ON THE EXPEDIENCY OF AN APPROPRIATION FOR TESTING THE INVENTION OF CAPTAIN JAMES BARRON, OF THE NAVY, OF A "PROW-SHIP" FOR THE DEFENCE OF BAYS, RIVERS, AND HARBORS.
COMMUNICATED TO THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES FEBRUARY 4, 1835.
Mr. Wise, from the Committee on Naval Affairs, to whom was referred the memorial of Commodore James Barron, in relation to his invention called a prow-ship, reported:
All inventions or plans for the defence of the bays, rivers, and harbors of the United States, submitted by practical men of science, such as the petitioner in this case, must be worthy of the most respectful and attentive consideration, from that great importance to a country like this, with a coast so extensive, so numerously indented by inlets from the sea and consequently so accessible to every mode of attack.
This invention is intended only for the protection of our inland navigation on the seaboard; for the attack of blockading squadrons of enemies' ships anchoring, or wind and tide-bound, or sheltering themselves from the effects of battle or wind, or from being crippled by either, in our waters. From a careful examination of its structure and its powers, and from the testimony of competent judges, it seems as wisely and certainly adapted to its end as any plan of its kind heretofore submitted.
A model has been long prepared, and is approved by nautical men and engineers of reputation. A full description of the construction and probable effects of the prow-ship is herewith filed, together with the opinions of its utility referred to. Its chief recommendations are its simplicity, its mobility by steam, its comparative indestructibleness, its safe protection of its crew, the small force required to man it, its certainty of operation, its irresistible momentum, and its cheapness.
It is simply a combination of three vessels, constructed of solid seasoned timbers, bolted together transversely, of white pine or other wood, the specific gravity of which will safely admit of the imposition of all machinery required to propel the ship by steam. The dimensions, of course, will be according to whatever scale maybe adopted; but the exterior vessels, and the prow and stern of the intermediate, are proposed to be of such a solid thickness as to exceed by far the maximum penetration of a cannon shot. And the transverse construction, it is believed, will much diminish that maximum penetration into the sides, prow, or stern of this ship. The middle vessel is to be constructed with just hollow capacity in the centre sufficient to contain the machinery, fuel, and the crew, consisting of engineer, fireman, helmsman, pilot, and a few armed men if required. The water wheels are to ply on either side, as usual, of the middle boat, protected by the exterior boats. Every part of the machinery is to be below deck, out of reach of shot or immediate concussion of any kind: and the whole interior of the ship is to be secured by a strong, thick deck, without aperture above, except through holes ingeniously opened horizontally for the eye of the pilot. The whole exterior to be sheathed in such manner as to be comparatively incombustible by ordinary means.
Its mobility constitutes it not only a defensive, but an offensive machine of attack. In this it has decidedly the advantage of fortifications. Propelled by steam, its velocity must greatly exceed that of a ship with full wind, and no motion of a ship in calms, by any means of seamanship, could possibly avoid its attack or lessen much its effects. But, if the ship pursued should fortunately escape from the chase, then the only result is, your enemy would be driven away; and that every man-of-war would most carefully avoid its neighborhood, beware of its contact, and run from its approach, is confidently thought by men in our navy, who are not used to run from the proudest ships of England's fleets.
Its comparative indestructibleness exceeds that of any offensive machine of warfare yet invented. A battery of cold shot would but be arrested by a solid body of peculiar power of resistance, and be buried in its mass. But few could penetrate before the prow would sink every port hole of a ship of the line, even if approaching the muzzles of a broadside; but the angle of approach would always be with the selection of the prow-ship when it could approach at all. It could not be sunk, because nothing could penetrate her thickness, and, if penetrated or filled, such would be her sold mass, compared with her hollow capacity, that still her specific gravity would be less than that of water. When in contact with an enemy, the crew, as stated, are beyond the reach of shot below the deck. If boarded by the crew of a sinking ship, her men under hatches are safe, and the pilot and helmsman alone may make every boarder a prisoner of war as quick as steam power could run the ship to the shore.
The modes of destroying this ship are reduced only to these: by liquid fire or other combustibles, by bombs, hot shot, by derangement of machinery by the prow-ship's own concussion, or by the bursting of boilers.
From the first danger there are a variety of means of protection by various kinds of sheathing, as already remarked. The chances of the prow-ship's being hit by ordinary bombs thrown from mortars on board ship, at a swift moving object of her size, must be few indeed, when they are so uncertain at stationary objects of much larger size on the land. If other bombs, called concussion bombs, thrown horizontally, are used, and it is problematical whether such can be used with effect by ships, still it is believed that a bomb itself would not more than shatter the outside of a solid mass, constructed as this is proposed, without materially disabling the prow-ship; particularly a concussion bomb, which explodes at the first contact. Hot shot may penetrate, but, without passing through and through, which they could not do in a solid mass, there would be no ventilation to fan their flames, and their ignition would be smothered in the solid wood, or their fires would smoulder for hours, until a single man, with the smallest syringe, could extinguish them, when, too, an enemy was not near. Besides, the prow-ship is on the water with an immense machinery, which is in its nature adapted, or may be easily modified, to immerse the whole vessel with a flood water in a moment, to extinguish her flames. But admit her to be easily combustible wrapped in flames" this prow-ship is at once the very desideratum of fire-ships. Whether burning or not herself, she must be equally terrible to sink or to burn her enemy.
