Construction of Houston Torpedo Boat, Spring 1865


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georgew

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I completely agree with the above.
My only additional comment, which is trivial and presumptive, would be that Lee's ram was more likely based on a Porter designed hull*, which, I believe, @rebelatsea (John) has determined would have been ~106 ft in length.

* from Lee's report to General Beauregard (1 May 1863)- "Naval Constructor Porter who was sent to Charleston to fulfill any requirements for the construction of the Torpedo Ram, instructed me to make use of the unfinished frame of a Gun boat commenced over one
year before by Mr [F.M.] Jones (Ship builder) and afterwards abandoned."
Let me clarify things a bit.
"Houston, Texas, August 14, 1864. Major Barton, Assistant Adjutant General. Sir. I have the honor to report that myself and three of my company are on duty at this point constructing by order of General E. Kirby Smith a torpedo boat...The following is her dimensions - length 114 feet, breadth of beam 14 feet...double fluid (flue) boilers 24 ft. long with two direct acting oscillating engines 12 x 16 in., diameter of propeller 6 ft with 10 and 1/2 f. pitch to make 120 turns per minute...Your Obedient Servant E.C. Singer"

The reference to "two directing acting oscillating engines" is likely to be describing a two cylinder in-line engine at the inboard end of a drive-shaft. Source of drive-shaft and dimensions unk at this time. Perhaps Rebel or Dave Brt can tell us if the boiler description is applicable to a RR engine of the period. It appears that both boiler and engine were to be below the waterline.
These boats were to be ironed. "Dec 12, 1864 R.W. Dunn, Chief Constructor Torpedo Boat, Houston, December 12, 1864. In regard to iron wanted for construction of boat...Reply referred to Captain Lubbock commanding Marine Department, who will order the iron referred to within brought to Houston without delay and turned over to Mr. Dunn."

The original engine was apparently to be a new build from Galveston but delivery way behind schedule. This may be the reason that the 'Comet' RR engine and boiler was secured. On the other hand the RR materials may have been intended for the 2nd boat.

The iron in question appears to have come from a railway source. It is not clear whether strap iron or T-rail. From the above citations the wood work on this boat appears to have taken at least 4 months (Aug-Dec 1864) and this letter concerns the boat under construction at Lubbock's Mill. Haven't found enough data yet re engine and boiler for this boat.
 

georgew

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George, I know nothing specific about Comet, but she was probably a standard 4x4x0 American locomotive, meaning firetube boiler, with description like http://csa-railroads.com/Essays/Specification_For_The_General.htm or http://csa-railroads.com/Essays/Specification_For_The_James_S._Corry.htm.
Thanks for the heads-up Dave. After reading the two essays, it appears that the original boiler described by Singer in August of 1864 is not similar to the boilers from a RR engine. In particular, the 24 ft. length specified is about 9 feet longer than on the Corry. Also the number of tubes in the RR boilers is far more than double-flue. The RR boilers appear to operate at about 140 lbs. pressure. On the other hand, some of the older equipment may have had a different boiler type. On the other hand, it appears that at least one of the two boats was to use the Comet machinery and may have had a shorter boiler of larger diameter. The Corry and General seem to have had boilers over 40 inches in diameter, probably still keeping them below the waterline.
 

georgew

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The only other centre wheeler design was the one that led to Missouri. View attachment 299656
You know John we've never talked about why they would want something like this at Galveston. Based upon the time frame a vessel like this would not have been completed before Union forces temporarily held the Bay and parts of the island. If a vessel like this had been completed after the Union's ejection from Galveston it would clearly present a threat to the blockaders who saved on coal usage by anchoring off the port with fires kept low. In my opinion this would have provoked stronger Union forces off Galveston and increased the possibility of Union sorties into the bay. By the time that serious consideration was given to torpedo boats in Texas, the battle of Mobile Bay had ended that city's career as a runner port and allowed a shift of Union vessels to other stations. The likely configuration of the Galveston boats presented a limited opportunity for off-shore sorties against anchored blockaders, but were seen by both sides as a defensive weapon like moored torpedoes. Until April, 1865, Confederate planners in the Trans-Mississippi had assumed that Union forces would not mount another major offensive west of the Mississippi until the Spring of 1866. Magruder certainly held this opinion right up to the point that mass desertions began and this earlier estimate of the threat is undoubtedly the reason he confirmed on May 1, 1865 that the second TB (Chubb's) was to be completed.
 

georgew

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Similar orders were issued in Savannah, but little beyond the plan and shop setup seems to have actually occurred there.
Hi Littlefield. The Singer organization was allegedly given authorization to build two of the large (160 ft) torpedo boats, one each at Wilmington and Selma, Alabama. Have you seen any documentation to confirm that an attempt to start such a project at Selma actually started? There was a considerable manufacturing complex in the area, but in all accounts heavily engaged in existing contracts and projects. The Singer organization was active in mine laying at Mobile, but I've never seen anything confirming their presence at Selma.
 

georgew

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I completely agree with the above.
My only additional comment, which is trivial and presumptive, would be that Lee's ram was more likely based on a Porter designed hull*, which, I believe, @rebelatsea (John) has determined would have been ~106 ft in length.

