The confederacy, always trying to wage a potent naval warfare with its limited resources, tried several spar torpedo vessels and rams, notably to deal with blockading ships. These anchored targets were perfect ones, beeing unable to built steam fast enough to sail out of harm…
If only the attacking ship was fast and stealthy enough, and can protect itself if discovered, it could reach any ship just in time for delivering the fatal blow… This tactic generated many special-purpose ships, and the David was one of these, probably one of the most interesting one. With its cigar-shape it looked like a submarine, but it wasn’t.
Born on the drawing board of an unknown southern engineer, it was built as a private venture by T Stoney of Charleston, with in mind the sinking of the most formidable ship the Union has dispatched, ironclad USS New Ironsides.
Design of the CSS David
The David was basically a cigar-shaped wooden, metal covered semi-submerged spar torpedo vessel. For weight distribution, the boiler was in the center, the exhaust beeing a tall and narrow funnel, the only protruding structure of this unusual ship, with a single hatch. The crew was limited to three men and an officer.
The ship was small and cramped, in order to navigate in the shallow waters of the Mississippi and the bay of Charleston. Despite the fact its was entirely metal cladded, the david was unarmoured. The water itself formed, once submerged, the best natural protection available. At this time, US naval guns had a limited range and were only capable of direct fire.
The CSS David was built in record time, carrying a 70 pound explosive charge attached to a five to six meters pole. It was design to operate on moonless nights, under calm weather, burning anthracite coal making almost no smoke.
Her first mission came in the night of october, 5, 1863, under Lieutenant William T. Glassell command, attempting to sink the New ironsides.
Despite beeing discovered by a watch onboard the USN ship, the David sucessfully plunged ahead and stroke its starboard quarter, but the ensuring high water column ran back on the CSN ship, and its boiler took fire. As the David was disabled and seemed doomed, and all the New ironsides (which survived with only four casualties) crew pouring small arms fire on it, all the crew but one managed to get away swimming – Two of them would be captured afterwards.
The remaining pilot, and an engineer, which returned on board, somewhat managed to steam the torpedo ship out of range.
For the next four months, the David records are unclear, but the ship was thought to have beeing implied in several attacks, all unsuccesful. On march, 1864, an attack on USS Memphis turned short because the torpedo charge failed to explode.
In april, 18, the screw frigate USS Wabash was also targeted, but as the lookout prevented any ramming, both ships leaved action in a draw. The ultimate fate of the David lays unknown, the best guess beeing it was captured along with other Confederate ships, when Charleston fell in february 1865…