That her machinery will be liable to derangement by her own concussion against the sides of a ship, is not to be supposed, when we know of no instance where the machinery of our largest and swiftest steamboats, with the greatest momentum, has ever been thrown out of gear or into derangement by the boats striking suddenly and stopping upon the "sawyers" or other obstructions of our western waters, with an impetus hardly resistible, and with machinery, too, not particularly guarded against such injuries. If liable to this derangement, however, it is one which can well be prevented by the usual and probable means employed to adapt the strength of any machine to its offices and ends. And the boilers of this boat can certainly be made as safe as those of ordinary boilers, which burst so seldom on the waters of the coast, where this means of defence must be stationed. Such is the comparative indestructibleness of this invention: we say comparative, because the same wit of man which can create can destroy; and it is deemed hardly possible to conceive of any object, created by man, to be exposed to all the dangers of war and all the casualties of accident which this and every warlike means must be and are made to be exposed to, which will be absolutely indestructible. But it may be confidently said that no offensive warlike machine has ever yet been recommended or adopted, liable to be destroyed by so few means, so well guarded against, even those means by which it may be destroyed, or so little subject to annoyance even as this now proposed. And this recommendation, if true, is enough in itself; for the quality which ensures safety to those making the attack, ensures victory and success, if the prowship be as capable of doing damage herself, as it will be invulnerable by the foe.
It is proposed that this ship shall strike or impinge with an iron-bound pyramidal prow, extending in solid thickness in its own length, and in the mass of the three vessels, fifty feet at least, which no con-
cussion could in the least impair. From its pyramidal form, it will enlarge the aperture broken in the ship's side the more it penetrates; and, in backing from the wreck, the prow will be at once disengaged the moment the pressure forward is withdrawn by the reversed action of the water-wheels.
The momentum of a prow-ship 230 feet long, with 387,000 cubic feet, a specific gravity of 9,288,000, (allowing 24 lbs. to each foot of white pine,) and a velocity of fourteen feet in a second, would be 130,032,000! And the momentum of each foot of the prow, 4 by 12 feet, on its first presentation, would be 2,708,475. With such a momentum, such strength of construction, propelled by steam, so invulnerable and indestructible, this prow-ship must be irresistible, certain, and annihilating in its destructive effects. It is proposed to build one, sufficiently large for an experiment, for the sum of $75,000. The subject is so simple, so easily understood, and so capable of reduction to mathematical certainty, that it can hardly be denominated an appropriation for an experiment, if Congress shall vote that sum. Our fortifications have multiplied and must be increased to an enormous extent on our Atlantic, Mexican, and lake coasts, for complete defence. This cost of construction is immense. They have cost this government within the last fifteen years not less than $25,000,000! It is time we had thought of some cheaper means of defence. If this experiment succeeds, it will, at least, be the substitute for fortifications which cannot be erected for many years to come, and the auxiliary of those now built. If it fails, much valuable and needed information, to lead to more certain results, must be derived from the trial. No invention is perfected at first; all the benefits to mankind have followed eventually from fruitless attempts at first; all the lights of science have been elicited by experiments alone; experiments, for purposes like these in view, no private individuals or corporations are interested or able to make; this government is interested, able, and competent to make them; and your committee, therefore, report a bill.
Philadelphia, October 25, 1834.
Sir: In compliance with your request, I have given my attention to the subject of the prow-ship, which you did me the favor to submit to my consideration for an opinion on the character and probable effects such an instrument of war would have in destroying enemies' vessels-of-war, in our bays, sounds, or rivers, should a favorable opportunity be afforded for that purpose. These favorable opportunities would consist in their being found, in light winds and calms, at anchor in our waters, so wind and tide-bound as to prevent retreat; vessels aground on the shore, shoals and coast; vessels sheltering themselves in our waters from the effects of battle, or the violence of winds, or from being crippled by either; all of which cruising ships-of-war, and a blockading force, are constantly subject to.
Enemies' vessels, found under the foregoing circumstances, within our waters, I am decidedly of opinion, could instantly be sunk or destroyed by propelling against them a machine such as your letter describes the prow-ship to be. As it regards the effects on a ship-of-war, from the pinging of such a body against her, propelled by steam power at a velocity of fourteen feet per second, it is mathematically demonstrable and can be placed on the basis of a certainty.
