & Heritage Command. 2004. Retrieved 15 June 2012.
"Cape Fear Civil War Shipwreck Register" (PDF). North Carolina Office of State Archaeology. 2011. Retrieved 15 June 2012.
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This article incorporates text from the public domain Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships. The entry can be found here.
72 U.S. 28 -The Peterhoff United States Supreme Court ruling