previous next


The system of torpedoes adopted by us was probably more effective than any other means of naval defense. The destructiveness of these little weapons had long been known, but no successful modes for their application of the destruction of the most powerful vessels of war and ironclads had been devised. It remained for the skill and ingenuity of our officers to bring the use of this terrible instrument to perfection. The success of their efforts is very frankly stated by one of the most distinguished of the enemy's commanders—Admiral Porter.1 He says:

Most of the Southern seaports fell into our possession with comparative facility; and the difficulty of capturing Charleston, Savannah, Wilmington, and Mobile was in a measure owing to the fact that the approaches to these places were filled with various kinds of torpedoes, laid in groups, and fired by electricity. The introduction of this means of defense on the side of the Confederates was for a time a severe check to our naval forces, for the commanders of squadrons felt it their duty to be careful when dealing with an element of warfare of which they knew so little, and the character and disposition of which it was so difficult to discover. In this system of defense, therefore, the enemy found their greatest security; and, notwithstanding all the efforts of Du Pont and Dahlgren, Charleston, Wilmington, and Savannah remained closed to our forces until near the close of the war.

In 1862, while General McClellan was in command of the enemy's forces below Richmond, it was observed that they had more than a hundred vessels in the James River, as if they were about to make an advance by that way upon the city. This led to an order placing General G. J. Rains in charge of the submarine defenses; on the James River opposite Drewry's Bluff the first submarine torpedo was made. The secret of all his future success consisted in the sensitive primer, which is unrivaled by any other means to explode torpedoes or sub-terra shells.

The torpedoes were made of the most ordinary material generally, such as beer barrels fixed with conical heads, coated within and without with rosin dissolved in coal tar; some were made of cast iron, copper, or tin; glass demijohns were also used. There were three essentials to success: the sensitive fuse-primer, a charge of sixty pounds of gunpowder, and actual contact between the torpedo and the bottom of the vessel.

There were one hundred twenty-three of these torpedoes placed in Charleston harbor and Stono River. It was blockaded by thirteen large ships and ironclads, with six or seven storeships, and some twenty other vessels. The position of each one was known, and they could be approached within a half-mile, which made it easy to attack, destroy, or disperse them at night by floating torpedoes, connected together by twos by a rope one hundred thirty yards long, buoyed up and stretched

1 See ‘Torpedo Warfare,’ North American Review, September-October, 1878.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.

An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.

hide People (automatically extracted)
Sort people alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a person to search for him/her in this document.
G. J. Rains (1)
D. D. Porter (1)
George B. McClellan (1)
Du Pont (1)
Dahlgren (1)
hide Dates (automatically extracted)
Sort dates alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a date to search for it in this document.
October, 1878 AD (1)
1862 AD (1)
September (1)
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: