Thursday, February 18, 2010

CSS Hunley, celebrating the submariner legacy

©The Dolphin

By: MC1(AW) Peter D. Blair

GROTON, Conn. - In American history and in the submarine community, the date February 17, 1864, marks a tremendous milestone.

On that day, 146 years ago, the CSS Hunley sank the USS Housatonic and became the first submarine to sink an enemy ship. After sinking the sloop-of-war the crew signaled the Confederate forces ashore and then disappeared into the Atlantic Ocean, creating a mystery that would last for more than a century.

As the Civil War raged on and Union vessels tightened the blockades of the confederate ports, ways to break through and deliver much needed supplies were being devised.

Horace Hunley, a planter, lawyer and inventor conceived, designed and built a vessel for that very purpose.

Built from a cylindrical boiler with iron straps and rivets, the Hunley was revolutionary. The crew could submerge or raise the vessel simply by opening ballast tanks located on either end of the sub. The spar torpedo on the front of the sub was designed to punch through the hull of an enemy vessel, planting the explosive charge and then allowing the sub to back away and detonate the charge from a safe distance.

As the crew of the Hunley approached the Housatonic, Union forces fired upon the sub with small arms fire, but the crew successfully planted their torpedo and destroyed the vessel. The Housatonic burned for three minutes before sinking into Charleston Harbor. The Hunley crew was never heard from again. Rewards were offered to anyone who could find the sub, and even P.T. Barnum offered 100,000 dollars to whoever found it.

In 1995, author and adventurer Clive Cussler found the Hunley resting on the floor of the Atlantic Ocean. Intact and remarkably well preserved, the Hunley was found buried deep within the sand and silt just outside of Charleston Harbor.

On August 8, 2000, Hunley breached the surface of the Atlantic Ocean for the first time in over 100 years as a crane lifted the legendary sub from the ocean floor.

On April 17, 2004, the remains of the crew of H. L. Hunley were interred in Charleston's Magnolia Cemetery with full military honors. A crowd estimated at between 35,000 and 50,000, including 10,000 period military and civilian reenactors, were present for what some called the "Last Confederate Funeral."

Today conservation continues on the Hunley, as researchers hope to one day put the sub on display.

For more information about the Hunley, visit

©The Dolphin 2010

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