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Strategic Plan
2014-15 through 2018-19

         

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Clues to the Identity of the LSM Submarine

History Identity The Pioneer Clues Conservation

In the later '50s, civil engineer Louis Genella, in arguing they were not the same boat, speculated that similarities between the Museum's craft and the ironclad Manassas, including structure and plating, point to the same manufacturer.

ironclad ram Manassas, 1862
The ironclad ram Manassas under fire at Forts Jackson and St. Philip, April 24th 1862. Notice the similarity between the hull shape of the Manassas and the Louisiana State Museum submarine. (The Soldier in Our Civil War)"

submarine on display, 1853
The Louisiana State Museum submarine on display in a weaponry exhibit in the Pontalba apartments
513 St Ann
1953


The Louisiana State Museum submarine on display in a weaponry exhibit in the Pontalba apartments 513 St Ann 1953

Other clues to the mystery exist in letters dating from the period. One, from Fleet Engineer Shock to Gustavas Fox, assistant secretary of the U.S. Navy, describes Shock’s experience with the Pioneer but includes anecdotal evidence that may actually relate to another vessel.

  • “Some few weeks since I had some duty calling me to a place down at the ‘New Basin’ where I discovered a Submarine Machine. I embraced the first favorable opportunity and examined it, got is history and had a drawing made of it, a tracing of which I send you as a curiosity.

    The history of the machine seems is simply this, in the early part of Admiral Farragut’s operations here the gunboat New London was a perfect terror to the Rebels in the lake, so it occurred to them if they could get a Machine that would move underwater, they could succeed in securing a Torpedo to the bottom of the ship, move off, touch the wires, and thus terminate their existence. They finally got the thing done, made a good job of it, got it over board and put two men in it; they were smothered to death.”

Since contemporary accounts of the Pioneer never mention such an incident, it is likely the fatalities Shock heard about occurred in a different experimental craft.

Perhaps the most telling document, however, is another letter, also uncovered by Mark Ragan. In June 1861, months before work began on the Pioneer, a New Yorker named E. P. Doer traveled to New Orleans. During his visit, Doer learned from a woman schoolteacher that a submersible to be used against the Mississippi Squadron blockading the river was being constructed. He reported his findings to the Navy in Washington:

  • She tells me that the rebels in New Orleans are constructing an infernal vessel to destroy the Brooklyn, or any vessel blockading the mouth of the Mississippi; from her description, she is to be used as a projectile with a sharp iron or steel pointed prow to perforate the bottom of the vessel and then explode. Says that it is being constructed by competent engineers. I put implicit reliance in the correctness of this information.

If this letter refers to the Museum’s submarine, it would make it the earliest known Civil War-era submersible.





Louisiana State Museum submarine on bank of Bayou St. John at Spanish Fort, c 1900

Louisiana State Museum submarine, Spanish Fort Amusement Park, c 1895 (Photograph by George F Mugnier)

Louisiana State Museum submarine, Spanish Fort Amusement park, c 1895 (Photograph by George F Mugnier)

Louisiana State Museum submarine, Spanish Fort Amusement park, c 1895 (Photograph by George F Mugnier)

Louisiana State Museum submarine, Spanish Fort, c 1895 (Photograph by George F. Mugnier)

Louisiana State Museum submarine, Jackson Square, c 1945

Louisiana State Museum submarine under Presbytere arcade, c 1995

Louisiana State Museum submarine under Presbytere arcade, c 1995

Louisiana State Museum administrators inspecting submarine at Jackson Square, c 1952

Ironclad Ram Manassas under fire at Fort Jackson and St. Philip, April 24 1862

Drawing of the Louisiana State Museum Submarine by Historian Signey H. Schell

Rebel Submarine ram diagram

Moving the submarine into LSM

Moving the submarine into LSM