The NC Navy ended 67 days after North Carolina seceded. Governor Ellis began planning for a state navy in April of 1861, over a month before the state seceded. He appointed Marshall Parks, president of the Albemarle and Chesapeake Canal Company, and William T. Muse to make a survey of the available steamers and sent a list of their recommendations to him. On their lists were the J.E. Coffee, Fairfield, Caledonia, Loper, J.N. Smith, and Sea Bird among others.
The Coffee was the first ship bought. A swift side-wheeler, she was intended to serve as a commerce raider off of Hatteras. Four others were bought, all of the relatively slow screw propeller canal tug boat build, too slow to capture any prizes while side-wheelers like the Coffee and the Gordon were around. They were mostly relegated to duty guarding the vast northern sounds along the coast. The Coffee, renamed the Warren Winslow, was exceptionally successful, capturing seven prizes between 12 May and 4 August 1861. She and the other commerce raiders were too successful, drawing unwelcome attention from the Union forces at Fort Monroe. Businessmen and underwriters raised such a clamor about their losses to the politicians that pressure was in turn put on the navy to do something about it.
The Caledonia was the second ship put into commission. Outfitted at Gosport, she joined the Winslow on