The USS Alligator was created by inventor, Brutus De Villeroi. De Villeroi succeeded in convincing the Union Navy that he could produce a submarine warship from which a diver could place an explosive charge under an enemy ship. Six months later in November 1861, he was under contract to build the Union’s first true submarine, Alligator.
The 47 foot long Alligator was intended to counter the threat of the Confederate ironclad Virginia II. Although the Navy specified the submarine’s construction take no longer than 40 days at a cost of $14,000.00, the project suffered long delays. Her first mission: to destroy a strategically important bridge across the Appomattox River to clear away obstructions. “Alligator was made of iron, with the upper hull pierced for small circular plates of glass for lighting, and in it were several water tight compartments.” It had originally been fitted with sixteen paddles at the sides to be worked by 16 men inside. The unmanned Alligator left Washington on March 31, 1863 under tow. A fierce storm forced the men of the tow ship to cut the submarine adrift off Cape Hatteras. The Alligator was lost at sea and has yet to be found.