Civil War Submarines

The Confederate States of America used submarines in combat. They built small, steam-powered submarines, called Davids, named for the Bible's legendary giant-slayer. On Oct. 5, 1863, one of these attacked the USS New Ironsides off the coast of Charleston, South Carolina, disabling but not sinking the ship with a 65-pound spar torpedo.

The Civil War also saw the first submarine to successfully sink its target, the  40-foot-long Hunley , which was operated by eight men turning a hand crank attached to her propeller shaft. The Hunley sank and was recovered three times during trial runs before it was successful. On Feb. 16, 1864, under the cover of darkness, the Hunley sank the USS Housatonic off Charleston. Accounts differ as to the reason, but the Hunley sank soon after sinking the Housatonic . It was discovered in May 1995 off the coast of Charleston and was recovered in August 2000.

In 1861, French inventor Brutus De Villeroi convinced the Union Navy that he could build a submersible warship. On May 1, 1862 the 47-foot-long, oar-propelled Alligator became the first submersible warship of the U.S. Navy. Her first mission was to destroy a bridge and clear obstructions on Virginia's Appomatox and James Rivers, respectively. Unfortunately, neither river was deep enough to allow the Alligator to submerge and she was returned to the Washington Navy Yard. Her next challenge soon came: destroy the new Confederate ironclad, the Virginia II . However, test runs in the Potomac River proved the Alligator was underpowered, unwieldy, and unsafe. The plan was abandoned .

In 1863, after the Alligator's oar system was replaced with a screw propellor, the submarine was sent to help capture Charleston, South Carolina. While being towed south for the battle, the Alligator had to be cut loose during a storm off Cape Hatteras, North Carolina. Her current whereabouts are unknown, but an effort (launched in 2003) by the Office of Naval Research and NOAA could one day reveal the Secrets of the Alligator.

Launched in 1862 during the Civil War, Alligator was an engineering marvel that helped usher in a new era in undersea travel. But until recently, little was known about the green, 47-foot-long Union vessel. The Alligator was lost off the North Carolina coast during a storm in 1863. It was never seen again.


I magine living in Philadelphia during the early days of the Civil War and reading the latest issue of the Philadelphia Evening Bulletin. A front page story reveals a strange and alarming tale: Harbor police have captured a partially-submerged, 33-foot long, cigar-shaped contraption moving slowly down the Delaware River.

This "infernal machine," as the paper described it, was the creation of French inventor, Brutus De Villeroi. Whether a deliberate publicity stunt or not, DeVilleroi succeeded in convincing the Union Navy that he could produce a submersible warship from which a diver could place an explosive charge under an enemy ship. Six months later, in November 1861, he was under contract to build the Union's first submarine.

Hence begins the little-known story of United States Submarine Propeller U.S.S. Alligator -- a technological wonder akin to other great maritime advances of the Civil War era, including the well-known ironclad USS Monitor , and the recently-raised Confederate submarine, CSS Hunley .

Built in Philadelphia, the 47-foot long Alligator was primarily intended to counter the threat of the Confederate ironclad, the Virginia. Although the Navy specified that the submarine's construction take no more than 40 days at a cost of $14,000, the project suffered long delays. As project supervisor, DeVilleroi delayed completion by making changes during the process of advancing the initial design to an operational Naval vessel. As a result of serious liaison problems with the Navy, the contractor and himself, he effectively exited from the process and was later officially dismissed.

About a month after its launch on May 1,1862, the oar-propelled submarine was towed to Hampton Roads, Virginia. Her first missions: to destroy a strategically important bridge across the Appomattox River and to clear away obstructions in the James River.

When the Alligator arrived at the James River, with civilian Samuel Eakins in charge, a fierce battle was being waged in the area. Because neither the James nor the Appomattox was deep enough to permit the vessel to submerge, it was feared that even a partially visible submarine would be vulnerable to seizure by the Confederates. The Alligator was sent to the Washington Navy Yard, for further experimentation and testing.

In August 1862, Lt. Thomas O. Selfridge accepted command of the submarine, after being promised promotion to captain if he and the Alligator 's new crew destroyed the new Confederate ironclad, the Virginia II . During test runs in the Potomac, the Alligator proved to be underpowered and unwieldy. During one particular trial, the sub's air quickly grew foul, the crew panicked, and all tried to get out of the same hatch at the same time--prompting Selfridge to call the whole enterprise "a failure." He and his crew were reassigned and the vessel was sent to dry dock for extensive conversion. The dream of using this "secret weapon" against the Virginia II was scrapped.

