Archive for the ‘Hunley’ Category

Scientists have new clue to mystery of sunken sub

October 19, 2008

It’s long been a mystery why the H.L. Hunley never returned after becoming the first submarine in history to sink an enemy warship in 1864, but new research announced Friday may lend credence to one of the theories. Scientists found the eight-man crew of the hand-cranked Confederate submarine had not set the pump to remove water from the crew compartment, which might indicate it was not being flooded.

By Associated Press

That could mean crew members suffocated as they used up air, perhaps while waiting for the tide to turn and the current to help take them back to land.

The new evidence disputes the notion that the Hunley was damaged and took on water after ramming a spar with a charge of black powder into the Union blockade ship Housatonic.
USSHousatonic.jpg
Above: USS Housatonic.


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Scientists studying the sub said they’ve found its pump system was not set to remove water from the crew compartment as might be expected if it were being flooded.

The sub, located in 1995 and raised five years later, had a complex pumping system that could be switched to remove water or operate ballast tanks used to submerge and surface.

“It now really starts to point to a lack of oxygen making them unconscious,” said state Sen. Glenn McConnell, R-Charleston and the chairman of the South Carolina Hunley Commission, formed to raise, conserve and display the sub. “They may have been cranking and moving and it was a miscalculation as to how much oxygen they had.”

In excavating the sub, scientists found little intermingling of the crew remains, indicating members died at their stations. Those bones likely would have been jumbled if the crew tried to make it to the hatches in a desperate attempt to get out.

“Whatever occurred, occurred quickly and unexpectedly,” McConnell said. “It appears they were either unconscious because of the concussion (from the attack) or they were unconscious because of a lack of oxygen.”
Archaeologist Maria Jacobsen cautioned that scientists have not yet examined all the valves to see if the crew may have been trying to surface by using the pumps to jettison ballast.
“Can we definitely say they weren’t pumping like mad to get water out of the tanks? No we cannot,” she said. “I’m not really at a point where I think we should really be talking about what these guys were doing at the very end because we simply don’t know all the valve settings.”
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But she said scientists can definitely say the valve that would have been used to remove water from the crew compartment was closed.
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Civil War Submarine Hunley; Modern Marvel of 1860s

September 22, 2008

By David Reed
Humboldt (California) Beacon

Submarines, that’s World War 2 stuff, right? Go back about 80 years earlier and you’d be closer. The sub “H.L. Hunley” sank the USS Housatonic in early 1864 during the American Civil War, becoming the first craft of its kind. Humboldt County residents will get a chance to see a replica of the historic sub at Fortuna’s Civil War Days on Sept. 20 and 21.

USSHousatonic.jpg

”She had everything on board that you would see in a modern submarine except a nuclear reactor and an electric motor,” explains John Nevins, member of the “Friends of the Hunley” and one of the curators of the traveling exhibition. Nevins explains that spectators are surprised that the ship looks so much like what they’d consider a “modern submarine” even though it was built 145 years ago.

 

”It was 100 years ahead of its time,” Nevins says of the 40 foot long, 4 foot high and 4 foot wide war ship.

Spectators at the Civil War Days event will get free access to the Hunley exhibit with their admission. Nevins says there’s a lot to learn about the historic craft and the presentation changes depending on the interests of the crowd….

It’s a multifaceted story with elements of technology, innovation, persistence, sacrifice, even love and ‘sneaky stuff,’ like spies.” Nevins lives in California and is one member of a team that brings the reproduction to events all over the country.

The reproduction was built at the Warren Lasch Conservation Center in North Charleston S.C., just feet from the real “Hunley.” The Hunley has resided at the conservation center since it was raised from Charleston harbor in 2000 where it had rested since sinking just after its successful first battle.

The exhibit is a working model of the original both inside and out. “ The right side of the ship comes off so even a grade school child can see inside,” Nevins adds that he and exhibit leader John Dangerfield do their presentation from inside the craft. They show how the 8 man crew worked the propulsion, navigation and unique weapon the ‘spar torpedo’.

The Hunley exhibit will be shown both days of Civil War Days in the upper portion of the event site. The reenactment and battles will take place down in the “Bowl” area behind the River Lodge Conference Center.

The Fortuna Civil War Day’s event is co-produced by the Reenactors of the American Civil War and the Rotary Club of Fortuna Sunrise with funds going to local Rotary projects and Reenactor educational events.

The reenactment is held directly west of the Kenmar exit, bordered by the Eel River and Highway 101. Free parking and the re-enactment site are just a quarter mile west of the highway.

