REPLICATING A RAINS KEG TORPEDO

This authentic torpedo pictured at left was recovered from Mobile Bay during the Civil War. The authentic anchor was recovered from Charleston Bay, South Carolina.

The Rains barrel or keg torpedo was the Confederacy's approach to an improvised explosive device, designed to protect the harbours and waterways during the Civil War. Barrels of all sizes were available and could be coated (inside and out) with pitch, tar, or resin, to waterproof them. The two conical ends were rough-cut pine, which provided flotation and stability in the currents and tides. Filled with black powder, fitted with multiple percussion fuses, and anchored to the ocean or river bottom, they relied on the incompressibility of water to do their job. The explosion tended to take the path of least resistance, which was through the ship's hull.

These devices may seem to be crude but they played a prominent role in the Civil War, damaging or destroying more U.S. Navy ships than all of the other Confederate weapons or ships combined. Though thousands were known to have been manufactured, only two are known to survive.



Like the Confederates, I started with a period beer keg, purchased by Jim Mitchell at a Vicksburg Civil War Show. I mount all projects on a slab of plywood, placed on top of a Lazy Susan-type turntable.

I masked one end with foil for the next step.


Inverting a flowerpot (with the drain hold sealed) on top of the barrel, I mixed a very thick paste of plaster of Paris and poured it over the pot and shaped a conical mound on top of the barrel using a spoon and paint stick.

As the plaster hardened I shaved cuts into it to assimilate hatchet and drawknife markings.


I removed the plaster cone and repeated the process.

After drying for several days, both cones were painted with black enamel and screwed and glued to the barrel ends


I mixed a thick paste of Liquid Nails heavy-duty adhesive with black enamel paint until a hot tar consistency was achieved and applied it to the exterior of the entire project with a paint brush.

I then installed the seats for the fuses. See below.

Base is electrical wall plate, square nuts (glued), and PVC plumbing connector with the inside threads masked with plaster. Screw and washer in center will be removed. I added cut-off comode lid mounting bolts and prepared the fuse using a pill bottle (filled with plaster), gas line connector and a cast of the safety cover from a Civil War land mine. After adding an all-thread stud, I coated the base plate with more "glue/paint "tar". I drilled a hole in the plaster in the pill bottle to screw onto the stud.


The fuses were painted with antiqued brass paint, and attaching screws were drilled into the plaster cones to attach the anchor chain. The black plastic chain was soaked in polyurethane and sprinkled with rust dust and allowed to dry.

Finished display will be hung from the ceiling of the Fort Morgan Museum on the coast of Alabama.