Southern Historical Society Papers.
despair. In this condition we drifted with the tide past the ship's stern, while the officer of the deck, continuing to ply me with embarrassing questions, gave order to lower a ship's boat to go for us.
The man who backed his oar had now thrown his pistol overboard, and reached to get that of the man next to him for the same purpose. A number of men, by this time, were on deck with rifles in hand. The torpedo was now an incumbrance to retard the movements of my boat.
I never was rash, or disposed to risk my life, or that of others, without large compensation from the enemy. But to surrender thus would not do. Resolving not to be taken alive till somebody at least should be hurt, I drew a revolver and whispered to the men at the bow and stern to cut loose the torpedo.
This being quickly done, they were directed quietly to get the oars in position and pull away with all their strength. They did so. I expected a parting volley from the deck of the ship, and judging from the speed with which the little boat travelled, you would have thought we were trying to outrun the bullets which might follow us. No shot was fired. I am not certain whether their boat pursued us or not. We were soon out of sight and beyond their reach; and I suppose the captain and officers of the "Powhatan" never have known how near they came to having the honor of being the first ship ever blown up by a torpedo boat.
I do not think this failure was from any fault or want of proper precaution of mine. The man who backed his oar and stopped the boat at the critical moment declared afterwards that he had been terrified so that he knew not what he was doing. He seemed to be ashamed of his conduct, and wished to go with me into any danger. His name was James Murphy, and he afterwards deserted to the enemy by swimming off to a vessel at anchor in the Edisto river.
I think the enemy must have received some hint from spies, creating a suspicion of torpedoes, before I made this attempt. I got back to Charleston after daylight next morning, with only the loss of one torpedo, and convinced that steam was the only reliable motive power.
Commodore Tucker having been ordered to command the naval forces at Charleston, torpedoes were fitted to the bows of iron-clad rams for use should the monitors enter the harbor.