Information obtained from the examination of deserters from the enemy.
JANUARY 7, 1864.
Examination of —— Belton, who deserted from the rebels a few days since, and was sent to me by General Terry:
Occupation and residence. Served his time as a mechanic in Michigan. About four years ago crossed from Indiana to Louisville. Has a wife in Ohio. Went from Kentucky to Alabama; worked a short time in Montgomery and then went as engineer on railroad between Montgomery and Mobile; was so occupied about eighteen months. Left the road and came to Charleston about the 24th October last, having been conscripted while on the railroad, and, choice being allowed for Army or Navy,, he came to Charleston to ship for the Navy, where he arrived October 24, 1863, and shipped October 26. Was sent on board the receiving ship Indian Chief. Was made one of the crew of the captain’s gig, and so remained until he left on Tuesday night, a little after midnight. Four men left with him; one of these was an Irishman, two were Northern men, and one was from Baltimore. Came away in the gig belonging to Captain Rochelle, who had charge of a body of men for a special purpose. Their intention was to reach some of our blockading vessels. By mistake they pulled up Cooper River; night was foggy, and they got some distance up the river before they discovered their mistake. He believes that they passed through the narrow channel between Shute’s Folly Island and Hog Island, leaving Castle Pinckney on the right. They then kept the shore so close on their right hand that their oars would touch the weeds, it being too thick to get along in any other way. Fog broke away toward daylight, and in following the shore they had gone up Shem Creek without knowing it. They then drew the boat amongst the grass. It was raining all this time, and they could not land in the swamp, it being too muddy. Had nothing to eat during this time. There were some salt works about 50 yards above them, and they could hear the men at work talking. A small black steamer passed up and down the creek; thinks it was the Lynch. Saw a pile driver driving piles across Hog Island Channel, called in the city the “boat channel,” about one-half mile seaward of Shem Creek. When it was well dark, they pulled out of the creek well into the harbor, and then steered for Moultrie; they passed near Moultrie, and then out seaward. Not knowing where they were, in the dark, and unable to distinguish objects, .they pulled over for the Sumter lights. When they got well over, they turned back, and got hold of an old wreck inside of Moultrie and close to it, where they tied up until it was nearly light. They then steered across the channel, saw Cumming’ s Point, and landed just above Fort Wagner. They saw a rebel picket boat near Sumter and passed it.
Duties.—Was employed always in pulling the gig from the ship to the shore with one exception—when the gig went down on Sunday night to place obstructions around Fort Sumter. The obstructions consisted of logs squared on two sides, chained together in pairs about 3 feet apart, the ends chained together. On one of the squared sides railroad bars were bolted on as on a track, which of course floated undermost, leaving the upper surface of the wharf about level with the water. The logs were about 40 feet long, and he thinks there might have been about twenty pair. They extended along the northeastern, southeastern, and gorge wall to the wharf. Has heard, but does not know, that there are two or three guns in Sumter bearing toward the city and the channel. Has heard that if shelling had been continued Sumter would have been evacuated. They got back to their vessel about midnight. They have three small steamers, side-wheel, that ply between the city and the forts.
Heard the captain of one of these boats say that his steamer was ordered to carry troops to Sumter if the latter was attacked. Obstructions were towed down by a steamer. Towed all the obstructions at one time. Came down from one of the lower wharves on Cooper River. Passed down the main channel, passed close to Fort Johnson, and from there to Sumter. Passed an ironclad lying at anchor about a mile inside of Sumter. Was not aware of any obstructions or of any care taken in coming down to avoid anything at all.
Ironclads.—Has been on board two of the ironclads, but can’t distinguish the Charleston from the Palmetto State, they being so much alike; had a gun at each end and one at each side. Does not know anything about the caliber of the guns. Saw some projectiles conical; thinks one of them was 8 inches in diameter. This ironclad is plated with solid plates; measured the thickness at one of the ports; found it a fraction less than 3 inches. Noticed the torpedo; is on the end of an iron pole on the bow; doesn’t think that the length of the pole from the torpedo to the vessel was over 15 feet. Torpedo contained 75 pounds powder. The torpedo is oblong, and has eight or ten nipples at the outer end.
Everything in the description of boats is fixed for torpedoes, even to the captain's gig.
Torpedo Boats.— Saw the “David” hauled up on the wharf, being covered with thin boiler iron. The musket balls from the Ironsides had pierced her; thinks she is about 37 feet long; thinks the diameter midships is not more than 5½ feet; saw her afterwards in the water. This was about the beginning of November. Saw her afterwards running up and down, for trial of speed, apparently. Doesn’t think that there were more than 4½ feet out of water, and 10 feet of her length. She has two cylinders, diameter about 5 inches, stroke 8 inches. Thinks she was going 5 or 6 knots. Her pipe is about 8 feet above the boat; diameter, 12 inches. Thinks the pipe can be lowered. Body of boat shaped like a cigar; shaft comes out at the very apex of the end of the boat. Propeller is outside the stern end, and rudder is outside of that. Propeller has four blades; new ones have only two. Saw her last week, and has no knowledge of her having gone down the harbor. Has heard that twenty-five have been ordered to be built similar to the “David.” Has seen eight or ten in course of construction at the different ship yards on Cooper River; those near the ironclad No. 3 are most advanced. At this, No. 3, there were four altogether; one just begun, two ready for their engines, and one nearly ready for launching. Had her engine in, all complete; is probably launched by this time; about the same size as first one. Saw construction of two begun at yard No. 2 and two or three are just begun at yard No. 1.
The “American Diver” was built at Mobile and was brought on two platform cars from Mobile to Charleston; saw her in all stages of construction at Mobile. Sometimes worked near her in the same shop. Thinks she is about 35 feet long; height about same as “David” (5½ feet); has propeller at the end; she is not driven by steam, but her propeller is turned by hand. Has two manholes on the upper side, about 12 to 14 feet apart. The entrance into her is through these manholes, the covers being turned back. They are all used to look out of. (Will give a sketch and description of her.) She has had bad accidents hitherto, but was owing to those in her not understanding her. Thinks that she can be worked perfectly safe by persons who understand her. Can be driven 5 knots an hour without exertion to the men working her. Manholes are about 16 inches high and are just above water when trimmed. Believes was brought here about 1st September; has seen her working in the water afloat; passed her in the gig—she being [sic] the last time before his arrival. Has drowned three crews, one at Mobile and two here, 17 men in all. When she went down the last time, was on the bottom two weeks before she was raised. Saw her when she was raised the last time. They then hoisted her out of the water, refitted her, and got another crew. Saw her after that submerged. Saw her go under the Indian Chief and then saw her go back under again. She made about one-half mile in the dives. Saw her dive under the Charleston; went under about 250 feet from her, and came up about 300 feet beyond her. Was about twenty minutes under the water when she went under the Indian Chief. Her keel is of cast iron, in sections, which can be cast loose when she wishes to rise to the surface of the water. Believes she is at Mount Pleasant. One of her crew, who belongs to his vessel, came back for his clothes, and said she was going down there as a station, where they would watch her time for operation.
Official Records of the Union and Confederate Navies in the War of the Rebellion; Series I - Volume 15: South Atlantic Blockading Squadron (October 1, 1863 - September 30, 1864), 1902, U.S. Government Printing Office
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