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´╗┐Title: A brief sketch of the work of Matthew Fontaine Maury during the war, 1861-1865
Author: Maury, Richard L.
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "A brief sketch of the work of Matthew Fontaine Maury during the war, 1861-1865" ***


A Brief Sketch of the Work



During the War 1861-1865










When I took charge of the Georgia Room, in the Confederate Museum, in
Richmond, Virginia in 1897, I found among the De Renne collection an
engraving of the pleasant, intellectual face of Commodore Matthew
Fontaine Maury, so I went to his son, Colonel Richard L. Maury, who had
been with his father in all his work here, and urged him to write the
history of it, while memory, papers and books could be referred to; this
carefully written, accurate paper was the result.

At one time, when Commodore Maury was very sick, he asked one of his
daughters to get the Bible and read to him. She chose Psalm 8, the
eighth verse of which speaks of "whatsoever walketh through the paths of
the sea," he repeated "the paths of the sea, the paths of the sea, if
God says the paths of the sea, they are there, and if I ever get out of
this bed I will find them."

He did begin his deep sea soundings as soon as he was strong enough, and
found that two ridges extended from the New York coast to England, so he
made charts for ships to sail over one path to England and return over
the other.

The proceeds from the sale of this little pamphlet will be used as the
beginning of a fund for the erection of a monument to Commodore Maury in



Torpedoes as effective weapons in actual war were first utilized by the
Confederate navy, and Captain Matthew F. Maury introduced them into that
service, and continually improved and perfected their use until they had
become the mighty engine of modern warfare and revolutionized the art of
coast and harbour defense. He, it was, who in 1861 mined James River,
who, in person commanded the first attack with torpedoes upon the
Federal fleet in Hampton Roads, and it was the development and
improvement of this plan of defense which held the enemy's ships
throughout the South at bay, and caused the loss of fifty-eight of the
ships, and the Secretary of the United States Navy to report to Congress
in 1865 that the Confederates had destroyed with their torpedoes more
vessels than were lost from all other causes combined. Their use was
soon extended from James River to the other Southern waters by eleven
young naval officers, active and alert, who planted, directed and
exploded torpedoes wherever there occurred favorable opportunity, and
with a daring and coolness never surpassed; officers whose ability was
abundantly shown by the remarkable inertness of the United States Navy
after they had left that service in response to the call of their States
to come and help protect their invasion.

Hardly had Captain Maury arrived in Richmond than his active mind was
directed to the problem of protecting the Southern coasts. The South had
not a single vessel of war, and but scanty means of making, equipping or
manning one; the North had all the old navy fully armed and equipped,
with unlimited means for making more.

Penetrated as the country is by innumerable navigable waters, and save
at the entrance of a few of her largest rivers, altogether unfortified,
he urged that the only available defense was to mine the channel ways
with torpedoes, floating and fixed, which should be exploded by contact
or by electricity, when the enemy attempted to pass. At that time there
was nothing save a few shore batteries to prevent any ship whose captain
was bold enough to run past their fires from ascending James River to
Richmond, or from reaching any other maritime town in the South.
Fortunately there were but few bold enough for the attempt.

In the beginning there was much prejudice against this mode of warfare,
which, notwithstanding, has since, under Captain Maury's instruction,
become the chief reliance of most maritime nations. It was considered
uncivilized warfare thus to attack and destroy an unsuspecting enemy, and
the United States, and many of her naval officers were specially loud in
their denunciations of those who resorted to it. There was official
apathy too, and opposition of friends, but regardless of such, he
proceeded to experiment and demonstrate, and with such success that in
time the nations of Europe became his pupils, and there were hosts of
followers and fellow-workers at home, and the Confederate Congress
appropriated six millions of dollars for torpedoes.

His initial experiments to explode minute charges of powder under water,
were made with an ordinary tub in his chamber at the house of his
cousin, Robert H. Maury, a few doors from the Museum in Richmond, Va.
The tanks for actual use were made at the Tredegar Works, and at the
works of Talbott and Son on Cary Street; the batteries were loaned by
the Richmond Medical College, which also freely tendered the use of its
laboratory. In the early summer of 1861 the Secretary of the Navy, the
Governor of Virginia, the chairman of the Committee of Naval Affairs,
and other prominent officials were asked by him to witness a trial and
an explosion of torpedoes in James River at Rocketts.

The torpedoes were composed of two small kegs of rifle powder, weighted to
sink a few feet below the surface. They were fitted with hair triggers
and friction primers, and thirty feet of lanyard attached to the
triggers connected the keys. When in use they were to be set afloat in
the channel way as near as possible to a vessel and to drift down with
the current until the connecting lanyard fouled the anchor chain, or the
bow of the vessel and the kegs swung around against her side when the
tightened lanyard would fire the trigger and cause the torpedo to
explode. So the Patrick Henry's gig was borrowed, with a couple of
sailors to pull, and the torpedo having been embarked, with the trigger
at half-cock, Captain Maury and the writer got on board and were rowed
out to the buoy just opposite where the James River Steamboat Company's
wharf now is, where the invited spectators stood to witness the
explosion. The triggers were then set, the kegs carefully lowered into
the water, taking great care not to strain the lanyard, all was cast
off, the boat pulled clear, and we waited to see the torpedo float down
until the buoy was reached, the lanyard foul strain and explode the
torpedo. But there was delay, the lanyard fouled the buoy all right, the
kegs floated past and strained the lanyard, but there was no explosion.
Impatient we backed water to the buoy and the writer leaned over the stern
and caught the lanyard to give the necessary pull, but in the very act
the explosion took place, a column of water went up twenty feet or more,
and descending, gave us a good wetting and filled the surrounding water
with stunned and dead fish. The officials on the wharf applauded and
were convinced, and that the experiments might continue Governor Letcher
loaned power, and shortly after the Naval Bureau of Coast, Harbour, and
River Defense was organized with ample funds for the work, and the very
best of intelligent and devoted young officers as assistants and an
office was opened in Richmond at the corner of Ninth and Bank Streets,
where Rueger's now is.

