to see the experiment tried. The first great objection of the general commanding is, I believe, to be its uncertainty; but the uncertainty of this experiment is not so great as the certainty that others will not be tried with effect.
Another objection is the expense. I beg respectfully to suggest that the blockade-running steamers in the port are almost useless to our defense, and that in case of a catastrophe every one of them will be sacrificed; so that, although nominally large, the expense of the attempt will be really small. If it succeeds, the result will be worth many times the cost of all the blockade-running steamers put together. The plan would be to have the vessel so prepared with outriggers that her magazine would explode on concussion with any vessel which might be in her track; and besides, that she should be freighted with combustibles and loaded shells, her magazine to contain, say, 10,000 pounds of powder. She should also have time-fuses, to ignite and blow up in case of non-collision. Should this explode close to the Ironsides, or other vessel, the effect must be to destroy her; and if two or three are in juxtaposition, the two or three may be got rid of. The chances in favor of colliding with some I believe to be fair in proportion, for the channel where the enemy's fleet lies is but from less than half to three-quarters of a mile, and in it are generally some twenty vessels, the iron-clads lying to the north and the wooden steamers and gunboats clustered around the bight. It is thought that the steamers would get under way and out of the track of the fire-ship. Expecting nothing, and pursuing their business of re-enforcing and supplying, I think it would be hard for them to escape entirely.
Fire-ships have been successful, and although it was in the days of sailing vessels, the problem I consider only changed by steam. The proposition is to use a steam fire-ship.
The crew would be small, only 4 or 5 being required. Their escape could be easily insured by the boat or boats astern. Each man being provided with a line to the boat, and the helm being lashed and matches set, each could jump overboard and haul himself to his own boat. A steamer could be in the vicinity to pick them up.
I respectfully beg to submit the matter to the consideration of the general; and will mention that I have spoken of the scheme to Captain Tucker, Lieutenant-Commander Rutledge, Lieutenant-Commander Warley, and Colonel Anderson. I believe these officers concur with me that the experiment should be tried.
I have also spoken of the matter to Messrs. Newholm and Wagner, and I think that their opinion is that no expense should stand on the way of anything which gives a chance to better the defense of Charleston.
I am, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
R. S. RIPLEY,
HDQRS. DEPT. SOUTH CAROLINA, GEORGIA, AND FLORIDA,
Charleston, S. C., July 24, 1863.
Respectfully referred to Commodore Ingraham and Captain Tucker, C. S. Navy, for their views, and, should it be approved by them, would respectfully ask a conference with them.
G. T. BEAUREGARD,