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1861: Frigate USS Congress prepares herself against infernal devices

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I found this letter in the Naval Records of the Rebellion, North Atlantic Blockading squadron, Volume 4, page 393:

"Report of Commander Smith, U. S. Navy, commanding U. S. ship Con-
gress, regarding means for protection against torpedoes, etc.

Newport News, November 4, 1861.
SIR: I have received your note about torpedoes, etc. We have been
preparing some guards against fire craft, torpedoes, infernal machines,
etc., but, in consequence of the bad weather, only completed them to-
day. I suppose that any of these things with which the rebels may
attack us will be towed and placed directly ahead and as near the ship
as they can safely come, so that when let loose they will drift with the
tide to the ship, taking the chain or cutwater; on this supposition we
have acted.
We have made with spars a frame in the shape of the letter A, which
is suspended by the crosspiece from the bowsprit cap; the ends reach
aft to the lower booms, resting on the water, and are secured by tackle

Page 393


to the ships sides to steady them. At night the lower booms are
brought nearly alongside, forming a continuation of the spars in the
water. A stout grapuel has 2 fathoms of chain attached to it; to the
end of the chain 10 or 12 fathoms of stout rope with a kedge. This
apparatus is put into the bow of a boat at night at the gangway ready
for use. Should any fire craft come down with the tide directly ahead
of us it must take agaiust the frame and glance off and pass clear of
the ship. Should the fire craft be on fire at any distance from the ship,
the boat will be sent to it, the grapnel secured to it, and the kedge
thrown overboard; it will be anchored and can burn out at leisure.
These arrangemeuts, I think, will protect us against any attack of fire
Suspended from the jibboom and under the above frame is a spar
athwartships, some 30 feet long, to which is attached on its whole length
a strong netting 14 feet deep and kept in a vertical position by weights
at the bottom. Should such a machine as the one that attacked the
]lfinnesota approach us and come near the cable, it must be caught in
the net and held there until we relieve it. Or should it pass outside the
net, the tube which floats on the surface to supply the inmates with
fresh air would be caught on the A spars, and the supply of fresh air
be cut off, causing suffocation, and if it should pass outside of the spars
it would go entirely clear of the ship, doing no harm. I think this
arrangement will secure us against such torpedoes.
There is another plan of preparing an infernal machine or torpedo by
having two tanks containing powder submerged, and each suspended
to a buoy floating ou the surface of the water. The tanks connected by
a line and the buoys also connected by a line, the two connecting lines
being of the same length. These machines are placed directly ahead
of the ship and let go; they drift down, the connecting rope catching
against the cable or cutwater brings the tanks under the ships bot-
tom, where they are made to explode by matches leading from the buoys
through elastic tubes to the tanks. To guard against these we are
riding by a scope of cable 20 fathoms greater than the length of the
ship, and on the buoy rope close under the buoy a grapuel is secured.
At the distance of 40 fathoms from the anchor, on each side, is placed
a kedge with a buoy and rope with a grapuel attached, as to the anchor
buoy. Should any machine of the latter description be sent to attack
us, the connecting rope must be caught on one of the grapuels and hang
there, the floats would swing together, taking with them the tanks
ahead of the ship, and explode without doing any damage to the ship.
I think all of these arrangements will protect us against any fire
craft, torpedoes, or infernal machines.
J have not yet devised any plan to defend us against the Merrimack,
unless it be with hard knocks.
Yery respectfully, your obedient servant,
Commanding U. S. Frigate Congress.
Flag-Officer L. M. GoLDSBoROUGH,"

Hard knocks, indeed!
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A Rebel view of the Congress:

"Report of Lieutenant Sharp, C. S. Navy, giving information obtained
while a prisoner on the U. S. ship Congress in Hampton Roads.

