Construction of Houston Torpedo Boat, Spring 1865

DaveBrt

Sergeant Major
Joined
Mar 6, 2010
Messages
2,328
Location
Charlotte, NC
#41
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.
The Eastern Texas RR was not completed to the Texas & New Orleans RR until the summer of 1864, and I have no proof that it was completed then. I agree that only one locomotive is in question regarding the TB, but the RR had 2 and they were both functional in May 1865.

Magruder used the Texas railroads, based on Houston, as the essential backbone of his defense plan for the coast. I find it very hard to believe he would use one of his essential locomotives, that could service the whole central and eastern coast, for the construction of one TB that might be able to defend one spot on the coast. I just do not see him making that trade-off.
 

Fewer ads. Lots of American Civil War content!
JOIN NOW: REGISTER HERE!
Joined
Oct 1, 2010
Messages
824
Location
southern california
#42
The Eastern Texas RR was not completed to the Texas & New Orleans RR until the summer of 1864, and I have no proof that it was completed then. I agree that only one locomotive is in question regarding the TB, but the RR had 2 and they were both functional in May 1865.

Magruder used the Texas railroads, based on Houston, as the essential backbone of his defense plan for the coast. I find it very hard to believe he would use one of his essential locomotives, that could service the whole central and eastern coast, for the construction of one TB that might be able to defend one spot on the coast. I just do not see him making that trade-off.
Tend to agree with you, but I think part of the confusion may be due to Magruder's replacement in Texas by Walker and then Magruder's later return in command. Both commanders put real effort into getting the TB's completed, but I'm not sure what priority Walker placed on the Eastern Texas line. I get the impression that Walker concentrated on Texas until ordered by Kirby-Smith to do otherwise. Kirby-Smith at one point considered seizing the Close Foundry at Galveston and Walker talked him out of it. I was always under the impression that the ground work for the link between E Texas and Louisiana was completed, but the rail never laid between the Sabine River and a final station in Louisiana bayou country.
 
Joined
Oct 1, 2010
Messages
824
Location
southern california
#43
The Eastern Texas RR was not completed to the Texas & New Orleans RR until the summer of 1864, and I have no proof that it was completed then. I agree that only one locomotive is in question regarding the TB, but the RR had 2 and they were both functional in May 1865.

Magruder used the Texas railroads, based on Houston, as the essential backbone of his defense plan for the coast. I find it very hard to believe he would use one of his essential locomotives, that could service the whole central and eastern coast, for the construction of one TB that might be able to defend one spot on the coast. I just do not see him making that trade-off.
Hi Dave. Hypothetically, suppose we wanted to use one of the Eastern engines and boilers, but the progress on building the TB's is behind schedule and the Lubbock Mills TB is more advanced and the engine/boiler of the Comet already secured. Do you suppose a compromise allowing the Eastern RR to keep using both locomotives until the second TB was ready for its machinery makes sense? I also wonder what you need and how long it would take the RR workshop at Houston to pull the engine and boiler? We've not seen any correspondence identifying a second source for the engine of the second TB and the English engine that came in unexpectedly was designed for a much smaller TB at Wilmington. Do you suppose they still intended to use an Eastern locomotive engine?
 

DaveBrt

Sergeant Major
Joined
Mar 6, 2010
Messages
2,328
Location
Charlotte, NC
#44
Hi Dave. Hypothetically, suppose we wanted to use one of the Eastern engines and boilers, but the progress on building the TB's is behind schedule and the Lubbock Mills TB is more advanced and the engine/boiler of the Comet already secured. Do you suppose a compromise allowing the Eastern RR to keep using both locomotives until the second TB was ready for its machinery makes sense? I also wonder what you need and how long it would take the RR workshop at Houston to pull the engine and boiler? We've not seen any correspondence identifying a second source for the engine of the second TB and the English engine that came in unexpectedly was designed for a much smaller TB at Wilmington. Do you suppose they still intended to use an Eastern locomotive engine?
The Eastern Texas RR's report in 1865 says they were not yet open for business. I believe the locomotives and cars were on a long term lease to the Texas & New Orleans RR and were primarily hauling military supplies, troops and food items to support the desperate military and civilian population. This was such a crucial requirement that it is hard to believe Magruder would allow an operable locomotive to be taken out of service (Comet may have been operable, but she was on one end of a destroyed RR), unless he was absolutely convinced that the TB could protect the coast. If he were so convinced, why are there no documents that discuss such use and the need to finish the TB? His special orders and telegrams are in the National Archives.