* from Lee's report to General Beauregard (1 May 1863)- "Naval Constructor Porter who was sent to Charleston to fulfill any requirements for the construction of the Torpedo Ram, instructed me to make use of the unfinished frame of a Gun boat commenced over one
year before by Mr [F.M.] Jones (Ship builder) and afterwards abandoned."
In regard to the Porter/Maury gunboat design(s). As was typical with Porter's hulls, there were variants of the basic hull differing in length and draft. The CSN does not appear to have been a participant in the Singer TB programs with the exception of the assignment of Lt. Phillips from Shreveport in 1865 as commander of one of the boats. There is a claim in correspondence that Braman made the initial drawings for the Singer TB's, but it does not distinguish whether they applied to the original 160-ft projects for Wilmington and Selma or the scaled-down proposals for the Texas TB's. I have a strong hunch that the Singer organization had been in communication with Captain Lee at Charleston and that the conversion of the Torch had been a topic of interest. I also think that Lee's work on spar torpedoes was a spur for the Singer organization to become interested in vessel mounted torpedoes. They rightly decided that spar torpedoes were a risky way to make a living and that a different delivery system for the torpedo not requiring the vessel to come into close contact with the hull of the target was preferable. There were a number of separate proposals at this time regarding submarine mortars and submerged guns. Mark K. Ragan has suggested the Singer operatives at Mobile kept tabs on Angemar's rocket propelled torpedo experiments there. We don't know in detail the extent of the ironing proposed for the Singer designs. If they were looking at spar torpedoes, then a solid wooden backing and ironing on the bow and a belt amidships must have been considered. The mention that "tubes" were to be used on the 160-ft TB designs suggests a gun or rocket-based delivery system. It would have been a short range device and stabilization of the round a difficult proposition. It isn't clear whether they proposed single rounds and withdrawal to reload or provision to reload the tube underway through some type of breach system from the inside of the hull. One possibility that would have simplified the problem would have been to launch the torpedo from a deck-mounted emplacement above the TB's ironing and access via a hatch for reloading from within the hull. For those who think that such a system, especially rocket propelled, was fantasy consider the fact that a functional Islamic rocket propelled surface skimming explosive device was demonstrated about 1300. It looked a bit like a manta ray with a central rocket and lines trailed from the tips of the "wings" allowing an operator to steer the device by alternately stopping or letting out rope from a pair of reels. I have no idea of the effective range of this device and it seems likely to be applied more from a shore installation than a vessel. It certainly didn't become widely used.
 

georgew

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George, I know nothing specific about Comet, but she was probably a standard 4x4x0 American locomotive, meaning firetube boiler, with description like http://csa-railroads.com/Essays/Specification_For_The_General.htm or http://csa-railroads.com/Essays/Specification_For_The_James_S._Corry.htm.
Howdy Dave. Quick question. I believe somewhere you implied that the Comet was at Columbia, Texas when impressed. If so does this imply that the rail line from Columbia to Houston was still functional or do you think they disassembled the engine on site? It would have been a lot easier to drive the engine to a point at or near Houston. Do you know whether Houston had a functional shop complex for rail maintenance and/or repair at this time?
 

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Hi Littlefield. The Singer organization was allegedly given authorization to build two of the large (160 ft) torpedo boats, one each at Wilmington and Selma, Alabama. Have you seen any documentation to confirm that an attempt to start such a project at Selma actually started? There was a considerable manufacturing complex in the area, but in all accounts heavily engaged in existing contracts and projects. The Singer organization was active in mine laying at Mobile, but I've never seen anything confirming their presence at Selma.
I checked with the Selma expert and he has no record of Singer actually doing anything in Selma.
 

