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Torpedo War

Commodore John Rodgers, Robert Fulton, and the
United States Navy’s Test of the First Torpedoes
24 September to 1 November 1810

By John G. M. Sharp
Concord, CA
2017


Portrait of Commodore John Rodgers

Commodore John Rodgers


Inventor Robert Fulton

Inventor Robert Fulton

Introduction: On a blustery September morning in 1810 several thousand New York City residents gathered on the banks of Corlears Hook overlooking the East River. They were there to witness a torpedo attack against USS Argus, a brig commanded by Lieutenant James Lawrence.1 The “attack” was really a well-publicized demonstration. The torpedo’s inventor, Robert Fulton (14 November 1765 – 24 February 1815), was confident his creation would sink a large naval vessel. Commodore John Rodgers (11 July 1772 – 1 August 1838) on the other hand, was certain the demonstration would be nothing but an extravagant folly. At the direction of Paul Hamilton, Secretary of the Navy, Rogers formed a “plan of opposition.” He vowed to “pledge my life that they [torpedoes] can do no injury to any vessels…”2 He promised Hamilton that he “would not only prevent the application of any torpedoes which he has yet invented, but any which he will ever be able to invent…”3 

Fulton, an American engineer, was famous for being the inventor of the first commercially viable steamboat and the first practical submarine.4 He wanted to show people that the torpedo would be successful as well. During a long sojourn in Europe he attempted to persuade the governments of France and England to sponsor the development of his torpedoes. Despite public acclaim and a successful torpedo test in England, neither country chose to utilize the weapon. Many European observers and naval officers marveled at Fulton’s new wonders but felt, as one British officer wrote, “This new species of warfare is unmanly and I might say assassin like.”5

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1 Phillip, Cynthia Owen. Robert Fulton: A Biography.  New York: Franklin Watts, 1985, p.254.
2 Schroeder, John H. Commodore John Rodgers Paragon of the Early American Navy. Gainesville, FL: University Press of Florida, 2006, p. 82. 
3 Schroeder, p.82.
4Fulton, an American engineer was famous for inventing the first commercially viable steamboat the Clermont and the first practical submarine Nautilus.
5 Hutcheon, Wallace Jr. Robert Fulton: Pioneer of Undersea Warfare. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1981, p.88.

[1]

In late 1806, despairing of success in Europe, Fulton returned to the United States where he quickly found new champions, including President Thomas Jefferson.  In July 1807 Fulton wrote a lengthy letter to the president urging the adoption of “torpedoes” and described two methods of deploying them. Fulton first described “anchored torpedoes” similar to a floating mine, secured by a line or chain 100 feet long and eight to ten feet below the water invisible to an enemy. These mines were to remain buoyant on cork float. His second technique was to use an eighteen inch long harpoon placed in the bow of a large rowboat to fire a “single bolt of iron two feet long with an eye and barbed point” into the wooden hull of a moving ship which could then be detonated by the operator in a boat pulling a lanyard. He concluded his description by detailing the potential cost savings and appealing to Jefferson’s well-known aversion to large and expensive navies.6 Jefferson response was enthusiastic. “I consider your Torpedo’s as a very valuable means of the defense of harbors & I have no doubt we should adopt them to a considerable degree, not that I go the whole length (as I believe you do) of considering them as solely to be relied on…”7 The president then assured the inventor that he would refer the project on to the Navy Department.


Fulton to Jefferson 28 July 1807 illustrating the harpoon gun for firing torpedoes.

Fulton to Jefferson 28 July 1807 illustrating the harpoon gun for firing torpedoes.

In December 1807 Fulton approached Robert Smith, who was the Secretary of the Navy at the time, and requested that a test be authorized at the Washington Navy Yard. Fulton specifically asked that the Navy fabricate copper harpoon torpedoes and provide small boats manned with gunner’s mates and boat crews. He envisioned a limited trial on the feasibility of sinking a small sloop.8 The trial was never funded and a perplexed and exasperated Fulton complained to Jefferson about the naval establishment.9

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6 Robert Fulton to Thomas Jefferson 28 July 1807 Library of Congress, Thomas Jefferson Papers, http://memory.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/P?mtj:5:./temp/~ammem_DaX3: accessed 22 August 2014.
7 Hutcheon, p. 99.
8 Robert Smith to Thomas Tingey, 11 December 1807, RG [Record Group] 45/M125 NARA [National Archives and Records Administration, Washington, DC].
9 Tingey to Smith; 16 December 1807, and Hutcheon, p. 103.

