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Torpedo service in the Harbor and water defences of Charleston.

by General G. T. Beauregard.
[The following article from the distinguished engineer and accomplished soldier who made the heroic defence of Charleston, has been delayed much longer than we had intended by circumstances over which we had no control.]

Letter from General Beauregard.

Rev. J. W. Jones, D. D., Secretary Southern Historical Society, Richmond, Virginia:
Dear sir: During last summer several articles appeared in Northern papers, giving accounts of Russian torpedoes and torpedo-boats in the Danube, in which erroneous statements were made of the use of those engines of destruction at Charleston during our late civil war. To give a correct account of their use, as well as of other means employed by me to defend that city against the powerful naval and land batteries of the Federals, I prepared a paper on the subject for the Philadelphia Weekly Times, which, through accidental delays in transmission, did not appear until the first week in October. Since then, an interesting article on “torpedo service,” by Commander W. T. Glassel, C. S. N., who commanded the “David” in its gallant night attack on the New Ironsides in the outer harbor of Charleston, Oct. 5, 1863, has appeared in last November's number of the Southern Historical Society Papers, which enables me to correct a few slight errors I had made in my narrative of that attack. I have added als) to my article a few remarks taken from a Northern source which [146] contains information I did not at first possess. Thus amended, I enclose it to you that it may appear of record, should you think it worthy of the honor, among the valuable Confederate papers which are published monthly in the Southern Historical Society Papers, so ably conducted by you.

I remain, dear sir, yours very truly, G. T. Beauregard.

Narrative by General Beauregard.

On my return to Charleston in September, 1862, to assume command of the Department of South Carolina and Georgia, I found the defences of those two States in a bad and incomplete condition, including defective location and arrangement of works, even at Charleston and Savannah. Several points-such as the mouths of the Stono and Edisto rivers, and the headwaters of Broad river at Port Royal — I found unprotected; though soon after the fall of Fort Sumter, in 1861, as I was about to be detached, I had designated them to be properly fortified. A recommendation had even been made by my immediate predecessor that the outer defences of Charleston Harbor should be given up as untenable against the ironclads and monitors then known to be under construction at the North, and that the water-line of the immediate city of Charleston should be made the sole line of defence. This course, however, not having been authorized by the Richmond authorities, it was not attempted, except that the fortifications of Cole's Island — the key to the defence of the Stono river — was abandoned and the harbor in the mouth of the Stono left open to the enemy, who made it their base of operations. Immediately on my arrival I inspected the defences of Charleston and Savannah, and made a requisition on the War Department for additional troops and heavy guns deemed necessary; but neither could be furnished, owing, it was stated, to the pressing wants of the Confederacy at other points. Shortly afterward Florida was added to my command, but without any increase of troops or guns, except the few already in that State; and, later, several brigades were withdrawn from me, notwithstanding my protest, to reinforce the armies of Virginia and Tennessee. [147]

As I have already said, I found at Charleston an exceedingly bad defensive condition against a determined attack. Excepting Fort Moultrie, on Sullivan's Island, the works and batteries covering Charleston Harbor, including Fort Sumter, were insufficiently armed and their barbette guns without the protection of heavy traverses. In all the harbor works there were only three 10-inch and a few 8-inch columbiads, which had been left in Forts Sumter and Moultrie by Major Anderson, and about a dozen rifle gunsunbanded 32-pounders, made by the Confederates--which burst after a few discharges. There were, however, a number of good 42-pounders of the old pattern, which I afterward had rifled and banded. I found a continuous floating boom of large timbers bound together and interlinked, stretching across from Fort Sumter to Fort Moultrie. But this was a fragile and unreliable barrier, as it offered too great a resistance to the strong current of the ebb and flood tide at full moon, especially after southeasterly gales, which backed up the waters in the bay and in the Ashley and Cooper rivers. It was exposed, therefore, at such periods, to be broken, particularly as the channel-bottom was hard and smooth, and the light anchors which held the boom in position were constantly dragging — a fact which made the breaking of the boom an easy matter under the strain of hostile steamers coming against it under full headway. For this reason the engineers had proposed the substitution of a rope obstruction, which would be free from tidal strain, but little had been done toward its preparation. 1, therefore, soon after assuming command, ordered its immediate completion, and, to give it protection and greater efficiency, directed that two lines of torpedoes be planted a few hundred yards in advance of it. But before the order could be carried out, a strong southerly storm broke the timber boom in several places, leaving the channel unprotected, except by the guns of Forts Sumter and Moultrie. Fortunately, however, the Federal fleet made no effort to enter the harbor, as it might have done if it had made the attempt at night. A few days later the rope obstruction and torpedoes were in position, and so remained without serious injury till the end of the war.

