The wreck of the United States Navy vessel USS Hatteras, sunk in an engagement with the Confederate raider CSS Alabama, lies in sixty feet of water about twenty miles south of Galveston, Texas. The site is one of the few shipwreck sites in the National Register of Historic Places. Its significance is twofold. The vessel is a relatively early example of a steel-hulled, side-wheeled steamship representative of the transition between the wooden sailing ship and the modern steamship; and she is comparatively intact since she sank very rapidly and, unlike the majority of Texas shipwrecks, lies in deep water away from the destructive surf.
The Hatteras was a converted merchant ship of 1,126 tons, 210 feet long, with a draft of eighteen feet, formerly named the St. Mary. She was acquired by the United States Navy from Harland and Hollingworth of Wilmington, Delaware, on September 25, 1861. She was armed and fitted out at the Philadelphia Naval Yard and commissioned in October 1861. Her armament consisted of four thirty-two-pounders, two thirty-pounders, one twenty-pounder, and an eight-pounder. The ship and her crew of 126 first saw duty with the South Atlantic blockading squadron and subsequently with the Gulf of Mexico blockading squadron. She carried out raids on the Confederate coastline, engaged a Confederate warship, CSS Mobile, in an inconclusive action, and captured a number of blockade runners. The Hatteras was sunk by Confederate captain Raphael Semmes after a short battle on January 11, 1863, only two months after her second captain, Commander Homer C. Blake, assumed command.
The wreck site is shown on nautical charts and has long been known to local divers and amateur historians. It has also been located by commercial treasure hunters, who filed a suit claiming to be, by right of discovery, the salvors and owners of the wreck. Because the wreck is a United States naval vessel, the federal government was able to keep control of the site and preserve it for scientific investigation. This is one of the few cases in which the courts have found in favor of historic preservation and against commercial exploitation of a historic shipwreck site. The New Orleans Outer Continental Shelf Office of the Bureau of Land Management, as the responsible federal agency, has undertaken various investigations of the wreck.