F.D. Lee’s Torpedo Ram (186Os)

Upon the fall of Charleston, South Carolina, a mysterious 160 foot long cigar-shaped wooden vessel was found, along with a number of smaller “David” type semi-submersible torpedo boats.

What was the story of this strange vessel?

Early in the war Francis D. Lee, on General P.T.G. Beauregard’s staff, developed a “torpedoe” — a mine in modern usage. Rather than wait for blockading Union ships to hit his torpedos, Lee sought a way to deliver them. His answer was a cigar-shaped, partially submerged, ironclad with a long torpedo-tipped spar.[1] Lee’s Torpedo Ram or the Torch, as she is sometimes known, bears a striking likeness to the Winans Cigar Ship of 1858-( http://home.att.net/~karen.crisafulli/CigarBoats.html) She was 160 feet long – just 20 feet shy of 1858 Cigar Ship’s length. Unlike the Cigar Ship, she would have a stern mounted propeller and rudder and stubby horizontal stabilizing fins along her hull. Her hull would be of wood, covered with ¾ inch iron plating. A spar at her bow could be raised when not needed then lowered to ram torpedoes into ship’s hulls below the water line. She would be 12 feet across and would have a draft of 10 feet. [2]Construction of the Ram began in the fall of 1862, but shortages of wood and iron, delays in securing engines promised by the Confederate Navy, and a strike hampered progress. Lee’s attention was also diverted to fit his spar torpedoes on small boats and ironclads. After attacks with the smaller boats failed, the Ram was remembered, and the Confederate Navy stepped in to complete her. She was launched without armor, and on August 1, 1863, took a short cruise around Charleston’s harbor.

On August 20, she set out to attack the New Ironsides, the most menacing the blockading fleet off Charleston. She was spotted by the lookout. Through bad handling by the helmsman, the Ram came directly alongside the Ironsides. While Carlin bluffed the lookout, his crew tried to un-jam the engine, which locked up. They finally got the engine working, but the fleet had been alerted. She limped back to Charleston, and was never taken out again. At war’s end, she was abandoned at Charleston, and counted with the captured David Torpedo boats, and is often confused with them.

[1] All information from Milton F. Perry, Infernal Machines: The Story of Confederate Submarine and Mine Warefare, Louisiana State University, 1965. Paperback edition, 1985 – pp. 63-80.

[2] Based on information provided by David Meagher.


2 Responses to “F.D. Lee’s Torpedo Ram (186Os)”

  1. I’m desparetely seeking plans or dimensioons of this “large David” as it was sometimes called. I’m planing to build a highly accurate model of this ship.

    Any help would be really great
    Thanks in advance


  2. HI Rene,

    Email me at jwilliamlamb@gmail.com – I can point you to someone who can assist – he has done a large blueprint reconstruction of the ship …

    John Lamb

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