This past weekend I took the first tentative steps to getting back out on the reenacting trail with my messmates from the Carolina Living History Guild. I still don't have all my kit together but figured that I would go down to "visit a spell" The group was doing their Civil War Federal Navy impression at the C.S.S. Neuse State Historic Site. It was good to see the fellows, I sat in the back round and watch while they talked to the public interpreting period firearms, torpedoes, artillery as well as the common seaman's life. Visitation was lighter (At least on Saturday) than expected since there were a couple of big college football games in the area. The folks that did come out were very interested in what the guys were doing so it made it all worth while.
I hope you noticed earlier that I mentioned torpedoes. For you folks not history cranks, the term torpedo in the 1860's doesn't mean the "Tin Fish" of Run Silent, Run Deep fame, but rather describe what we would call mines today. My buddy Chris of the Guild is a expert in such "infernal machines" and has quite a few reproductions of these weapons. It is surprising to the public that there was that kind of technology available in the 1860. There was both impact detonated and electrically command detonated torpedoes, which became famous with Admiral David Farragut's command of "Damn the Torpedoes, Full speed ahead!" at Mobile Bay. (Luckily, most of the torpedoes in Mobile Bay had been in the water a while so the main charges were waterlogged and failed to explode. It is said that the union sailors in Farragut's ships could hear the "pops" as the detonators went off when their ships struck the mines)
Chris also talks about tools of sabotage to include various time bombs and a hollow piece of cast iron that when painted looks like a piece of coal. The faux coal could be filled with gun powder and tossed in a coal pile used to refuel the boiler of a navy ship. When fed into a ship's firebox, the faux coal would heat up and explode, causing the ship's boiler to then explode. There is some suspicion that the steamboat Sultana fell victim to something of this nature. Up to 1800 died in that sinking, that was the worst nautical disaster in American history. Chris also tells about a box of candles that almost killed a General. This was a time bomb that was placed on a ammunition barge at the Federal Supply Depot at City Point VA. On August 9th, 1864 the bomb detonated, setting off the ammunition on the barge. The subsequent explosions killed 43 people and wounded 126. The yard of the house that the Union Commander, U.S. Grant was using as his headquarters was filled, in his own words, "Every part of the yard used as my headquarters is filled with splinters and fragments of shell" and a staff officer said "Such a rain of shot, shell, bullets, pieces of wood, iron bars and bolts, chains and missiles of every kind was never before witnessed." Just think of how history MIGHT have changed had Grant been killed in the explosion.
Chris does a remarkably good job of sharing this information with the public and does it out of his overwhelming love of the history of our country.
As I said, I couldn't pick a better bunch of folks to spend time with, such as Andrew and John my other messmates and would have loved to spend the weekend with them. However the spirit was willing, but the flesh is still pretty weak. So as the sun slowly sank in the west, I headed on home. It was well worth the trip and I was somewhat rejuvenated for the coming season. Now to just get my body healthy enough for it.
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