The rope obstruction was made of two heavy cables, about five or six feet apart, the one below the other, and connected together by a network of smaller ropes. The anchors were made fast to [148] the lower cable, and the buoys or floats to the upper one. The upper cable carried a fringe of smaller ropes, about three-fourths of an inch in diameter by fifty feet long, which floated as so many “streamers” on the surface, destined to foul the screw propeller of any steamer which might attempt to pass over the obstruction. Shortly after these cables were in position a blockade-runner, in attempting at night to pass through the gap purposely left open near the Sullivan Island shore, under the guns of Fort Moultrie and of the outside batteries, accidentally crossed the end of the rope obstruction, when one of the streamers got entangled around the shaft, checking its revolutions. The vessel was at once compelled to drop anchor to avoid drifting on the torpedoes or ashore, and afterward had to be docked for the removal of the streamer before she could again use her propeller. The torpedoes, as anchored, floated a few feet below the surface of the water at low tide, and were loaded with one hundred pounds of powder arranged to explode by concussion — the automatic fuse employed being the invention of Capt. Francis D. Lee, an intelligent young engineer officer of my general staff, and now a prominent architect in St. Louis. The fuse or firing apparatus consisted of a cylindrical lead tube with a hemispherical head, the metal in the head being thinner than at the sides. The tube was open at the lower extremity, where it was surrounded by a flange; and, when in place, it was protected against leakage by means of brass couplings and rubber washers. It was charged as follows: In its centre was a glass tube filled with sulphuric acid and hermetrically sealed. This was guarded by another glass tube sealed in like manner, and both were retained in position by means of a peculiar pin at the open end of the leaden tube; the space between the latter and the glass tube was then filled with a composition of chlorate of potassa and powdered loaf sugar, with a quantity of rifle powder. The lower part of the tube was then closed with a piece of oiled paper. Great care had to be taken to ascertain that the leaden tube was perfectly water-tight under considerable pressure. The torpedo also had to undergo the most careful test. The firing of the tube was produced by bringing the thin head in contact with a hard object, as the side of a vessel; the indentation of the lead broke the glass tubes, which discharged the acid on the composition, firing it, and thereby igniting the charge in the torpedo. The charges used [149] varied from sixty to one hundred pounds rifle powder, though other explosives might have been more advantageously used if they had been available to us. Generally four of the fuses were attached to the head of each torpedo so as to secure the discharge at any angle of attack. These firing tubes or fuses were afterward modified to avoid the great risk consequent upon screwing them in place and of having them permanently attached to the charged torpedo. The shell of the latter was thinned at the point where the tube was attached, so that, under water pressure, the explosion of the tube would certainly break it and discharge the torpedo; though, when unsubmerged, the explosion of the tube would vent itself in the open air without breaking the shell. In this arrangement the tube was of brass, with a leaden head, and made water-tight by means of a screw plug at its base. Both the shell and the tube being made independently water-tight, the screw connection between the two was made loose, so that the tube could be attached or detached readily with the fingers. The mode adopted for testing against leakage was by placing them in a vessel of alcohol, under the glass exhaust of an air-pump. When no air bubbles appeared the tubes could be relied on. Captain Lee had also an electric torpedo which exploded by concussion against a hard object; the electric current being thus established, insured the discharge at the right moment.

