The Civil War Connections Blog

Early Submarines Part 1

Hello readers, and welcome back to the good ol’ blog! Today’s tidbit about me is: I’m a fan of football and ice hockey, but I find soccer to be one of the most tedious sports ever.

He chose... poorly


In my second Blog post, I discussed how the world responded to the first armed contest between ironclad ships. Ironclads were seen to be the wave of the future, and could smash anything that wasn’t another ironclad. In my third Blog post, I covered the advent of armor-piercing shot, and the increased armor plating that resulted from it. Guns could pierce armor plating, but only if the armor wasn’t very thick and the target was close by. Today, we shall take the next step in the thought process, and investigate the designing of a ship purpose-built to defeat ironclad-type ships by bypassing their armor and making holes in their hull under the waterline. I am talking, of course, about the SUBMARINE!

One of the few perks to living in Russia


Now, the idea behind the submarine – that a craft could somehow blow a hole under the waterline of a ship’s hull, thereby causing flooding and sinking – has been around for a long time. Many people may have heard that the Civil War had the world’s first submarine: however, this is not entirely true. The Civil War had the world’s first SUCCESSFUL submarine, by which I mean it had the first submarine that actually sank a ship. The first FUNCTIONAL submarine came about much earlier, during the Revolutionary War. This first submarine was called the USS Turtle, and it was basically a barrel with a propeller for propulsion and a rod for attaching explosives to the underside of a wooden ship.  Designed by a Yale student named David Bushnell, the USS Turtle got its name from the appearance of the vessel: it kind of looked like two tortoise shells pressed together (article HERE).  Although it was a good idea, it was not particularly successful: it was unwieldy, and could not penetrate the copper plating on the bottom of the British warships.

Oh well, at least we won the war


Even though it didn’t do much, it was an essential first step towards the more recognizable Civil War submarine that most people know about: the CSS Hunley. The CSS Hunley is famous for sinking the USS Housatonic in early 1864 off of Charleston, South Carolina, and then disappearing beneath the waves after completing her mission.  However, the CSS Hunley was not the first submarine to be made during the Civil War: it was the second. The award for First Civil War Submarine goes to a different vessel: the USS Alligator!

... wait, what?


What was the USS Alligator, you ask? Well, it was NOT the jovial leaping lizard pictured above! In fact, it was… oh, look at the time. This topic is a bit too big for just one blog post – so we can talk all about the USS Alligator in the next one, which will be posted either later today or sometime tomorrow! See you then, and thanks for stopping by!