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Much to Fulton’s frustration, senior American naval officers shared the skepticism of their European counterparts regarding torpedoes. In an era of austere budgets the Navy was extremely reluctant to see precious funds diverted away for speculative projects. Naval officers were increasingly concerned that Jefferson’s reliance on gun boats would hamper defense. In 1808, while living at the Kalorama Estate in Washington, DC, the home of wealthy investor Joel Barlow, Fulton actively sought support for his torpedoes. He lobbied prominent officials and conducted numerous demonstrations. In January 1809 President Thomas Jefferson and President–elect James Madison viewed Fulton’s concept and expressed some interest in his model. In January 1810 Fulton published ‘Torpedo War and Submarine Explosions.’ to sway his critics and Congress to financially support a demonstration. In this important work Fulton made the case for a torpedo defense system and its advantages. Fulton wrote that his inventions would be of “first importance to our country,” promising the torpedo would protect American port cities and lower naval costs. Jefferson especially found Fulton’s ideas fully in keeping with his own vision of a smaller naval force, writing to him: “Your torpedoes will be to cities what vaccination has been to mankind, it extinguishes their greatest danger but there will still be navies, not for the destruction of cities, but for the plunder of commerce on the high seas.”10 Congress was also impressed with Fulton’s ideas and in March 1810 it voted to allocate $5,000 to fund the ‘torpedo experiment.’11


Plate No.1 first edition Torpedo War 1810

Plate No.1 first edition Torpedo War 1810

To test the torpedo concept, it was agreed that a naval ship would be fully manned and defended by experienced and capable seamen. Secretary of the Navy Paul Hamilton selected, with Fulton’s consent, prominent impartial observers who would provide recommendations. The group included New York Governor Morgan Lewis, Former Chancellor of New York Robert R. Livingston, Connecticut Governor Oliver Wolcott Jr., and New York City Assistant District Attorney Cadwallader Colden. Although Fulton was generally satisfied with the witnesses, many of whom were his friends or acquaintances, he felt uneasy as the demonstration day approached. He wrote to Hamilton on 3 May 1810 asking to see the plans that the naval officers would employ to repel his attack but received no response.12

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10 Jefferson to Fulton, 17 March 1810.
11 Lebow, Eileen F. The Navy’s Godfather: John Rodgers. Washington, DC: Orcacoke Press, 2012, p.142.
12 Hutcheon, p. 109.

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Hamilton selected Commodore John Rodgers to represent the Navy. Rodgers was the senior naval officer in the United States at the time and the Commander of the New York Naval station.13 While certainly skeptical of Fulton’s innovation, Rodgers was interested in science and its practical application for the Navy. One of his abiding interests was the improvement of dry docks.14

For the trial Rodgers was assisted by Captain Isaac Chauncey, Commandant of the Brooklyn Navy Yard.15 Fulton had requested that the Navy provide the 44-gun frigate USS President as the target ship.16 Rodgers wisely provided the smaller USS Argus, a brig under the capable Captain James Lawrence.17 Over a thirty day period the witnesses would gather, weather permitting, near the Argus or at the Navy Yard to watch the torpedo testing. They would see, that Captain Lawrence, at Rodgers direction, had protected the Argus with "a special net, suspended from the bow, and spars lashed together and hung from the bowsprit and yard in such a way as to prevent any boat from coming into contact with the hull. In addition studding sail booms were weighted with Kent ledge (pig iron) and heavy shot and provided with grapnels [a small anchor with several flukes] to repel or sink any boat or torpedo that came within reach."18


Rodgers sketch of the Argus defense

Rodgers sketch of the Argus defense.

