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

Report of Rear Admiral Dahlgren, U.S. Navy

No. 69.]                                                                     FLAG-STEAMER PHILADELPHIA,

Port Royal Harbor, S. C., February 19, 1864

  SIR: I much regret to inform the Department that the U. S. S. Housatonic  on the blockade off Charleston, S. C., was torpedoed by a rebel " David" and sunk on the night of the 17th February about 9 o'clock.

  From the time the " David " was seen until the vessel was on the bottom a very brief period must have elapsed; so far as the executive officer (Lieutenant Higginson) can judge, and he is the only officer of the Housatonic  whom I have seen, it did not exceed five or seven minutes.

  The officer of the deck perceived a moving object on the water quite near and ordered the chain to be slipped; the captain and executive officer went on deck, saw the object, and each fired at it with a small arm. In an instant the ship was struck on the starboard side, between the main and mizzen masts; those on deck near were stunned, the vessel begun to sink, and went down almost immediately. Happily the loss of life was small: Ensign E. C. Hazeltine, Captain's Clerk C. O. Muzzey, and three of the crew, Quartermaster John Williams, Second-Class Fireman John Walsh, and Landsman Theodore Parker.

  Two boats of the Housatonic  were lowered and received all they could hold; the Canandaigua, which knew nothing of the catastrophe, sent her boats immediately on hearing of it, and took off the crew, who had ascended into the rigging.

  The enclosed printed orders will show the precautions which have been directed from time to time to guard the ironclads that lay inside the bar, and would naturally be the objects of attack from their importance and proximity, and I also transmit copy of a communication (January 15) to the senior officer outside on the same subject.

  In addition I have been in the habit of giving personal attention to the inside blockade, sometimes visiting the picket monitors several hours after dark.

   Being notified on the 5th of February by General Gillmore that he was about to throw a force into Florida, and would need naval assistance, I left promptly for the St. John's, in order to be sure that no aid should be wanted that was possible, leaving Commodore Rowan, an experienced officer, commanding the Ironsides, in charge of the blockade of Charleston.

   On my return I touched here to examine into the condition of our depots, and particularly in regard to the repairs on the monitors, intending also to visit the blockade of Savannah River.

   The Department will readily perceive the consequences likely to result from this event; the whole line of blockade will be infested with these cheap, convenient, and formidable defenses, and we must guard every point. The measures for prevention may not be so obvious.

   I am inclined to the belief that in addition to the various devices for  keeping the torpedoes from the vessels, an effectual preventive may be found in the use of similar contrivances.

   I would therefore request that a number of torpedo boats be made and sent here with dispatch; length about 40 feet, diameter amidships 5 to 6 feet, and tapering to a point at each end; small engine and propeller, an opening of about 15 feet above with a hatch coaming (a raised edging around the cockpit or hatchway of a boat for keeping out water), to  float not more than 18 inches above water, somewhat as thus sketched.*

    I have already submitted a requisition on the Bureau of Construction  (January 16) for some craft of this kind, copy enclosed, which, with  the great mechanical facilities of the North, should be very quickly  supplied.

   I nave also ordered a quantity of floating torpedoes, which I saw tried here and thought promised to be useful. Meanwhile I hope the expected monitors may soon arrive, when an attack on the defenses of  the lower harbor may be made.

   I have attached more importance to the use of torpedoes than others  have done, and believe them to constitute the most formidable of the difficulties in the way to Charleston. Their effect on the Ironsides, in  October, and now on the Housatonic, sustains me in this idea.

   The Department will perceive from the printed injunctions issued  that I have been solicitous for some time in regard to these mischievous devices, though it may not be aware of the personal attention  which I have also given to the security of the ironclads; I naturally  feel disappointed that the rebels should have been able to achieve a  single success, mingled with no little concern, lest, in spite of every  precaution, they may occasionally give us trouble. But it will create no dismay nor relax any effort; on the contrary, the usual enquiry  will be ordered, though the whole story is no doubt fully known.

   I desire to suggest to the Department the policy of offering a large  reward of prize money for the capture or destruction of a "David;"  I should say not less than $20,000 or $30,000 for each. They are  worth more than that to us.

       I have the honor to be, very respectfully, your obedient servant,

                                            JNO. A. DAHLGBEN,

         Rear-Admiral, Comdg. South Atlantic Blockdg. Squadron.


     Secretary of the Navy, Washington, D. C.


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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