Thursday, August 22, 2013

August 22, 1863: Report of failed attack on U.S.S. New Ironsides

U.S.S. New Ironsides

On this day 150 years ago, Captain J. Carlin reported on a failed spar torpedo attack against the U.S.S. New Ironsides off Charleston Harbor on the night of August 20-21, 1863. This attack seems to have been carried out by a small steamboat or steam launch armed with a spar torpedo--this is not the later attack made by C.S.S. David, which occurred later in the war.
CHARLESTON, August 22, 1863.

GENERAL: I have the honor to report that I attacked the Ironsides on the night of the 20th, but regret to say, however, it was not accompanied with any beneficial result.

I communicated with Fort Sumter at 10 a.m. and obtained a guard of 11 men, under command of Lieutenant [E. S.] Fickling. At 11.30 p. m. I passed the obstructions,a nd at 12 sighted the Ironsides lying at anchor in the channel off Morris Island, with five monitors moored immediately in a shout-southwest direction from her, and about 300 yards distant. One monitor was anchored in the direction bearing upon Battery Gregg, and about half a mile distant. When I came within quarter of a mile of the Ironsides I lowered the torpedoes and proceeded directly for the ship, feeling at the same time fully confident of striking her in the right place. At this time she was lying across the channel and heading for Morris Island. I steered up, keeping the object on our port bow, and, when within 40 yards from the ship, I stopped the engine and ordered the helm put hard a starboard.

I attribute my failure to the want of proper execution of this order. I noticed the slow obedience of the ship to her helm, and again gave the order, repeating it three times. It was a moment of great anxiety and expectation, and not doubting but I would strike her, I was obliged to attend to the proper command of the officers and men, and restrain any undue excitement. In this I was ably assisted by the cool, courageous bearing of Lieutenant Fickling, who commanded the force stationed for defense. I discovered, as we ranged up alongside, that, in consequence of the Ironsides being in the act of swinging to the ebb, we must miss with our torpedoes, but feared that her chain cable would either ignite them or detain us alongside. In either case we must have been captured. A kind Providence, however, intervened and saved our little band from such disaster. When about 50 yards distant we were hailed "Ship ahoy!" After deliberating whether I should not give him some warning, I felt so sure of striking him, I finally answered "Hello," and in an official and stern tone as possible. Another hail, "What ship is that?" I answered, almost immediately, "The steamer Live Yankee."

We were still moving slowly past the bow. I gave the order to go ahead with the engine, and was informed at the same time that the enemy were boarding us. Without looking to see whether such was the case, I gave the order to defend the ship, and got my arms ready in time to prevent the firing upon some sailors that were looking at us from the ports. I saw they were not boarding, and I immediately ordered the men to hold and not fire. They dropped immediately, showing specimen of the effect of good discipline. Just at this time he hailed again, "Where are you from?" Answered, "Port Royal." I found that we had ranged just clear of his bow and out of danger of being boarded except by launches. I then went to the engine-room to see what was the matter, as fully two minutes had elapsed since the order had been given to go ahead. I found that the engine had caught upon the center, and notwithstanding a continued effort for at least four or five minutes, they failed to get started ahead. I was again hailed, "What ship is that?" Answered, "The United States steamer Yankee."

I again went to the engine-room, and by encouragement to the engineers found her in the act of starting. Another hail and another called me to the deck, and as none of my officers heard the question, I surmised it to be an order to come to anchor or to surrender. I answered, "Ay, ay, sir; I'll come on board." I found we were moving ahead slowly, and in two minutes must have passed out of his sight, as he commenced firing in the opposite direction. He afterward fired, sweeping the horizon, 2 shots passing on either side about 20 feet off.

It was my intention to attack one of the monitors, but after the experience with the engine I concluded it would be almost madness to attempt it. I theretofore steered back to the city.

General, in consequence of the tests to which I have put the ship in the two late adventures, I feel it my duty most unhesitatingly to express my condemnation of the vessel and engine for the purposes it was intended, and as soon as she can be docked and the leak stopped, would advise making a transport of her.

I beg to remain, respectfully, your obedient servant,



Commanding at Charleston, S. C.


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