The David Class

Completely outweighed, the Confederates proceeded to develop what have since become the classic weapons of weak naval powers: the mine field and the torpedo boat.

The mines (referred to as "torpedoes" during the war) were of many types, from wooden barrels filled with gunpowder to quite sophisticated moored mines which could be detonated by electricity. They were used sporadically in 1861 along the James River and in the Mississippi, and later on quite systematically in all theaters. The Confederate Army led the way with the establishment of the Torpedo Bureau in October of 1862, and the Navy soon followed with the establishment of the Naval Submarine Battery Service under Matthew F. Maury. For the Confederates, the torpedo was an ideal weapon. Small and easily manufactured by relatively unskilled labor, they could be readily transported and used to render the coastal waters extremely dangerous to the most powerful Union warships. By the end of the war, torpedoes had accounted for many more Union vessels of all types than all other weapons combined. Moreover, the fear of torpedoes exercised a powerful restraint on Union commanders. Du Pont's failure to press on with the attack on the Charleston Forts in April of 1863 was due in no small measure to the fear of losing his precious monitors to torpedoes.

The effectiveness of these weapons inspired a citizen of Charleston, Theodore Stoney, to build the first torpedo boat, the David, at his own expense and present it to the Navy. With a volunteer crew from the ironclads, this unlikely ship attacked the most powerful Union ship of all, the New Ironsides, on October 5, 1863, under cover of haze and darkness. Although the New Ironsides survived the attack, she was many months undergoing repairs, for the explosion of the 60-pound charge had strained her plates and had caused many leaks. The David and most of her crew actually survived the attack.

The success of the David inspired a torpedo boat program of considerable proportions. By the end of the war, some 22 had been built, and although only one major combatant ship actually was sunk by a David, there is no question but that their presence did a great deal to enhance the Confederate position.

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