Despite several attempts to fire a torpedo harpoon, the test ended in dismal failure and frustration. Fulton’s crews were simply unable to break through to Argus’s wood hull. In his journal Rodgers makes clear that in an actual conflict Argus gunners could have directed withering musket fire, killing any torpedo crew and sinking the boat. After a month of observation the handpicked eyewitnesses concluded that Fulton’s system “Is at present too imperfectly demonstrated to justify the Government in relying upon it as a means of public

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13 Rodgers extensive seagoing services included the Quasi-War with France and both Barbary Wars in North Africa. He would also be involved in the War of 1812 with Great Britain. His seagoing commands included the USS John Adams, the flagship of the fleet that defeated the Barbary States of North Africa. Later in his career he headed the Navy Board of Commissioners and briefly served as the Secretary of the Navy.
14 Paullin, Charles O. Commodore John Rodgers; Captain, Commodore and Senior Officer of the American Navy, 1773 -1838. 1910. Reprint, Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1967, p.389 and Schroeder, p.192.
15 Isaac Chauncey (20 February 1779 – 27 January 1840) served in the Quasi War, The Barbary Wars and the War of 1812. In the latter part of his naval career he was President of the Board of Navy Commissioners.
16USS President was a wooden-hulled, heavy frigate of the United States Navy, nominally rated at 44 guns. George Washington named her to reflect a principle of the United States Constitution. She was launched in April 1800 from a shipyard in New York City. President was one of the original six frigates whose construction the Naval Act of 1794 had authorized, and she was the last to be completed.
17 James Lawrence (1 October 1781 – 4 June 1813) an American naval officer. During the War of 1812, Lawrence commanded USS Chesapeake in a single-ship action against HMS Shannon. He is probably best known today for his last words or "dying command" "Don't give up the ship!", which is still a popular naval battle cry, and which was invoked by Oliver Hazard Perry's personal battle flag, adopted to commemorate his dead friend.
18 Schroeder, p.82.

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defense.”19 Reluctantly, Fulton conceded to Hamilton that he could not penetrate Rodgers defense:

“I will now do justice to the talents of Commodore Rodgers by stating that the nets, Kent ledge, and grapples which he had arranged around the Argus, made at first sight, a formidable appearance against one torpedo board and eight bad oarsmen. I was taken unaware: I had explained to the officers of the navy my means of attack; they did not inform me of their means of defense…”20

Fulton concluded by admitting a lack of preparation and experience: “It must be admitted that the whole of the experiments at New York were badly executed but they could not be otherwise. I had not a man practiced, nor am I experienced in my own machines.”21

While Rodgers was vindicated in the test results, there was no long term rancor between the two men. During the War of 1812 Fulton wrote to Rodgers on 14 September 1814 to offer his service in defense of the Port of Baltimore. The battle was over before the letter arrived.22

Today, we are fortunate that Rodgers kept a meticulous journal of his observations. The journal and a letter dated 21 November 1810 was forwarded to Secretary Hamilton.23 These writings are the most significant sources related to the Navy’s test of the first torpedoes.

*****

Transcription This is a complete transcription of Commodore John Rodgers 21 November 1810 letter and journal extracts to Paul Hamilton. This transcription was made from photographic images of Rodgers original letter, National Archives and Records Administration RG45/M125 NARA. I have striven to adhere as closely as possible to the original in spelling, capitalization, punctuation, and abbreviations (e.g. "Do" or "do" for ditto or same as above) including the retention of dashes, ampersands, and overstrikes.

*****

Acknowledgements: My thanks to Matthew Stetten for his research and expertise, and to Navy Department Library staff members Sandra Fox and A. Davis Elliott for their help in editing and formatting.

John G. M. Sharp

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19 Schroeder, p.83.
20 Hutcheon, p.112.
21 US Congress, American State Papers, Naval Affairs, 1, pp.243 – 245.
22 Lebow, p.233.
23 Rodgers to Hamilton, 21 November 1810, RG45/M125 NARA.

