The United States Submarine Propeller Alligator
The green, 47-foot-long Alligator was the U.S. Navy's first submarine—a technological wonder of the Civil War era.
French engineer Brutus de Villeroi designed the Alligator. It was built in Philadelphia in 1862. This ingenious submarine was the first to be built with an air purifying system, a diver lockout chamber and oars for propulsion.
Shortly after its launch on May 1, 1862, the Alligator was towed to Hampton Roads, Virginia. This short trip marked the first time a submarine was deployed to a combat zone. The boat's primary target was the Confederate obstructions at Drewry's Bluff on the James River. The Alligator was sent to the Appomattox River in late June of 1862 in order to participate in the Appomattox River Raid. Because neither the James nor the Appomattox rivers were deep enough for the vessel to submerge, it was withdrawn and sent to the Washington Navy Yard for further testing.
While in Washington, D.C, the Alligator was refitted with a hand-cranked screw propeller. In early spring 1863, President Lincoln observed a demonstration of the improved vessel. Shortly thereafter, Rear Admiral Samuel Dupont ordered the Alligator to participate in the attempted capture of Charleston,
Towed by the USS Sumpter, the unmanned Alligator left Washington, D.C. for Port Royal, South Carolina on March 31, 1863. On April 2, a fierce storm forced the crew of the endangered Sumpter to cut the submarine loose off the North Carolina coast in the "Graveyard of the Atlantic." It was never seen again.
Shipyard: Neafie & Levy, Philadelphia
Contractor: Martin Thomas
Launch Date: May 1, 1862
Length: 47 feet
Beam (hull): 4'8"
Height (hull): 5'6"
Propulsion: Oars; screw propeller
Crew Complement: 22 with oars; 8 with screw propeller
To learn more about the Alligator, visit www.sanctuaries.noaa.gov/alligator
Alligator blueprint courtesy of the Service Historique de la Marine.
The Alligator artwork was produced by Joe Hinds for the Hampton Roads Naval Museum and final design was provided by the Hampton Roads Naval Museum: www.hrnm.navy.mil
This sign was sponsored by members of The Blue and Gray Education Society in honor of George L. Fickett Jr. and Scott Williams