Richmond, Va., December 9, 1861.
MY DEAR SIR: In a moment of leisure it occurs to me to write you
of my observations while on board of the Congress, Commander Wil.
11am Smith, off Newport News, during nine days.
There is a strongly built battery of five large guns riverward, at the
npper bridge toward the river. The southeast gun is on a semicircular
battery alone; the others on a parapet. The battery seems continuous

Page 748


looking inland, but the Congress deck being about as high as the sand
~bank, I could not count inland guns, or even see then~, though the
parapet curvature satisfied me that the battery is circular or oval.
The same parallel line of view prevented me from the judging of the
number of troops, but it was extensive. The river-edge trees remain;
inland, they have been cut down, and houses, etc., are built and being
built. In addition to the original old bridge, a fine, large one has been
constructed, similar to the ordnance bridge, you may recollect, at Old
Point. Steamers go to both bridges. The Express, steamer, runs twice
daily between Newport News and Old Point; the other boats are hos-
pital, house boats, etc.
While there one night, about 8 p. in., a steamer was seen and reported
as the P. II. [Patrick Henry]. General quarters and thorough prepara-
tions were made, but relieved on falsifying the statement. The Congress
has removed her gun deck cabin and has two long 32s out of stern
ports. The original crew she had in Brazil, Lieutenants J. B. Smith
and A. Pendergrast, Purser Buchanan, and Dr. Shippen; all the rest
are masters and masters mates from the merchant service, unless for-
ward officers. At sunset, though always loaded, batteries are primed,
guns cast loose and ranged obliquely; regular sea watches kept; no
hammocks allowed on gun deck, or lights above water; stream anchor
at port quarter, hawsers bent, and others on deck; buoys all around
ship, and spars in angular form reach from forward of flying jibbooms,
lashed, hung by tackles from head booms and fore channels, passing
the last so as to glance off passing objects, torpedoes, etc. Crew well
drilled, furnisfied with Sharps and Mini~ rifles, and all modern appliances.
Boat howitzer in Quarter-deck after ports. Stevens, Butt, and I were
confined on the Congress; Dalton and Loyall on the Cumberland, Cap-
tain Livingston; officers, Lieutenants G. U. Morris and Selfridge, Dr.
Jackson, and others merchautmen appointments. The Cumbertand
rows guard nightly. Both ships two cables length apart, nuder the
battery, less than half a mile distant. The Cumberland has outriggers
like the Congress. 1 left the Congress on the 20th ultirno,

Edited by uss frolick
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Ah.. measures and counter-measures...  It's things like this that really bring the history home.  Thanks for posting it.

"The shipwright is slow, but the wood is patient." - me

Current Build:                                                                                             
Past Builds:
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                                                                                Wasa (Gallery)

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There's a really nice model of her in the Hampton Roads museum along with the Cumberland Minnesota and Hartford, that said I do have every intention of doing so myself once my skill allows ;)

Build on hold: HM Sultana 1/64th scale


Current Build: 31 ton Doughty revenue cutter as USRC Active 1/64th scale (in progress)


Future Interests: Ballahoo, Diligence, Halifax and beyond...

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Remember the old saying: "No military plan survives contact with the enemy."


I have always found this from Gen. Eisenhower to be so very true:


“In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.”


Neither should a ship rely on one small anchor, nor should life rest on a single hope.

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frolick and Wayne, both sayings were and are true. It is how we react after that first contact that decides who wins or loses. Always have a Plan B and a Plan C and...


Just look at WW II in Europe with, as I think it was Churchill, calls the Battle of the Beams between the RAF and Luftwaffe with the radar/night fighter/night bombing battle. Or in the Pacific, Japanese night optics versus Allied shipborne radar.


Started: MS Bounty Longboat,

On Hold:  Heinkel USS Choctaw paper

Down the road: Shipyard HMC Alert 1/96 paper, Mamoli Constitution Cross, MS USN Picket Boat #1

Scratchbuild: Echo Cross Section


Member Nautical Research Guild

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frolick, there is a corollary, but I won't say it here, since this is a family oriented site. If interested, PM me.


Started: MS Bounty Longboat,

On Hold:  Heinkel USS Choctaw paper

Down the road: Shipyard HMC Alert 1/96 paper, Mamoli Constitution Cross, MS USN Picket Boat #1

Scratchbuild: Echo Cross Section


Member Nautical Research Guild

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