Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Louisiana’s Mystery Submarine

For years there was a small submarine sitting in Jackson Square in New Orleans. It looked vaguely like it came from the Civil War era but there was very little information about it. It was recovered by dredging crew working near Bayou St. John in 1878. For years it lay neglected on the bank of Bayou St. John until 1908 when it was put on display at the Camp Nicholls Confederate Home. Finally, in 1942 the Louisiana State Museum aquired it and it was moved to Jackson Square.

For decades, the identity of the submarine eluded researchers. Some thought it was the “Pioneer”, a submarine built by the same folks that later built the “CSS Hunley”. However, subsequent drawings found in the National Archives proved that it is not the “Pioneer”.

There were some other clues, however. A letter from Fleet Engineer Shock to Assistant Secretary of the US Navy Gustavas Fox said:

“Some few weeks since I had some duty calling me to a place down at the New Basin where I discovered a submarine machine. I embraced the first favorable opportunity and examined it, got its history and had a drawing made of it, a tracing of which I send you as a curiosity.

The history of the machine seems is simply this, in the early part of Admiral Farragut’s operations here (
New Orleans fell on May 1, 1862) the gunboat New London was a perfect terror to the Rebels in the lake (Lake Pontchartrain), so it occurred to them if they could get a machine that would move underwater they could succeed in securing a torpedo to the bottom of the ship, move off, touch the wires, and thus terminate their existence. They finally got the thing done, made a good job of it, got it overboard, and put two men in it; they were smothered to death.”

The “Pioneer” was never involved in a similar incident so it is believed that this action was by a different vessel and possibly the Mystery Sub.

Also, in June 1861, New Yorker E. P. Doer travelled to New Orleans and heard a story. He related that story to the Navy in Washington.

“…… the Rebels in New Orleans are constructing an infernal vessel to destroy the “Brooklyn”, or any vessel blockading the mouth of the Mississippi; from her description she is to be used as a projectile with a sharp iron or steel pointed brow to perforate the bottom of the vessel and then explode. She says that it is being constructed by competent engineers. I put implicit reliance in the correctness of this information.”

If this letter refers to the Mystery Submarine, it would be the earliest example of a Civil War submarine.

The Mystery Submarine was removed from Jackson Square and taken to Baton Rouge for preservation work. It can be seen today at the Louisiana State Museum there. For more information, follow this link.

1 comment:

The Old Man said...

Nice blog - came here from the Cajun (I link to 'im). Love the historical excursions even if I'm not talented enough to do it myself. Scotch science - mystery sub - all you need are articles on 12 pound Naps....