Daily Archives: 21 August 2022

Early “Destroyers” vs. “David Boats”

From The Civil War at Sea, by Craig L. Symonds (Praeger, 2009), Kindle Locs. 2006-2017:

Dahlgren wrote to Welles that the torpedo boats’ “rapidity of movement, control of direction, and precise explosion indicate, I think, the introduction of the torpedo element as a means of certain warfare.”

Beauregard agreed. Once a strong advocate of ironclads, the rebel commander decided that the loss of the Atlanta the previous spring had proved that Confederate ate ironclads could not compete with Union monitors. Because the monitors were “invulnerable to shots above water beyond 800 yards,” Beauregard decided that “they should be attacked below water.” He therefore advocated a whole fleet of torpedo boats. Naturally prone to exaggeration, he prophesied that “half a dozen of these steamers would raise the blockade of our Atlantic and Gulf coasts, and enable us to recover the navigation of the Mississippi River.” At Charleston, Savannah, and even Augusta, new “David Boats,” as they came to be called, were laid down, and as many as a dozen of them (the precise number is uncertain) were eventually completed. There was bickering between the Confederate army and navy, and between the ordnance and engineering branches, about who was in charge of the program, and, as always, finding reliable engines for them was the industrial bottleneck. These problems meant that despite their early promise, and despite Beauregard’s prediction, the David Boats did not succeed in changing the balance of power off Charleston Harbor.

They did, however, cause the Union blockaders many anxious nights. Dahlgren reorganized the blockade to account for the Davids and developed a number of countermeasures, including placing floating booms around some ships and calling for his captains to maintain a constant vigil. Interestingly, he suggested to Welles that the best countermeasure would be the construction of Union torpedo boats to attack and destroy the Davids. Though this was not done at Charleston, many such vessels were built in the ensuing decades. These vessels were called “torpedo boat destroyers,” eventually shortened to “destroyers”—a class of warship still in use today.”

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