|St. Johns River|
These "engines of death" were remarkably effective during the war, sinking the Union vessels Harriet A. Weed, Alice Price, Maple Leaf and one other in the St. Johns in a space of just three months. Despite efforts by the Union army to drag the river and remove the torpedoes, they continued to pose a serious threat to shipping in the St. Johns River long after the end of the war in May of 1865.
The torpedoes used by the Confederacy were not the same as the torpedoes today. Without a means of propulsion, they were in essence stationary mines. The St. Johns was mined using barrel-shaped torpedoes that were designed to explode on contact.
Six months after the end of the Civil War, a St. Johns River torpedo did its deadly duty, claiming the lives of two Northern seamen in the process. The following account appeared in the Florida Union newspaper on November 11, 1865:
The Captain of a Schooner Blown to Pieces by the Explosion of a Torpedo, and Instantly Killed in Presence of his Wife – The Mate also Killed.
The Schooner A. Richards, of Boston, Capt. Nelson H. Arey of Thomaston, Maine, cleared from Richmond, Va., for this place on the 19th Oct., with one hundred tons of coal and two Locomotive Engines, for the Florida Atlantic and Gulf Central Railroad, and entered the St. Johns on the 4th inst.
While coming up the river the following day, Sunday – the vessel got aground at the mouth of Dunns Creek, about seven miles below Jacksonville, near the place where the Harriet A. Weed was blown up in June 1864. While waiting for the tide to rise and float the schooner off, the Capt. Accompanied by his wife and the mate, Chas. Hopper, of St. Thomas, W.I., went on show in a boat, the Captain taking with him an axe – proceeding along the banks of the river a few steps in advance of his companions, his attention was attracted by what to him must have been a singular looking object, lying near the edge of the water, partially covered with barnacles and weeds, which he stopped to examine. While doing so, he was seen to strike a slight blow with his axe, and the next moment, as his wife says, he was enveloped in a cloud of smoke which was immediately followed by a terrific explosion, throwing the Captain some fifteen paces, mangling him frightfully, and of course killing him instantly. The Mate was also thrown some distance and shockingly burned, and died of his injuries the following day. The torpedo was of the cigar shape barrel variety, and must have been one of the number planted at the time the ill fated Weed was blown-up, nearly eighteen months ago and which the Boston with a large load of passengers so narrowly escaped, she having passed over them immediately ahead of the Weed. On being informed of the particulars of the explosion, a party of our citizens visited the scene of the disaster and gathered up the remains of the Captain. A subscription was started among the Captains of the vessels in port and our merchants and shippers, for the purpose of raising funds to procure a metallic coffin for the Captain’s remains and to defray the expense incurred in burying the Mate. With commendable promptness and liberality the handsome sum of $364 was immediately raised, which after paying all expenses left a gratuity of $269 which was presented to the widow.
The fatal explosion took place between Jacksonville and Mayport along a stretch of the river near present-day Broward Point and not far from Yellow Bluff Fort Historic State Park. To learn about other Civil War events in the area, please visit the following pages: