The Cigar-Boat.

an excerpt from "The Confederate Torpedo Service" by R. O. Crowley
IN the “Southern History Society Papers,” Colonel Olmstead gives the following account of an interesting episode in the service which did not come under my eye:
            During the summer of 1863 there was brought to Charleston, South Carolina, by rail from Mobile, Alabama, a peculiarly shaped boat known as the “cigar-boat.” Its history is linked with deeds of the loftiest heroism. This boat was one day made fast to the wharf at Fort Johnson, opposite Fort Sumter, preparatory to an expedition against the Federal fleet. It was built of boiler-iron, about thirty feet in length, with a breadth of beam of four feet, and a vertical depth of six feet. Access to the interior was had by two man-holes in the upper part, covered by hinged caps into which were let bull’s-eyes of heavy glass, and through these the steersman looked in guiding the motions of the craft. The boat floated with these caps raised only a foot or so above the level of the water. The motive power was a propeller worked by the hands of the crew, cranks being provided in the shaft for that purpose. Upon each side of the exterior were horizontal vanes, or wings, which could be adjusted to any required angle from the interior. When it was desired that the boat should go on an even keel, whether on the surface or under the water, these vanes were kept level. If it was desired to go under the water, —say, for instance, at an angle of ten degrees, — the vanes were fixed at that angle, and the propeller worked. The resistance of the water against the inclined vanes would then carry the boat under. A reversal of this method would bring it to the surface again. A tube of mercury was arranged to mark the descent. It had been the design of the inventor to approach near to an enemy, then to submerge the boat and pass under the ship to be attacked, towing a floating torpedo to be exploded by means of electricity as soon as it touched the keel.
            Insufficient depth of water in the harbor prevented this manner of using the boat, however; and she was then rigged with a long spar at the bow, to which a torpedo was attached, to be exploded by actual concussion with the object to be destroyed.
            While the “cigar-boat” was at the wharf at Fort Johnson, with some of her crew on board, she was suddenly sunk by the waves from a passing steamer. Days elapsed before she could be raised. The dead bodies of the drowned crew inside were removed, and a second crew volunteered. They made repeated and successful experiments in the harbor, but finally they too went down, and, from some unknown cause, failed to come up. Once more a long time passed before the boat was raised, and then the remains of the devoted crew were taken from her; nevertheless, still another set of men came forward and volunteered for the perilous duty.
            Finally the expedition started; but it never returned. That night the Federal sloop-of-war Housatonic was reported as having been sunk by a torpedo in the lower harbor; but of the gallant men who had thus accomplished what they aimed to do, at the risk of their own lives, nothing definite was ever known until after the war, when divers, in endeavoring to raise the wreck of the Housatonic, discovered the “cigar-boat,” with the bleached bones of her crew, lying near the wreck of the noble ship she had destroyed!

Crowley, R. O., “The Confederate Torpedo Service,” The Century, A Popular Quarterly, Volume 56, Issue 6, October 1898, pp 298 - 299, New York: The Century Company

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