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=====================================================================

U.S. Frigt. President

New York Nov. 21st 1810

Sir

The enclosed extract from my Journal I have the honor of transmitting to you as a correct detail of all the Torpedo experiments lately made at this place – at least so far as it actually relates to the said experiment –

If by my unnecessary digression it may appear that I have not treated the subject as seriously as I ought to have done, as it is due to you/Sir/ that I make every necessary apology; further than which however If and it is not in my nature to offer any excuse, particularly as by admitting for a single moment that the subject itself merits more respect, either from me, or any other person; I should do so as great a violence to my own feelings, as I should, was I to suffer myself to assist in imposing a positive falsehood / If I knew it to be such/ for in honest truth You will recollect /Sir/ that Mr. Fulton has exerted himself to impose a belief on the minds of the Citizens of the UStates [sic] that his project was calculated to supersede the necessity of a Navy, and that under these expectations much was to be anticipated from the experiments which were authorized to be made at the place; - yet that nothing has been done farther than what serves to demonstrate that he has not only deceived himself by such an unqualified assertion, but every other individual who has placed reliance in his scheme of offensive and defensive war – as described in his book entitled “ Torpedo War”

With great respect
I have the honor to
           Sir your Obedient Servant

[Signed] John Rodgers

The Honble
Paul Hamilton
Secretary of the Navy
Washington

[End letter p.2]

=======================================================

EXTRACT

September 21st 1810

At eleven o’clock in the forenoon, Capt Chauncey of the Navy and myself/ accompanied by Col. Wharton/ according to appointment, met at the City Hotel Broadway. Mr. Robt. Fulton the Committee appointed by the Honble Paul Hamilton Secretary of the Navy; consisting of Chancellor Livingston, Governor Lewis, C.S. Colden Esq. Mr. Garnett, Doct. Kemp & Col. J. Williams, /Mr. Oliver Wolcott late Secretary of the Treasury, a member, being absent /to investigate and report their opinions of the principles, as well as to demonstrate by such

[6]

experiments as Mr. Fulton might advise, the efficiency of / as engines of national offensive & defensive War/ certain Sub marine projects, published by him, under the title of “Torpedo War’ which he had proposes to Congress as being superlatively well calculated to supersede the necessity of a Navy – And , to enable the projects by actual experiment, at the Public expense the efficiency of his scheme; a Law was passed in February 1810, appropriating five thousand Dollars to the purpose –

J. R

[On the first page of his September 21, 1810 “Extract” Commodore Rodgers wrote the following note inscribed laterally, in left margin.] “The figures described in the different marginal pages are but awkward representations of their originals – They will however serve to explain in a great measure what they were intended to represent”]

The Committee all being present, /with the exception of Mr. Wolcott/ at noon Mr. Fulton opened the subject by placing a Torpedo lock on the table; & after some preliminary observations / by the way of Introduction I suppose/ relative to the progress and improvements in the various Arts & Sciences; he quoted a few paragraphs from his Book entitled “ Torpedo – War” to enable him to explain more forcibly the affinity of his preceding remarks to the subject then before the Committee – After this eloquent harangue / which however I must confess I did not understand the intention, much more the meaning of/ he with the manner and style of a Logician, equal to the importance of the subject, commenced a dissertation on the principles of the before mentioned lock, calculated as he said, or rather wished to explain to be used for years uninjured in destroying Ships from the size of English & French First rates, down to Algerine Galleys – Such extreme Economy / altho very much to be admired/ not tending in any particular degree to explain the principles or value of the abstruse subject then under examination; the Committee proposed to him as a more conclusive evidence of the correctness of his Hypothesis; as well as to prove more distinctly its efficacy; that he should convince their minds by actual experiments; to which he with much apparent readiness assented; and He expressed a desire that I would have the Frigate President transported from the North River / where she was then laying / to the East River, contiguous to the Navy Yard; for that purpose - I here asked Mr. Fulton if the experiments could not as well be made in the North River, & observed that the President was undergoing some repairs in her rigging preparing to paint &c; consequently that she could not be conveniently be removed.- He observed that he preferred the East River on account of its contiguity to the Navy Yard; as at the yard he would / previous to the experiments be afforded the means of making the necessary arrangements with his machinery as well as with the boats and men which might be required – Fortunately the U. S. Brig Argus was at this time laying in the East River, near the Navy- Yard which enabled me to offer her for his accommodation ; which he having accepted ; the Committee / with the exception of Mr. Wolcott , an absent member & with concurrence of Mr. Fulton / unanimously resolved, that the experiments should accordingly be commenced on the 24th Instant, with Blank Torpedo’s on the U.S. Brig Argus; and that , such defense should be made by her, as a Vessel of War was capable of, without the use of her guns, or any other active force of similar kind –

