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General Stephen Elliott, Lieutenant James A. Hamilton, and Elliott's torpedoes.

By Major J. A. Hamilton.
I am very confident that General Stephen Elliott was among the first, (if he was not the initiator) to introduce the use of torpedoes. During the spring of 1862 this officer, then Captain of the Beaufort artillery, was at Hardeeville. His command had several heavy howitzers with which they did duty in the absence of a light battery which he was awaiting. An inspection had been ordered, and the writer was with a squad, cleaning up one of the howitzers. The Savannah had overrun its banks, and the gun was pushed into the water for a wash. Not being used to a “fresh” I pushed it too far, and to my chagrin I saw it plunge with its heavy gun chests into the bed of the stream. I sought the Captain, and found him stretched on his stomach studying a plan of torpedo which he had drawn. Relating my mishap, he gave me a look half severe and half laughing, and leaping up began to divest himself of his uniform. When he reached the stream he was in his undergarments. Diving into the booming current he was hid for a minute, then he rose like an otter, shook the water out of his full head of hair, and struck for the shore. “A rope;” it was brought. Down he went again, and remained long enough to tie the rope to the lower axle, and run it along the pole. He reappeared, and said as he walked coolly to his tent, “hitch on the battery horses.” The horses were geared to the rope and the gun was dragged from its bed to terra firma. The washing was complete.

A few weeks later, just after the fall of Fort Pulaski, Captain Elliott, with a few of his men, secreted some of his torpedoes in the Savannah river, near “Red Bluff.” I have never learned if these were encountered by the enemy. Later, and while he was watching the coast with a “terrible faithfulness,” he saw two of the enemy's war craft run into [184] St. Helena. He procured two frail race-boats, and putting Lieutenant James A. Hamilton in charge of one he took the other. A dark night found the two fleet boats gliding abreast and about two hundred feet apart down towards the vessels that lay head to an ebb tide. A pair of torpedoes were sent on their mission; one of the vessels, the smaller, with a crew of about thirty, was blown to atoms. Excepting the actors in this affair no one knew of it; Captain Elliott kept his own counsel, and was the more successful for it. After the removal of Colonel Rhett to another field of service Colonel Stephen Elliott was placed in charge of Fort Sumter. How he floated masses of ranging timber down the harbor at night and dragged it through the rear ports; how he created a frame and filled it in with debris; how he unpaved the streets of Charleston, and set the cobble-stones outside of his unique parapet, and how he flung out a new and defiant flag over the “fort within a fort,” is for a gifted pen. Elliott, the genius of war, lifted the drooping crest of the old fortress, and like Druilius used the enemy's material to defeat him. Anticipating a night attack from the enemy (which afterwards was skilfully planned, and which met with a complete and disastrous overthrow to the Federals, nearly all of whom were captured or killed) he desired to avert or weaken such an assault by attacking the “Ironsides,” then the rallying centre of the fleet. Torpedoes at this time were used successfully on the western rivers, and were being discussed in Charleston. Colonel Elliott wrote to his friend and late brother officer. The original is in the possession of one of Lieutenant Hamilton's relatives:

August 29, 1863.
Dear Jim,--As you have already heard from----, General Beauregard desired me to suggest a commissioned officer who might take charge of the completion, and perhaps the application, of the four torpedoes now at McPhersonville. I could think of no one so fit as your-self, as you understand the machines and are perfectly capable of applying them. In the latter operation, however, I hope to have a share myself, if my duties do not interfere. * * * Call for what you want and you shall have it. * * * I consider the blowing up of the “Ironsides” of so much importance that it overcomes my scruples. * * * Hoping you will pitch in and be ready for the dark nights,

I am yours truly, &c.,

The next day saw the laconic Colonel and his trusted Lieutenant seated on the boulders counting the chances. “Which of the vessels [185] will you try? The Ironsides is farthest out and until she moves in you must work on the closest.” Elliott watched the other. “I shall not hunt the field for a Harold, Colonel; any one of them is worth the attempt.” Hamilton made his rendezvous at the “hundred pines,” and avoided all noonday movements; yet it is supposed that spies in the city sent word of his intentions, in bottles floated down to the fleet. After one or two attempts made, the Ironsides was rafted around with fenders which kept off the torpedoes. I am not sure that she had not been shocked by one torpedo. A few days later, however, and Lieutenant Hamilton while reconnoitering after night in a small boat was thrown into the sea and remained there for about an half hour. This brought on a congestion, and he was ordered away to recruit. He sank rapidly, and while trying to walk down a flight of steps in Columbia, he fell, burst a blood vessel and died. Just before dying he beckoned to his brother: “What says the doctor?” The sad reply was given, “No hope, dear Jim.” “I am too young to die; however, if it is God's will, Amen I” Turning to his servant he said, “Israel, square me on the pillow.” This done, he dressed his shoulders as if in ranks, “Good-bye brother;” and the man of iron nerve took his long furlough. He died at thirty-four. While lying in uniform awaiting transportation, a brother officer of another command came in, and kissed the dead man's forehead. The writer advanced and enquired “why this affection?” “There is one,” he replied, “who saved my life and reputation. I was once flanked by the enemy; he that sleeps there was fighting his guns at my left as busy as he could be. I crossed over and said, Lieutenant, I am to be captured. Forward; he called to his section — forward they went. Fall back; he said to me as he unlimbered in my front. I fell back, he broke the enemy's charge and I escaped.”

A distinctive modesty stamped both Elliott and his Lieutenant. The senior a bluff, dashing, handsome, well-bred soldier; his Lieutenant a slim, well knit, modest but determined man, whom his leader trusted in any emergency. “Elliott is a paragon,” said the younger to me; “Jim is a faithful fighter,” said the Colonel. Yemassee, hot, bloody, victorious Yemassee, was fought. It was an all-day fight, and the Confederates had laid out twice their number that day. On the field, at night, some of the officers were enjoying a refreshment of good things; a toast was offered by one amid that scene of slaughter, “Hamilton, the hero of the day.” It was drank all round, but the subject of the toast was, meanwhile, snoring soundly with his head pillowed on a root a few yards away. He cared naught for sentiment; he was a man for work. The torpedoes which Elliott used were his own invention; they consisted of two cans, one empty to float, the other which held [186] powder. A musket sawed off to a length of three feet was adjusted between the two; an eccentric or trip was arranged around the musket grip, and this connected with the trigger. When the trip was disturbed, as if by touching a vessel's side, it fired the musket into the lower can, which was submerged, and the explosion ensued. How much damage was done to the enemy can never be told. Both General Elliott and his Lieutenant were painfully reticent about what they would or had done, but what they did do was the possible of what two men could do.

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