Over the next six months, the Alligator 's system of oars was replaced by a screw propeller. In early spring 1863, President Lincoln observed a demonstration of the "improved" vessel. Shortly thereafter, RADM Samuel Dupont ordered the Alligator , once again commanded by Eakins, to participate in the capture of Charleston.

Towed by the USS Sumpter , the unmanned Alligator left Washington for Port Royal on March 31, 1863. On April 2nd, a fierce storm forced the crew of the endangered Sumpter to cut the submarine adrift, somewhere off the Cape Hatteras coast. According to reports sent to Secretary of the Navy Welles, the Alligator was "lost" at sea.

The Story of the CSS Hunley
The Story of the H.L. Hunley
During the Civil War, Union forces blockade the port of Charleston so the Confederate army seeks a way to attrack the Yankee Ships. George Dixon is part of the group of men given the task of creating and building the "fish boat," a submarine. The H.L. Hunley ultimately sets out on its mission to sink Yankee ships, but fails to return, its whereabouts unknown.
Horace Hunley Stands by His "David" of the Confederate Navy
Horace Hunley Stands by His "David" of the Confederate Navy
12 in. x 9 in.
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Raising the Hunley

Raising the Hunley: The Remarkable History and Recovery of the Lost Confederate Submarine
For more than a century the fate of the Hunley remained one of the great unsolved mysteries of the Civil War. Then, on August 8, 2000, with thousands of spectators crowding Charleston Harbor, the Hunley was raised from the bottom of the sea and towed ashore.

Dual on the Roanoke CSS Albemarle
Duel on the Roanoke - The True Story of the CSS Albemarle
A 158-foot Confederate ironclad ship built in a cornfield 90 miles up North Carolina's Roanoke River, under the direction of an 18-year-old boy, and the deadly cat-and-mouse game between the two opposing captains.

Ironclad of the Roanoke
Gilbert Elliott's Albemarle

The story of a Confederate Ironcald that was a powerful force until sunk by a Union Torpedo Boat after its brief stormy life. Ironic in the fact it was built in a Cornfield. Confederate Ingenunity at it finest!

War, Technology, and Experience aboard the USS Monitor
The experience of the men aboard the Monitor and their reactions to the thrills and dangers that accompanied the new machine. The invention surrounded men with iron and threatened their heroism, their self-image as warriors, even their lives

Secrets of a Civil War Submarine
On the night of February 17, 1864, history was made when, for the first time ever, a submarine sank an enemy ship. The submarine was the C.S.S. H.L. Hunley, a hand-powered Confederate warship! However, when time came for the Hunley to return to port, it failed to return.

Raise The Alabama
She was known as "the ghost ship." During the Civil War, the CSS Alabama sailed over 75,000 miles and captured more than 60 Union vessels. But her career came to an end in June of 1864 when she was sunk by the USS Kearsarge off the coast of Northern France

Halls of Honor
The U.S. Navy Museum takes you on an informed and entertaining romp through one of North America s oldest and finest military museums. The museum has been in continuous operation at the Washington Navy Yard since the American Civil War

Brutus de Villeroi's booklet of general
Plans for the Alligator

The Alligator was the first submarine to:

Be ordered and built for the U.S.Navy.
Have a diver's lockout chamber
Be deployed to a combat zone.
Have onboard air compressors for air renewal/diver support.
Be commanded by a U.S. Naval officer (who would later achieve Flag rank).
Be designed with an air purifying system.
Have an underway test witnessed by a U.S. president.
Have electrically-detonated limpet mines.
Undergo an overhaul in a U.S. naval shipyard.

Kindle Available

Reign of Iron: The Story of the First Battling Ironclads, the Monitor and the Merrimack
The first ironclad ships to fight each other, the Monitor and the Virginia (Merrimack), were the unique products of American design genius

Life in Mr. Lincoln's Navy
A tantalizing glimpse into the hardships endured by the naval leadership to build and recruit a fighting force. The seaman endured periods of boredom, punctuated by happy social times and terrifying bouts of battle horror

All Aboard Reading Station Stop 3
The Monitor: The Iron Warship That Changed the World

Grades. 2-4. From the All Aboard Reading series, this book tells a double story. The first part concerns the building of the ironclad ship the Monitor during the Civil War, its epic battle with the Virginia (formerly known as the Merrimac ), and its sinking during a fierce Atlantic storm. The second part describes twentieth-century efforts to find the Monitor on the ocean floor and to raise and restore its gun turret. Thompson's narrative relates the Monitor 's history in an exciting yet responsible way, and Day's attractive illustrations, evidently in ink and watercolor, enhance the drama and clarify details.

