June 29, 1864: Science!

Aerial view of New Orleans, 1851

The New York Times reports an “experiment” in using torpedoes to blow up a bar that had reduced the draft depth at one of the wharves. Any time you can blow stuff up, that’s the kind of science I can get behind.

From the New-Orleans Era, June 29.

We were the witness yesterday of an interesting scientific experiment, the practical results of which were of the most satisfactory nature. This was nothing less than the blowing up of a bar which had formed near one of the upper wharves, and which interferred with the landing of vessels.

The Reading Press, as is well known, is occupied as a naval depot, and is under the charge of Capt. A.C. STERRETT, Naval Ordnance Officer at this post. Some time since, but when, or what vessels, we know not, a craft sunk while lying moored at the wooden piers, opposite the press, and around her the sand and mud of the Mississippi, while the water was high, settled in such quantities as to render it difficult and dangerous for supply-ships to land. A torpedo, sometime since, was lowered into the sunken vessel and exploded, completely tearing it to pieces; but the great tall in the waters recently has nullified the improvements thus made, as the bar formed around the fragments is so large as to again render it difficult for vessels to approach the wharf. To remove this annoyance Capt. STERRETT determined to again resort to the torpedo, and applied to Lieut. FRANK N. WICKER, Acting Superintendent of Military telegraphs, for assistance.

Yesterday noon Lieut. WICKER, aided by Mr. DAVID E. ELPHIC, accomplished the task. Four torpedoes were exploded, and instead of being seven and eight feet water at the wharf, there is now from seventeen to twenty. The torpedoes consisted of a sheet iron case, each containing seventy-five pounds of powder, placed in a barrel, the space between being tightly filled in with earth. A heavy weight or sinker was fastened to the bottom; and inserted in the top was a wooden plug through which the wire passed and connected with an electric battery some distance from the spot where the “machines” were sunk. After the torpedoes were lowered at the points selected by Capt. STERRETT and Lieut. WICKER, (the most suitable spot being discovered by sounding,) Mr. ELPHIC finished the work by firing it from his station at the battery.

The report that followed each discharge was not very loud, but the water was thrown to a height of about seventy-five feet in immense volumes, and tons of black mud surged up and was carried away by the current. The waves rolled up on the banks and tossed the light skiffs, that were around the scene of action, about as though they were feathers. Large numbers of fish were killed by the concussions, and floated to the surface of the water, where they became the spoils of the eager boatmen who were floating around for the purpose of gathering up “unconsidered trifles.” Altogether the experiment was a complete success, and will doubtless be followed by others of a similar nature. The sight to us was a novel and peculiar one, and we consider ourselves more than repaid for the trouble it cost us.

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