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CSS David

The wreck of the CSS David Photograph of a captured David-class torpedo boat (possibly CSS David herself), taken after the fall of Charleston in 1865

CSS David was a Civil War-era torpedo boat built as a private venture by T. Stoney at Charleston, South Carolina in 1863, and put under the control of the Confederate States Navy. The cigar-shaped boat carried a 60- or 70-pound explosive charge on the end of a spar projecting forward from her bow. Designed to operate very low in the water, David resembled in general a submarine; she was, however, strictly a surface vessel. Operating on dark nights, and using anthracite coal which burns without smoke, David was nearly as hard to see as a true submarine.

On the night of October 5, 1863, David, commanded by Lieutenant William T. Glassell, CSN, slipped down Charleston Harbor to attack the casemated ironclad steamer USS New Ironsides. The torpedo boat approached undetected until she was within 50 yards of the blockader. Hailed by the watch on board New Ironsides, Glassell replied with a blast from a shotgun and David plunged ahead to strike. Her spar torpedo detonated under the starboard quarter of the ironclad, throwing high a column of water which rained back upon the Confederate vessel and put out her boiler fires. Her engine dead, David hung under the quarter of New Ironsides while small arms fire from the Federal ship spattered the water around the torpedo boat.

Believing that their vessel was sinking, Glassell and two others abandoned her; the pilot, Walker Cannon, who could not swim, remained on board. A short time later, Assistant Engineer J. H. Tomb swam back to the craft and climbed on board. Rebuilding the fires, Tomb succeeded in getting David's engine working again, and with Cannon at the wheel, the torpedo boat steamed up the channel to safety. Glassell and Seaman James Sullivan, Davids fireman, were captured. New Ironsides, though not sunk, was seriously damaged by the explosion. US Navy casualites were Acting Ensign C.W.Howard (died of gunshot wound), Seaman William L. Knox (legs broken) and Master at Arms Thomas Little (contusions).[1] The next 4 months of Davids existence are obscure. She or other torpedo boats tried more attacks on Union blockaders; reports from different ships claim three such attempts, all unsuccessful, during the remainder of October 1863. On March 6, 1864, David attacked USS Memphis in the North Edisto River. The torpedo boat struck the blockader first on the port quarter, but the torpedo did not explode. Memphis slipped her chain, at the same time firing ineffectively at David with small arms. Putting about, the torpedo boat struck Memphis again, this time a glancing blow on the starboard quarter; once more the torpedo misfired. Since Memphis had now opened up with her heavy guns, David, having lost part of her stack when rammed, retreated up the river out of range. Memphis, uninjured, resumed her blockading station. Davids last confirmed action came on April 18, 1864 when she tried to sink the screw frigate USS Wabash. Alert lookouts on board the blockader sighted David in time to permit the frigate to slip her chain, avoid the attack, and open fire on the torpedo boat. Neither side suffered any damage. The ultimate fate of David is uncertain. Several torpedo boats of this type fell into Union hands when Charleston was captured in February 1865. David may well have been among them.

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