150 years ago: Fireworks on the James – capture of the CSS Teaser

One hundred and fifty years ago today (July 4, 1862), Lieutenant Hunter Davidson, commanding the armed tug CSS Teaser, headed down the James River to place torpedoes (mines) and generally reconnoiter the Federal positions near Harrison’s Landing.  Meanwhile, the gunboat USS Maratanza, commanded by Lieutenant T.H. Stevens, was also on a reconnaissance of the river (with the USS Monitor in support).  The two ships crossed paths near Haxall’s Landing, adjacent to Malvern Hill, and began exchanging cannon shots.  The third round from the Maratanza passed into the Teaser‘s boiler.  Fearing destruction, the rebel crew abandoned ship. But the tug remained afloat and intact – and she became a prize of war.  (Guest blogger John Grady posted on the action at the Civil War Navy Sesquicentennial blog.)

And a prize she was!  The Teaser was an interesting, valuable vessel because of her employment – mine-layer and balloon tender.  On board, the Federals found torpedoes, telegraph wire (used to control the torpedoes), handling gear, maps and charts, official papers (some accounts indicate signal cyphers), and a hot air balloon.  Most important, in the immediate sense, was the intelligence gained from the capture of the Teaser.   Maps provided locations of the Confederate torpedoes upriver along the James:

And the capture allowed the Federals to examine the torpedoes up close.  They also gained knowledge as to how the weapons were placed and controlled.

But more interesting to me, were the two captured cannons! Stevens reported the Teaser’s armament included one 32-pdr 57 cwt banded and rifled gun and a 12-pdr rifled gun.  Photographers recorded the presence of both weapons on the captured warship.  The 32-pdr was typical of its class, appearing similar to weapons of the same caliber modified by both sides during the war.  The photo of the 32-pdr offers a great study of, not only the breech of the gun, but of the mounting and tackle.  The rear sight and other equipment were with the gun at the time the camera lens was uncovered.

The photographer also worked in a rifled shell, with a good profile study of the projectile. But that sailor appears to have his mind elsewhere… perhaps thinking of the prize money?

The photo of the 12-pdr rifle shows a much rarer gun.

Looks like a cross between a Parrott rifle and a Dahlgren boat howitzer!

Remarkably, both guns survive today.  Like many captured weapons, the guns found their way into the trophy collection of the Washington Navy Yard.  The 32-pdr is still there.

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Navy 32-pdr Gun of 57cwt, Banded and Rifle

Tredegar cast the gun for a pre-war Navy contract in 1852.  It bears inspection marks from Charles W. Skinner. It weighed 6526 pounds (give or take).  The number “642” appears on the muzzle, and is probably Tredegar’s foundry number.  The gun’s recorded registry number was 733 (although I think that is now covered by the band).

The Navy saw fit to record the origin of this trophy with an inscription on the breech. The left side reads “Navy 32 pdr banded and rifled.”

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Left side of trophy inscription

The right side reads “by the Rebels. Taken in tug Teazer.”

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Right side of trophy inscription

Yes, Teazer instead of Teaser.

The 12-pdr rifle is listed on records as a “10-pdr Confederate Navy Parrott Rifle.”  Unfortunately at present the “Navy Parrott” is not on display.  I snapped the photo below in the 1990s as the gun, along with some other rare types, was prepared for storage.

10-pdr Navy Parrott and other guns preparing for storage

So until the gun is returned for public display, I cannot show you the markings and inscriptions.

After capture, the US Navy put the Teaser to good use.  The tug served the North Atlantic Blockade Squadron, primarily in the Chesapeake, Potomac, and Rappahannock.  She was engaged with Confederate batteries from time to time.  After the war, the Navy sold the tug and she returned to civilian tug role.  Eventually, as will happen with any old ship after many years of work, she was broken up.

But two artifacts survive today – one on public display, another stored in a warehouse – as reminders of the brief Independence Day fight between the Teaser and Maratanza.

Published by Craig Swain

"Historical marker hunter" and Civil War enthusiast.

4 thoughts on “150 years ago: Fireworks on the James – capture of the CSS Teaser

  1. Do you think the Teaser’s rifled 32 pounder is close to what the two 6.4″ Brooke rifles on the CSS Virginia would have looked like?

    1. The guns on the CSS Virginia were Brooke® rifles. The gun on the Teaser was an old 32-pdr modified for service by banding and rifling.

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