Sinking of the U. S. S. Housatonic by the Confederate States submarine torpedo boat H. L. Hunley, off Charleston, S. C., February 17, 1864

[Extract from Charleston Daily Courier, February 29, 1864.]

            On Friday night about half past 9 o’clock one of our naval picket boats, under command of Boatswain J. M. Smith, captured a Yankee picket boat off Fort Sumter containing 1 commissioned officer and 5 men. A large barge, which was in company with the captured boat, managed to escape. The officer taken prisoner is Midshipman William H. Kitching, acting master’s mate of the United States blockading steamer Nipsic. The rest of the prisoners are landsmen.

            By the prisoners we learn that the blockader sunk by our torpedo boat on the night of the 16th instant was the United States steam sloop of war Housatonic, carrying 12 guns and a crew of 300 men. They state that the torpedo boat, cigar shape, was first seen approaching by the watch on board the Housatonic. The alarm was given, and immediately all hands beat to quarters. A rapid musketry fire was opened upon the boat, but without effect. Being unable to depress their guns, the order was given to slip the cable. In doing this, the Housatonic backed some distance and came in collision with the cigar boat. The torpedo exploded almost immediately, carrying away the whole stern of the vessel. The steamer sunk in three minutes’ time, the officers and crew barely escaping to the rigging. Everything else on board—guns, stores, ammunition, etc., together with the small boats—went down with her. The explosion made no noise and the affair was not known among the fleet until daybreak, when the crew was discovered and released from their uneasy positions. They had remained there all night. Two officers and three men are reported missing and supposed to be drowned. The loss of the Housatonic caused great consternation in the fleet. All the wooden vessels are ordered to keep up steam and go out to sea every night, not being allowed to anchor inside. The picket boats have been doubled and the force in each boat increased.

            This glorious success of our little torpedo boat, under the command of Lieutenant Dixon, of Mobile, has raised the hopes of our people, and the most sanguine expectations are now entertained of our being able to raise the siege in a way little dreamed of by the enemy. The capture of the picket boat reflects great credit on the gallant boatswain in charge of our barge, as well as on the unceasing vigilance and energy of Lieutenant J. H. Rochelle, commanding the naval picket detachment on board the Indian Chief. He has watched the operations of these picket intruders for some time past, and planned the movements for taking some of them in out of the wet.


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

Hit Counter visits since 04/19/2004.
Page updated 05/25/2006