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Page:Southern Historical Society Papers volume 31.djvu/336

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Southern Historical Society Papers.

There was much prejudice against, or lack of appreciation of, this undeveloped system of defense by many of the Confederate authorities, who considered it ineffectual and unlawful warfare, but Captain Maury, undeterred by the lack of official support and opposition of many friends, proceeded at once to demonstrate its sufficiency as best he could without the use of proper mechanical resources.

His trial experiments to explode under water were made with minute charges of powder and submerged in an ordinary washtub in his chamber at the house of his cousin, Robert H. Maury, on Clay street, and the tank for actual use, with their triggers for explosion and other mechanical appliances for service, were made by Talbott and Son, on Cary street, under their ready and intelligent direction.

In the early summer of 1861 the Secretary of the Navy and the chairman of the Naval Committee of Congress and others, were invited to witness an explosion in James river at Rocketts. The torpedo was a small keg of powder, weighted to sink, fitted with a trigger to explode by percussion, to be fired, when in place, by a lanyard. The Patrick Henry gig was borrowed; Captain Maury and the writer got aboard with the torpedo, and were rowed to the middle of the channel just opposite to where the wharf of the James River Steamboat Company now is, whereon the spectator stood; the torpedo was carefully lowered to the bottom, taking great care not to strain upon the trigger, which was at full cock; the lanyard loosely held on board. The boat pulled clear, and the writer pulled the lanyard. The explosion was instantaneous; up went a column of water fifteen or twenty feet; many stunned or dead fish floated around; the officials on the wharf applauded and were convinced, and shortly after a naval bureau of "coast harbor and river defense" was created, and Captain Maury placed at its head with abundant funds for the work, and the very best of intelligent, able and zealous younger naval officers for assistants.

Mined the River.

In a month or two he had mined the channel of the river just opposite Chaffin's Bluff, with fixed torpedoes to be exploded by contact, having then no insulated wire with which to explode by electricity, and during that summer and fall several attempts with floating torpedoes were made against the Federal squadron at Fortress Monroe, one of which he personally directed (July, 1861); another