Coal Torpedo

Today I was scrolling through one of the various social media apps and learned about the coal torpedo from the Civil War.

It was the invention of Thomas Edgeworth Courtenay of Confederate Secret Service.

In August 1863 he proposed a way of sabotaging the Union’s coal powered machinery, a bomb, deliberately made to look like a large piece of coal, that Confederates could place into coal piles used to fuel Union steamships and locomotives.

You get where this is going. The bomb was placed into a coal pile, the bomb was shoveled in with the other coal, it hears up and…BOOM!

And yes, torpedo was used as a name for a lot of explosive things then.



The bomb’s irregular casingβ€”about 3/8-inch thickβ€”was made of iron or steel. Actual lumps of coal were used to create molds for casting the bombs.


The explosive charge consisted of 3 to 4 ounces of gunpowder. The inside of each bomb was sanded smooth with emery to reduce the risk of accidental explosions as it was filled.

Filling hole 

The filling hole was reinforced in the casting process and threaded to accept a brass plug.


The coal torpedo was about 4 inches across, not so large as to require β€œtrimming” by the fireman. Each bomb weighed 3 to 4 pounds.


The whole weapon was dipped in a boiling mixture of coal tar, pulverized coal, and resin or beeswax, then plunged into ice water to cool. This process made the bomb lookβ€”and smellβ€”like coal.

Interesting piece of military and spy history.

That’s it. That’s the post.


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