As far as taking a locomotive apart for TB use, that was not a problem. Comet was taken apart in Victoria; Sharp took apart 15 locomotives.
 
Joined
Oct 1, 2010
Messages
824
Location
southern california
#45
George, the plan was sent in late 1862, but to whom and where, and where the construction was to take place seems to have been lost in the mist of time ( or that D***D arsonist) again.
Hi Rebel: The Letterbook of Lt. J.H. Carter, CSN at Shreveport has a series of entries that confuse the issue. In No 158 of March 9, 1864, Carter to Mallory, Carter states, "...Your letters of December 29th/63 and Jany 4th by the hands of Mr. Mead Naval Constructor, have been received. In a few days I will leave here with Mr. Mead for Texas for the purpose of making the necessary examinations for the construction of the iron clad Torpedo boat. From my knowledge of the conditions of this Department, and the scarcity of labor and material, such a vessel as the plan and specifications call for, cannot be built within fifteen months or two years, if at all, and at a cost of not less than one million of dollars. Confederate Money in Texas is at a discount of twenty for one..."
Ltr No. 161 of March 22, 1864 to Constructor Mead added, "...In addition to the duty on which you have visited Texas, I wish you to ascertain if it is practicable to build at or near Houston, one or more Small Torpedo Boats similar to those now being used in Charleston Harbor..."
This sounds as if Richmond wanted to know if a large armored TB could be built at Galveston. You wonder if the inquiry refers to a vessel of the same class as the 160-ft Singer designs for Wilmington and Selma. But the letter to Mead suggests a more practical proposal for a different class of TB. You wonder if Richmond suggested the smaller boats or if this was Carter's own initiative. I suspect that the smaller TBs were Carter's idea. He apparently didn't know that the Navy had bee using its own TB design (Graves).
In a letter of April 25th, 1864 (no 174) he writes Mallory "...I have had an interview with Maj.Gen. Magruder who is now in Shreveport on the subject of building an iron clad vessel in the water of Texas. In his opinion, no iron clad can be built in Texas. The mere building of the vessel he thinks might possibly be done, but the iron armor and machinery for driving cannot be had. He has had surveys made of the harbor of Galveston and Buffalo Bayou and no vessel drawing over five feet water built in Buffalo Bayou could get out..."
You wonder if the Navy's interest primed Magruder, who discussed the issue with Kirby-Smith at Shreveport. Then Singer and Dunn of the Torpedo Company organization make their pitch for a smaller class of TB's and convince the Army Brass that engines can be secured and the hull ironed in Texas. So the picture shifts from a still-born Navy initiative to the Confederate Army who already have a neutral to positive impression of Singer's organization based upon known results. So Singer gets the support of the senior service in the Confederacy by offering a strong threat to Union forces off Galveston, helping to keep the port open for runners. What's not to like?
It would be really interesting to know just what the Navy design and specifications entailed. Their previous proposal to the State of Texas was a centerline gun boat, not a torpedo boat. Who designed the Navy torpedo boat?
The timing is interesting as R.W. Dunn made his pitch to Kirby-Smith on April 21st of 1964. I wonder if Magruder was still in Shreveport as orders from that H.Q. and Houston began coming fast.
 

