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CSS Hunley

Discussion in 'General Gun Discussions' started by gburner, Nov 21, 2003.

  1. gburner

    gburner member

    On February 17, 1864, the Confederate Navy's submarine H.L.Hunley, glided silently through the waters of Breach Inlet and into the openness of Charleston Harbor. Powered by the hand cranked propeller, the Hunley and her crew prepared to dive, hoping to approach the Union blockading fleet unseen and detonate a 'torpedo' under one of the enemy warships. The submarine had been in development for some time and three crews had drowned in her already, the result of accidental sinkings during shakedown.
    This crew would be different.

    Using a compass and pocket watch read by candlelight to direct their craft underwater, the crew labored at their task, their respiration condensing on he intererior of the sub as it moved through the 50 degree water.

    They surfaced just broadside and aft of the USS Housatonic, one of the Union warships enforcing the blockade off of the coast of South Carolina.
    The sub was sighted by the Federal crew and the alarm was sounded. Soon the water around the Hunley was pelted with .58 caliber rifle rounds as she drove home her attack. As the Hunley rammed her torpedo home, it lodged in the keel of the Housatonic. She backed off a bit and Lieut. Dixon pulled the lanyard to detonate the charge. Soon, both the Housatonic and the Hunley were lying on the bottom of Charleston Harbor, the Union ship from the effect of the explosion and the Hunley from unknown circumstances.

    Three years ago, the Hunley was raised
    from the harbor bottom. An ongoing preservation and archeological study is being conducted at the Warren Lasch Center in Charleston.

    On April 14, 2004, the crew of the Hunley will be laid to rest in Magnolia Cemetery in North Charleston, along side the remains of previous crewmen who died in the development of the sub. The funeral will be the last event of its type in our lifetime and will be a fitting tribute to all who fought and died in the War. Go to CSS Hunley.org for more information.
  2. Dave P

    Dave P Well-Known Member

    All crew members of the Hunley deserve great respect from this mere mortal. Ya gotta have some gonads to crawl into this little metal tube, and crank away underwater for hours on end, in the cold and dark!

    Were any rifles or pistols used on board? (or recovered?)
  3. gun-fucious

    gun-fucious Well-Known Member


    At 8:45 p.m. John Crosby, acting master aboard the Housatonic, spotted something off the starboard beam that looked at first like a “porpoise, coming to the surface to blow.†There had been warnings of a possible attack by a Confederate “infernal machine,†and Crosby was swift to sound the alarm. Sailors rushed to quarters and let loose a barrage of small arms fire at the alien object barely breaking the surface, but the attacker was unstoppable.

    Two minutes later the Hunley rammed her spar into the Housatonic’s starboard side, well below the waterline. As the sub backed away, a trigger cord detonated the torpedo, blowing off the entire aft quarter of the ship. It was an epic moment.

    check out the VR model
  4. George Hill

    George Hill Well-Known Member

    It sunk because that trigger cord wasn't nearly long enough. Concussion broke the hull open.

    Just a guess.
  5. gburner

    gburner member

    Sorry Dave,
    No firearms aboard...at least none have been recovered as artifacts during the excavation process. When you imagine the tight confines inside the submarine, its easy to realize why. The sub is 30 ft. long, 4 ft. wide and 5 ft. high. It's hatches are 12 in. by 16 in. ellipses. There was scarcely room to breathe.

    Among the artifacts recovered though...a wallet, candle, lantern,
    8 canteens, 2 pocket knives, watches, a compass, the mortal remains of the crew, uniform parts including well preserved shoes, and a gold coin that belonged to Lt. Dixon, dented from a bullet that had struck him during the battle of Shiloh.

    The charge that blew the aft end off of the Housatonic was a 90 lb. cask of black gunpowder either ignited by friction primer or percussion cap.
  6. gburner

    gburner member

    That's a pretty good guess, George.
    The excavation team is looking at ruptures in the hull and trying to determine if they are rust outs, pressure ruptures of the type that you mention or gashes caused by the sub being rammed by other blockade vessels. There is also evidence that one of the conning towers was compromised, perhaps by rifle fire from the sailors and marines on the
    Housatonic. Whatever the case, it had been proven repeatedly beforehand that if the Hunley began taking on water that she was a death trap. For whatever reason, she held true to form. :mad:
  7. Hkmp5sd

    Hkmp5sd Well-Known Member

  8. TallPine

    TallPine Well-Known Member

    Compatriots on shore claimed to have seen the pre-arranged signal light from the Hunley AFTER the explosion that sunk the Housatonic.

    They were supposed to follow a responding light on the shore to find their way home.

    It is still a mystery. IIRC, the bodies were all found at their duty stations, encased in the mud that silted into the Hunley over the years. No apparent sign of any panic, which would have come about in a hull flooding (and which was grisly apparent the first two times that the Hunley was recovered from the bottom).

    One theory is that the crew gradually asphyxiated
  9. 4v50 Gary

    4v50 Gary Moderator Staff Member

    I read somewhere that it sank because the gasket for the hatches failed. The Hunley gave a signal that she was safe and then waited for the tide to change before she would strike for home. Then she vanished.

    BTW, I went to North Charleston this year and saw her. She's in a big tank of water being desalinated. If they dry her out right now, the salt would cause her to collaspe. The desalination process should be finished by six years time at which point they can dry her and apply a protective coating.

    Lt. Dixon's gold coin is on display and is worth millions of $. The provenance is unquestionable and they have a state police officer sitting next to it.

    Having seen the Hunley, I would have made it foot pedaled instead of hand cranked. Easier to operate and easier to evacuate. Second, they had a safety device that dropped the iron ballast. Unfortunately, it wasn't quick release and required two nuts to be undone. Had it been some form of quick release, she would have "popped" to the surface. Despite my "bright" ideas, I wouldn't go down in a modernized Hunley unless I had a SCUBA unit on.
  10. Valkman

    Valkman Well-Known Member

    Especially considering the sub had gone out twice and sunk both times, killing 13 previous crew members! Some brave men that got in there for the third time, for sure.

    When I go back east for another Civil War sight-seeing trip I'd like to see the Hunley, among many other places.
  11. TallPine

    TallPine Well-Known Member

    The sub had gone out on numerous training and operational missions, and had sunk on two of those missions.

    The first time, the last man getting in as they pulled away from the pier got tangled in some ropes and accidently depressed the dive planes as they gained headway. Front hatch was still open, and the boat flooded and sank in seconds. Some men got out, but others didn't.

    The second time, they found the boat jammed nose down in the mud on the bottom.

    One feature of the boat was that the water ballast tanks were open to the crew compartment - just partial bulkheads in the bow and stern. Once the ballast water came over a certain point, it could come over the top of the bulkhead and flood the rest of the boat.

    They had to be brave and/or dedicated to go out in that thing ....
  12. Orthonym

    Orthonym Well-Known Member

    Human remains are not artifacts. Nor is anything else not made by Man, no matter how old it is. This post is an artifact. It's not tangible, it's brand new, and I made it .

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