It having been, in a great measure, proved by the result of your calculation submitted to me, together with the comparative pinging of a common ball, cannot but remove every doubt of the most sceptical, as regards its utility in war, and the immense effects it would produce both in destroying enemies' vessels in our waters, and intimidating them from approaching near our coasts wherever such machines are to be found.
I have the honor to remain, very respectfully, your most obedient servant,
Com. James Barron, commanding the Navy Yard, Philadelphia.
On the application of steam power to the purposes of war.
I would propose that a vessel be constructed of solid logs of light timber, the gravity of which would not exceed that of water, and be of such bulk that the upper part of the solid log work would float six or eight feet above its surface. Let this vessel, or combination of vessels, be of large dimensions, say two hundred, or two hundred and fifty feet long, and seventy or eighty feet wide, and resembling in their form a steamboat of the treble construction. The prow should be very strong, and for a few aft, a little sharp, but not so much so as to impair its strength. The point of it should not be reduced to a less thickness than three or four feet, and that prominence covered with iron plates from four to six inches thick, eight or ten inches wide, and six or eight feet long, on each arm, formed into an acute angle to fit the shape of the prow, and enlarged at their junction on the point of the prow to about eighteen or twenty inches in thickness, and rounding outwards in sharp pointed knobs, cut in large diamond form. These plates should be placed four or five inches apart from each other, and let half their thickness into the wood, which would produce a saw-shaped space upon the prow, and prevent the glancing of the vessel from her object, either up, or down, or sideways.
The logs that form the prow should be at least two feet square, thirty or forty feet long, and of the hardest and toughest wood, such as oak, hickory, &c., and occupy a space of eight or ten feet up and down, and should be supported on each side by the same kind of timber. The iron plates should be securely bolted through the whole mass, but particularly so through these logs of hard timber. To protect the crew and machinery from shot, let the guards, around the centre vessel be fifteen or twenty feet thick, and projected a sufficient distance from the sides to embrace the paddle wheels. These barricades should be of sufficient elevation to cover the upper part of the wheels; and also each of the lower parts must form a bottom similar to the centre one, and be secured to it forward and aft, and by the cross logs of which the centre vessel is constructed, projecting from her sides to such a distance as to allow spaces for the paddle-wheels on each side, and from as many other points as might be required for strength. The water is
admitted to these paddle-wheels between the three bows of these vessels through a channel formed by an inverted arch, the lowest point of which must descend to a level with the lower part of the wheel, and
escape aft in the same manner. The solid log work, forward and aft, forms a mass of at least thirty feet in thickness.
Over the top of these three vessels lay a tier of logs about two feet square, which will serve as a protection to the crew and machinery, from any assaults by boarding, &c. The middle vessel may be partly hollowed out if more buoyancy is required.
The object of this vessel is to destroy men-of-war, by running into them with such impetuosity as to break down their sides sufficiently to admit water in such quantities suddenly as would defy all possible efforts to prevent immediate sinking.
Only about eight or ten feet of the prow of this vessel ought to be allowed to strike the ship that is assailed; the other parts, above and below, should recede or incline aft, and this eight or ten feet space should be so situated as to come in contact with the side of the enemy two or three feet above the water, and six or eight feet below its surface. The resistance to the stroke would be less impeded than it would be were it given by a greater portion of the prow, and of course it would be more certain to pierce or break down that part of the side of the enemy's ship which it might come in contact with.
Three steam engines, of one hundred and fifty horse power each, would propel such a vessel at the rate of eight or ten miles per hour, and should be preferred to larger ones, as they would be less liable to dam age from the shock to which they might be exposed, when the vessel should come at her full speed in contact with the enemy.
Lot those who are curious or doubtful of the efficiency of this plan, calculate the effect which would be produced on a stationary body by a concussion so violent as would be occasioned by a stroke of the prow of this massive vessel. To make it apparent, that the strongest ships in the world are entirely inadequate to resist such force, it need only be observed that they seldom come in contact with each other, with any violence, without sinking, or sustaining a most destructive degree of damage.
Ancient, as well as modern history furnishes us with many proofs of the decided effects of this mode of attack. The Romans and the Carthagenians were in the practice of running into each others vessels, at their greatest speed, impelled by their oars, and it is recorded of them, that when they found their enemies entangled with their friends, so as to render them stationary for the moment of their assault, that it seldom failed to produce that description of destruction contemplated by the adoption of this invention. The power of steam, and the solid construction of this vessel, would give this mode of attack a decided advantage over all others attempts, of a similar nature, heretofore resorted to, and beyond a doubt ensure success.
The proof of the effects of an attack made by a whale on the ship Essex, of New Bedford, in the year 1819, are conclusive that no construction of a ship now known, could resist the shock by a vessel similar to the one which I have described.