U.S.S. Casco
Ironclad Union ship Casco
USS Monitor Onondaga
USS Monitor
The Story of the CSS Hunley
The Story of the H.L. Hunley
During the Civil War, Union forces blockade the port of Charleston so the Confederate army seeks a way to attrack the Yankee Ships. George Dixon is part of the group of men given the task of creating and building the "fish boat," a submarine. The H.L. Hunley ultimately sets out on its mission to sink Yankee ships, but fails to return, its whereabouts unknown

Battle of the Monitor

Ships and Naval Battles
Civil War Naval Reference
USS General Sherman
United States Navy DVDs
Young Reader Selections
Civil War Recipes and Cookbooks
Civil War Summary
United States Army History Timeline
Civil War Exhibits

Monitor 21" Civil War Ship
Wood Model Fully Assembled
  • Dimensions 21" Long x 5" Wide x 3" High
  • Meticulously painted to the actual Monitor
  • Museum quality model. Fully assembled and ready to display.
  • The model rests perfectly on a polished marble base and 4 arched dolphins
  • Built with rare, high quality rosewood.

American Civil War Book Titles
Kindle Available

Naval Strategies of the Civil War: Confederate Innovations and Federal Opportunism
Compare and contrast the strategies of the Southern Secretary of the Navy, Mallory, against his rival in the North, Welles. Mallory used technological innovation and the skill of individuals to bolster the South's seapower against the Union Navy's superior numbers

Confederate Ironclad 1861-65
Every aspect of Confederate ironclads is covered: design, construction, armor, armament, life on board, strategy, tactics, and actual combat actions.

Ironclads and Big Guns of the Confederacy : The Journal and Letters of John M. Brooke
Information about the Confederate Navy's effort to supply its fledgling forces, the wartime diaries and letters of John M. Brooke tell the neglected story of the Confederate naval ordnance office, its innovations, and its strategic vision.

Confederate Phoenix: The CSS Virginia
The CSS Virginia of the Confederate States Navy destroyed two of the most formidable warships in the U.S. Navy. Suddenly, with this event, every wooden warship in every navy in the world became totally obsolete
Kindle Available

Confederate Ironclad vs Union Ironclad: Hampton Roads 1862
The Ironclad was a revolutionary weapon of war. Although iron was used for protection in the Far East during the 16th century, it was the 19th century and the American Civil War that heralded the first modern armored self-propelled warships.
Release date Nov. 2008

Year on a Monitor and the Destruction of Fort Sumter
Personal view of the Civil War Navy. The monitor saw action in several significant naval assaults by the Union's Squadron. It took part in the failed Federal attack on Sumter in April 1863. The "Nahant" also participated in the capture of the Confederate Ram "Atlanta," and in the assault on Fort Wagner
Kindle Available

Glory in the Name: A Novel of the Confederate Navy
From Norfolk to Hampton Roads, from Roanoke Island to the nighttime battle on the river below New Orleans, Glory in the Name tells the story of the Confederate States Navy, and the brave men who carried forward against overwhelming odds

Ironclad Down: USS Merrimack-CSS Virginia from Design to Destruction
A treasure trove of detailed information about one of history s most famous vessels. Describing  Stephen Russell Mallory, John Mercer Brooke, John Luke Porter, et al.--who conceived, designed and built one of the world's first ironclads

Monitor 21" Civil War Ship
Wood Model Fully Assembled
  • Dimensions 21" Long x 5" Wide x 3" High
  • Meticulously painted to the actual Monitor
  • Museum quality model. Fully assembled and ready to display.
  • The model rests perfectly on a polished marble base and 4 arched dolphins
  • Built with rare, high quality rosewood.
Kindle Available
Hunley the Confederacy Secrect Hope

The H. L. Hunley
The Secret Hope of the Confederacy

On the evening of February 17, 1864, the Confederacy  H. L. Hunley sank the USS Housatonic and became the first submarine in world history to sink an enemy ship. Not until World War I "half a century later” would a submarine again accomplish such a feat. But also perishing that moonlit night, vanishing beneath the cold Atlantic waters off Charleston, South Carolina, was the Hunley and her entire crew of eight
Civil War Revolver Pistol
Civil War Model 1851 Naval Pistol
Engraved Silver Tone / Gold Tone Finish and Wooden Grips - Replica of Revolver Used by Both USA / Union and CSA / Confederate Forces
Civil War Replica Musket
Civil War Musket
Wood & Steel Frontier Rifle Designed After The Original Rifle,
This Civil War Musket replica has been designed after the original rifle of its era. Measures approximately 37 inches long. Each is constructed with a solid one-piece wood stock, painted steel barrel and die-cast parts.

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