In a few months he had mined James River with fixed torpedoes to be
exploded by electricity should the enemy attempt to pass, and a means
thus indicated to protect the city. During the summer and fall attacks
were made upon the Federal squadron at Fortress Monroe, under the
personal command of Captain Maury from Norfolk. The first of these was
early in July, 1861, from Seawell's Point, at the mouth of the James
River, and was directed against two of the fleet there--the "Minnesota"
and the "Roanoke." Friday and Saturday night he sent an officer in a
boat to reconnoitre, but there was a steam picket on watch, Sunday as he
was spying them through a glass, noting their relative positions, he saw
the church flag on two of them, a white flag bearing a cross displayed,
flying just a little above the ship ensign. When he thought that those
men were worshipping God in sincerity and truth, and, no doubt, thinking
themselves in the line of their duty, he could but feel for them when he
remembered how soon he might be the means of sending many of them into
eternity. That night the attacking party in five boats set off about ten
o'clock. Captain Maury was in the first boat with the pilot and four
oars. Each of the others manned by an officer and four men carried a
magazine with thirty fathoms of rope attached. These magazines were oak
casks of powder with a fuse in each. Two joined by the rope were
stretching across the ebbtide and when directly ahead of the ships were
let go, and floating down the rope caught across the cable, the torpedo
would drift and the ship strain the trigger, ignite the fuse and
explode. "The night was still, calm, clear, lovely." Thatcher's comet
was flaming in the sky. We steered by it, pulling in the plane of its
splendid train. All the noise and turmoil of the enemy's camp and fleet
was hushed. They had no guard boats of any kind, and as with muffled
oars we neared them we heard seven bells strike. After putting the
torpedoes under one ship the boats that carried them went back, and
Captain Maury with the other two, planted the other torpedoes. They then
rowed away and waited, but the explosion did not come and the enemy
never knew of the attempt. Lieut. R. D. Minor, one of his skilful and
daring assistants, commanded the second expedition which he thus

C. S. S. Patrick Henry,

Mulberry Point, October 11th, 1861.

Sir,--Owing to an unexpected delay in the completion of the magazine I
was unable to leave Richmond before the morning of the 9th, and did not
reach this ship until yesterday about 8 A.M. when I laid your plan of
the intended attack on the United States ships at anchor off Newport
News before Commander Tucker, who with Lieutenant Powell, the executive
officer, placed every facility at my disposal for carrying it into
execution. Acting Master Thomas L. Dornin and Midshipman Alexander M.
Mason, having volunteered to accompany me, the evening was passed in
preparing the magazine and in explaining in detail to the officers the
manner of handling and working them. In filling the tanks I found that I
would have 392 pounds to operate with, instead of 400, which I had
calculated upon; and to insure them from sinking I had some cork
attached to the buoys, which subsequently proved of great advantage. The
day was a stormy one, with a fresh breeze from the northward with rain
and mist well suited for our operations against the enemy. About sunset
Commander Tucker got underway from his anchorage off this place, and
with lights shaded steamed slowly down the river on a strong ebbtide
till the ships were seen ahead of us, when we came to within a mile and
a half of the point, dropping the anchor with a hawser bent on to it to
prevent noise from the rattling of the chains. The boats were then
lowered, the magazines carefully slung, buoys bent on at intervals of
seven feet, and when all was ready the crews armed with cutlasses took
their places, and were cautioned in a few words by me to keep silent and
obey implicitly the officers. Acting Master Dornin with Midshipman Mason
took the left side of the channel, while I took the right with Mr.
Edward Moore as boatswain of the ship to pilot me. Pulling down the
river some 600 or 700 yards the boats were then allowed to drift with
the rapid ebbtide, while the end of the cork line was passed over to Mr.
Dornin, and the line tightened by the boats pulling in opposite
directions. The buoys were then thrown overboard, the guard lines on the
triggers cut, the levers fitted and pinned, the trip line made fast to
the bight at the end of the lever, the safety screws removed, the
magazine carefully lowered in the water, where they were well supported
by the buoys, the slack line (three fathoms of which was kept in hand
for safety) thrown overboard, and all set adrift within 800 yards of the
ship, and 400 yards of the battery on the bluff above the point. So near
were we that voices were heard on the shore and Mr. Moore reported a
boat about 100 yards off, which, however, I did not see, being too much
engaged in preparing the magazine for its service. Pulling back a short
distance and hearing no explosion we returned to the ship which we found
cleared for action and ready to cover us in event of being attacked, and
the boats had just been hoisted up when signal lights were observed
flashing in the vicinity of the point with considerable rapidity,
indicating a suspicion on the part of the enemy that an attack of some
kind was intended. Leaving our anchorage, we steamed rapidly up the
river and took up our former position off this place about 12:30 at
night. On going to the crosstrees this morning two ships were seen at
anchor off the point, and later in the day when seen from Warwick River,
where Commander Tucker and I went to get a better view of them, they
were apparently unharmed, and I concluded that the magazine could not
have fouled them, though planted fairly and in good drifting distances
and with an interval between of some 200 feet, perhaps somewhat less as
the line became entangled slightly while playing out.

I have thus minutely described to you, sir, the whole operation,
believing, as its originator, it would be interesting to you, and,
perhaps, serve as a guide in the further prosecution of this mode of

I beg leave to return my sincere thanks to Commander Tucker, Lieutenant
Powell and other officers and men of the "Patrick Henry," for their
hearty co-operation, and I particularly desire to call your attention to
the coolness and bravery of acting Master Dornin and Midshipman Mason,
and the boat crews associated on duty with me.

I am, sir respectfully your obedient servant,


Lieutenant C. S. Navy.

Commander M. F. Maury, C. S. Navy,

Fredericksburg, Va.

