From Henry Hudson’s historic voyage up the Hudson River in 1609 to the present day the Spuyten Duyvil has had a long and storied history, but did you know there was once a Civil War ironclad warship named after this peaceful body of water?
Built in 1864 by the Union Navy after suffering considerable losses to Confederate torpedoes, the U.S.S. Spuyten Duyvil was initially christened the U.S.S. Stromboli after the island of Stromboli off the Italian coast. Why the Navy changed the name of the 207 ton screw steam torpedo boat to Spuyten Duyvil is unclear, but the renamed ship was re-christened on October 19th, 1864.
Designed by United States Naval Chief Engineer Captain William W. Wood (right), the torpedo boat was constructed in a record three months. It would be perhaps the first “stealth” ship in U.S. Naval history.
Built of timber and clad in iron plating, the Spuyten Duyvil’s state of the art weapons system consisted of ‘spar torpedoes”. The torpedoes did not have locomotive capability and were more akin to a naval mine than a modern torpedo. A mechanical boom with a torpedo attached to the end was extended to the opposing ship and then detonated once the Spuyten Duyvil had backed a safe distance away from the “torpedo.”
A true armored warship, the Spuyten Duyvil could be deployed for up to eight days with food and water for its nine man crew. While not quite a submarine, the ironclad would partially submerge by filling lower compartments with water until little but the gunwale showed above the surface.
Six days after her 1864 christening the Spuyten Duyvil fired her first two torpedoes.
By December 5, 1864 the experimental craft arrived at her home base of Norfolk, Virginia.
From Norfolk the Spuyten Duyvil was ordered up the James River to clear the waterway for General Ulysses S. Grant who was leading a campaign on the Confederate stronghold in Richmond.
As a patrol boat operating just below rebel defenses the Spuyten Duyvil saw relatively little action until the night of January 23rd, 1865 when Confederate forces launched a downstream assault on the Union squadron.
The deck stacked against the Confederacy, General Robert E. Lee evacuated Richmond and the Spuyten Duyvil became part of the Union cleanup squad; using her torpedoes to blow away obstructions blocking the waterway to the capitol city. This effort made it possible for President Lincoln to steam upriver in another ship, The Malvern, to the fallen Confederate capitol.
After the war, the Spuyten Duyvil continued her clean-up work on the James River. She was later modified and used in Naval experiments that led to a more modern understanding of torpedo technology before being dropped from the Navy list in 1880.