The USS Hatteras was a 1,126 ton steamer, which was outfitted by the Union Navy at the Philadelphia Navy Yard as a gunboat, and assigned to Confederate blockading duty. She started life as the St Mary and was purchased on September 25th 1861. She was placed under the command of Commander George F Emmons in October 1861. The Hatteras sailed to Key West, Florida in November 1861 becoming a part of the South Atlantic Blockading Squadron.
She was assigned to Cedar Key, Florida, and moved there on January 7th 1862. After blocking the harbor for nine days, on January 16th 1862, she made a raid on the shore. The men on the ship burned seven blockade runners found in the harbor. Then they moved on to burning the Florida Railroad wharf, the depot, a telegraph office and several flatcars. To end the day the Hatteras took the Confederate garrison located in Cedar Key, capturing the commanding officer and about 20 men.