The torpedoes used by Captain Maury in his attack upon the "Minnesota,"
at Fortress Monroe, and by Lieutenant Minor upon the "Congress," off
Newport News, were as follows: They were in pairs connected by a span
500 feet long. The span was floated on the surface by corks, and the
torpedo, containing 200 pounds of powder, also floated at a depth of
twenty feet. Empty barregas, painted lead color, so as not readily to be
seen, serving for the purpose.

The span was connected with a trigger in the head of each barrel, so set
and arranged that when the torpedo being let go in a tideway under the
bows and athwart the hawser had fouled, they would be drifted alongside,
and so drifted would tauten the span and set off the fuse, which was
driven precisely as a ten second shot fuse, only it was calculated to
burn fifty-four seconds, because it could not be known exactly in which
part of the sweep alongside the strain would be sufficient to set off
the trigger. That they did not explode was attributed to the fact that
the fuse would not burn under a pressure of twenty feet of water, which
conjecture was confirmed by after experiments, when it was found that
the fuse would very surely at a depth of fifteen feet but never at
twenty. Sometime after these torpedoes were found down the bay by the
enemy. Spans, barrels, barregas and carried to Washington--thus the
enemy forewarned, forestalled further attempts of this character by
dropping the end of his lower studding sail boom in the water every
night, and anchoring boats, or beams ahead.

To obtain insulated wire, of which the South had none, an agent was sent
secretly to New York, but without success, and as there was neither
factory nor material for its manufacture in the Confederacy, the
difficulties of preparing electrical torpedoes, to which Captain Maury
attached the most importance and greatly preferred, seemed insuperable,
until by a remarkable piece of good fortune, in the following spring, it
happened that the enemy, attempting to lay across Chesapeake Bay were
forced to abandon the attempt and left their wire to the mercy of the
waves, which cast it upon the beach near Norfolk, where, by the kindness
of a friend, it was secured for Captain Maury's use. With part of this
he connected his mines in James River, below the obstructions, with the
shore stations, which afterward destroyed the "Commodore Barney," and
later the "Commodore Jones," and with part enabled other Southern ports
to be similarly protected.

Of his James River torpedoes, Captain Maury thus reported to the
Secretary of the Navy:

Richmond, June 19th, 1862.

Sir,--The James River is mined with fifteen tanks below the Iron Battery
at Chaffin's Bluff. They are to be exploded by means of Electricity.
Four of the tanks contain 160 pounds of powder, the eleven other hold 70
pounds. All are made of boiler plate.

They are arranged in rows, as per diagram, those of each row being
thirty feet apart. Each tank is contained in a water-tight wooden cask,
capable of floating it, but anchored, and held below the surface from
three to eight feet, according to the state of the tide. The anchor to
each is an eighteen inch shell and a piece of kentledge so placed as to
prevent the barrels from fouling the buoy ropes at the change of the
tide. Each shell of a row is connected with the next one to it by a
stout rope thirty feet long, and capable of lifting it in case the cask
be carried away. The casks are water-tight, as are also the tanks, the
electric cord entering and returning through the same head. The wire for
the return current from the battery is passed from shell to shell and
along the connecting rope, which lies at the bottom.

The wire that passes from cask to cask is stopped aslack to the buoy
rope from the shell up to the cask to which it is securely seized, to
prevent any strain upon that part which enters the cask. The return wire
is stopped in like manner down the buoy ropes to the shell, and then
along the span to the next shell. At 4 the two cords are rapped
together, loaded with trace chains a fathom apart and carried ashore to
the galvanic battery. For batteries we have 21 Wollastons, each trough
containing 18 pairs of plates, zinc and wire, 10 x 12 inches. The first
range is called 1: the second 2: the third 3, and the wires are so
labelled. Thus all of each range are exploded at once.

Besides these there are two ranges of two tanks each, planted opposite
the battery at Chaffin's Bluff. When they were planted it was not known
that a battery was to be erected below. These four tanks contain about
6,000 pounds of powder. The great freshets of last month carried away
the wires that were to operate the first pair. Lieut. Davidson, who,
with the "Teaser" and her crew, has assisted me with the most hearty
good will, has dragged for the tanks, but without success, they rest on
the bottom. Could they be found it was my intention to raise the four,
examine them and if in good condition, place them lower down.

Lieut. Wm. L. Maury, assisted by Acting Master W. F. Carter, and R.
Rollins, was charged with the duty of proving the tanks and packing them
in casks. There are eleven others, each containing 70 pounds of powder.
When tested in the barrels and found ready for use, they will be held in
reserve in case of accident to those already down. A larger number was
not prepared for want of powder. There are a quantity of admirably
insulated wires, a number of shells for anchor or torpedoes and a
sufficient quantity of chains for the wires remaining. They will be put
in the navy store for safe keeping.

The galvanic batteries, viz.: 21 Wollaston and one Cruickshank (the
latter loaned by Dr. Maupin of the University of Virginia), with spare
acids are at Chaffin's Bluff in charge of Acting Master Cheeney. He has
also in pigs a sufficient quantity mixed to work the batteries, and
ready to be poured in for use.

It is proper that I should mention to the department, in terms of
commendation the ready and valuable assistance afforded by Dr. Morris,
president of the Telegraph Company, and his assistants, especially Mr.

My duties in connection with those batteries being thus closed, I have
the honor to await your further orders.

Respectfully, etc.,


Commander C. S. Navy.

Hon. S. R. Mallory,

Secretary of the Navy, Present.

Shortly after, Captain Maury was ordered to London on secret service for
the Navy Department, and that he might avail himself of laboratories and
workshops for experiment and improvement of his new science, in which he
was now regarded as supreme authority. He was to report progress and
improvement in this new means of making successful war from time to time
to the Navy Department, which was constantly done during the next two
years, and thus the result of his labours and inventions communicated to
the officers in charge of the torpedo stations now established along our
Atlantic Coast. His devices and inventions, which have not since been
surpassed and some of which are still in use, had reference chiefly to
exploding the torpedo; to determining with certainty from a distance the
moment when a ship should enter within explosive range, and at all times
to test its condition and to verify its location.