Captain Lee is the inventor also of the “spar-torpedo” as an attachment to vessels, now in general use in the Federal navy. It originated as follows: I-e reported to me that he thought he could blow up successfully any vessel by means of a torpedo carried some five or six feet under water at the end of a pole ten or twelve feet long, which should be attached to the bow of a skiff or rowboat. I authorized an experiment upon the hulk of an unfinished and condemned gunboat anchored in the harbor, and loaded for the purpose with all kinds of rubbish taken from the “burnt district” of the city. It was a complete success; a large hole was made in the side of the hulk, the rubbish being blown high in the air, and the vessel sank in less than a minute..1 I then determined [150] to employ this important invention, not only in the defense of Charleston, but to disperse or destroy the Federal blockading fleet by means of one or more small swift steamers, with low decks, and armed only with “spar-torpedoes” as designed by Captain Lee. I sent him at once to Richmond, to urge the matter on the attention of the Confederate Government. He reported his mission as follows:

In compliance with your orders, I submitted the drawing of my torpedo and a vessel with which I propose to operate them, to the Secretary of War. While he heartily approved, he stated his inability to act in the matter, as it was a subject that appertained to the navy. He, however, introduced me and urged it to the Secretary of Navy. The Secretary of War could do nothing, and the Secretary of the Navy would not, for the reason that I was not a naval officer under his command. So I returned to Charleston without accomplishing anything. After a lapse of some months I was again sent to Richmond to represent the matter to the Government, and I carried with me the indorsement of the best officers of the navy. The result was the transfer of an unfinished hull, on the stocks at Charleston, which was designed for a gunboat-or rather floating-battery, as she was not arranged for any motive power, but was intended to be anchored in position. This hull was completed by me, and a second-hand and much worn engine was obtained in Savannah and placed in her. Notwithstanding her tub-like model and the inefficiency of her engine, Captain Carlin, commanding a blockade-runner5 took charge of her in an attack against the New Ironsides. She was furnished with a spar designed to carry three torpedoes of one hundred pounds each. The lateral spars suggested by you, Captain Carlin declined to use, as they would interfere very seriously with the movements of the vessel, which, even without them, could with the utmost difficulty stem the current. The boat was almost entirely submerged, and painted gray like the blockade-runners, and, like them, made no smoke, by burning anthracite coal. The night selected for the attack was very dark, and the New Ironsides was not seen until quite near. Captain Carlin immediately made for her; but her side being oblique to the direction of his approach, he ordered his steersman, who was below deck, to change the course. This order was misunderstood, and, in place of going the “bow on” as was proposed, she ran alongside of the New Ironsides and entangled her spar in the anchor-chain of that vessel. In attempting to back the engine hung on the centre, and some delay occurred before it was pried off. During this critical period Captain Carlin, in answer to threats and inquiries, declared his boat to be the Live Yankee, from Port Royal, with dispatches for the admiral. This deception was not discovered until after Carlin had backed out and his vessel was lost in the darkness.


Shortly after this bold attempt of Captain Carlin, in the summer of 1863, to blow up the New Ironsides, Mr. Theodore Stoney, Dr. Ravenel, and other gentlemen of Charleston, had built a small cigar-shaped boat, which they called the “David.” It had been specially planned and constructed to attack this much-dreaded naval Goliath, the New Ironsides. It was about twenty feet long, with a diameter of five feet at its middle, and was propelled by a small screw worked by a dimunitive engine. As soon as ready for service, I caused it to be fitted with a “Lee spar-torpedo” charged with seventy-five pounds of powder. Commander W. T. Glassel, a brave and enterprising officer of the Confederate States Navy, took charge of it, and about eight o'clock one hazy night, on the ebb tide, with a crew of one engineer, J. H. Tomb; one fireman, James Sullivan; and a pilot, J. W. Cannon; he fearlessly set forth from Charleston on his perilous mission — the destruction of the New Ironsides. I may note that this ironclad steamer threw a great deal more metal, at each broadside, than all the monitors together of the fleet; her fire was delivered with more rapidity and accuracy, and she was the most effective vessel employed in the reduction of Battery Wagner.