[7]

The time and mode of experimenting being now determined on; Mr. Fulton placed a Torpedo on the table and observed , that it was the kind with which he should commence his assays on the Argus; and which from its novelty is here described in the margin – This kind of Torpedo, it will be observed is intended to be applied to a Vessels bottom from the bowsprit of the Torpedo Boat, by the aid of a long pole, suspended by a swivel on the end of the bowsprit, so nearly on a balance; that a man in the bow of the boat , can elevate or depress the Torpedo with his right hand, and at the same time fire it by pulling a line which he holds in his left -

Mr. Fulton having fully explained the principles of the before described Torpedo / and on which he dwelt a considerable length of time, with much apparent pleasure/ , the Committee adjourned, to meet on the 24th Instant for the purpose of commencing the experiments, as had been previously resolved

____________________________________________________________________________

- September 22nd -

On this day, having previously prepared a Torpedo boat, had various torpedoes and apparatus transported to the Navy yard for the purpose of assaying with the Argus; consisting of five different kinds; as also a combination of various different machines viz a Hook , Chisel & Gun, intended for the purpose of cutting off Cables under water –

- September 24th

On this day with the advice of Capt. Chauncey; I gave Lieut. Lawrence/commander of the Argus/ directions to prepare his vessel in a manner to prevent the application of Torpedoes under her bottom; and which he accordingly did, with nothing more than simply her own spare studdingsail booms, nine fore grapnels, a few pigs of kentledge, and the Presidents splinter – net; as follows,24

The Splinter – net having seven pigs of kentledge of 200lbs each, attached at equal distance to its lower part; was suspended by its upper part from the Bow, in a transverse direction to the Keel; by the assistance of a light yard, that was supported by the bobstays, about eighteen inches below the hawser holes, in such manner , that the net formed a Curtain or Barricade, in front of the Vessel; with the weights attached to the lower part of it, barley touching the bottom –

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24 James Lawrence (1 October 1781 – 4 June 1813) an American naval officer. During the War of 1812, Lawrence commanded USS Chesapeake in a single-ship action against HMS Shannon. He is probably best known today for his last words or "dying command" "Don't give up the ship!", which is still a popular naval battle cry, and which was invoked by Oliver Hazard Perry's personal battle flag, adopted to commemorate his dead friend.

[8]

The spare Studdingsail booms of the Argus, formed a floating cheveaux de fries, to prevent boats from coming in contact with the Vessels hull[as described in the margin] and were supported in that position with ropes leading to the ends of the lower yards, bowsprit, & a spare topsail yard across the Stern, to which the main topsail braces led

There, with the addition of about twenty –five Battering Rams & Grapnels, suspended from a small hawser, which was fastened by the bite to the Jib Boom, the two ends leading aft on each side of the Vessel , through blocks on the extreme ends of the Fore and Main Yards, down to the ends of the Topsail yard across the Stern, and hauled well taught [as described in the margins] were all the obstacles with which Mr. Fulton had to contend, in his application of his Torpedo to the Argus’s bottom; but these however were found sufficiently conclusive arguments to render all his long studied schemes abortive; as will hereafter be shown by his own confession –

After the Argus was prepared for the experiments; several thousands of the Citizens of New York, assembled at Corlears Hook / opposite to the Navy Yard/ for the purpose of witnessing the result of Mr. Fulton’s operations on her; but, the weather proving somewhat unfavorable, and the Committee in consequence having sent to notify that they would not attend on this day, a boat was dispatched to inform the people collected there that no experiment would be made before the next day –

{Note: I am induced to mention the concourse of the people that had collected at Corlears Hook, {for the purpose of witnessing the experiment as Mr. Fulton appeared to be {be much disconcerted by their presence owning I suppose to an apprehension that they would {be convinced by ocular proof, that those who had placed any reliance in the projects contained {in his “Torpedo War” had been most egregiously deceived