rebelatsea

1st Lieutenant
Joined
Mar 30, 2013
Messages
4,274
Location
Kent ,England.
#46
Hi Rebel: The Letterbook of Lt. J.H. Carter, CSN at Shreveport has a series of entries that confuse the issue. In No 158 of March 9, 1864, Carter to Mallory, Carter states, "...Your letters of December 29th/63 and Jany 4th by the hands of Mr. Mead Naval Constructor, have been received. In a few days I will leave here with Mr. Mead for Texas for the purpose of making the necessary examinations for the construction of the iron clad Torpedo boat. From my knowledge of the conditions of this Department, and the scarcity of labor and material, such a vessel as the plan and specifications call for, cannot be built within fifteen months or two years, if at all, and at a cost of not less than one million of dollars. Confederate Money in Texas is at a discount of twenty for one..."
Ltr No. 161 of March 22, 1864 to Constructor Mead added, "...In addition to the duty on which you have visited Texas, I wish you to ascertain if it is practicable to build at or near Houston, one or more Small Torpedo Boats similar to those now being used in Charleston Harbor..."
This sounds as if Richmond wanted to know if a large armored TB could be built at Galveston. You wonder if the inquiry refers to a vessel of the same class as the 160-ft Singer designs for Wilmington and Selma. But the letter to Mead suggests a more practical proposal for a different class of TB. You wonder if Richmond suggested the smaller boats or if this was Carter's own initiative. I suspect that the smaller TBs were Carter's idea. He apparently didn't know that the Navy had bee using its own TB design (Graves).
In a letter of April 25th, 1864 (no 174) he writes Mallory "...I have had an interview with Maj.Gen. Magruder who is now in Shreveport on the subject of building an iron clad vessel in the water of Texas. In his opinion, no iron clad can be built in Texas. The mere building of the vessel he thinks might possibly be done, but the iron armor and machinery for driving cannot be had. He has had surveys made of the harbor of Galveston and Buffalo Bayou and no vessel drawing over five feet water built in Buffalo Bayou could get out..."
You wonder if the Navy's interest primed Magruder, who discussed the issue with Kirby-Smith at Shreveport. Then Singer and Dunn of the Torpedo Company organization make their pitch for a smaller class of TB's and convince the Army Brass that engines can be secured and the hull ironed in Texas. So the picture shifts from a still-born Navy initiative to the Confederate Army who already have a neutral to positive impression of Singer's organization based upon known results. So Singer gets the support of the senior service in the Confederacy by offering a strong threat to Union forces off Galveston, helping to keep the port open for runners. What's not to like?
It would be really interesting to know just what the Navy design and specifications entailed. Their previous proposal to the State of Texas was a centerline gun boat, not a torpedo boat. Who designed the Navy torpedo boat?
The timing is interesting as R.W. Dunn made his pitch to Kirby-Smith on April 21st of 1964. I wonder if Magruder was still in Shreveport as orders from that H.Q. and Houston began coming fast.
I have no answers, don't know whether John Littlefield has . I also don't know when James Meads was promoted from Chief Carpenter to full constructor. That must have irritated the hell out of Joseph Pearce - assuming he knew of course.
 
Joined
Jan 8, 2016
Messages
807
Location
Charlestonian displaced to Bodrum,Turkey
#47
I have no answers, don't know whether John Littlefield has . I also don't know when James Meads was promoted from Chief Carpenter to full constructor. That must have irritated the hell out of Joseph Pearce - assuming he knew of course.
Unfortunately, I have nothing to add. I will offer an opinion... I don't think there was a single Navy TB design, but that's little more than a gut feeling. Much of the confusion comes from the vague use of the term "torpedo boat", which as far as I can tell, was anything with a spar stuck on the bow (or a rope hung off the stern!).
 