Lieut. Hunter Davidson, his valued assistant, succeeded him in charge of
the James River batteries, and in time extended the mines some distance
below. During the two years when he was in charge he planted many
electrical torpedoes in the channel of the river, to be fired from
concealed stations on shore. Some of these contained 1,800 pounds of

In August, 1862, the Federal steamer "Commodore Barney" was badly
disabled by one of these, and in 1864 the "Comm. Jones" was totally
destroyed, with nearly all on board, the first fruits of Maury's
electrical torpedo defense. The first vessel destroyed by a submarine
torpedo was the gunboat--ironclad--"Cairo," in the Yazoo River. The
torpedo was a demijohn of powder enclosed in a box sunk in the river and
fired by a string from the shore. Lieut. Beverley Kennon claimed the
credit for this but Masters McDaniel and Ewing did the actual work.

Early in 1864 Davidson, in a steam launch, specially constructed for
him, called "The Torpedo," having made 120 mile run down James River,
all within the enemies' lines, exploded a torpedo against the flagship
"Minnesota," at anchor off Newport News. The river swarmed with the
enemy's vessels, and the guard boat was lying by the "Minnesota," but
her captain had allowed his steam to go down. Davidson hit the great
ship full and fair, causing great consternation on board, but the
torpedo charge was only fifty-three pounds of powder and it failed to
break in her sides, although considerable damage was done. Davidson
suffered no injury and returned to Richmond without incident.

On August 9, 1864, there was a great explosion in Grant's lines at City
Point, on the James, caused by a torpedo with a clock attached which
caused it to explode at a given hour. With daring unexcelled John
Maxwell and R. K. Dillard, of the torpedo corps, made their way into the
lines, carrying the machine neatly boxed with them, which Maxwell handed
aboard one of the boats lying at the wharf, saying that the captain had
directed him to do so. In half an hour there was a terrible explosion,
killing and wounding fifty men and destroying much property and many
stores besides, injuring many nearby vessels, which brave John Maxwell
quietly witnessed seated upon a log upon a hillside close by.

Lieut. Beverly Kennon was also most active in this system of defense and
personally planted many torpedoes in the Potomac, Rappahannock and the
James. He and Lieut. J. Pembroke Jones succeeded Lieutenant Davidson in
charge of the torpedo defense of the James. A defense in itself
equivalent to a well appointed fleet or army, since, as is well known,
it served to keep the enemy out of Richmond till the close of the war,
and converted them into earnest advocates of its use.

General Raines, chief of the Army Torpedo Bureau, had early adopted as
the best form of torpedo, the beer barrel filled with powder and fitted
with a percussion primer at each end. They were set adrift in pairs down
the river by the hundred to be carried by current and tide against the
enemy's ships below. Though many necessarily failed and drifted out to
sea, if but a single one in a great number succeeded the Confederacy was
well repaid. At times as many as a hundred a day were caught by the
enemy's netting set out for that purpose in the James River alone.

Captain Francis D. Lee, of General Beauregard's staff, recommended the
spar torpedo, which was very successfully used, especially in the waters
around Charleston. It was a case to contain seventy pounds of powder set
on the end of a twenty foot spar and rigged on the bow of a boat. It was
exploded by contact on the side of the vessel attacked.

In 1862 Dr. St. Julien Ravenal, Mr. Theodore Stoney and other gentlemen
of Charleston, after consultation with Captain Maury, designed and had
constructed a semi-submarine torpedo boat, the first of its type. It was
called the "David," for it was intended to attack the Goliath of the
federal blockading fleet. After its remarkable experience and success,
its name was used as the name for its type and the Confederacy had many
"Davids" on the stock when the war ended. It was cigar shaped, twenty
feet long, five in diameter at the center. The boiler was forward, the
miniature engine aft, and between them a cuddy hole for captain and
crew. The torpedo was carried on a spar protruding fifteen feet from the
bow, and could be raised or lowered by a line passing back into the
cuddy hole. It was of copper containing 100 pounds of rifle powder and
provided with four sensitive tubes of lead, containing explosive
mixture. A two bladed propellor drove the craft at a six or seven knot
rate. When ready for action the boat was so well submerged that nothing
was visible save the stunt smoke-stack, the hatch combings and the
stanchion, upon which the torpedo line was brought aft. The torpedo was
submerged about six feet. Lieutenant W. T. Glassel, of the Confederate
Navy of Virginia, one of the bravest of the brave, volunteered to take
charge of her. He says Assistant Engineer J. H. Toombs volunteered his
services, Major Frank Lee gave me his zealous service in fitting a
torpedo. James Stuart, or Sullivan, volunteered to go as fireman, and
the services of J. W. Cannon as pilot were secured. I had an armament on
deck of four double-barrel shotguns, and as many navy revolvers; also
four cork life preservers had been thrown on board to make us feel safe.
On the fifth of October, 1863, they left Charleston a little after dark,
bound for the federal fleet outside, and especially for the "New
Ironsides," the most powerful ship afloat. He thus graphically describes
what occurred: "We passed Fort Sumter and beyond the line of picket
boats without being discovered. Silently steaming along just inside the
bar, I had a good opportunity to reconnoiter the whole fleet at anchor
between me and the camp fires on Morris Island.