The “David” reached the New Ironsides about ten o'clock P. M., striking her with a torpedo about six feet under water, but fortunately for that steamer she received the shock against one of her inner bulk-heads, which saved her from destruction. The water, however, being thrown up in large volume, half-filled her little assailant and extinguished its fires. It then drifted out to sea with the current, under a heavy grape and musketry fire from the much alarmed crew of the New Ironsides. Supposing the “David” disabled, Glassel and his men jumped into the sea to swim ashore; but after remaining in the water about one hour he was picked up by the boat of a Federal transport schooner, whence he was transferred to the guardship “Ottowa,” lying outside of the rest of the fleet. He was ordered at first, by Admiral Dahlgren, to be ironed, and in case of resistance, to be double ironed; but through the intercession of his friend, Captain W. D. Whiting, commanding the Ottawa, he was released on giving his parole not to attempt to escape from the ship. The fireman, Sullivan, had taken refuge on the rudder of the New Ironsides, where he was discovered, put in irons and kept in a dark cell until sent with [152] Glassel to New York, to be tried and hung, as reported by Northern newspapers, for using an engine of war not recognized by civilized nations. But the government of the United States has now a torpedo corps, intended specially to study and develop that important branch of the military service. After a captivity of many months in Forts Lafayette and Warren, Glassel and Sullivan were finally exchanged for the captain and a sailor of the Federal steamer “Isaac Smith,” a heavily-armed gunboat which was captured in the Stono river, with its entire crew of one hundred and thirty officers and men, by a surprise I had prepared, with field artillery only, placed in ambuscade along the river bank, and under whose fire the Federal gunners were unable to man and use their powerful guns. Captain Glassel's other two companions, Engineer Tomb and Pilot Cannon, after swimming about for a while, espied the David still afloat, drifting with the current; they betook themselves to it, re-lit the fires from its bull'seye lantern, got up steam and started back for the city; they had to repass through the fleet and they received the fire of several of its monitors and guard-boats, fortunately without injury. With the assistance of the flood tide they returned to their point of departure, at the Atlantic wharf, about midnight, after having performed one of the most daring feats of the war. The New Ironsides never fired another shot after this attack upon her. She remained some time at her anchorage off Morris Island, evidently undergoing repairs; she was then towed to Port Royal, probably to fit her for her voyage to Philadelphia, where she remained until destroyed by fire after the war.

