Contrary to the impressions left by the popular press, undersea warfare in the Civil War is not limited to nor did it begin with the
C.S.S. H. L. Hunley. It can be documented that a Confederate Sub attacked the Union ship "Minnesota" in October,
1861 years before the fateful journey of the C.S.S. Hunley. The image at right is from the November 2, 1861 edition of Harper's Weekly.
The illustration shows a detailed view of a Confederate Submarine attacking the Union flag-ship Minnesota in October of 1861. The report below, gives a detailed eye-witness account of the encounter.
Below, we present the detailed account of this "Infernal Machine" as found in the November 2, 1861 edition of Harper's Weekly.
A REBEL INFERNAL MACHINE
Harper's Weekly, November 2, 1861
We Publish on this page an illustration of a REBEL INFERNAL MACHINE, with which it was attempted to blow up the flag-ship at
Fortress Monroe a few days since. The following extract from a letter in the Herald, dated Fortress Monroe, October 12, will explain the affair:
Last evening a flag of truce came down, bringing sixty persons: among the number was a gentleman who brings the following intelligence: On Wednesday evening last an infernal machine was sent down from
Sewall's Point for the purpose of blowing up the flag-sip. She came down to the ship without any difficulty, but se caught in the grappling always hanging from the jib-boom end of the ship. This was taken by those inside for the chin cable, and when they thought they were under the bottom of the ship they made preparations for screwing the torpedo on the bilge, but to their surprise, they found they were sadly mistaken, and they came near losing their lives as well as the machine. They, however, escaped, and worked themselves on shore on rebel ground, and the machine was carried back to
Norfolk, to try the experiment at some future time.
From the gentleman who made the statement I learn the following particulars in relation to the machine. He states that is is built of iron, of a similar shape to the
Ross Winans cigar boat, of a sufficient capacity to accommodate two persons, who work it ahead by means of a small screw propeller. It is guided by a rudder, and it is ballasted by means of water, le in and forced out by means of a pump. A compass guides them, and a velocimeter shows how great a distance is run each moment. Bearings and courses are given the men, and they go on a hazardous voyage, with a large chance of accomplishment. An India-rubber tube, which is floated on the surface, furnishes them with fresh air, while a force pump forces out the foul air. On arriving at the place desired, a grapple catches the cable of a vessel, and the machine is veered away until it is supposed to be near one of the magazines: the water ballast is then pumped out, and the machine floats up under the ships bottom. by means of the bottom of the ship, while a man-hole plate is opened and the
torpedo is screed into the vessel. It is fired by the means of a time fuse. As soon as this is set in motion the men inside place a prepared sheet of rubber over the man hole, and while one lets the water into the compartment to sink the machine, the other person screws up the plate, the grapple is let go, and the infernal machine is left to explode, while the machine is worked in shore out of harm's way.
Commodore Goldsborough is informed of this article, and will of course take all the precautions to prevent an occurrence which would prove so disastrous to a fine ship and so much importance to the enemy.
It is possible that before the time arrives for a fresh experiment with this machine the Rebels at Norfolk may have occupation for their ingenuity nearer home. Commodore Goldsborough and his officers may perhaps have a little "Infernal Machine" of their own, with which Rebeldom may possibly make acquaintance.
- - - End of Harper's Weekly Story on Rebel Submarine - - -
This is a fascinating and intriguing story and illustration. We can clearly see that the Confederate Navy was already deploying submarines by October 1862. This is the earliest account I am aware of of a Submarine engaging an enemy ship.
For More Confederate
Submarine History, Visit our
H. L. Hunley
Also See this
Rebel Submarine predating the Hunley in this January 30, 1864