"The admiral's ship, 'New Ironsides,' lay in the midst of the fleet, her
starboard side presented to my view, I determined to pay her the highest
compliment. I had been informed through prisoners lately captured from
the fleet, that they were expecting an attack from torpedo boats and
were prepared for it. I could hardly, therefore, expect to accomplish my
object without encountering some danger from riflemen, and, perhaps, a
discharge of grape or canister from the howitzers. My guns were loaded
with buckshots. I knew that if the officer of the deck could be disabled
to begin with, it would cause them some confusion, and increase our
chance of escape, so I determined that if the occasion offered I would
commence by firing the first shot. Accordingly, having on a full head of
steam, I took charge of the helm, it being so arranged that I could sit
on the deck, and work the wheel with my feet. Then directing the
engineer and fireman to keep below, and give me all the speed possible,
I gave a double-barrel gun to the pilot, with instructions not to fire
until I should do so, and steered directly for the monitor. I intended
to strike her just under the gangway, but the tide still running out
carried us to a point nearer the quarter. Thus we rapidly approached the
enemy. When within 300 yards of her a sentinel hailed us. Boat ahoy!
repeating the hail several times very rapidly. We were coming toward
them with all speed and I made no answer but cocked both barrels of my
gun. The officer of the deck next made his appearance and loudly
demanded, 'What boat is that.' Being now within forty yards of the ship
and with plenty of head way to carry me on, I thought it about time the
fight should commence and fired my gun. The officer of the deck fell
back mortally wounded (poor fellow), and I ordered the engine stopped.
The next moment the torpedo struck the vessel and exploded. What amount
of direct damage the enemy received I will not attempt to say. My little
boat plunged violently and a large body of water, which had been thrown
up, descended upon her deck, and down the smoke-stack and hatchway.

"I immediately gave orders to reverse the engine and back off. Mr.
Toombs informed me then that the fires were put out, and something had
been jammed in the machinery, so that it would not move. What could be
done in this situation? In the meantime the enemy, recovering from the
shock, beat to quarters and general alarm spread through the fleet. I
told my men I thought our only chance of escape was by swimming and I
think I told Mr. Toombs to cut the water pipes and let the boat sink.
Then taking one of the cork floats I got into the water and swam off as
fast as I could.

"The enemy in no amiable mood poured down upon the bubbling water a
hailstorm of rifle and pistol shots from the deck of the 'Ironsides,'
and from the nearest monitor. Sometimes they struck very close to my
head, but swimming for life I soon disappeared from sight and found
myself alone in the water. I hoped that with the assistance of the flood
tide I might be able to reach Fort Sumter, but a north wind was against
me, and after I had been in the water more than an hour I became numb
with cold and was nearly exhausted. Just then the boat of a transport
schooner picked me up and found to their surprise that they had captured
a 'rebel.' I was handed over next morning to the mercy of Admiral
Dahlgren, who ordered me to be put in irons, and if obstreperous, in
double irons. When on the flagship I learned that my fireman had clung
to her rudder chains and been taken on board.

"Engineer Toombs started to swim towards the 'Monitor,' with the
intention of catching her chains, but changed his mind when he saw that
the 'David' was afloat, and had drifted away from the frigate. Swimming
to her he found Pilot Cannon, who not being able to swim, when the fires
were extinguished jumped overboard and clung to the unexposed side of
the 'David.' After drifting about a quarter of a mile he got back on
board and seeing something in the water he hailed and heard, to his
surprise, a reply from Toombs, who soon got on board. Finding the boat
uninjured, though a bull's eye canteen afforded a mark to the Federal
cannoneer, they fixed the engine, started up the fires, got up steam and
started back to Charleston, reaching the Atlantic dock about midnight."

As the result of this most daring feat it was found that the torpedo had
exploded under three feet of water and against four and one-half inches
of armour, and twenty-seven inches of wood backing. The ponderous ship
was shaken from stem to stern, and was docked for repairs until the
attack on Fort Fisher, while the "David" and her crew were uninjured.
Captain Rowan reported that the ship was very seriously injured and
ought to be sent home for repairs, and Admiral Dahlgren informed the
Secretary of the Navy that, "Among the many inventions with which I have
been familiar, I have seen none that acted so perfectly at first trial.
The secrecy, rapidity of movement, control of direction and precise
explosion, indicate, I think, the introduction of the torpedo element as
a means of certain warfare. It can be ignored no longer. If sixty pounds
of powder why not 600," and the Secretary of the Confederate Navy
reported: "On the evening of the 5th of October Lieutenant W. T.
Glassell, in charge of the torpedo boat, "David," with Assistant
Engineer Tomb, Pilot Walker Cannon, and Seaman James Sullivan, left
Charleston to attempt the destruction of the enemy's ship, 'New
Ironsides.' Passing undiscovered through the enemy's fleet, he was
hailed by the watch as he approached the ship and answering the hail
with a shot, he dashed his boat against her and exploded the torpedo
under her bilge. The fires were extinguished, and the boat was nearly
swamped by the concussion and the descending water, and Lieutenant
Glassell and Sullivan, supposing her to be lost swam off and were picked
up by the enemy. Engineer Tomb and Pilot Cannon succeeded in reaching
Charleston with the boat.

"Although Lieutenant Glassell failed to accomplish his chief object, it
is believed that he inflicted serious injury upon the 'Ironsides,' while
his unsurpassed daring must be productive of an important moral
influence, as well upon the enemy as upon our own naval force."

The annals of naval warfare record few enterprises which exhibit more
strikingly than this of Lieutenant Glassell the highest qualities of a
sea officer.

At this time there were sixty officers and men on torpedo duty at
Charleston alone.

The most remarkable career in all torpedo history was that of a little
boat built in Mobile Bay, and operated upon the fleet off Charleston.
She was the pioneer of all submarine torpedo boats, as she was the first
to achieve success.

She was built in 1863-4 at Mobile by Mr. Horace L. Hundley, at his own
expense. She was made of boiler plate, was shaped like a fish
twenty-four feet long, five feet deep, three feet wide; she had fins on
each side, raised or depressed from the interior; her motive power was a
small propeller worked by manual power of her crew seated on each side
of the shaft; she was provided with tanks which could be filled or
empitied of water to increase or dimish her displacement; but had no
provision for air storage. The captain stood in a circular hatchway well
forward and steered the boat, and regulated the depth at which she
should proceed. When she dived all was made tight until she rose again.
She had no ventilation. She was designed to tow a torpedo astern, dive
under the vessel attacked, dragging the torpedo after; she would then
rise to the surface on the other side, when the torpedo would explode by
contact with the bottom of the vessel, and the torpedo boat make off in
the darkness and confusion. General Maury states that on her trial trip,
which he saw, she towed a floating torpedo, dived under a ship, dragging
the torpedo, which fairly exploded under the ship's bottom, and blew the
fragments one hundred feet into the air; and that not being able to use
her in Mobile, he sent her, and her crew to Charleston. It is said that
during another trial in Mobile she sank and all on board perished before
she was raised.

