Naval Technology

     The first submarines were produced during the Civil War out of Confederacy's need to defend their waterways against the might of the Union Navy. The primary function of these submarines were to ram torpedoes into enemy vessels (Video Above). With many of the vessels named David, the Confederate submarines had a very small margin for error for a successful mission to occur. Several reports including one from Rear-Admiral Dahigren of the U.S Navy on October 5, 1863 report of the capture of submarine crew members. (Navy OR, series I, vol. 15, 10.) The David in Dahigren's report attempted to sink the U.S.S Ironsides with a 60 pound torpedo. This attack failed to breech the hull of the Ironsides.

     Torpedoes themselves varied in size and were typically were anchored to strategic positions along harbors and rivers. These explosives were created in all shapes and sizes and were either detonated by contact, delayed response, or remotely. (Bell 473) The triggers for these torpedoes did not always detonate when desired though. At one point the New Ironsides (Union ironclad) was floating over a torpedo with an estimated 2,000 pound payload for two hours. Despite all the efforts of the Confederate officers, the electric remote trigger did not detonate the explosive. (Bell 471-2)

     While many attempts failed, submarines and torpedoes stuck fear in the U.S Navy. Torpedo charges from submarines and otherwise sunk 43 vessels including six ironclads. (Bell 471) Torpedoes and submarines gave the Confederacy the defensive advantage they so desperately were searching for.


Bell, Jack. 2003. Civil War Heavy Explosive Ordnance : A Guide to Large Artillery Projectiles. College Station, TX, USA: University of North Texas Press. Accessed December 9, 2015. ProQuest ebrary.

United States. Naval War Records Office. Official Records of the Union and Confederate Navies in the War of the Rebellion., 1894.  (Navy OR)