Report of Rear Admiral Dahlgren, U S. Navy, regarding the Confederate “Davids” and the “Diver.”
No. 16.] FLAG-STEAMER PHILADELPHIA,
Off Morris Island, January 13, 1864.
SIR: I have the honor to acknowledge having received your letter of the 5th instant, enclosing one from Mr. Haynes.
The information therein contained is, I doubt not, substantially correct in general.
One week ago, however, two deserters made known to me the whole project more in detail, confirming much that I had previously suspected.
It seems there are ten “Davids” building in Charleston, similar to that which torpedoed the Ironsides. Of these, one is completed and ready for service; the others are in different stages from the mere keel to a more advanced stage.
The “Diver,” as she is called, is also ready, and with the original “David” is now at Mount Pleasant, [S. C.], on the lookout for a chance.
The action of the “Davids” has been, of course, pretty well exemplified on the Ironsides; that of the “Diver” is different, as it is intended to submerge completely, get under the bottom, attach the torpedo, haul off, and pull trigger. So far the trials have been unlucky, having drowned three crews of 17 men in all. Still she does dive, as one of the deserters saw her pass twice under the bottom of the vessel he was in and once under the Charleston. The “Diver” can also be used as a “David," so that there are really three of these machines ready to operate.
On receiving this intelligence I caused additional means of prevention to be used, as will be seen by copies of enclosed orders, and the Department may be assured that if any of our monitors are injured it will not be for lack of the utmost vigilance.
It is only in smooth water, and when the tide is slack, that any danger is imminent. As my flagship is disabled in the rudder, and has therefore to remain in the inlet, I leave her at night, go aboard of some steamer in the roads, and pass the night near the ironclads, giving my own personal attention to their condition. Last night I went up to the advanced monitor about 9 o’clock. It was an ugly, rainy night, but I found all on the alert. It is indeed dangerous to approach an ironclad, as they fire on the instant. Besides their outriggers and submerged nettings, the water in advance and around is patrolled by several steam tugs and a number of cutters, while the scout boats are thrown out far ahead.
If those who so ignorantly or basely endeavor to persuade the public that the monitors here are idle could witness one night of such vigils, they would feel disgraced at having so wantonly traduced the officers’ and men, who give themselves to such incessant and hard service; a battle would be far preferable.
There is, no doubt, much to be apprehended from these torpedoes, and I have already suggested to the Department an extensive use of similar means. I again respectfully urge on your consideration the most prompt resort thereto; nothing better could be devised for the security of our own vessels or for an examination of the enemy’s position.
The length of these torpedo boats might be about 40 feet, and 5 to 6 feet in diameter, with a high-pressure engine that will drive them 5 knots. It is not necessary to expend much finish on them.
With the ample mechanical means of the North it seems that in one month five or six could be gotten into service.
The deserters say that the rebels believe their batteries will do us much damage if we attack, but rely chiefly on the torpedoes for defense, and apply them in a variety of ways, at the bows of their ironclads, upon their “Davids,” upon rafts, which carry six of the 60-pounders in a line, and even their small boats are equipped to receive a torpedo.
I regret to find that the strike among the mechanics (referred to by the Department December 3) has delayed the completion of the monitors Onondaga, Tecumseh, and Canonicus even beyond the date (January 1) anticipated by the Department (December 3).
They will be very welcome when they do come.
The Nantucket and Montauk are the only monitors here in the hands of the mechanics. The latter requires some attention to her boilers, which are rather tender, and a new gun; the Nantucket requires the additions, repairs, etc.
I shall be ready, however, when the Onondaga, Canonicus, Tecumseh, and Sangamon arrive.
Yesterday I had an interview with the agent for raising the Weehawken. He informs me that he is proceeding as rapidly as possible with the work, and proposes to construct a wooden coffer, so as to pump the water from above the vessel as well as out of her.
The following statement by one of the deserters is of interest: [Belton] He is a mechanic from Michigan, and some four years since crossed into Kentucky, pursuing his vocation. Moving about, he at last found himself in Alabama, driving an engine on the railroad from Montgomery to Mobile. Forced by the conscription to bear arms, he chose the Navy as affording better chance to leave, and was sent to Charleston, where he was put into a boat. He, with two others, watched their chance for two months. lt is evident that when the rebels arc compelled to use such men as engineers and mechanics to pull a bow oar, they are consuming their own vitals.
I have the honor to be, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
JNO. A. DAHLGREN,
Rear-Admiral, Comdg. South Atlantic Blockading Squadron.
Hon. GIDEON WELLES,
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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