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Alligator (Submersible Boat)

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Alligator (Submersible Boat)

Constructed in the fall of 1861, during the Civil War, the submersible Alligator was designed by French engineer Brutus de Villeroi.  Launched at Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in May 1862, she was to be utilized to counter the threat to the Union by the Confederate blockaders and the rebuilding of the frigate Merrimack as the Confederate ironclad ram Virginia.   Forty-seven feet long, she could carry 18 men.  For armament, she had two limpet mines and was propelled by a hand-cranked propeller.  Two tubes, with floats, provided air from the surface. 

Towed to Norfolk, Virginia, in June, Alligator operated in the James River and near Appoxmattox.  Arriving at the Washington Navy Yard later that month, Lieutenant Thomas O. Selfridge, Jr., became the commanding officer and was assigned a naval crew.   While at the Navy Yard, a screw propeller was installed to increase her speed to four knots and President Abraham Lincoln observed the submarine in operation. 

In the early months of 1863, Rear Admiral Samuel F. Du Pont decided that Alligator might be useful in carrying out his plans to take Charleston, South Carolina.  Ordered to be towed by Sumpter to Port Royal, South Carolina, the ships encountered bad weather on April 2, where Sumpter was forced to cut Alligator adrift where she soon sank off the coast of Cape Hatteras, North Carolina.  The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Office of Naval Research, and the Naval History and Heritage Command's Underwater Archelogy branch have joined forces to find this important vessel. 

Image:  NH 91997:   USS Alligator, 1862-63.   Reconstructed plan by Chief Electrician's Mate James P. Christly, 1978.   NHHC Photograph Collection.