Letter with information on the submarine boat that sank the Housatonic from J. D. Breaman to his wife, Nelly

MOBILE, ALA., March 3, 1864.

            MY DEAR WIFE: * * * I write this to send by Bob Dunn, who leaves here Saturday morning for home. * * * I wrote to you when Bob left for Richmond and hinted (for then I did not dare do more) at the object of his mission thither, and now, having a more reliable conveyance for my letter, can talk to you more freely of the matter; and, in doing so, will endeavor to explain to your satisfaction why it was mutually agreed between ourselves that Singer and myself should remain on this side of the river and Bob return to Texas. Discovering that our business on this side (so far as making further contracts was concerned) was about drawing to a close, and that but very few of us could render ourselves useful to the Government by going across the Mississippi, we at once concentrated all the inventive genius in our party for the purpose of getting up something new that would carry destruction to the Yankees, make money for ourselves, and at the same time be of great service to the Confederacy. The result was that I got up the plan of an ironclad torpedo boat that, all who saw it admitted, was equal to the task of destroying any war ship now afloat. To carry out our plan and get our new boat under headway, it was necessary, first, to lay the whole matter before the authorities at Richmond, get their approval of the scheme and authority, together with money and material, to build her. Secondly, after this was accomplished the boat would have to be constructed, manned, and used. In order that the first part of our work should be properly begun, we deemed it best, after consultation, to send Dunn to Richmond, and through the influence of Wigfall and others to get the matter before Congress, and authority procured from it to carry out our plans. This part of the business Dunn was well suited for, and has succeeded in accomplishing what we desired, all of which he will explain to you. Next came in Singer’s duties and my own which were to superintend the construction and management of the boats after they were built. This requires considerable ingenuity and knowledge of machinery, and for this part of the work no one was at hand but Singer and myself. This was the programme agreed upon, and as [neither] Singer nor myself could go home, and feeling it was necessary some one should be there to take care and look after our families, we agreed that after Dunn had finished his part of the work he should go home. Having thus given you an outline of our plans, you can judge for yourself of the wisdom of the arrangement. That I am more than anxious to go home I hope you have not the slightest doubt; in fact, know that you have not, but you will readily perceive that under the circumstances I must remain on this side for some time, or otherwise give up our present scheme entirely. Bradbury would be of great assistance to us on this side in building our boats, and it is possible that he may come over when Dunn gets home. If so, and you think it at all practicable to come with him, I would like for you to do so. I have talked with Dunn about this, and when you see him, he will be able to tell you all about the trip and counsel with you about making the journey. Nothing would please me more than to have you with me, and if it is possible for us to get together, it must be done, as we are looking daily for news from Singer (who is still in Richmond), after which I shall be able to write you definitely in regard to my future movements;. If there is any slip at Richmond in issuing our orders to our entire satisfaction, then all of us will go across the river, so that I am now in a state of happy indifference. If everything is fixed up at Richmond to our satisfaction, it is well; if not, we go home, which is better.

            Since we have been on this side of the river we have gotten up a great many projects and have been interested in many new schemes, the particulars of which are too lengthy for an ordinary letter. Among the number, however, was a submarine boat, built at this place, of which Whitney and myself bought one-fifth for $3,000. We took her to Charleston, [S. C.], for the purpose of operating there, and a few days after her arrivel there, she sunk through carelessness and her crew of 5 men drowned. Another crew of 8 men went on from here, raised her, and while experimenting with her in the harbor, sunk her and all 8 were drowned. Lieutenant Dixon then went on from here and got another crew in Charleston. A few nights ago he went out, attacked and sunk the steam sloop of war Housatonic, but, unfortunately (like his predecessors in this desperate and untried adventure), fear that he and his crew were all lost. I enclose you a slip from our paper, giving an account of the affair, which will be interesting to you, as Singer and myself built the torpedoes with which the ship was destroyed, and besides we own a considerable interest in the value of the ship, as the owners and crew of the boat got one-half of her value for destroying her. Besides this, we sunk one boat and seriously injured another in the York River in December, the full particulars of all of which Dunn will tell you when he sees you.

            Friday, March 4, 1864.—This, my dear Nelly, is your birthday, and how I wish I could be with you to celebrate it. Let us hope at least that when your next comes around, we shall be together. Since writing the previous page I learn that the torpedo boat and crew that sunk the Housatonic are all safe. So says the Charleston Mercury of a late date, and I hope and trust it is so. * * * If the enemy occupy Lavaca, I should prefer you would leave, but I think it very doubtful about their doing so; in fact we have a report here that Banks is withdrawing his forces from Texas to New Orleans. * * *

            Bob leaves in the morning, and as my sheet is near full and no news to tell, I will close. * * *

            Your affectionate and devoted husband,



Official Records of the Union and Confederate Navies in the War of the Rebellion; Series I - Volume 26: Naval Forces on Western Waters (March 1, 1864 - December 31, 1864), 1914, U.S. Government Printing Office

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