Re-enactment organizers ask that spectators do not park at the River Lodge Conference Center either day, due to events at the lodge. Admission to the event is $8 for adults and $2 for children. For details about the 2008 Fortuna Civil War Days, go to http://www.civilwardays.com/

Link to our Civil War page on Hunley:
CSS Hunley: Submarine’s Hatch May Have Cost All Their Lives

CSS Hunley: Submarine’s Hatch May Have Cost All Their Lives

August 30, 2008

How often and where in modern America does a television news anchor break into routine programming with a “news bulletin” from the Civil War?

This has happened maybe once this Century: in Charleston, South Carolina, on July 14, 2006!

Marine archeologists and historians investigating the once lost remains of the submarine CSS Hunley in Charleston made a shocking discovery in July 2006: The forward hatch of that vessel was not properly secured and locked into its diving position when the sub was recovered on August 8, 2000.
Css hunley on pier.jpg

Using X-rays and forensic analysis, archaeologists and others working to restore the submarine recovered from the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Sullivan’s Island have found evidence the forward hatch may have been opened intentionally on the night the sub sank.

The forward hatch was one of two ways crew members got into and out of the sub. Covered with concretions plus a thick layer of sand and other ocean debris, X-rays revealed that the hatch is open about half an inch, after more than five years of preservation and detailed investigative work.

Historians and archaeologists concluded earlier that rods that could have been part of the hatch’s watertight locking mechanism were found at the feet of the sub’s commander, Lt. George Dixon.

Now that evidence leads investigators working on the Hunley to think that maybe the hatch was opened intentionally.

“The position of the lock could prove to be the most important clue we have uncovered yet and offers important insight into the possibilities surrounding the final moments before the submarine vanished that night,” said Hunley Commission chairman state Sen. Glenn McConnell, R-Charleston.

Had the hatch been intentionally unlocked, there are several possible explanations.

Dixon could have opened the hatch to survey his vessel after successfully attacking and sinking the USS Housatonic on Feb. 17, 1864. Housatonic exploded after Dixon maneuvered Hunley and rammed a black powder filled drum or “torpedo” into Housatonic’s side. Housatonic became the first ship in history destroyed by a submarine.

Dixon or another crewmember could also have opened the hatch to allow fresh air into the stifling hot submarine.

Finally, an emergency sighting by Yankee boats could have led the Hunley’s crew to open the hatch to abandon ship. Historians know that after the Hunley attacked Housitonic Union seamen searched the nearby waters for the attacker using small boats. But Hunley’s after escape hatch was found in the locked position, so many doubt that a submarine evacuation was attempted by Hunley’s crew on the night of Feb. 17, 1864.

“If the Hunley crew opened the hatch, it must have been for a critical reason,” said archaeologist Michael Scafuri. “Even on a calm day, three-foot swells can occur out of nowhere on the waters off Charleston. Every time the hatch was opened, the crew ran the deadly risk of getting swamped.”
In her brief but historic service with the Confederate Navy, Hunley sank three times, killing a total of 21 crew members.

Although scientists said the new discovery of the open forward hatch could help determine the cause of the sinking, it also is possible that the lock was damaged after the sub sank and the hatch opened while it sat on the ocean floor. Further investigative work is underway.

Hunley has become a huge tourist draw for those interested in the Civil War, the evolution of the submarine and marine archeology. CSS Hunley and her many historic artifacts are open to tourists at the old U.S. Naval Station in Charleston.The crown jewel of Charleston’s Civil War heritage, Fort Sumter, draws approximately 280,000 visitors annually, despite a thirty minute boat ride each way. The fort, which participated in the first artillery duel of the Civil War in April 1861, is accessible only by boat during a trip that also offers breathtaking views of the historic city.

Charleston also has many beautiful surviving antebellum buildings; including the old trading market, the old slave market, several lovely churches including St. Michael’s Episcopal Church (one of dozens of National Historic Landmarks), and many other private homes and public buildings still in use today. Many are open for tours.

Charleston’s many pre-Civil War cobblestone streets and architecture copied from ancient Greek and Roman structures offers a unique historic journey back in time. Charleston even has horse or mule drawn carriage rides complete with tour guides in period Civil War costume. Barns and stables just a block from the old market give the old city the air of Civil War history.

The author of the book “Charleston at War,” Jack Thomson, gives Civil War walking tours daily in old Charleston. He is known for his expertise and is considered a town character in his own right.

The Museum of Charleston has a full-size replica of the Hunley in an outdoor display near the museum entrance. Unfortunately, the museum has been sometimes slow to keep up with Hunley revelations.

“The spar used to position the explosive mine on Yankee ships was actually affixed to Hunley’s keel,” Charleston architect and part-time City historian Gary Boehm said. The museum has yet to update the replica with information discovered by Hunley investigators.

Charleston remains a lovely and unique Civil War tour destination filled with people that cherish her history and culture.

John E. Carey is a frequent contributor to the Civil War page. He recently explored Charleston.