Joined
Oct 1, 2010
Messages
824
Location
southern california
#48
Unfortunately, I have nothing to add. I will offer an opinion... I don't think there was a single Navy TB design, but that's little more than a gut feeling. Much of the confusion comes from the vague use of the term "torpedo boat", which as far as I can tell, was anything with a spar stuck on the bow (or a rope hung off the stern!).
Changing the direction of the discussion a bit, I've been researching on the net regarding just what types of infrastructure were available to support the builds of two TBs. At Galveston there were a minimum of two foundries at the beginning of the war including Hiram Close's establishment which did receive a contract for engines, boilers and possibly propellers and drive shafts. There was also a cotton rope walk at Galveston and a sail loft. Houston also had a pair of foundries, one of which did a lot of work for one of the railroads. But the impression is that all of these firms were busy with existing contracts. The big stumbling block is the matter of where the heck was Lubbock's Mill, building site for one of the TB's. The Chubb Family shipyard on Goose Creek was the other site although for some strange reason called "Tyber Creek" in orders and correspondence from General Walker. I have discovered that Lubbock did own a saw mill beginning in 1858. It is described in a data base as producing rough timber. It does not state whether it had a mill pond, but was steam powered. From correspondence, Lubbock's Mill must have been on or attached to Buffalo Bayou. The Texas Marine Department Quarter Master Department had its own salvaged equipment warehouse which might have been a source of reusable equipment. I speculate that railroad stocks of spikes and/or bolts were intended for fasteners. Thos. Chubb was also Superintendent of maintenance and repair for the Army Quarter Master Department at Lynchburg - a handy posting as Goose Creek was nearby up Buffalo Bayou. It is likely that both a machine shop and saw mill were available at Lynchburg. If not, their competitors across the river probably did. A good question remaining was just where they intended to iron the boats. You would think that Galveston was intended because of its number of wharves, foundries and availability of powered drills and cut-off machinery.
 

DaveBrt

Sergeant Major
Joined
Mar 6, 2010
Messages
2,328
Location
Charlotte, NC
#49
Changing the direction of the discussion a bit, I've been researching on the net regarding just what types of infrastructure were available to support the builds of two TBs. At Galveston there were a minimum of two foundries at the beginning of the war including Hiram Close's establishment which did receive a contract for engines, boilers and possibly propellers and drive shafts. There was also a cotton rope walk at Galveston and a sail loft. Houston also had a pair of foundries, one of which did a lot of work for one of the railroads. But the impression is that all of these firms were busy with existing contracts. The big stumbling block is the matter of where the heck was Lubbock's Mill, building site for one of the TB's. The Chubb Family shipyard on Goose Creek was the other site although for some strange reason called "Tyber Creek" in orders and correspondence from General Walker. I have discovered that Lubbock did own a saw mill beginning in 1858. It is described in a data base as producing rough timber. It does not state whether it had a mill pond, but was steam powered. From correspondence, Lubbock's Mill must have been on or attached to Buffalo Bayou. The Texas Marine Department Quarter Master Department had its own salvaged equipment warehouse which might have been a source of reusable equipment. I speculate that railroad stocks of spikes and/or bolts were intended for fasteners. Thos. Chubb was also Superintendent of maintenance and repair for the Army Quarter Master Department at Lynchburg - a handy posting as Goose Creek was nearby up Buffalo Bayou. It is likely that both a machine shop and saw mill were available at Lynchburg. If not, their competitors across the river probably did. A good question remaining was just where they intended to iron the boats. You would think that Galveston was intended because of its number of wharves, foundries and availability of powered drills and cut-off machinery.
Yes, back on the OP I quoted that Lubbock's Mill was on Buffalo Bayou.
 
Joined
Oct 1, 2010
Messages
824
Location
southern california
#50
Yes, back on the OP I quoted that Lubbock's Mill was on Buffalo Bayou.
Quite right - but where on Buffalo Bayou? Just speculating I think it was near Houston, but in the 1860s it would also have to be near trees or with water access to areas with trees. Goose Creek was very shallow and the shipyard area fairly close to the mouth of an inlet. When they dedicated a marker for the shipyard one of the artists put in an illustration (speculative) showing Chubb's very fast schooner (Royal Yacht) in the creek and another schooner (Bagdad) under construction on the bank. The Creek is shown as so narrow that the schooner (and the TB) could not be launched except sideways. You wonder if this is based upon recorded history or just a guess. In any case there was a bar at the mouth of the creek that would require dredging to allow a hull drawing 5 ft 9 in to pass. Gen. Walker ordered Chubb to get one of the two dredgers at Galveston to clear a passage. Walker explained that he didn't want the TB trapped in the Creek if Union vessels broke into the Bay.
 
