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 His plantation was given to freed slaves by the Freedman’s Bureau, but Johnson repealed Sherman’s 40 acres and a mule act and eventually the rightful owners had the plantation restored to them.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 Hunley, is why it sunk and how the crew died. They were all found in their positions, unlike the other two crews. There are many theories, here are the four main ones…
A fragment of copper was found attached to the end of the spar, could the torpedo have exploded while still attached? Objection: there is no evidence of shock impact on the submarine or the men.
Lucky Shot Theory
There was a missing glass plate in the hatch, probably 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 escape through the other hatch, however this crew were all found sitting at their places, unlike the second crew.
The submarine hit the ship, or another ship, and the submarine was damaged, allowing water to enter in. Objection: there is no evidence of impact or drowning.
The men anchored the submarine waiting for the tide to go out, and died of asphyxiation. Maybe they got stuck on the bottom. Objection: there is no evidence of any unoperational equipment, neither did they release the emergency weights. Also, the men had decided that they didn’t want to die by asphyxiation but by drowning, but the valves to let in the water were not opened.
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.
Fort Pulaski is one of the most interesting forts in the entire United States. Finished in 1847, it was intended to defend Savannah from attack by the sea. It was held by the Confederates during the Civil War until 1862, when the Federals captured it after a siege and bombardment. The fort is surrounded by a moat that was originally 8 feet deep. Over the years sediment has built up and made it shallower.