Lieutenant William Cowper was a soldier fighting for the Confederacy in the 17th Mississippi. In October 1862, he wrote a letter to his mother after Stephen, a slave, ran away. In it, he expressed ideas of God and his justice that many today would find very foreign:
I don’t know that I much regret the loss of Stephen. I have thought that this war was ordered by Providence, as a means of settling definitely and conclusively the question of slavery: if slavery is a divine institute, I believe we will be successful, that our independence will be recognized and the Southern Confederacy will be established as a Government with slavery as its great distinctive feature. if on the contrary, slavery is a curse and obnoxious to an All Wise and Good Creator I believe that he will make this war, the means of abolishing it from the face of the earth. I have the greatest confidence in the wisdom of God, and believe that all things work together for good to them that we love.
From The Hour of Our Nation’s Agony: The Civil War Letters of Lt. William Cowper (Knoxville, The University of Tennessee Press: 2007).p. 102.
The horse stables at the Aiken-Rhett House. Aiken was Governor of South Carolina and one of the richest men in the Civil War era south. His house was very ornate, and even the stables had sophisticated architecture. The fancy style even extended to the hay loft, where the walls were plastered.
For many years there was a story told about Lt. George Dixon and a special gold coin… The story goes he carried a gold coin for luck in his pocket, which at Shiloh, protected him for getting seriously injured in the upper leg by a minie ball. This story was considered at best a legend, until in 2005, as archaeologists were removing the sediment from the submarine, this bent gold coin was discovered. It is engraved with four lines of script:
Shiloh, 1862, My Life Preserver, G. E. D.
The coin was one of the best preserved artifacts, because of the high quality gold. You can see it today at the Friends of the Hunley Museum.
This plantation is on James Island, very close to where the first shots of the Civil War were fired. The owner, William Wallace McLeod, survived the war, but died on his journey back home. His plantation was given to freed slaves by the Freedman’s Bureau, but Johnson repealed Sherman’s 40 acres and a mule act and eventually the rightful owners had the plantation restored to them. This house remained in the McLeod family until 1990 when it was donated to the Charleston Historical Societies.
The big mystery of the H. L. Hunley, the first successful military submarine, is why it sunk and how the crew died. Off the coast of Charleston, South Carolina she planted a torpedo on the USS Housatonic that sent the ship to the bottom. But while she may have signaled to friends on shore, the Hunley never returned to port and she was never see again. When her wreck was discovered a few decades ago, it held the promise that we would finally know what sank the Hunley. Researchers still continue to study the wreckage, but thus far their research has created more questions than answers. All of the crew were all found in their positions. There was no signs of damage to the ship other than a possible missing window. There was no evidence of any efforts to open to the hatches or to bring the boat to the surface. There are many theories, here are four of the most popular.
A fragment of copper was found attached to the end of the spar, that the Hunley used to attach its torpedo. This suggests the possibility that the torpedo could have exploded while still attached. If this were the case, the shock of the explosion could have caused enough damage to the sub to bring it to the bottom.
Objection: There is no evidence of shock impact or damage on the submarine or the men.
Lucky Shot Theory
There was a missing glass plate in the hatch, possibly made by a musket ball. The water might have come in and drowned the crew.
Objection: There would have been plenty of time for the crew to try to escape through the other hatch. The crew were all found sitting at their places. On two other occasions the Hunley had gone down with her crew, but then they made every effort to escape the sinking boat.
The submarine hit the Housatonic, or another ship, and the submarine was damaged, allowing water to enter.
Objection: There is no evidence of damage or impact on the submarine, and the bodies recovered do not show evidence of drowning.
The men anchored the submarine to the bottom to wait for the tide to go out, but died of asphyxiation before returning. On reason they may not have been able to return is if they got stuck on the bottom.
Objection: There is no evidence of any unoperational equipment, and the crew did not release the emergency weights, which would have helped them rise to the surface. The crew had decided before sailing that they would rather die by drowning than asphyxiation, but they had not opened the valves that would let water in to flood the ship.
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.
Today we are visiting the museum of the first submarine to ever sink a ship… The Hunley.
Horace Hunley was a business man who organized the building of three submarines for the Confederacy. The first of these, pictured here, was the Pioneer. They had to destroy it however, when
Admiral Farragut captured Mobile, AL in 1864, to keep it out of the hands of the Unions.
You can still see the pockmarks on walls of Fort Pulaski from the Union bombardment. They aimed their cannon at this corner, and after 30 hours of bombardment and 5,000 shells fired, it was completely in ruins. This forced the Confederates surrender. It was later rebuilt, and you can see the different color of brick on this corner.
Fort Pulaski took 20 years to build. The swamp had to be drained of water to have solid ground to build, 70 foot pilings were driven in to keep it firm, an eight foot deep moat was dug, and two story 7 1/2 thick walls were built. To enter, two draw bridges had to be crossed, and you had to walk under a portcullis with a cannon trained right at you.