Saturday, May 3, 2014

March 9, 1864 (Wednesday): Courtney's Mines

The Sultana

    Mr. Thomas E. Courtney is hereby authorized to employ a band of men, not exceeding twenty-five in number, for secret service against the enemy, who will not be liable to conscription while so employed. The band shall operate according to the rules and regulations of this Department for such organization, and under the restrictions contained herein or that may be prescribed hereafter. This authority may be revoked or the organization disbanded at any time at the pleasure of this Department. Such work as may be necessary may be executed at the workshops of this Department, and powder, chemicals, &c., be furnished. The work and materials furnished to be paid for at the cost thereof to the Government. Transportation for his men and materials will be furnished. The services to be rendered shall be without pay or compensation other than as herein provided.
    For the destruction of property of the enemy or injury done, a percentage shall be paid in 4 per cent. bonds, in no case to exceed 50 per cent. of the loss to the enemy, and to be awarded by such officer or officers as shall be charged with such duty by this Department.
     The waters and railroads of the Confederate States used by the enemy are properly the subjects and arenas of operations against the enemy's property, whether public or private. Passenger vessels of citizens of the United States on the high seas and private property in the waters and [on] railroads, or within the territory of the United States, is not to be the subject of operations, except as to such articles being the growth and production of the Confederate States as may have been thence removed to the United States. But the public property of the enemy may be destroyed wherever it may be found.
    While flag-of-truce boats pass between any point within the lines of the enemy to any point within the Confederate lines no torpedo or other engine of destruction shall be so placed or used as to endanger their safety.

     Secretary of War.

Official Records, Series IV., Vol. III, Part 1, Page 203.

Courtney had developed a small mine (torpedo) which was shaped like a lump of coal.  The men authorized by Seddon were to assist in the distribution of these devices into coal stores which were used by Union military vessels, but also river boats operating in Confederate waters which were being used by the Union.  It is difficult to estimate the damage caused by Courtney's torpedoes, but a number of explosions were considered linked to them.  There was unsupported speculation the mines were somehow connected to the explosion of three of the four boilers on the Sultana, returning Union troops home at the end of the war, resulting in the deaths of over 1,800 men in the greatest US maritime disaster.  However, most experts do not support this theory.

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