The C.S.S. David was one of several small, steam-powered “torpedo” boats that operated in and around Charleston Harbor.
It had a torpedo, or explosive mine, attached to a spar, or long pole, that extended from the bow of the low-profiled, armored craft.
The David was designed by St. Julian Ravenel, a Charleston chemist. It was privately funded and built at Stoney Landing on the Cooper River.
The David resembled a submarine, but it wasn’t. It had an open cockpit and was powered by a small steam boiler. The David was designed to ram its 60- to 70-pound explosive charge into the side of the ship and detonate it without blowing itself up.
On Oct. 5, 1863, the David, attacked the Federal iron clad warship New Ironsides, seriously damaging -- but not sinking -- the Federal flagship. It was the first successful torpedo attack in history.
Three of the David’s crew, including commander William T. Glassell, abandoned ship and were captured when the David’s boiler fire went out. Two others managed to relight the boiler and the David limped back to its mooring.
The David made another attempt to sink a ship – this time in the Stono, but its explosive charge failed to detonate.
Several other “Davids” were made, but the number is in dispute.