The H. L. Hunley

September 9, 2016 | Civil War, News

The third, and most sophisticated submarine that one group of Confederates built was named after one of the builders – H. L. Hunley. It was built in Mobile, AL and then shipped to Charleston in August 1863 to try to break the Union blockade of Charleston Harbor. It sank twice as it was being operated on training runs. The first time was when it was at anchor, and three of the eight crew escaped, but the rest drowned. It was hoisted up and recovered almost immediately. The second time it sank was when it was out on a training run in the harbor. The captain – Lt. Dixon happened to be away, so Hunley had taken command. All of the men died, 2 by asphyxiation, 6 by drowning. Dixon was involved in the recovering of the submarine and its crew, three weeks after its sinking. Despite the gruesome sights he must have witnessed, he was not deterred from retaining command and he raised another volunteer crew. He insisted that each man know exactly what had happened to the two previous crews. The mission of the Hunley was to attack the Union blockade ships, but they had to wait for one to be close enough for the manpowered submarine to make it out to the ship and back safely. Finally the USS Housatonic anchored only four miles from the Hunley’s hiding place. On February 17th, 1864, the little 7 ton submarine set out from its base to attack the 1,260 ton ship.
The crew of the Housatonic spotted the Hunley as it approached and fired at it with small arms. The Hunley pressed forward and fired its spar torpedo at the bow of the ship. As the ship was struck, the explosion was muffled – so much so that the other Union ships didn’t know it had been hit. The ship began sinking fast, but the crew climbed up into the rigging and then escaped in little boats to the other ships nearby. The crew of the submarine made a signal to the Confederates on Sullivan’s Island to get them to light a signal fire to lead the submarine to shore. The men on shore saw the signal, lit the fire, but the submarine never came back to shore. The submarine disappeared and along with it her 8 crew members. It wasn’t until 1995 that it was seen again.

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