Lieutenant Payne, of the Navy, volunteers to take her out, and secured a
volunteer crew of sailors. She was named the "H. L. Hundley." While tied
to the wharf at Fort Johnston, whence it was to start at night to make
the attack, a steamer passing close by, filled and sank it, drowning all
hands save Payne, who was at the time standing in one of the manholes.
She was promptly raised, but was again sunk, this time at Fort Sumter
wharf, when six men were drowned, Payne and two others escaping. When
she was brought to the surface again. McKinley and a trained crew came
from Mobile, bringing with him Lieutenant Dixon, of the Twenty-first
Alabama Infantry, to fight the boat. He made repeated descents in the
harbour, diving under the receiving ship again and again successfully.
But one day, when Dixon was absent from the city, Mr. Hundley, wishing
to handle the boat himself, unfortunately made the attempt; it was
readily submerged but did not rise again 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 attitudes horrible to see; some clutching candles,
evidently endeavouring to force open the manholes; others lying on the
bottom tightly grappled together; and the blackened faces of all
presented the expression of their agony and despair.

The "Hundley" had thus cost the lives of thirty-three brave men, but
nevertheless, there were still found volunteers to risk theirs for their
country--and Lieutenant Dixon found no difficulty in enlisting eight
more heroes to attack the Federal steam sloop of war, "Housatonic," a
powerful new vessel of eleven guns, lying on the north channel, opposite
Beach Inlet, off Charleston. General Beauregard had refused to let it be
used again, but Lieutenant Dixon, having undertaken to use the boat with
a spar torpedo in the same manner as the "David," consent was given and
preparations for the attack were again made.

Dixon was a Kentuckian and was moved by the highest principle and
patriotism in making this venture. He had taken an active part in the
construction of the vessel, and had caused other men to perish in her by
dangers he had not shared, now bravely demanded this opportunity. His
crew were Arnold Becker, C. Simpkins, James A. Wick, T. Collins and ----
Ridgeway, of the Navy, and Corporal J. F. Carlson, of the artillery. All
knew the fearful risk they ran--and all were willing to sacrifice their
lives for their country, counting the cost as nothing if thereby they
could procure the destruction of the "Housatonic."

Everything being ready at twilight on the 17th of February, 1864, these
devoted heroes took their places in the boat at Sullivan's Island, and
set off upon their perilous adventure. This time she got away
successfully, but that is the last that we hear of her save the official
report from the enemy, that about 9 o'clock an object like a plank was
seen approaching, which in a moment more struck the ship with a great
explosion, blowing up the after part of the ship, causing her to sink
immediately to the bottom, drowning five men and injuring many more.

The "Hundley" was never heard of again till several years after the war,
divers sent down to wreck the "Housatonic," found her little antagonist
lying on the bottom near by.

Admiral Dahlgren reported to the Secretary of the U. S. Navy, as

Sir, I much regret to inform the Department that the U. S. S.
"Housatonic," on the blockade off Charleston, S. C., was torpedoed by a
rebel "David" and sunk on the night of February 17th, about 9 o'clock.

From the time the "David" was seen until the vessel was on the bottom, a
very brief period must have elapsed, as far as the executive officer can
judge, it did not exceed five or seven minutes.

The officer of the deck perceived a moving object on the water quite
near and ordered the chain to be slipped: the captain and the executive
officer went on deck, saw the object, and each fired at it with a small
arm. In an instant the ship was struck on the starboard side between the
main and mizzen masts. Those on deck near were stunned, the vessel began
to sink, and went down almost immediately.

The Department will readily perceive the consequences likely to result
from this event: the whole line of blockade will be infested with these
cheap, convenient and formidable defenses, and we must guard every
point. The measures of prevention are not so obvious. I am inclined to
the belief that in addition the various devices for keeping the
torpedoes from the vessels, an effectual prevention may be found in the
use of similar contrivances. * * *

I have attached more importance to the use of torpedoes than others have
done, and believe them to constitute the most formidable of the
difficulties in the way to Charleston. Their effect on the "Ironsides"
in October, and now on the "Housatonic," sustains me in the idea. And
thereupon he makes application to be furnished a number of torpedo boats
made upon the model of the "David," a sketch of which is submitted, and
also a quantity of floating torpedoes, and suggests that as he has
information that the Confederates have a number of "Davids" completed
and in an advanced state of construction, the Department would do well
to offer a large reward of prize money for the capture or destruction of
any of them, say $20,000 or $30,000 for each, adding, "they are worth
more than that to us."

About the same time Admiral Farragut, who had little faith in torpedoes
at first, and who like other naval officers had denounced their use by
the Confederates, and ordered that no quarter should be shown those
captured operating them, also applied to be furnished them, saying,
"Torpedoes are not so very agreeable when used on both sides, therefore,
I have reluctantly brought myself to it. I have always deemed it
unworthy of a chivalrous nation, but it does not do to give your enemy
such a decided superiority over." And the Government of the United
States, who had savagely denounced the Confederates for using them, now
invited plans from inventors and mechanics for their construction, and
operation, and soon supplied them abundantly to Army and Navy--adopting
generally the Confederates as the best.