Nearly about the time of the attack upon the New Ironsides by the David, Mr. Horace L. Hunley, formerly of New Orleans, but then living in Mobile, offered me another torpedo-boat of a different description, which had been built with his private means. It was shaped like a fish, made of galvanized iron, was twenty feet long, and at the middle three and a half feet wide by five deep. From its shape it came to be known as the “fish torpedo-boat.” Propelled by a screw worked from the inside by seven or eight men, it was so contrived that it could be submerged and worked under water for several hours, and to this end was provided with a fin on each side, worked also from the interior. By depressing the points of these fins the boat, when in motion, was made to descend, [153] and by elevating them it was made to rise. Light was afforded through the means of bull's-eyes placed in the man-holes. Lieut. Payne, Confederate States Navy, having volunteered with a crew from the Confederate Navy, to man the fish-boat for another attack upon the New Ironsides, it was given into their hands for that purpose. While tied to the wharf at Fort Johnston, whence it was to start under cover of night to make the attack, a steamer passing close by capsized and sunk it. Lieut. Payne, who at the time was standing in one of the man-holes, jumped out into the water, which, rushing into the two openings, drowned two men then within the body of the boat. After the recovery of the sunken boat Mr. IHunley came from Mobile, bringing with him Lieutenant Dixon, of the Alabama volunteers, who had successfully experimented with the boat in the harbor of Mobile, and under him another naval crew volunteered to work it. As originally designed, the torpedo was to be dragged astern upon the surface of the water; the boat, approaching the broadside of the vessel to be attacked, was to dive beneath it, and, rising to the surface beyond, continue its course, thus bringing the floating torpedo against the vessel's side, when it would be discharged by a trigger contrived to go off by the contact. Lieutenant Dixon made repeated descents in the harbor of Charleston, diving under the naval receiving ship which lay at anchor there. But one day when he was absent from the city Mr. 1I:unley, unfortunately, wishing to handle the boat himself, made the attempt. It was readily submerged, but did not rise again to the surface, and all on board perished from asphyxiation. When the boat was discovered, raised and opened, the spectacle was indescribably ghastly; the unfortunate men were contorted into all kinds of horrible attitudes; some clutching candles, evidently endeavoring to force open the man-holes; others lying in the bottom tightly grappled together, and the blackened faces of all presented the expression of their despair and agony. After this tragedy I refused to permit the boat to be used again; but Lieutenant Dixon, a brave and determined man, having returned to Charleston, applied to me for authority to use it against the Federal steam sloop-of-war Housatonic, a powerful new vessel, carrying eleven guns of the largest calibre, which lay at the time in the north channel opposite Beach Inlet, materially obstructing the passage of our blockade-runners [154] in and out. At the suggestion of my chief-of-staff, Gen. Jordan, I consented to its use for this purpose, not as a submarine machine, but in the same manner as the David. As the Housatonic was easily approached through interior channels from behind Sullivan's Island, and Lieutenant Dixon readily procured a volunteer crew, his little vessel was fitted with a Lee spar torpedo, and the expedition was undertaken. Lieutenant Dixon, acting with characteristic coolness and resolution, struck and sunk the Housatonic on the night of February 17, 1864; but unhappily, from some unknown cause, the torpedo boat was also sunk, and all with it lost. Several years. since a “diver,” examining the wreck of the Housatonic, discovered the fish-boat lying alongside of its victim.

From the commencement of the siege of Charleston I had been decidedly of the opinion that the most effective as well as least costly method of defence against the powerful iron-clad steamers and monitors originated during the late war, was to use against them small but swift steamers of light draught, very low decks, and hulls iron-claded down several feet below the water-line; these boats to be armed with a spar-torpedo (on Captain Lee's plan), to thrust out from the bow at the moment of collision, being inclined to strike below the enemy's armor, and so arranged that the torpedo could be immediately renewed from within for another attack; all such boats to be painted gray like the blockaderunners, and, when employed, to burn anthracite coal, so as to make no smoke. But unfortunately I had not the means to put the system into execution. Soon after the first torpedo attack, made, as related, by the David upon the New Ironsides, I caused a number of boats and barges to be armed with spar-torpedoes for the purpose of attacking in detail the enemy's gunboats resorting to the sounds and harbors along the South Carolina coast. But, the Federals having become very watchful, surrounded their steamers at night with nettings and floating booms to prevent the torpedo boats from coming near enough to do them any injury. Even in the outer harbor of Charleston, where the blockaders and their consorts were at anchor, the same precaution was observed in calm weather.

The anchoring of the large torpedoes in position was attended with considerable danger. While planting them at the mouth of the Cooper and Ashley rivers (which form the peninsula of the [155] city of Charleston), the steamer engaged in that duty being swung around by the returning tide, struck and exploded one of the torpedoes just anchored. The steamer sank immediately, but, fortunately, the tide being low and the depth of water not great. no lives were lost. In 1863-4, Jacksonville, Florida, having been evacuated by the Confederates, then too weak to hold it longer, the Federal gunboats frequently ran up the St. John's river many miles, committing depredations along its banks. To stop these proceedings I sent a party from Charleston under a staff officer, Captain Pliny Bryan, to plant torpedoes in the channels of that stream. The result was the destruction of several large steamers and a cessation of all annoyance on the part of the others. In the bay of Charleston and adjacent streams I had planted about one hundred and twenty-five torpedoes and some fifty more in other parts of my department. The first torpedoes used in the late war were placed in the James river, below Richmond, by General G. R. Raines, who became afterward chief of the Torpedo Bureau. Mr. Barbarin, of New Orleans, placed also successfully a large number of torpedoes in Mobile bay and its vicinity.