- September 25th -

Boats were again sent to New York for the Committee; but in two hours after they returned with information from the Governor Lewis, that the President of the Committee (Chancellor Lewis being indisposed and the weather not being favorable, would prevent their attendance on this day – Col. Williams & Mr. Garnett /two of the Committee/ came over however, and in company with Mr. Fulton, Capt. Chauncey, myself & some Gentlemen of as much curiously as incredulity; went on board of the Argus and examined the preparation made for her defense; this they did tho without comment, - Mr. Fulton excepted who acknowledged that the means of defense then exhibited were sufficient to prevent the application of the Torpedo to her bottom, unless some mode could be devised to remove the obstacles; which he declared might be done; altho he could not then precisely say how, as from his not being previously aware of the difficulties which he then found he had to encounter ; time must be given for reflection and further invention-

In this days remarks it may be proper to note, that Mr. Fulton made an experiment on the wharfe with his machine for cutting off Cables under water water[ for the form of which see the margin] and succeeded; but without proving that it would have the same effect underwater; or even if it

[9]

could , that it was of any use as an Instrument of war – After this experiment, he made several others , by firing harpoons at a target of about five feet square, but did not succeed in attaching the harpoon to its target, in any instance, at a greater distance than fifteen feet –

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-September 26th-

The Committee met at the Navy Yard on this day at half past ten o’clock in the morning, at which time Mr. Fulton made several assays with his Harpoon Gun, but did not succeed any better that in his preceding experiments – After this, at his request, the Committee retired to the house of Capt. Chauncey, where models had been prepared by the exhibiter, to explain results which he had not been able to prove by actual experiment; and on the 26th

Note: It will be recollected that Mr. Fulton addressed a letter to the members of Congress who voted in favor of the Torpedo Bill /dated April15th  1810/ in which he assured them that Net Booms &c instead of obstructing would facilitate his operations

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-September 28th-

The Committee met according to appointment and the lighter of the yard was anchored with a piece of old twenty two inch Cable, for the purpose of affording Mr. Fulton an opportunity of showing more demonstratively the actual effect of his machines for cutting Cables under water – The Cable being thus prepared, Mr. Fulton made an attempt to hook and cut it off; but did not succeed even in hooking the Cable much more in cutting it off; whilst at the same time he was obliged to require the assistance of the men aboard the lighter to which the cable was attached to extricate the Torpedo boat from the awkward position in which the tide had placed her from the machine being on one side of the cable and the boat on the other [as in the margin] The gun was however fired under water but the only visible effect produced was the bursting of the celebrated lock, of which Mr. Fulton had said so much in recommendation –

Mr. Fulton conducted his experiment for the day, but having on a former occasion denied the practicality of a Ship’s using her guns to any important advantage against Torpedo Boats, even at the distance of twenty yards; Capt. Chauncey, to remove all doubts on the subject , had an old convenient boat /about eighteen feet long/ anchored seventy years from the wharf, with three small pieces of board placed in her , in positions representing, three men setting down – At this distance , he discharged a Grape and Canister from a twenty four pounder & of which / in contradiction to Mr. Fulton’s belief/ were actually drove seventy three shot through the boat, eighteen through the first piece of board representing a man , nine through the second, and five through the third -

[10]


Rodgers journal sketch of Fulton’s Torpedo Boat in operation.

Rodgers journal sketch of Fulton’s Torpedo Boat in operation.

Mr. Fulton having now expressed doubts, whether the preparations made on the Argus, could be effected with any reasonable degree of facility; the Committee proposed that she should be got underweight ,and that the preparation’s then made on her should be brought to an anchor again, & the same preparations replaced ; in order to prove the facility with which such an operation could be performed - This proposal was accordingly assented to but the rudder of the Argus being at that time on shore & under repair ; the performance was necessarily postponed, to take place on the 1st of October in the North River