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Howdy Dave. Quick question. I believe somewhere you implied that the Comet was at Columbia, Texas when impressed. If so does this imply that the rail line from Columbia to Houston was still functional or do you think they disassembled the engine on site? It would have been a lot easier to drive the engine to a point at or near Houston. Do you know whether Houston had a functional shop complex for rail maintenance and/or repair at this time?
Comet was on the San Antonio & Mexican Gulf RR when it was destroyed by Magruder to prevent the US from using it to supply operations inland. Comet was probably in Victoria, the northernmost station on the road. The entry in the SO register specifically mentions wagons and teams to haul the material; by modern roads, that would be about 85 miles to the railhead at Columbia (Houston Tap & Brazoria RR}. Since SA&MG was 5'6" gauge and HT&B was 4'8" I wonder if the firebox/boiler was moved. Maybe they were after pistons, driving rods, etc. Big iron pieces were very hard to make in Texas during the war, so that needs to be considered, too.

As far as the rail line from Columbia to Houston, it was in operation to the end of the war. Yes, Houston had a RR shop complex in operation. See http://csa-railroads.com/Houston_and_Texas_Central_Shops.htm
 

georgew

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Comet was on the San Antonio & Mexican Gulf RR when it was destroyed by Magruder to prevent the US from using it to supply operations inland. Comet was probably in Victoria, the northernmost station on the road. The entry in the SO register specifically mentions wagons and teams to haul the material; by modern roads, that would be about 85 miles to the railhead at Columbia (Houston Tap & Brazoria RR}. Since SA&MG was 5'6" gauge and HT&B was 4'8" I wonder if the firebox/boiler was moved. Maybe they were after pistons, driving rods, etc. Big iron pieces were very hard to make in Texas during the war, so that needs to be considered, too.

As far as the rail line from Columbia to Houston, it was in operation to the end of the war. Yes, Houston had a RR shop complex in operation. See http://csa-railroads.com/Houston_and_Texas_Central_Shops.htm
Thanks Dave. Do you have any idea whether the iron for the TBs came from a road or from stocks for the prewar extension of the lines in Texas?
 

georgew

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Comet was on the San Antonio & Mexican Gulf RR when it was destroyed by Magruder to prevent the US from using it to supply operations inland. Comet was probably in Victoria, the northernmost station on the road. The entry in the SO register specifically mentions wagons and teams to haul the material; by modern roads, that would be about 85 miles to the railhead at Columbia (Houston Tap & Brazoria RR}. Since SA&MG was 5'6" gauge and HT&B was 4'8" I wonder if the firebox/boiler was moved. Maybe they were after pistons, driving rods, etc. Big iron pieces were very hard to make in Texas during the war, so that needs to be considered, too.

As far as the rail line from Columbia to Houston, it was in operation to the end of the war. Yes, Houston had a RR shop complex in operation. See http://csa-railroads.com/Houston_and_Texas_Central_Shops.htm
sorry, a little slow on the uptake today. Does this mean that it was open season with the iron on the road of the San Antonio & Mexican Gulf RR? I don't suppose you know what weight of rail they were using and whether it was T or strap rail?
 

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sorry, a little slow on the uptake today. Does this mean that it was open season with the iron on the road of the San Antonio & Mexican Gulf RR? I don't suppose you know what weight of rail they were using and whether it was T or strap rail?
It was 54# T-rail. You really should visit my site: www.csa-railroads.com Confederate Railroads
 

DaveBrt

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Thanks Dave. Do you have any idea whether the iron for the TBs came from a road or from stocks for the prewar extension of the lines in Texas?
I have no idea about the iron for the TB. The iron on the San Antonio & Mexican Gulf RR was burned and bent. It still belonged to the company, so it could only have been used for the TBs by being bought or impressed. I've seen noting to indicate either action was taken.
 
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JohnDLittlefield

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Hi Littlefield. The Singer organization was allegedly given authorization to build two of the large (160 ft) torpedo boats, one each at Wilmington and Selma, Alabama. Have you seen any documentation to confirm that an attempt to start such a project at Selma actually started? There was a considerable manufacturing complex in the area, but in all accounts heavily engaged in existing contracts and projects. The Singer organization was active in mine laying at Mobile, but I've never seen anything confirming their presence at Selma.
I know the passage written by Dunn, but have not seen any evidence that either boat was built. According to Ragan, Dunn was in Charleston at the time he wrote that message to Magruder (April 1864- well after Torch had been tried and retired), but at that point, several Davids were active, as well as a number of steam launch TBs and larger gun boats- all that utilized spar torpedoes. Also, Diver/H.L. Hunley had already sunk Housatonic with a variant of the spar torpedo adopted for the submarine, so assuming Dunn was at Charleston, he would have had opportunity to see several spar torpedo vessels.

