Mystery of the Hunley
American Civil War Submarine
One night, over a hundred and forty years ago, a secret weapon named
The Hunley became the first ever submarine to destroy an enemy ship. But,
that night The Hunley also sank, with all her crew trapped inside. Since
then she's remained on the ocean floor. Novelist and adventurer Clive
Cussler and divers from his non-profit National
Underwater and Marine Agency found the Hunley in 1995. Now, a team of
scientists are planning to raise her from her watery grave.
Off the coast of Charleston, South Carolina a team of divers,
engineers and scientists are preparing to raise the wreck of the Hunley
from the ocean floor. They plan to, carefully, transport it to a
laboratory, and open her up to find the remains of the crew inside.
On the 17th February 1864, at the height of the American Civil War,
this weapon of the Confederate South, a hand-powered submarine armed
with a spar-mounted torpedo successfully attacked and sank the Union
warship USS Housatonic.
The recovery team kick-off their multi-million dollar operation by
diving down and scouring every inch of the Hunley submarine on the ocean
floor. They're looking for anything that might reveal how and why she
sank and what happened to the men on board. Archaeologist Claire Peachy
has discovered holes in the submarines hull which she think may have
been caused by shotgun blasts from the Housatonic.
For centuries, inventors have been trying to take war underwater. As
far back as the late 1400s, Leonardo da Vinci had sketched a submersible
ship. In the 1600s, a Dutch inventor built an underwater vessel to sell
to the British; it never saw battle. The turtle, launched in 1776 by the
Americans against the British, was a failure.
The recovery plan is to sink two giant piles into the sea bed, lower
a truss on top of them and run 33 slings under the sub. Divers will fill
synthetic rubber bags, between the slings and the hull, with expanding
foam creating a padded hammock. When the hull is safely cradled they
hope to lift it smoothly to the surface. The team has doubts about the
Hunley's hull integrity which is held together by rusted rivets. The
danger is that as she's lifted, sediment inside her shifts and the rivets
Claire attemps to Squeeze into a mock-up of the Hull
The team's first exploration of the wreck have given them some idea
of how cramped it was on the sub. At five feet five inches tall. roughly
the height of the average civil war soldier, archaeologist Claire Peachy
barely firs inside the hull.
The Hunley was inspired by Horace L. Hunley, an Alabama sugar planter
and engineer to come up with the concept of turning some boiler tube
into a submarine. Through a series of trial and error experiment, he
came up with the Hunley. His ingenious brainchild is a simple, small
vessel. Just 40 feet long, 4 feet wide with a beam of only 3 feet. She
was hand-powered through the water at only 4 knots. The crew squeezed
through two tiny hatches to get onboard. When submerged, their only air
supply was the air sealed in with them. Their only light came from
a single candle and when it died the crew knew that their oxygen was
running out. The Hunley submerged by taking water into two ballast tanks
and rose by pumping it out.
The team have made history, the Hunley is the largest iron vessel
ever raised from the sea bed. They transport her to a specials
conservation lab where she's kept in fresh water to maintain her
condition. Now, archaeologists hope that her contents will reveal why
she sank and who was on board. They want to preserve her condition, so
it will take nearly a year for the full excavation to be completed.
As the investigators explore the sub's interior, they begin finding the
remains of the crew. Preserved by the mud, these bones will provide the
best leads to their identities. The investigators also want to find out
more about how the Hunley operated. The submarine may have been built
from an iron boiler but, for her era, it seemed that her design and
structure were extremely sophisticated. Maria Jacobsen, archaeologist,
thinks that the Hunley used balance tanks and dive planes to surface and
submerge. The steering system is much more sophisticated than Maria
expected. Dixon used a kind of joystick to manoeuvre. A linkage
connected the joystick to the rudder and a flywhel was attached to the propeller
to increase the efficiency of the crankshaft. The Hunley was propelled
by a system of hand-cranking which, in the days before nuclear engines,
was the stealthiest form of propulsion.
The Hunley Surfaces for the First Time in 140 Years
The Hunley had already sunk twice, killing men from earlier crews. The
second sinking took the life of the submarine's financier; Horace
Hunley. When the Hunley was recovered after her second, failed mission,
the crew inside were found contorted, some clutching candles. The
desperation of their final minutes was recorded with the dead men's
gruesome remains. Around Charleston, the Hunley became known as 'The
Murdering Machine'. So, what drove new crew to climb inside the
Hunley and take her on what would be her final mission?
These men were not deterred by the Hunley's previous sinkings, the
Hunley was the best weapon the Confederates had against the Union
blockade. It was considered an honour to volunteer, so George Dixon had
no difficulty recruiting a new crew. They practised and prepared for the
big day and, against all odds, on Feb 17th 1864 the Hunley and her
crew set out to strike a blow for the South and change the course of the
American Civil War.
Dixon and his crew set their sights on the USS Housatonic and cranked
with all their might towards their unsuspecting prey. Three miles out,
they surfaced and spotting their target only 200 yards away; they
charged. Lookouts on the Housatonic raised the alarm, peppering the sub
with small arms fire, but it was too late. The Hunley drove her torpedo
home, the Housatonic sank in less than five minutes. The Hunley had
become the first submarine, in history, to sink an enemy ship.
A Confederate sentry on shore saw a blue lantern at sea, the Hunley's
signal for success. But, it was to be the last sighting of the
pioneering submarine. This signal would appear to suggest that the
Hunley was afloat after the explosion, so hadn't been caught in the
Forensic Genealogist, Linda Abrams is trying to identify the crew. She
spent three years with archaeological and forensic data, census records
and DNA results and has compiled a fairly accurate list of who the crewmen were.
Surprisingly, half of them were Europeans who may have been migrant
workers or mercenaries. The truth will never be known.
||Lt. George Dixon
||Simkins / Lumkin
||Corp. J. F. Carlsen
The loss of the Hunley is still a mystery, the best explanation is that
the crew suffocated after heavy seas prevented then surfacing to
replenish their air supply. There was no evidence of panic or struggle
which would be expected in a drowning