Joined
Oct 1, 2010
Messages
824
Location
southern california
#51
Yes, back on the OP I quoted that Lubbock's Mill was on Buffalo Bayou.
Just a quick add-on from an 1858 commercial book on Texas. Galveston: Shipbuilding & Repair, Biehling & Sherwood; Hand & Miller's yard on the San Jacinto; Foundries and Machine shops: Hiram Close, M.L. Parry, James A. Cushman. Cushman had a machine shop at Houston by the outbreak of the war. Close sold a lathe and other misc shop equipment to the Houston shop.
 
Joined
Oct 1, 2010
Messages
824
Location
southern california
#54
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
Hi Dave - just finished reading your summary on the San Antonio & Mexican Gulf RR on your CSA RR site. It confirms just how completely the road and equipment were demolished, but I noticed in your useful write-up that it lists 3 locomotives. The Union officer's comments indicate that all three of them damaged or disassembled. You wonder why Gen. Walker didn't impress the engines of two locomotives and use the third for parts. It may be that the Comet machinery was in the best shape, but there was a foundry at Houston that had been doing work for one of the local RRs for years and the Close foundry at Galveston was probably capable of replacing most of the moving parts. I can't figure why they would want one of the two leased out Eastern RR locomotives unless it took parts from all three of the engines at Victoria to get just one to run reliably.
 

rebelatsea

1st Lieutenant
Joined
Mar 30, 2013
Messages
4,274
Location
Kent ,England.
#55
Hi Dave - just finished reading your summary on the San Antonio & Mexican Gulf RR on your CSA RR site. It confirms just how completely the road and equipment were demolished, but I noticed in your useful write-up that it lists 3 locomotives. The Union officer's comments indicate that all three of them damaged or disassembled. You wonder why Gen. Walker didn't impress the engines of two locomotives and use the third for parts. It may be that the Comet machinery was in the best shape, but there was a foundry at Houston that had been doing work for one of the local RRs for years and the Close foundry at Galveston was probably capable of replacing most of the moving parts. I can't figure why they would want one of the two leased out Eastern RR locomotives unless it took parts from all three of the engines at Victoria to get just one to run reliably.
George, common practice in the steam era, even where lines had plenty of motive power. Guys restoring locomotives here have had surprises when discovering that parts of the machinery don't actually belong to the machine they are working on even to the point where the ID of the engine has been found to be wrong !
 

rebelatsea

1st Lieutenant
Joined
Mar 30, 2013
Messages
4,274
Location
Kent ,England.
#56
John, even happens in the narrow gauge too, the Locomotives of the Romney, Hythe & Dymchurch ( the line my son drives on) all have motion parts form each other. The accepted convention now is that the frames ID the Engine in all gauges and scales.
 

DaveBrt

Sergeant Major
Joined
Mar 6, 2010
Messages
2,328
Location
Charlotte, NC
#57
Hi Dave - just finished reading your summary on the San Antonio & Mexican Gulf RR on your CSA RR site. It confirms just how completely the road and equipment were demolished, but I noticed in your useful write-up that it lists 3 locomotives. The Union officer's comments indicate that all three of them damaged or disassembled. You wonder why Gen. Walker didn't impress the engines of two locomotives and use the third for parts. It may be that the Comet machinery was in the best shape, but there was a foundry at Houston that had been doing work for one of the local RRs for years and the Close foundry at Galveston was probably capable of replacing most of the moving parts. I can't figure why they would want one of the two leased out Eastern RR locomotives unless it took parts from all three of the engines at Victoria to get just one to run reliably.
The RR fought to keep the locomotives mostly together, with just critical parts removed, knowing the Union invading force could not replace them. EK Smith said no -- destroy them -- but, I wonder if the destruction was not total. Also, if the locomotives were in Victoria, how did the Union officer know their condition? Might have just been taking the word of freed slaves, rather than observation by Union officers who knew what they were looking at. I cannot tell whether the Union army occupied the town during the war.
 
