CORRESPONDENCE, ORDERS, REPORTS, AND RETURNS OF THE CONFEDERATE AUTHORITIES
GENERAL JACKSON'S BRIGADE,
Centerville, October 21, 1861.
SECRETARY OF WAR:
SIR: Having heard some time since of the arrest by the enemy of an individual on whose person were found plans for the destruction of the enemy's ships of war, I thought that it might be possible to replace by others these plans, and although I can scarcely hope to have invented an apparatus that possesses equal merits with that gentleman's, still I have so far succeeded in my own mind as to induce me to write to you on the subject. I have invented an instrument of war which for a better name I have called a submarine gunboat. In many of its details I have not hesitated to adopt the plans of others, believing it far better to use machinery that has been found to be useful than to try to make a perfectly novel boat. I have thus greatly reduced the chances of a failure. As I have endeavored to avoid all chimerical plans, no one can consistently call me a visionary. In fact, my gun-boat can hardly be called the work of an inventor but rather that of a mechanic, so little is there in it that has not been used before in some form or other. My plan is simple. A vessel is built of boiler iron of about fifty tons burden, similar to Winans' cigar steamer, but made of an oval form with the propeller behind. This is for the purpose of having as little draft of water as possible for the purpose of passing over sand-bars without being observed by the enemy. The engines are of the latest and best style so as to use as little steam as possible in proportion to the power received. The boilers are so constructed as to generate steam without a supply of air. The air for respiration is kept in a fit condition for breathing by the gradual addition of oxygen, while the carbonic acid is absorbed by a shower of lime water. This I conceive is far better than taking down a large supply of compressed air as is done in some cases, requiring larger vessels in proportion to the men and of course additional machinery. I propose to tow out my gun-boat to sea and when within range of the enemy's guns it sinks below the water's surface so as to leave no trace on the surface of its approach, a self-acting apparatus keeping it at any depth required. When within a few rods of the enemy it leaps to surface and the two vessels come in contact before the enemy can fire a gun. Placed in the bow of the gun-boat is a small mortar containing a self-exploding shell. As it strikes the enemy the shell explodes and blows in the ship's sides; then the engines are reversed, the gun-boat sinks below the surface and goes noiselessly on its way toward another ship. After a few ships are sunk the enemy can scarcely have the temerity to remain in our waters. I need not enumerate to you the advantages of such a weapon when England is looking elsewhere for cotton. I have written you on this subject in order to obtain an opportunity to draft out my invention, which with the means at command in Richmond can be done in a week at most. Before having it inspected by a committee of practical men a favorable answer to this will insure me a leave of absence, when I will at once report at Richmond and perfect my invention, either alone or in conjunction with a person you may select. As for making the drawings in the army with accuracy it is almost impossible, since neither the paper, instruments, nor necessary tables can be procured.
CHARLES P. LEAVITT,
Company K, Second Virginia Regiment.
OCTOBER 26, 1861.
I recommend that this man be granted furlough to come on here, and in this office or that of the Chief Engineer's draw out his plans.
Lieutenant-Colonel and Chief of Ordnance.
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