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.
Historian, self-proclaimed gentleman, agrarian-at-heart, & curator extraordinaire