The Confederate torpedo boat David was a small, steam-driven, surface vessel armed with a pole-mounted explosive charge called a spar torpedo.

The Confederate torpedo boat David was a small, steam-driven, surface vessel armed with a pole-mounted explosive charge called a spar torpedo. David Ebaugh built the David at Stoney Landing, on the Cooper River, for the Southern Torpedo Company, a consortium of South Carolina businessmen inspired by a bounty placed on the destruction of Union blockaders off Charleston. Completed in 1863, the unusual-looking craft closely resembled a cigar, with a cylindrical center section and conical ends. It measured forty-eight feet six inches in length and five feet in diameter and was powered by a small double-cylinder engine that turned a single propeller. Amidship a large open hatchway contained the steam machinery and cramped space for four crewmen. Attached to the David ’s bow was a stationary fourteen-foot-long metal pole with an explosive torpedo containing sixty-five pounds of black powder and four pressure-sensitive fuses. The torpedo exploded when driven into the hull of an enemy warship. Heavily ballasted, the David floated low in the water with little more visible than its hatch combing and smokestack.

Commanded by naval lieutenant William T. Glassell, the David attacked the USS New Ironsides off Charleston on October 5, 1863, but failed to sink the much-feared ironclad when the torpedo exploded too near the water’s surface. Following modifications, the David made several more attacks on Union warships, but all proved abortive. Although the David failed to sink an enemy vessel, both sides recognized the weapon’s value. The Union navy went to great lengths to protect its blockaders from torpedo attacks, while at Charleston and elsewhere the Confederates commenced numerous other boats of similar design that were generically known as “Davids.” The David ’s final disposition is unknown, but it was likely one of several torpedo boats found in Charleston after the city’s fall.

“David C. Ebaugh on the Building of ‘The David.’” South Carolina Historical Magazine 54 (January 1953): 32–36.

Perry, Milton F. Infernal Machines: The Story of Confederate Submarine and Mine Warfare. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1965. Tomb, James H. “Submarines and Torpedo Boats, C.S.N.” Confederate Veteran 22 (April 1914): 168–69.

Citation Information

The following information is provided for citations.

  • Title David
  • Coverage 1863
  • Author
  • Keywords Confederate torpedo boat, steam-driven, surface vessel, pole-mounted explosive charge, Stoney Landing, on the Cooper River, Southern Torpedo Company, William T. Glassell,
  • Website Name South Carolina Encyclopedia
  • Publisher University of South Carolina, Institute for Southern Studies
  • URL
  • Access Date June 18, 2024
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update July 21, 2022
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