Yankee history of the attempts to blow up the Ironsides — Excitement Ashore.
A Morris Island
correspondent of the New York Tribune
gives that paper a graphic but incorrect account of the attempt to blow up the Ironsides
Last night at about a quarter to 10 o'clock the report of two heavy guns, fired in rapid succession, was heard seaward in the direction of the steam-frigate New Ironsides
. --These were followed almost immediately by repeated volleys of musketry, only the flashes of which could be seen through the darkness, lasting for the space of fifteen minutes--then all was silent; and speculation was rife on shore as to what it meant.
The "long roll" was sounded in the various camps, and each regiment was drawn up in line on the beach.
Fort Gregg was reinforced, orderlies were dispatched to Wagner
— the telegraph not being in working order — to learn if anything was known there, but, strange to say, neither officers nor garrison had heard a sound at all unusual.
In vain did we look for signals; not a light appeared save those suspended on the rigging of the vessels off the coast.
Both Gen. Gilmore
and Admiral Dahlgren
were signaled — the former at Folly Island
, and the latter on his flag-ship, which lay at anchor in the inlet, although the sea all through the day had hardly power enough in it to crawl up the beach, but fawned upon the bright sands and licked them with its wet, sparkling lips. "Had Rowan
been attacked? " "Had the rebels the hardihood to attempt to board the Ironsides
?" "What does it all mean?" These and similar inquiries were made rather in the light of suggestion and speculation than with the hope of gathering a solution of the mixed problem with which each mind was busy.
History of the affair.
At half-past 9 o'clock of the night in question, the quartermaster on watch on board the new Ironsides reported to the officer of the deck a suspicious craft, with smokestack, and setting very low in the water, making directly toward the vessel.
The night, although clear and the sky studded with stars, was nevertheless unusually dark, and but little could be distinguished of the stranger except the smoke pipe and her low bull, the latter extremely indistinct; she appeared to be steaming at a speed of seven knots an hour.
How she could have passed our picket boats was a question to be considered, for it was just possible she might belong to us, and to fire upon her without first determining her character and intention might result in more serious damage than if she were an enemy; so she was allowed to come within hailing distance.
More and more distinct she grew as she approached — a cigar-shaped hull, after the pattern of Winans
's gunboat, driving before it through the water a smaller object, which could hardly be distinguished; a black smoke pipe, from which issued a thin cloud of black smoke, but no other indications of the motive power within, were visible.
Still she glided on, the object of her approach either the frigate itself or the Devils which lay moored on the port side.
Coming near enough to hear she was hailed and ordered to stop, but she neither made reply or obeyed the summons.
All hands were piped to quarters; a gun was fired, but the curious craft sat too low in the water, and the ball passed over her. A second shot followed the first, with the same result; then a volley of musketry lighting up for a moment with a flash the steamer, the torpedo at her bows, and the figure of a man sitting astride of the garnisheed hull, engaged in steering.
This man, whose name is Toombs
, and who is now in irons on board the flag-ship, fired a shot in retaliation, which severely wounded Ensign Howard
, the officer of the deck.
He pretends to have been sailing-master of the expedition, which he undoubtedly was, and is a man of moderate height, strong, muscular frame, a dark wrinkled skin, dark eyes, and coarse black hair and beard.
There were three others with him, all under command of Lieut. Glassell
, formerly of the United States Navy.
He is said to be a man of superior talents and bravery, was captured some time since and confined in Fort Warren
, but subsequently, on being released, rejoined the Southern
army; he is now a prisoner on the Ottawa
The musketry firing from the frigate after the first volley became rapid and continuous, but seemed in no way to interfere with the execution of the plan had in view by those on board the steamer, as she approached nearer and nearer each moment to the Ironsides
, her bow pointing toward the latter's side, and run close in under her guns.
At this moment a terrific explosion took place, jarring the great iron-plated hull of the frigate, and sending into the air a huge column of water that fell in torrents all round, and entering the smoke-pipe of the little steamer immediately extinguished her fires.
When this had subsided, and the sea was again calm, nothing whatever was to be seen of her; the supposition is that she went down.
But struggling for life were two men, evidently members of her crew, who were picked up by a boat lowered for the purpose from the Ironsides
They are the two I have already mentioned — the seaman Toombs
and Lieut. Glassell
; but neither of them can tell what happened in the time between the explosion of the torpedo and the moment they found themselves battling with the waves, or say confidently whether the steamer sunk or, rekindling her fires, moved off in the direction of Charleston
Damage sustained by the frigate.
Very little injury was done the Ironsides
; in truth, I may say, with the exception of a few dints, no harm whatever was sustained by her. She is a noble ship, and worth all the monitors together.
The prisoners state that the people of Charleston
have very little faith in the capacity of the latter to reduce the fortifications leading to the harbor, but hold in great fear the terrible batteries of the New Ironsides.
To prove the endurance of the ship I would add that the shock she received was so severe that a huge chest was thrown from its place in the lower hold against one of the stanchions, completely crushing the leg of a seaman who was unfortunate enough to be standing there.--Twenty tons of water entered her decks.
The origin of the expedition.
This daring attempt, unprecedented in its boldness by anything which has happened during the war, had its origin in the city of Charleston
, where the cost was raised by public subscription, some of the wealthiest citizens subscribing largely.
The steamer was built there expressly for the purpose, the pattern of the Winan
's gunboat being adopted as the one best suited for the accomplishment of the object they had in view, the material being of wood.
The torpedo, which was of the largest size, and similar in shape somewhat to the steamer, was exploded by means of a percussion cap at the further end, white lead
being used to render it waterproof.
Large rewards were to be paid the men in case they succeeded in their desperate enterprise and came off safe, they being sanguine of blowing up the frigate, but never expecting to escape with their lives.
Both steamer and torpedo were towed as far as Fort Sumter
by another vessel; it was probably owing to this that they escaped the notice of our picket boats, these latter being engaged in watching the movements of the convoy, which steamed here and there on the water as if bound on a mission of mischief of her own before gliding back to Charleston