The only TB from Selma, of which I am aware was Saint Patrick (a 30 ft TB which reportedly could use steam on the surface and manual power below the surface). I have found no connection, thus far, between the Singer group and a TB at Selma other than the message of Dunn.

Lee was to work on TB in Wilmington, but that did not happen, but he did send drawings to Engineer D.B. Harris at that place. Lee proposed instead to construct the Wilmington boats at Charleston, which I do not believe occurred.
There were two large TBs built at Wilmington (Sketch below- unfortunately without scale), actually they were gunboats: Equator and Yadkin, but these were burned in April 1864- again, so could not have been the same as mentioned by Dunn since his letter was written during the same month. Again, I have found no connection between the Singer Group and TBs of Wilmington.

1554875371117.png



Mallory reported iin November 1864 that two TBs were under construction at WIlmington, but presumably those were the burned vessels from April and Mallory did not have up-to-date reports.

I look forward to hearing more about this topic as information turns up.
 

georgew

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I know the passage written by Dunn, but have not seen any evidence that either boat was built. According to Ragan, Dunn was in Charleston at the time he wrote that message to Magruder (April 1864- well after Torch had been tried and retired), but at that point, several Davids were active, as well as a number of steam launch TBs and larger gun boats- all that utilized spar torpedoes. Also, Diver/H.L. Hunley had already sunk Housatonic with a variant of the spar torpedo adopted for the submarine, so assuming Dunn was at Charleston, he would have had opportunity to see several spar torpedo vessels.

The only TB from Selma, of which I am aware was Saint Patrick (a 30 ft TB which reportedly could use steam on the surface and manual power below the surface). I have found no connection, thus far, between the Singer group and a TB at Selma other than the message of Dunn.

Lee was to work on TB in Wilmington, but that did not happen, but he did send drawings to Engineer D.B. Harris at that place. Lee proposed instead to construct the Wilmington boats at Charleston, which I do not believe occurred.
There were two large TBs built at Wilmington (Sketch below- unfortunately without scale), actually they were gunboats: Equator and Yadkin, but these were burned in April 1864- again, so could not have been the same as mentioned by Dunn since his letter was written during the same month. Again, I have found no connection between the Singer Group and TBs of Wilmington.

View attachment 301851


Mallory reported iin November 1864 that two TBs were under construction at WIlmington, but presumably those were the burned vessels from April and Mallory did not have up-to-date reports.

I look forward to hearing more about this topic as information turns up.
This canoe is new to me. I'm hoping that the spar depicted rotated to put the charge under the hull of the target. In any kind of a seaway the vertical sides of the cuddy/casemate might have been a problem as there were undoubtedly ventilation hatches on the top and possibly subject to flooding. As you point out, the issue is the scale of the drawing. I am intrigued by the treatment of the centerline propeller. It is very large and the protection above it potentially vulnerable. On your copy of this drawing is what appears to be a signature just above the cross-section. Is it legible? In some ways this drawing shares characteristics with reports of the Singer designs. The engine appears to have two inline cylinders and could well be an oscillating direct-drive unit.. The boiler installation seems plausible, but just how you con this vessel underway and where the wheel is located isn't clear on my screen. Just about any yard that built schooners could have done the wood work. Does anyone have a program on their confuser that could give us an estimate of the length/beam ratio? If it's about 5.7:1, it would be consistent with the 160 ft Singer specs proposed for Wilmington or Selma. It's equally possible that this is the evolved version of the Lee torpedo boats. On the assumption that this vessel was at least partially ironed, I would assume that coverage would be the roof and sides of the cuddy area and probably to the limits of the unshaded oval section at the top of the hull. Just what type of iron was intended isn't shown. It could have been anything from boiler iron to T-rail, but I suspect that the heavier iron would be on the sides of the cuddy, with lighter iron on the roof and unshaded section on the top of the hull. I can't tell if the hull is a true double-ender or slightly extended in the run aft. This thing is a bit harder to build than some of the proposals but should have had a good flow along the hull and into the propeller. It would be possible for the Singer group to take something like this and modify and/or scale it. In that case the cuddy/casemate might have been the mount point for Singer's alleged self-propelled torpedo system. The fact that it was claimed that their installations could deal with targets fore, aft, and to both sides could be a challenge with this design. Correspondence of the period implies that part of the torpedo mechanism involved "tube"s which is consistent with the bow installation depicted in the drawing. It clearly has a tube extending into the interior of the bow. But what is depicted is clearly a spar torpedo and not self-propelled in any way. So far I haven't been able to come up with dimensions for Yadkin and Equator. If they conformed to this drawing, they should have created a bit of comment.
 