In August, 1864, the Federal fleet advanced upon Fort Morgan at the
entrance of Mobile Bay, the line being led by "Tecumseh," the newest and
most powerful of the enemy's ironclads, which was completely destroyed
by a torpedo planted under the direction of General Raines, Chief of the
Confederate Army Torpedo Bureau. She sunk in a moment, carrying down
with her her entire crew of one hundred and forty souls, save about
fifteen or twenty who escaped by swimming to Fort Morgan.

This was the greatest achievement of a single torpedo during our war and
served to stimulate the Confederate authorities to renewed vigour.
Thenceforward, the Bay of Mobile and adjacent waters became the chief
scenes of torpedo operation. Genl. Maury stated that he had caused to be
placed 180 in her channel and waterways, that they held the powerful
fleet of Admiral Farragut for ten months at bay, and destroyed fully a
dozen United States vessels, of which six were gunboats and four were
monitors. Regular torpedo stations were established in Richmond,
Wilmington, Charleston, Savannah and Mobile, at which sixty naval
officers and men were on duty, preparing these new engines of war. The
channel-ways, rivers and harbours were protected by them from Virginia
to Texas. Sometimes a hundred were taken out of James River in a single
day, and when the Southern seaports fell hundreds of torpedoes were
found floating in their waters ready to explode upon the first contact.
At first the older Confederate officers who regarded them with
disfavour, as Captain Wm. H. Parker says he did, were now "torpedo mad."
"Commodore Tucker and I," he said, "had torpedo on the brain," and the
destruction of the enemy's vessels increased so rapidly that in the last
ten months of the war forty or fifty were blown up, and in the last
three weeks ten or more were destroyed. Its possibilities became better
and better appreciated every day. Think of the destruction this machine
affected, and bear in mind its use came to be fairly understood only
during the last part of the war. During that period, when but few
Federal vessels were lost and fewer still severely damaged by the most
powerful guns in use, we find this long line of disasters from the
Confederate use of this new and in the beginning despised comer into the
arena of naval warfare. Our successes have made the torpedo a name
spoken of with loathing and contempt by the self-sufficient Yankee, a
recognized factor in modern naval warfare, and now we see on all sides
the greatest activity and genius in improving it.

The wonderful inventive genius and energetic action of the Confederate
officers, and engineers astounded the world by their achievements in the
unknown and untried science in naval warfare. They not only made it most
effective for sea coast and harbour defence, but terrible as an agency
of attack on hostile ships of war. Not only that, but they brought the
system to such a high state of perfection that little or no advance or
improvement has since been made in it, and within a short period of the
inception of the design a system was formed so perfect and complete as
that the advance upon the water by the enemy was materially checked.
They startled naval constructors and officers in the civilized world by
the rapidity, audacity and novelty of their original methods, and will
be known through all ages for their wonderful achievements. Maury,
Buchanan, Brook, Jones and their assistants are the central figures
around which revolve to the present day the changes from the old to the
new in naval warfare.

Meantime Captain Maury was most diligently employed in London, under the
order of the Navy Department in developing and improving his system,
afforded by the workshops and laboratories there for experiment and
construction. Here he continued during 1863 and 1864, pursuing these
researches, perfecting many valuable inventions, and instruments with
signal success. He reported to the Secretary of the Navy at home, so far
as it was safe to do so, by whom results were passed on to officers in
charge for their instruction and guidance and shipping continuously to
the department supplies of insulated wire, exploders, and other
inventions and devices whose object was to increase the destructiveness
of the torpedo and to test it continually without removing it. In the
spring of 1865, he sailed for Galveston with the most powerful and
perfect equipment of electric torpedo material ever assembled. Great
results were confidently expected from this armament, but before he
reached Havana news arrived of General Lee's surrender.

But his experience and study and his scientific renown had now made him
the leading authority in this new weapon of war mainly perfected by him.
He was also now relieved from the seal of secrecy hitherto imposed upon
him, so that when a year afterwards he returned to Europe he felt
himself at liberty to impart to the sovereign there the secret of his
discoveries concerning his new made science. Most of the European powers
sent representatives to his school of instruction--and all of them have
built upon his beginnings, the most powerful branch of their naval

To France he first imparted his secret and the Emperor witnessed the
experiment and himself closed the circuit and exploded a torpedo placed
in the Seine, near St. Cloud, to the perfect satisfaction of all.
Russia, Sweden, Holland, England and others soon also received his
instructions and they, too, have since built up a new method of defence
second to none.

My own experiments, Captain Maury says, show that the electrical
torpedo, or mine has not hitherto been properly appreciated as a means
of defence in war. It is as effective for the defence as ironclads and
rifled guns are for the attack. Indeed, such is the progress made in
what may be called this new Department of Military Engineering that I
feel justified in the opinion that hereafter in all plans for coast,
harbour and river defences and in all works for the protection of cities
and places whether against attacks by armies on land or ships afloat,
the electrical torpedo is to play an important part. It will not only
modify and strengthen existing plans, but greatly reduce the expense of
future systems.

These experiments have resulted in some important improvements and
contrivances, not to say inventions and discoveries which as yet have
been made known only to the Confederate Government. They are chiefly as

First. A plan for determining by cross bearing when the enemy is in the
field of destruction, and for "making connections" among the torpedo
wires in a certain way and by which (the concurrence of two operators)
becomes necessary for the explosion of any one or more torpedoes. This
plan requires each operator to be so placed, or stationed that a line
drawn straight from them to the place of the torpedoes may intersect as
nearly as practicable at right angles, and it requires the connections
to be such that each operator may put his station in or out of circuit
at will. When the torpedoes are laid, a range from each station is
established for every torpedo or group of torpedoes. When either
operator observes an enemy in range with any torpedo he closes his
circuit for that torpedo. If the enemy before getting out of this range
should enter the range for any torpedo from the other station the
operator then closes his circuit, and discharges the igniting spark.

Consequently if the range belongs to the same torpedo its explosion
takes place. But if not there will be no explosion; hence, here is an
artifice by which explosion becomes impossible when the enemy is not
within the field of destruction, and sure when she is.

