New Clues To The Sinking Of A Confederate Submarine

Confederate SubmarineThe Confederate Submarine H.L. Hunley may have been sunk by its own torpedo, researchers say.

The cause of the Hunley’s sinking has been a mystery since it sank the USS Housatonic on February 17, 1864, and then the Hunley itself mysteriously sank shortly thereafter. This submarine, which had a hand-cranked propeller and a torpedo set at the end of a 16-foot pole, was a desperate attempt by the Confederacy to destroy the Union blockade on Southern harbors that was strangling the economy.

A press release by the Friends of the Hunley, the organization that raised and is conserving the Civil War sub, says that archaeologists have discovered part of the torpedo still attached to the end of the pole. The jagged metal shows that the torpedo exploded its charge of 135 pounds of gunpowder as planned.

Historians used to think the plan was to ram the torpedo into the ship’s side, and then pull away, detaching the torpedo from the pole and then pulling a rope trigger that would explode the torpedo from a safe distance.

Now we can see this didn’t happen. The question remains whether the release mechanism was faulty or if the plan was much cruder – simply ramming the torpedo into the side of the ship and hoping for the best.

It remains unclear if this explosion is what actually sank the Hunley. The submarine’s hull is encased in hardened rock, sand, and silt that the archaeologists are still removing. Only when their job is done will they get a clear idea of how the brave crew of the Hunley met their end.

You can visit the lab where this historic sub is being studied; the Warren Lasch Conservation Center is located in North Charleston, SC. You can also see a different Confederate submarine at the Louisiana State Museum in Baton Rouge.

[Top photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons. Bottom photo showing the sub being raised courtesy Barbara Voulgaris, Naval Historical Center]

Confederate Submarine

Confederate submarine set upright for first time since 1864

Confederate submarineThe H.L. Hunley made history back in 1864 when it became the first submarine to successfully attack an enemy ship. Launched by the Confederacy as a way to break the Union blockade of Southern ports during the Civil War, it sank the USS Housatonic on 17 February 1864 and itself mysteriously sank shortly thereafter.

Crew members hand cranked the propeller to make the sub move forward and its one weapon was a bomb set at the end of a long pole. The idea was to ram a ship with the bomb, which would then explode and leave a hole below the waterline. That’s what happened when the H.L. Hunley attacked one of the warships blockading Charleston harbor, but the sub never returned from its mission.

The Hunley was later found and brought to the surface. Now after several years of restoration the Confederate submarine has been placed upright for the first time since its sinking. The sub had been found resting at a 45 degree angle in a layer of silt and was kept in the same position until now. Moving it to the upright position has given researchers a look at a side of the ship unseen since 1864.

The researchers have found some holes on that side but are unsure if they are natural erosion or the cause of the Hunley’s sinking. Analysis of the bones of the eight crew members showed they died of a lack of oxygen. Interestingly, they were all at their posts as if nothing was going wrong.

You can visit the lab where this historic sub is being studied. The Warren Lasch Conservation Center is located in North Charleston, SC. You can also see a different Confederate submarine at the Louisiana State Museum in Baton Rouge.

Confederate submarine

[Photos courtesy Wikimedia Commons]