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DEPARTMENT OF THE NAVY -- NAVAL HISTORY AND HERITAGE COMMAND
805 KIDDER BREESE SE -- WASHINGTON NAVY YARD
WASHINGTON DC 20374-5060

David

 

(StTB: l. 50'; b. 6'; dr. 5'; cpl. 4; a. 1 spar torpedo)

 

David1was built as a private venture by T. Stoney at Charleston, S.C., in 1863, and put under the control of the Confederate States Navy. The cigar-shaped boat carried a 60- or 70-pound explosive charge on the end of a spar projecting forward from her bow. Designed to operate very low in the water, David resembled in general a submarine; she was, however, strictly a surface vessel.

 

On the night of 5 October 1863 David, commanded by Lt. W. T. Glassell, CSN, slipped down Charleston Harbor to attack the casemated ironclad steamer New Ironsides. The torpedo boat approached undetected until she was within 50 yards of the blockader. Hailed by the watch on board New Ironsides, Glassell replied with a blast from a shotgun and David plunged ahead to strike. Her torpedo detonated under the starboard quarter of the ironclad, throwing high a column of water which rained back upon the Confederate vessel and put out her boiler fires. Her engine dead, David hung under the quarter of New Ironsides while small arms fire from the Federal ship spattered the water around the torpedo boat.

 

Believing that their vessel was sinking, Glassell and two others abandoned her; the pilot, W. Cannon, who could not swim, remained on board. A short time later, Assistant Engineer J. H. Tomb swam back to the craft and climbed on board. Rebuilding the fires Tomb succeeded in getting David's engine working again, and with Cannon at the wheel, the torpedo boat steamed up the channel to safety. Glassell and Seaman J. Sullivan, David's fireman, were captured. New Ironsides, though not sunk, was seriously damaged by the explosion.

 

The next 4 months of David's existence are obscure. She or other torpedo boats tried more attacks on Union blockaders; reports from different ships claim three such attempts, all unsuccessful, during the remainder of October 1863. On 6 March 1864, David attacked Memphis in the North Edisto River, S.C. The torpedo boat struck the blockader first on the port quarter but the torpedo did not explode. Memphis slipped her chain, at the same time firing ineffectively at David with small arms. Putting about, the torpedo boat struck Memphis again, this time a glancing blow on the starboard quarter; once more the torpedo missed fire. Since Memphis had now opened up with her heavy guns, David, having lost part of her stack when rammed, retreated up the river out of range. Memphis, uninjured, resumed her blockading station.

 

David's last confirmed action came on 18 April 1864 when she tried to sink the screw frigate Wabash. Alert lookouts on board the blockader sighted David in time to permit the frigate to slip her chain, avoid the attack, and open fire on the torpedo boat. Neither side suffered any damage.

 

The ultimate fate of David is uncertain. Several torpedo boats of this type fell into Union hands when Charleston was captured in February 1865. David may well have been among them.

 

1 The term "David" came to be the generic term for any torpedo boat resembling David who was the prototype of others built in Charleston. The names, if any, that were given to these other boats are not known. Their existence caused some concern among Union naval officers but they were never a serious threat to the blockade. The exact number of "Davids" built is not known.

 

 


 

David torpedo boat aground in Charleston Harbor