Second. The "Electrical Gauge," a contrivance of my own, by means of
which one of the tests which the igniting fuse has to undergo before it
is accepted, is applied. By means of it the operators can telegraph
through the fuse to each other without risk to the torpedoes, and by
which the torpedoes, may without detriment to their explosibility be
tested daily, or as often as required. And thus the operator can at all
times make sure that all is right.

Third. A plan for planting torpedoes where the water is too deep for
them to lie on the bottom and explode with effect, by which they will
not interfere with the navigation of the channel, and by which when the
enemy makes his appearance they may, by the touch of a key be brought
instantly into the required position and at the proper depth.

These contrivances are all very simple; they are readily understood from
verbal instruction, they require neither models or drawings, and enable
the operator chiefly to use the self same wire for testing his torpedoes
daily after they are planted, and then to explode them at will.

Though these torpedoes, owing to the lack in the Confederacy of the
proper materials and appliances for their construction and use, were
make-shifts, yet so effective had their use become, especially during
the last year of the war, that the Secretary of the American Navy, in
his annual report of December, 1865, to the President of the United
States, thus testifies to their efficiency: "Torpedoes always formidable
in harbours and internal waters, have been more destructive to our naval
vessels than all other means combined."

Since 1862, finding myself in reach of the facilities afforded in
England, I have made the study of Electrical torpedoes a specialty, and
the results are such, to say the least, as to show that it is capable of
doing quite as much for the defence as ironclads and rifled guns are
likely to do for the attack.

These results consist in improvements and discoveries which enable the
adept in that new department of military engineering to explode his
torpedoes whether buried on land or submerged in the water, singly or in
groups, instanteously and at any distance to transmit through them
without the risk of explosion, orders and commands, and as readily as
through the ordinary line of telegraph. To determine with unerring
certainty when the enemy is in the field of destruction of this or that
torpedo. To render its explosion impossible, unless he be in such field,
even though the igniting spark should be discharged; and so to set an
electrical current to watch it, as to make the injuring of it without
his knowledge impossible, and the removal of it by an enemy, if not
impossible, extremely difficult and dangerous.

Electrical torpedoes are also available for the defense of mountain
passes, roadways and fortified positions on land.

I am not aware that electricity was used at all in the Confederate war
for springing mines on land. Shell cast for this purpose should be used
but in an emergency, tin canisters, or other perfectly water-tight
cases, will answer. These shells should be one-fourth of an inch thick
to one inch, according to size and probable handling in transportation.
They should be spherical only instead of a hole for the fuse as in a
hollow shot they should have a neck like a bottle, with a cap to screw
over, not in the neck. The case should be charged through the neck, and
the wires let in through two holes counter sunk diametrically opposite,
the counter sinking being for the purpose of receiving pitch or other
resinous matter, to keep the water out. The fuse being adjusted to the
wires should be held in place by a string through the neck while the
wires drawn out taut and sealed within and without. Having proved the
fuse, first fill and then drive in the peg. Then fill the space between
it and the screw-cap with red lead and screw down so as to make
water-tight. Now secure the tails of the wires so that they will not be
chafed or bruised, and the mine is ready for transportation.

They are general to be used in stone fougasses, the wire being buried at
convenient depths and all marks of fougasses and trenches removed as
completely as possible. Any number not exceeding twenty-five or thirty
may be arranged in a single circuit for the Ebonite; but if the magnetic
exploder of Wheatstone be preferred, and the ground be perfectly dry,
hundreds may be planted in a latter circuit.

The operator may be at any distance from these primas when he explodes
them, provided only he has established some mark or point which on being
seen by the enemy should serve as a signal. The area of destruction of
fougasses properly constructed with a charge of twenty or thirty pounds
of powder may be assumed to be that of a circle seventy-five or eighty
yards in diameter. Twenty mines would therefore serve for a mile.
Several miles may be planted in a night and the assailants may be
enticed, or invited out in the morning. Passes before an invading army
may be mined in advance and thus if he cannot be destroyed, his progress
may be so retarded by dress mines or sham mines as almost literally to
dig his way.

The power to telegraph through these torpedoes is of little consequence,
in as much as there need be but one station and one operator. Using the
testing fuse manufactured by Abel and a weak voltaic current, the
operator can at any time satisfy himself as to continuity. Thus "bridge"
and "gulfs" or "breaks" are not required for the land as they are in
sea-mining. Ebonite has the further advantage on land that it takes but
a single wire.

Forts may be protected against assault and your own rifle pits from
occupation by an enemy simply by a proper distribution of these new
engines of war. They may be planted line within line and one row above
another, and so arranged that volcanoes can be sprung at will under the
feet of assaulting columns. And these improvements and discoveries
enable the engineer at small cost, and short notice effectually to
defend any roadstead, or block any river, harbour or pass against the
land and naval forces of an enemy without in the least interfering with
the free use of the same by friendly powers.

To this admirable state of efficiency was the new and terrible science of
war perfected, chiefly by the Confederate Navy, and mainly through the
instrumentality of its faithful, and devoted officer Captain Matthew F.
Maury, and his brave and daring young assistants, Minor, Davidson,
Kennon, Dixon, Glassel, and many others, and those crews of the
"Hundley," who moved by the lofty faith that with them died, volunteered
for enterprise of extremest peril in the defense of Charleston Harbour,
in which they all perished, in this desperate service, of whom the names
of but the following are known: Horace L. Hundley, George E. Dixon,
Robert Brookland, Jos. Patterson, Thomas W. Park, Chas. McHugh, Henry
Beard, John Marshall, C. L. Sprague, C. F. Carlson, Arnold Beeker, Jos.
A. Wicks, C. Simpkins, F. Collins, Ridgway, Miller, whose monument
erected by the ladies of Charleston, stands upon the battery there in
perpetual memory and honour.


Army Northern Virginia.

*** End of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "A brief sketch of the work of Matthew Fontaine Maury during the war, 1861-1865" ***

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