To show the important results obtained by the use of torpedoes by the Confederates and the importance attached, now, at the North to that mode of warfare, I will quote here the following remarks from an able article in the last September number of the Galaxy, entitled, Has the day of great Navies past? The author says:

The real application of submarine warfare dates from the efforts of the Confederates during the late war. In October, 1862, a “torpedo bureau” was established at Richmond, which made rapid progress in the construction and operations of these weapons until the close of the war in 1865. Seven Union ironclads, eleven wooden war vessels, and six army transports were destroyed by Southern torpedoes, and many more were seriously damaged. This destruction occurred, for the most part, during the last two years of the war, and it is suggestive to think what might have been the influence on the Union cause if the Confederate practice of submarine warfare had been nearly as efficient at the commencement as it was at the close of the war. It is not too much to say, respecting the blockade of the Southern ports, that if not altogether broken up, it would have been rendered so inefficient as to have commanded no respect from European powers, while the [156] command of rivers, all important to the Union forces as bases of operations, would have been next to impossible. ...

Think of the destruction this infernal machine effected, and bear in mind its use came to be fairly understood, and some system introduced into its arrangement, only during the last part of the war. During a period when scarcely any vessels were lost, and very few severely damaged by the most powerful guns then employed in actual war, we find this long list of disasters from the use of this new and, in the beginning, much despised comer into the arena of naval warfare. But it required just such a record as this to arouse naval officers to ask themselves the question, “Is not the days of great navies gone forever?” If such comparatively rude and improvised torpedoes made use of by the Confederates caused such damage and spread such terror among the Union fleet, what will be the consequence when skilful engineers, encouraged by governments, as they have never been before, diligently apply themselves to the perfecting of this terrible weapon? The successes of the Confederates have made the torpedo, which before was looked on with loathing — a name not to be spoken except contemptuously — a recognized factor in modern naval warfare. On all sides we see the greatest activity in improving it.

I shall now refer briefly to the use in Charleston harbor of riflecannon and iron-clad floating and land batteries. In the attack on Fort Sumter, in 1861, these war appliances were first used in the United States. When I arrived at Charleston, in March of that year, to assume command of the forces there assembling and direct the attack on Fort Sumter, I found under construction a rough floating battery made of palmetto logs, under the direction of Captain Hamilton, an ex-United States naval officer. He intended to plate it with several sheets of rolled iron, each about threequarters of an inch thick, and to arm it with four 32-pounder carronades. He and his battery were so much ridiculed, however, that he could with difficulty obtain any further assistance from the State government. He came to me in great discouragement, and expressed in vivid terms his certainty of success, and of revolutionizing future naval warfare as well as the construction of war vessels. I approved of Captain Hamilton's design, and having secured the necessary means, instructed him to finish his battery [157] at the earliest moment practicable. This being accomplished before the attack on Fort Sumter opened, early in April I placed the floating battery in position at the western extremity of Sullivan's Island to enfilade certain barbette guns of the fort which could not be reached effectively by our land batteries. It therefore played an important part in that brief drama of thirty-three hours, receiving many shots without any serious injury. About one year later, in Hampton Roads, the Merrimac, plated and roofed with two layers of railroad iron, met the Monitor in a momentous encounter, which first attracted the attention of the civilized world to the important change that iron-plating or “armors” would thenceforth create in naval architecture and armaments. The one and a half to two-inch plating used on Captain Hamilton's floating battery has already grown to about twelve inches thickness of steel plates of the best quality, put together with the utmost care, in the effort to resist the heaviest rifle-shots now used. About the same time that Captain Hamilton was constructing his floating battery, Mr. C. H. Steven, of Charleston, (who afterward died a brigadier-general at the battle of Chickamauga,) commenced building an iron-clad land battery at Cumming's Point, the northern extremity of Morris Island and the point nearest to Fort Sumter--that is, about thirteen hundred yards distant. This battery was to be built of heavy timbers covered with one layer of railroad iron, the rails well-fitted into each other, presenting an inclined, smooth surface of about thirty-five degrees to the fire of Sumter; the surface was to be well greased and the guns were fo fire through small embrasures supplied with strong iron shutters. I approved also of the plan, making such suggestions as my experience as an engineer warranted. This battery took an active part in the attack and was struck several times; but excepting the jamming and disabling one of the shutters, the battery remained uninjured to the end of the fight.

