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Confederate torpedoes in the Yazoo.

by Isaac N. Brown, Captain, C. S. N.
It was rather by inference than by any direct orders that after the sacrifice of the Arkansas I was left to guard the Yazoo River. At this juncture Messrs. McDonald (or McDonough) and Ewing, acting masters in the Confederate navy, offered to aid me with torpedoes. So poor in resources were we, that in order to make a beginning I borrowed a five-gallon glass demijohn, and procuring from the army the powder to fill it and an artillery friction tube to explode it, I set these two enterprising men to work with a coil of small iron wire which they stretched from bank to bank, the demijohn filled with inflammable material being suspended from the middle, some feet below the surface of the water, and so connected with the friction tube inside as to ignite when a vessel should come in contact with the wire. Soon after it was put in position the iron-clad Cairo came up the river [December 12th, 1862], and, keeping the middle of the stream, hit the demijohn, and within twelve minutes went to the bottom in thirty feet of water.

In this way a belligerent vessel was “neutralized” by an enemy's torpedo. The moral strength thus added to our defenses may be inferred from an anecdote reported to me soon after. One of our Confederate people went on board a Union gun-boat off the mouth of the Yazoo, under flag of truce, and met there an old messmate and friend, and said banteringly to him, “Tom, why don't you go up and clean out the Yazoo?” “I would as soon think of going to----at once,” was the answer, “for Brown has got the river chock-full of torpedoes.”

I also made a contract with Dr. Fretwell and Mr. Norman, then at Yazoo City, for fifty or more of these destructives on Dr. Fretwell's plan — automatic action on being brought in contact with a vessel or boat. But the difficulty of procuring materials prevented the completion of the contract for the whole number in time.

On the morning of the Union advance upon Yazoo City [July 13th, 1863], I had myself placed two of these “Fretwells” half a mile below our land-battery of one rifle 6-inch gun — handled by the same men — the same gun, in fact, that had aided in the defense of Fort Pemberton. The De Kalb had there felt this gun, and it came twice within its range on this day,--retiring both times without unreasonable delay,--but when our sailor crew found themselves uncovered by our land force, and a whole division of Union men within rifle-range, they withdrew under orders, and the De Kalb, seeing our gun silent, advanced for the third time, getting as far as the torpedoes, and there suddenly disappearing beneath the waters of the Yazoo. [See also pp. 559 and 570.]

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