Biography of Revolutionary War Sergent Ezra Lee Part 1

About the Revolutionary War Sergent Ezra Lee who volunteered for the first military submarine service

SGT. EZRA LEE (U.S., Revolutionary War)

On the night of September 6, 1776, a rebel volunteer from Lyme, Conn., 45-year-old Sgt. Ezra Lee, riding inside the world's 1st military submarine, set out to attack Adm. Sir Richard Howe's flagship, the Eagle, at anchor off Staten Island, N.Y. The craft, just invented by David Bushnell, a farmer and Yale graduate, was a sailor's nightmare. Shaped like a round clam, it was 6' high and just over 7' long, with barely enough room to hold one man. To submerge, a foot spring opened a cock to let in water. For surfacing, Bushnell's design called on 2 hand pumps, to force the water ballast back out. The potential coffin carried 2 guidance instruments: a compass and a depth gauge.

Once inside the contraption, Sergeant Lee (who was probably the only noncommissioned officer ever to command an American submarine) was sealed in. He could not free himself to get out even if an emergency arose, since exterior strapping held the small entry cover secure and watertight and he had no way to reach it from within. While the submarine ran on the surface, it had 2 small tubes placed to bring in fresh air. But after submerging, Lee had only the free air within his cramped compartment upon which to rely. The supply was adequate for 30 minutes of underwater maneuvering. For motive power, designer Bushnell furnished 2 sets of windmill-shaped paddles. With a vigorous hand cranking, one paddle in each hand, Lee could manage a top speed of 3 mph. The Turtle, as it was quickly named, was kept in a stable position afloat by the 700 lbs. of lead used for ballast.

The ship's weaponry system was equally primitive. On deck, just behind the hatch, Lee carried an egg-shaped box loaded with 150 lbs. of gunpowder, along with a detonating apparatus and a clock timer to set the charge off. In theory, this bomb was to be placed beneath an enemy ship's bottom. To keep it in place until exploded, Lee's orders called for utilizing a long hand screw, turning the tool from within his compartment, to bore a hole into the ship's bottom. Once bored into the timber, the screw was to be left there; the box was fastened to it by a length of rope. His clock timer allowed for a maximum getaway time of 20 minutes after the device was triggered.

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