From Cumming's Point also, and in the same attack, was used the first rifled cannon fired in America. The day before I received orders from the Confederate Government, at Montgomery, to demand the evacuation or surrender of Fort Sumter, a vessel from England arriving in the outer harbor, signalled that she had something important for the Governor of the State. I sent out a harbor boat, which returned with a small Blakely rifled-gun, of [158] two and a half inches diameter, with only fifty rounds of ammunition. I placed it at once behind a sand-bag parapet next to the Steven battery, where it did opportune service with its ten-pound shell while the ammunition lasted. The penetration of the projectiles into the brick masonry of the fort was not great at that distance, but the piece had great accuracy, and several of the shells entered the embrasures facing Morris Island. One of the officers of the garrison remarked after the surrender, that when they first heard the singular whizzing, screeching sound of the projectile, they did not understand its cause until one of the unexploded shells being found in the fort the mystery was solved. As a proof of the rapid strides taken by the artillery arm of the service, I shall mention that two years later the Federals fired against Fort Sumter, from nearly the same spot, rifle projectiles weighing three hundred pounds. Meantime I had received from England two other Blakely rifled cannon of thirteen and a quarter inches calibre. These magnificent specimens of heavy ordnance were, apart from their immense size, different in construction from any thing I had ever seen. They had been bored through from muzzle to breech; the breech was then plugged with a brass block extending into the bore at least two feet, and into which had been reamed a chamber about eighteen inches in length and six in diameter, while the vent entered the bore immediately in advance of this chamber. The projectiles provided were shells weighing, when loaded, about three hundred and fifty pounds, and solid cylindrical shots weighing seven hundred and thirty pounds; the charge for the latter was sixty pounds of powder. The first of these guns received was mounted in a battery specially constructed for it at “The battery,” at the immediate mouth of Cooper river, to command the inner harbor. As no instructions for their service accompanied the guns, and the metal between the exterior surface of the breech and the rear of the inner chamber did not exceed six to eight inches, against all experience in ordnance, apprehensions were excited that the gun would burst in firing with so large a charge and such weight of projectile. Under the circumstances it was determined to charge it with an empty shell and the minimum of powder necessary to move it; the charge was divided in two cartridges, one to fit the small rear chamber and the other the main bore. The gun was fired by means of a long lanyard from [159] the bomb-proof attached to the battery; and, as apprehended, it burst at the first fire, even with the relatively small charge used; the brass plug was found started back at least the sixteenth of an inch, splitting the breech with three or four distinct cracks and rendering it useless.