- October 1st -

Owing to calm weather during the two preceding days, the Argus was not removed into the North River, as had been determined on the 28th Ultimo; the Committee, however not thinking it necessary that she should be removed for the purpose of performing the experiment which at their last meeting had been resolved on; agreed that they should be made where she then lay in the East River, and which was accordingly complied with when to the astonishment of those who had entertained any doubt of the facility with which a vessel could be prepared; after she had been dismantled of such preparations, the same were seen replaced in less than fifteen minutes –

Mr. Fulton having now candidly acknowledged /and that too in a manner much to his credit/ that his want of Nautical information, had led him into many errors; at the same time, all parties wishing to see the project fairly & thoroughly tested, the Committee adjourned to meet again on the 29th Inst.in order that he might be afforded sufficient time to make experiments on the improvements which he had suggested as being necessary To the perfecting of his Torpedo’s, and the manner of applying them

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-October 29th

Owning to bad weather the Committee was prevented attending to the Torpedo Experiments; consequently they were not renewed as had been resolved at the last assignment, on the 1st of the present month –

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- October 30th

Boats were sent to New York for the purpose of conveying the Gentlemen of the Committee to the Navy Yard but none of them attended except Col. Williams and C.D. Colden Esq. the latter of whom came at a late hour –

No experiments were made on this day, but Mr. Fulton exhibited a miniature model of a vessel Five hundred tons/ in the presence of Col. Williams, Capt. Chauncey & myself, at which exhibition were also present Genl Morton, Doct Bullis & some other Gentlemen of similar curiosity/ which he called a Torpedo – Block - Ship, the sides of which were calculated (he said) to be Cannon shot proof and the decks proof against musket – shot, the former being six feet thick and the latter six inches - This perfectly original vessel is intended to be armed and with two Torpedo’s on each side, which are each to be applied by the means of a Spar ninety feet long, projecting from the vessel side, supposed at the inward and double circular swivel, and at the outward end by guys leading from the mast heads – For the particular of this singular vessel /which to my confined imagination truly deserves the name of a Non Descript, as well as what she is intended to perform, is without supernatural aid one of the Non Possibilis of human invention/ I leave the reader to make his own conclusion from the figure described in the margin, and by which alone, he will be enabled to judge whether such Torpid, Unwieldy Six feet sided Six Inch, decked, Fifteen + Sixteenth + sunk , Water dungeons , are calculated to “supersede the necessity of a Navy” particularly when the men who manage them are / as is intended / confined to the limit of their holds, which will be under water and in as perfect darkness as if shut up in the Blackhole of Calcutta, notwithstanding all Mr. Fulton’s Lectures on this day to the contrary-

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- October 31-

Boats were sent to New York for the Committee but the weather being unfavorable none of the Gentlemen attended –

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-November 1st

Boats were sent to New York for the Committee but none of the member’s attended, except the Honble Oliver Westcott, C.D. Colden Esq., Col. Williams & Mr. Garnett on this day Mr. Fulton made an assay with his Submarine gun & succeeded in cutting off an old fourteen inch Cable , that had been prepared for the purpose; and this I understand he did / not being myself present/ without injury either to the Gun or lock – It is therefore proved that by such

[12]

means a cable can be cut underwater , but I nevertheless deny that it is possible to use this machine so as to make it of any importance as an Engine of War for the cable can not be hooked with any probable degree of certainty , without exposing the assailants in such manner and for such a length of time , to part of the Ships Cannon , as well as to all her Musketry Swivels, Blunderbusses &c as would insure their destruction before they could perform the operation & which was amply verified in the before mentioned experiments, as Mr. Fulton and all the men who were in the boat with him were exposed for at least fifteen minutes to the fire of musketry from the vessel on which he made the assay and of that time they were at least five minutes within short Pistol Shot ; At the same time it will be observed that the vessel was specifically prepared for the purpose, and the relative positions of her and the cable such/ according to Mr. Fulton’s opinion/ as to enable him to perform the operation with greater facility – but, even admit that the machine for cutting off the cable, could be applied in defiance of the opposition before state; the Crew of a Ship have it in their power to make such a machine / and such as will occur to the mind of every Seamen / in twenty minutes as to prevent even if no other means were used, the possible application of Cable cutter – After the before mentioned performance of cutting the cable , the members of the Committee then present , at the request of Mr. Fulton proceeded to examine a Torpedo which had been previously anchored off the Navy Yard for the purpose of showing the position which a torpedo of that description would maintain in the tide –

