USS Hatteras: Help Solve a Mystery in the Deep!

By Liz Liang

February 2014

USS Hatteras boat faced of with Confederate boat
"The Fatal Chase", by Tom Freeman. The USS Hatteras engages the Confederate raider CSS Alabama.

More than 150 years after the USS Hatteras met its final resting place in the Gulf of Mexico, the identities of two African-American sailors who went down with the ship remain a mystery.

In recognition of Black History Month, NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries is asking for your help to identify these two Civil War heroes so they can be properly recognized for their contributions to our nation’s maritime history.

On Jan. 11, 1863, the Union warshipUSS Hatteras absorbed  blow after blow from the Confederate raider CSS Alabama. After 20 minutes of close-range cannon fire, the Hatteras began filling with water. Within the confines of the engine spaces, two men lost their lives. Hatteras was the only warship sunk in the Gulf of Mexico in the entire duration of the Civil War.

three-dimensional scan of Civil War vessels on the surface
This newly released sonar image of the wreck of USS Hatteras (1863) is a three-dimensional scan of those portions of the lost Civil War naval vessel that stick above the sand and sediments of the seabed off Galveston, Texas. The images show the ship's stern and rudder to the right, and the paddlewheel shaft, engine machinery and one of the paddlewheels of the heroic Union warship, which sank after a heated 13-minute battle with the Confederate raider CSS Alabama on January 11, 1863. (NOAA, Office of National Marine Sanctuaries/ExploreOcean. Image by James Glaeser, Northwest Hydro, Inc.)

Edward Cotham, a researcher and Houston Civil War historian, found a reference to the two African American sailors in an 1866 recollection authored by the captain of the Hatteras, Lieutenant Commander Homer C. Blake. According to Blake, an African-American steward remained at his post as shell after shell rocked the ship. The other African-American member of the crew grabbed a musket and fought bravely and could be heard discharging his weapon during the entire battle, Blake noted.

Neither man was identified by name, but their brave acts potentially saved countless other lives. After more than a century, it is time the heroic deeds of the two fallen sailors are fully recognized by current and future generations.

Help give them the recognition they deserve by visiting

Also, learn more about efforts to map the wreck of the USS Hatteras, which lies 10 miles off the coast of Galveston, Texas, using high-resolution sonar in 2013.