Cactus, 1865

Sept. 10, 2020

Cactus, 1865

Cactus: Any of a large group of plants of the family Cactaceae, chiefly native to arid regions of the New World having thick, fleshy, and often prickly stems that function as leaves and some species having showy flowers and edible fruit.

Builder: ?; Brooklyn, New York

Length: 140' 7"

Beam: 22' 6"

Draft: 7' 6"

Displacement: 242 tons

Cost: $10,000

Commissioned: 20 June 1865

Decommissioned: 31 January 1909

Disposition: Sold

Machinery: One low pressure walking-beam steam engine; 200 BHP; coal-fired boiler; side paddle wheels

Performance & Endurance:

        Max: 15 knots
        Cruising: N/A

Deck Gear: Wood boom

Complement: 15

Armament: 1 x 30-pounder; 2 x 12-pounders (USN)

Tender History:

Cactus, a side-wheel steamer, was built during 1863 in Brooklyn, New York, as the Polar Star.  She was purchased at New York on 9 December 1863 by the U.S. Navy and was commissioned as U.S.S. Cactus on 4 May 1864 with  Acting Master N. Graham in command.  She was assigned to the North Atlantic Blockading Squadron with its task of isolating the Confederacy from overseas sources of supply, Cactus served as a supply ship and tender in Hampton Roads until 28 May 1864.  She was then ordered up the York River to guard the Army's lines of communication. 

On 20 June 1864, with U.S.S. Morse, she fought an engagement with Confederate batteries along the Pamunkey River.  After assisting in covering the withdrawal of the Army from White House, Virginia, the steamer returned to Hampton Roads 23 June.  Until April 1865, Cactus operated in Hampton Roads and Chesapeake Bay towing launches and supply schooners.  She then served in the Potomac Flotilla until placed out of commission at the Washington Navy Yard 8 June 1865.  Cactus was transferred to the Light House Board 20 June 1865.

She served in the 2nd Lighthouse District as a supply and inspection tender.  She was completely rebuilt in 1870 and was then assigned to the 3rd Lighthouse District.  She was refitted in 1882 and again in 1887.

She was decommissioned in 1909 and was eventually sold for $1,025.  She became a merchant ship and operated until 1921.


Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships.  Washington, DC: USGPO.

Douglas Peterson.  United States Lighthouse Service Tenders, 1840-1939. Annapolis: Eastwind Publishing, 2000.