Napoleon Collins was born March 4th 1814 in Pennsylvania. In January 1834 he started with the United States Navy as a Midshipman, becoming a Lieutenant in 1846. During the Mexican American War he served on the USS Decatur.
When the Civil War started, Collins commanded several gunboats, reaching the rank of Commander in July 1862. He participated while commanding the USS Unadilla in the capture of Port Royal and Beaufort, South Carolina.
While in command of the screw sloop the USS Wachusett, Collins sailed into the neutral harbor of Bahia in Brazil. On October 7th 1864 Collins captured the Confederate cruiser the CSS Florida in the harbor. This set off a diplomatic crisis between Brazil and the United States. Collins was court-martialed for illegally seizing the CSS Florida and sentenced to be dismissed from service, but as the capture of the Confederate ship was popular in the Union states, the court sentence was set aside.
Collins remained in the Navy after the war ended. He became a Captain in 1866 and Rear Admiral in August 1874. While commanding the South Pacific Squadron he died August 9th 1875 in Callao, Peru.