USS Niphon (1863)

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Career (US) 100x35px
Laid down: date unknown
Launched: February 1863
Acquired: 22 April 1863
Commissioned: 24 April 1863
Decommissioned: 1 December 1864
Struck: 1865 (est.)
Fate: sold, 17 April 1865
General characteristics
Displacement: 475 long tons (483 t)
Length: 153 ft 2 in (46.69 m)
Beam: 24 ft 9 in (7.54 m)
Draft: depth of hold 17’3”,
draft 11’3”;
Propulsion: steam engine, screw
Speed: 12.5 knots
Complement: 70
Armament: one 20-pounder Parrott rifle
two 12-pounder rifles
four 32-pounder guns
Armor: wood and iron

USS Niphon (1863) was a steam operated vessel acquired by the Union Navy during the American Civil War. She was used by the Navy to patrol navigable waterways of the Confederacy to prevent the South from trading with other countries.

Niphon, a wooden and iron screw steamer launched at Boston, Massachusetts, in February 1863, was delivered to the Navy at Boston 22 April 1863; commissioned at Boston Navy Yard 24 April 1863, Acting Ens. Joseph B. Breck in command; and was formally purchased 9 May 1863.

Assigned to the North Atlantic Blockade

Assigned to the North Atlantic Blockading Squadron, Niphon was first stationed off Fort Fisher, North Carolina, which protected Wilmington, North Carolina, from attack by sea. She captured blockade runner Banshee at New Inlet, North Carolina, 29 July 1863. On 18 August she chased steamer Hebe, carrying drugs, clothing, coffee, and provisions for the Confederacy, and forced the blockade runner aground north of Fort Fisher where she was abandoned. The boats from Niphon were sent to destroy Hebe but were swamped in heavy seas and their crews captured. Then USS Shokoken (1862) opened fire on Hebe and she was burned to the waterline.

Niphon captures the large blockade runner Ella and Annie

With USS James Adger (1851), Niphon captured steamer Cornubia north of New Inlet 8 November. Cornubia’s papers exposed the whole scheme by which the Confederacy had clandestinely obtained ships in England. The next day Niphon captured blockade runner Ella and Annie off Masonboro Inlet, North Carolina, attempting to slip in with a cargo of arms and provisions. Trying to escape, the runner rammed Niphon but surrendered to Federal bluejackets who boarded her when the ships had swung broadside. (Note: Ella and Annie was later commissioned in the Union Navy as USS Malvern (1860)

After capturing Ella and Annie, Niphon returned to Boston for repairs, but was back off New Inlet 6 February 1864. On 21 April, Niphon, USS Howquah (1863), and USS Fort Jackson (1862) destroyed salt works at Masonboro Sound, North Carolina. On 27 August, Niphon and USS Monticello (1859) ventured up Masonboro Inlet to silence a Confederate battery. Landing parties from the ships captured arms, ammunition, and food stuffs. A boat expedition from Niphon landed at Masonboro Inlet 19 September to gain intelligence on the defenses of Wilmington, North Carolina. They learned that raider CSS Tallahassee and several blockade runners were at Wilmington. That day Acting Master Edmund Kemble relieved Breck in command.

Attacking blockade runners

On the 25th, Niphon, Howquah, and USS Governor Buckingham, in an engagement with blockade runner Lynx and Confederate shore batteries, chased the blazing steamer ashore where she burned until consumed.

Late on the night of 29 September, Niphon fired upon Night Hawk as she attempted to run into New Inlet, and observed her go aground. A boat crew led by Acting Ensign Semon boarded the steamer and, under fire from Fort Fisher, set her ablaze and brought off the crew as prisoners.

Mrs. Rose O’Neal Greenhow drowns with a bag of gold around her neck

Niphon ran British blockade runner Condor aground off New Inlet, 1 October, but was prevented from destroying the steamer by intense fire from Fort Fisher. Among the passengers on board Condor was one of the most famous Confederate agents of the war, Mrs. Rose O'Neal Greenhow who, fearful of being captured with her important dispatches, set out in a boat for shore. Her craft overturned in the heavy surf. The crew managed to get ashore; but the lady weighted down by $2,000 in Confederate gold in a pouch around her neck, drowned.

Niphon, under fire, saves a stranded Berberry

On the 7th, Union blockader USS Aster (1864) chased blockade runner Annie ashore at New Inlet, under the guns of Fort Fisher, but the 285-ton Federal wooden steamer ran aground herself and was destroyed to prevent capture. Niphon rescued Aster’s crew under a hail of fire from Confederate batteries and towed out USS Berberry (1864), after the Northern steamer had become disabled trying to pull Aster off the shoal.

On the last day of October, USS Wilderness (1864) and Niphon seized another blockade runner named Annie off New Inlet, North Carolina, a British steamer with cargo of tobacco, cotton, and turpentine.

End-of-war decommissioning and sale

Late in November Niphon, in need of extensive repairs, steamed to Boston where she decommissioned 1 December. She was sold at public auction there 17 April 1865, and was documented as Tejuca 23 October 1865 and was sold abroad in 1867.


This article includes text from the public domain Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships.

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