This torpedo, was the effect of a bridle anchored in a manner as to present the surface by which it was supported, on an inclined plane to the resistance of the tides; so that the action of the tide served to propel it upwards and, to prevent it’s being thus propelled beyond a certain distance from the bottom, a weight was attached to its lower extremity, by means of a rope of correspondent length to the desired distance from the bottom –

The position of this torpedo was shown on the Ebb tide and actually / as I am informed / maintained the position which Mr. Fulton supposed it would – This however was done without his proving anything of its effect as an Engine of War; or even that it would maintain a similar position on the flood tide; and which it must be admitted would be very uncertain; owning to the weight attached to the lower end of the Torpedo always being liable on the change of the tide, to become entangled with the moorings of the machine itself - Therefore, all that has yet been proved relative to the description of the torpedo, I consider in amount as nothing; when compared with the object for which it was constructed; And, even if it was capable of being made as perfect as the projector has described in his Book entitled “ Torpedo War” / but which I utterly deny/ it can never be of any important consequence, as by the aid of a very simple piece of machinery, in form like the backbone of a Fish/ and which would naturally suggest itself as a preventative / its effect may without the question of doubt be rendered harmless –

The Committee on this day adjourned for the purpose of making their report, Mr. Fulton having informed them that he had no further experiments to make Therefore, having attended all the experiments/ if experiments they may be called / and not in my opinion preceding remarks, everything of any consequence relative to the same , I have only to observe, that Mr. Fulton

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brought a vessel, for the purpose, as he said of the convening of the Committee by ocular demonstration, of the effect of his Torpedo; but which however / after being at the trouble of transporting her to the Navy Yard/ he never attempted owing as I am induced to believe, to an entire conviction in his own mind, that such an attempt would only serve to prove more distinctly, that the practice of every or any part of his project would be found not only impossible but, that even its Theory would be proved as conclusively absurd - Consequently, so far as we have yet seen, that not a single sentence of that ever memorable book, which he has published to the world under the title of “ Torpedo War” is in any degree the production of sound reasoning or even of the same mind – Further however, I do not at this moment feel myself at liberty to animadvert as Mr. Mr. Fulton has pledged himself to Mr. Wolcott, Col. Williams, Doct. Kemp & Mr. Garnett/members all of the committee/ in presence of Capt. Chauncey and myself, to acknowledge in a public manner the incorrectness of all such part of his Theory as he should not be able to establish by these experiments; consequently, I cannot but conclude that his Amor Patriae25 as well as a respect of his word/ which he pledged as before mentioned/ will induce him to publish to the Citizens of the United States, in the same public manner, that what he may have led them to expect he now finds himself unable to perform – Namely that it is his Torpedo’s so far from being of the importance which he had considered therein, were, on a more thorough examination of their principles, assisted by all the practice of which he himself had supposed them susceptible, found to say the least comparatively of no importance at all ; consequently that they ought not to be relied on as a means of National Defense –

[End of Journal Extracts.]

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25 Amor Patriae - Latin for love of one’s country.

*****

Bibliography

American State Papers: Naval Affairs  Vol. 1 Washington, DC: Gales and Seaton, 1834

Hutcheon, Wallace Jr. Robert Fulton: Pioneer of Undersea Warfare. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press. 1981.

Lebow, Eileen F. The Navy's Godfather: John Rodgers. Washington DC: Orcacoke Press , 2012.

Paullin, Charles O. Commodore John Rodgers; Captain, Commodore and Senior Officer of the American Navy, 1773 -1838. 1910. Reprint, Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1967.

Phillip, Cynthia Owen. Robert Fulton: A Biography. New York: Franklin Watts, 1985.

Sale, Kirkpatrick. The Fire of Genius: Robert Fulton and the American Dream. New York: Free Press, 2001.

Schroeder, John H. Commodore John Rodgers Paragon of the Early American Navy. Gainesville, FL: University Press of Florida, 2006.

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[END] 

Published:Thu Sep 14 12:18:36 EDT 2017