With such a result I did not attempt, of course, to mount and use the other, but assembled a board of officers to study the principle that might be involved in the peculiar construction, and to make experiments generally with ordnance. The happy results of the extensive experiments made by this board with many guns of different calibre, including muskets, and last of all with the other Blakely, was that if the cartridge were not pressed down to the bottom of the bore of a gun, and a space were thus left in rear of the charge, as great a velocity could be imparted to the projectile with a much smaller charge and the gun was subject to less abrupt strain from the explosion, because this air-chamber, affording certain room for the expansion of the gases, gave time for the inertia of the heavy mass of the projectile to be overcome before the full explosion of the charge, and opportunity was also given for the ignition of the entire charge, so that no powder was wasted as in ordinary gunnery. When this was discovered the remaining Blakely was tried from a skid, without any cartridge in the rear chamber. It fired both projectiles, shell and solid shot, with complete success, notwithstanding the small amount of metal at the extremity of the breech. I at once utilized this discovery. We had a number of 8-inch columbiads (remaining in Charleston after the capture of Sumter in 1861) which contained a powderchamber of smaller diameter than the calibre of the gun. The vent in rear of this powder-chamber was plugged, and a new vent opened in advance of the powder chamber, leaving the latter to serve as an air-chamber, as in our use of the Blakely gun. They were then rifled and banded, and thus turned into admirable guns, which were effectively employed against the Federal iron-clads. I am surprised that the new principle adapted to these guns has not been used for the heavy ordnance of the present day, as it would secure great economy in weight and cost. The injured Blakely gun was subsequently thoroughly repaired, and made as efficient as when first received. [160]

In the year 1854, while in charge as engineer of the fortifications of Louisiana, I attended a target practice with heavy guns by the garrison of Fort Jackson, on the Mississippi river, the object fired at being a hogshead floating with the current at the rate of about four and a half miles an hour. I was struck with the difficulties of trailing or traversing the guns-42-pounders and 8-inch columbiads-and with the consequent inaccuracy of the firing. Reflecting upon the matter, I devised soon afterward a simple method of overcoming the difficulty by the application of a “rack and lever” to the wheels of the chassis of the guns; and I sent drawings of the improvement to the Chief of Engineers, General Totten, who referred them, with his approval, to the Chief of Ordnance. In the course of a few weeks the latter informed me that his department had not yet noticed any great obstacle in traversing guns on moving objects, and therefore declined to adopt my invention. When charged in 1861 with the Confederate atack on Fort Sumter, I described this device to several of my engineer and artillery officers; but before I could have it applied I was ordered to Virginia to assume command of the Confederate force then assembling at Manassas. Afterward, on my return to Qharleston in 1862, one of my artillery officers, Lieutenant-Colonel Yates, an intelligent and zealous soldier, applied this principle (modified, however,) to one of the heavy guns in the harbor with such satisfactory results that I gave him orders to apply it as rapidly as possible to all guns of that class which we then had mounted. By April 6, 1863, when Admiral Dupont made his attack on Fort Sumter with seven monitors, the New Ironsides, several gunboats and mortar boats, our heaviest pieces had this traversing apparatus adapted to their chassis, and the result realized fully our expectations. However slow or fast the Federal vessels moved in their evolutions, they received a steady and unerring fire, which at first disconcerted them, and at last gave us a brilliant victorydisabling five of the monitors, one of which, the Keokuk, sunk at her anchors that night. It is pertinent for me professionally to remark that had this Federal naval attack on Fort Sumter of the 6th of April, 1863, been made at night, while the fleet could have easily approached near enough to see the fort — a large, lofty object, covering several acres — the monitors, which were relatively so small and low on the water, could not have been seen from the [161] fort. It would have been impossible, therefore, for the latter to have returned with any accuracy the fire of the fleet, and this plan of attack could have been repeated every night until the walls of the fort should have crumbled under the enormous missiles, which made holes two and a half feet deep in the walls, and shattered the latter in an alarming manner. I could not then have repaired during the day the damages of the night, and I am confident now, as I was then, that Fort Sumter, if thus attacked, must have been disabled and silenced in a few days. Such a result at that time would have been necessarily followed by the evacuation of Morris and Sullivan's Islands, and, soon after, of Charleston itself, for I had not yet had time to complete and arm the system of works, including James Island and the inner harbor, which enabled us six months later to bid defiance to Admiral Dahlgren's powerful fleet and Gilmore's strong land forces.

1 Since writing the above I have been informed by Captain F. Barrett, United States Navy, that he had invented the same “spar-torpedo” in the first year of the war, but it had not been applied by the Federals. In the spring of 1862, I had also recommended its use to General Lovell for the defence of New Orleans, by arming river boats with it to make night attacks on the enemy's fleet-but it was proposed to use it above water.

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