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1) On your copy of this drawing is what appears to be a signature just above the cross-section. Is it legible?

2) Does anyone have a program on their confuser that could give us an estimate of the length/beam ratio? If it's about 5.7:1, it would be consistent with the 160 ft Singer specs proposed for Wilmington or Selma. It's equally possible that this is the evolved version of the Lee torpedo boats.

3) I can't tell if the hull is a true double-ender or slightly extended in the run aft.

4) It clearly has a tube extending into the interior of the bow. But what is depicted is clearly a spar torpedo and not self-propelled in any way. So far I haven't been able to come up with dimensions for Yadkin and Equator. If they conformed to this drawing, they should have created a bit of comment.
1) The inscription reads: John L Porter, N.C., Burned at Wilmington NC (click the mage below for a larger version)

2) I worked out a series of potential dimensions based on the depth of the torpedo- L-to B ratio is ~5.4 to 1
a) at 6' depth, 32.5' Length x 6' beam, 10.5' spar length, 2.5' screw diameter, 3.75' of vessel submerged, 1.75' above the waterline
b) at 7' depth, 38' L x 7' beam, 12.4' spar, 2.67' screw, 4.25' submerged, 2' above waterline
c) at 8' depth, 43.5' L x 8' beam, 14.25' spar, 3' screw, 4.75' submersion, 2.33' above waterline

However, the divisions on the drawing could easily be 2 ft, making the vessel 48' in length, 8.75' beam- which also seams feasible.
Other dimensions are certainly possible.
Mark Ragan seems to believe them to be David-style, while Paul Silverstone thinks Equator and Yadkin were about 300 tons and carried guns. Thus far, I have seen nothing else to support that tonnage estimate. I was working off the idea that these vessels were more Squib-style. I should re-calculate these to see how a ~110 ft length would work, but IMO, these were not that large.

3) appears to be a dbl-ender to me

4) I expect the spar is likely idealized- at least the curvature. I have seen similar in a proposal for Union "Davids", but it could be a iron spar. Regardless, the spar doesn't extent into the hull, like other TBs, it used a yoke that attached the the outer hull and the spar was attached to the yoke. It can be clearly seen in the drawing. Wood seems to have worked just fine for the spar, since it was a one-use item & more readily dispersed the shock of the explosion.

Porters Wilmington Torpedo Boat w est scale.jpg
 
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georgew

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It was 54# T-rail. You really should visit my site: www.csa-railroads.com Confederate Railroads
Dave, you're not going to believe this. I found a letter from Gen. Walker to Kirby-Smith stating that by the end of December, 1864, the TB building by Chubb was already half done and Chubb was due a $40,000 progress payment. Also of interest. Just after acquiring the equipment from the Comet, Walker seems to have impressed equipment from a locomotive that had been used on the Beaumont-Sabine Pass line, justifying this on the grounds that he understood the equipment on that line to be owned by enemy investors. If this is true, then both TB's were to use railway engines. It also occurs to me that Close's Foundry at Galveston was probably intended to be the source of drive shafts and propellers for both boats.
 

DaveBrt

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Dave, you're not going to believe this. I found a letter from Gen. Walker to Kirby-Smith stating that by the end of December, 1864, the TB building by Chubb was already half done and Chubb was due a $40,000 progress payment. Also of interest. Just after acquiring the equipment from the Comet, Walker seems to have impressed equipment from a locomotive that had been used on the Beaumont-Sabine Pass line, justifying this on the grounds that he understood the equipment on that line to be owned by enemy investors. If this is true, then both TB's were to use railway engines. It also occurs to me that Close's Foundry at Galveston was probably intended to be the source of drive shafts and propellers for both boats.
The Eastern Texas RR annual report to the State of Texas, as of May 31, 1865, still shows the RR with both of its locomotives, so if they were intended for the TBs, the were not so far damaged that they were not shown as operable immediately after the war.
 

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The Eastern Texas RR annual report to the State of Texas, as of May 31, 1865, still shows the RR with both of its locomotives, so if they were intended for the TBs, the were not so far damaged that they were not shown as operable immediately after the war.
Double hmmm. I don't think Walker proposed to use both of their engines. As for the condition of their equipment, I seem to remember reading that this eastern line was in very poor shape. Perhaps their problem was the road itself versus the rolling stock? I wonder if someone intervened on behalf of the RR on the grounds that they needed both locomotives to provide service for military shipping. I do know that at one point Magruder suspended civilian passengers on that line.
 


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