Ramblings & ephemera

Ulysses Grant & the torpedo

From Greg Goebel’s “Februrary 1862: Unconditional And Immediate Surrender” (interpolation from Shelby Foote’s The Civil War: Fort Sumter to Perryville [187]):

On the afternoon of 5 February, during a conference between Grant, Foote, and the two division commanders, the captain of a gunboat sent a message to Grant that he had actually pulled a torpedo out of the river, had it on the gunboat’s deck, and would anyone care to see it? As the Second Division was still being shuttled in to the landing and the attack could not go forward until they had arrived, leaving Grant and the other senior officers with little to do for the moment, they went over in a group to investigate. The officers gathered around the torpedo, which was a five foot (1.5 meter) long cylinder with a pronged rod extending from its head. Grant was intrigued by the evil-looking thing, had the ship’s armorer come up to try to dismantle it, and watched as the man tinkered with the device. Suddenly, as the armorer loosened a nut, the torpedo emitted a loud hissing sound that appeared to be building to an explosion.

[Foote sprang for the ship’s ladder, and Grant, perhaps reasoning that in naval matters the commodore knew best, was right behind him. If he lacked the seamans’s agility in climbing a rope ladder, he made up for it with what one witness called “commendable enthusasm.” At the top, the commodore looked back over his shoulder and found Grant closing rapidly upon him.]

The hissing died out, leaving the two men hanging on the ladder. Foote looked down to see Grant beneath and, smiling, asked: “General, why this haste?” Grant replied: “That the Navy may not get ahead of us.”

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