155 year’s ago today, The HL Hunley became the first submarine to successfully sink an enemy ship. The privateer vessel attacked the USS Housatonic nearvthe mouth of Charleston Harbor and sent the Union warship to rest forever on the continental shelf.
In a mystery that is still being actively investigated, the submarine was also lost along with its entire crew. As more evidence has been unearthed, answers have been found but so have questions.
A visit to the Hunley at the old Charleston Navy Yard is highly recommended.
While Hunley was forbidden to submerge after previous accidents, the ship’s design left most of the ship underwater even when surfaced. A nighttime approach left the vessel undetected until it was beneath the range of Housatonic’s cannon. Small arms fire from crew members was ineffective and Housatonic’s fate was sealed.
Sitting in an alkali bath to neutralize over a century of salt water, Hunley continues to provide evidence of its story. Scientists have created new practices in order to preserve and study the ship, artifacts, and remains of the crew. By learning from Hunley as they go, researchers are laying the groundwork for future projects in engineering and science.
There was a legend about an old gold coin with an engraving. Hunley skipper Lt. George Dixon reportedly carried the coin for luck after it stopped a bullet and saved his life at the battle of Shiloh. During artifact and remains recovery work, researchers found the coin, complete with bullet deformity and an engraving confirming the story.
At 48 inches tall and 42 inches wide, the Hunley’s interior left very little room for the 8 man crew. The top right photo is of a movie prop that was roomier than the actual ship.
Scientists used the recovered skulls of the crew to build facial reconstruction models to give visitors an idea of what the crew members looked like. Without surviving photos, partial names were all anyone had on some crew members. As each man was found at his post, the assignment roster was used to determine which remains went with which name. This helped identify the crew for both facial red construction and burial.
Alexander H. Stephens - February 11, 1812 - March 4, 1883
On February 11 each year we stop to remember the life of a legendary Georgia political leader. While it has become fashionable in these modern days to malign the character of the men who built this nation, particularly The South, we choose to focus on the entirety on their lives and their contributions before passing judgment.
Alexander Hamilton Stephens was a moderating voice in American politics during some of its most heated years. While he is often (erroneously) lumped in with the secessionists, Stephens actually spent a large part of 1860 touring the state to appeal to cooler heads, begging them to prevail. He gave a level-headed address on the floor of the Georgia Capitol in Milledgeville, pleading with the delegates to the Secession Convention to act reasonably and seek to advance their grievances through Congress rather than the war he knew secession would start.
During The War he communicated with the Lincoln Administration, searching for ways to bring peace and end the costly and tragic conflict.
At the war’s close, as other Confederate leaders fled the nation or were caught trying, Stephens was found at his residence, playing cards in the parlor. With a military unit assembled on his lawn he calmly explained to the arresting officer “had you sent word for me, I’d have saved you a trip.”
After The War, Stephens returned to Congress where he continued to represent Georgia, despite continued failing health.
This episode of the podcast features an interview with Jan Croon, the editor of The War Outside My Window - The Civil War Diary of LeRoy Wiley Gresham 1860-1865. The book is the diary of the young man and his observations of the Civil War and his life during that time. It forms an excellent first-hand account of the war, the life his wealthy family lived beforehand as well as their state of affairs which were the same as those of so many Georgians in the wake of the war.
A link to a review of the book can be found here.
The link to this podccast episode can be found here.
Historian, self-proclaimed gentleman, agrarian-at-heart, & curator extraordinaire