Joined
Oct 1, 2010
Messages
824
Location
southern california
#58
The RR fought to keep the locomotives mostly together, with just critical parts removed, knowing the Union invading force could not replace them. EK Smith said no -- destroy them -- but, I wonder if the destruction was not total. Also, if the locomotives were in Victoria, how did the Union officer know their condition? Might have just been taking the word of freed slaves, rather than observation by Union officers who knew what they were looking at. I cannot tell whether the Union army occupied the town during the war.
Hmmm. So there is the possibility that Generals Magruder and Walker may have been misled on the condition of the three locomotives. You wonder if Confederate troops did the damage or if it was left to employees of the road. Dave, your chart on this road states that it had 41 other pieces of rolling stock, supposedly burned (at Victoria?). You wonder if they burned a few further down the road for the benefit of Union troops advancing, but kept some with parts removed at or near Victoria. We used to see something similar in the aerospace industry when programs were terminated. I knew an engineer from Lockheed up at Sunnyvale who had written a spec for a set of custom titanium gas tanks, then got his off-shoot "project" cancelled, shuttled the tanks off to the company scrap yard for sale and bought them by the pound. Oddly, they were the exact size and fittings that fit the fuel system on his hot air balloon, replacing the stock 20-gallon stainless steel versions at much lower weight. This gentleman is now deceased and I presume there was a statute of limitations anyway. One point researchers sometimes forget is that much of Texas was in a period serve drought which greatly inhibited Union use of cavalry and/or supporting supply trains. Cavalry is the type of unit you would expect to be scouting ahead of Infantry and Engineers. On the other hand the road probably had a number of slaves or freedmen employed in their maintenance section. You would think that they would have passed on reports to the Union columns. Is a puzzlement!
 
Last edited:

georgew

Sergeant
Joined
Oct 1, 2010
Messages
824
Location
southern california
#59
The RR fought to keep the locomotives mostly together, with just critical parts removed, knowing the Union invading force could not replace them. EK Smith said no -- destroy them -- but, I wonder if the destruction was not total. Also, if the locomotives were in Victoria, how did the Union officer know their condition? Might have just been taking the word of freed slaves, rather than observation by Union officers who knew what they were looking at. I cannot tell whether the Union army occupied the town during the war.
Just for the heck of it - "choo-choo" trains of the era had a reputation for being really loud. Torpedo boats are supposed to be sort of stealthy. Is there any way of lowering the noise of a locomotive engine in operation? I've never heard of any using condensers. I also wonder about the coal consumption. A gentleman named Shimko did some estimates a few years ago relating to the runner Denbigh and apparently concluded that its engines burned 4-5 lbs of coal per hp hour. Does this seem similar to a steam locomotive engine?
 

DaveBrt

Sergeant Major
Joined
Mar 6, 2010
Messages
2,328
Location
Charlotte, NC
#60
Just for the heck of it - "choo-choo" trains of the era had a reputation for being really loud. Torpedo boats are supposed to be sort of stealthy. Is there any way of lowering the noise of a locomotive engine in operation? I've never heard of any using condensers. I also wonder about the coal consumption. A gentleman named Shimko did some estimates a few years ago relating to the runner Denbigh and apparently concluded that its engines burned 4-5 lbs of coal per hp hour. Does this seem similar to a steam locomotive engine?
The main noise ofa locomotive is from the exhaust steam going up the stack (minor) and the exhaust steam being released from the cylinders after its work was done. The cylinder exhaust could be sent off the boat under water, covering most of the sound. The exhaust up the stack was to help drawing the fire; I don't see how this could be done otherwise if you were going to get the best draw off the fire.
 



Fewer ads. Lots of American Civil War content!
JOIN NOW: REGISTER HERE!
Top