March, 2011 – Charleston, South Carolina – the CSS H. L. Hunley

Posted on November 17, 2011


Innovation and invention are always a by-product of war.

So thanks to the Civil War naval warfare was changed forver with the development of the first submarine to be successfully employed in battle.

Built in Mobile, Alabama, the CSS H. L. Hunley was both pretty primitive and downright scary.

It had a hand-cranked propeller, an interior diameter of only about 48″, and two ballast tanks that could be flooded with water or pumped dry with hand pumps to raise or lower the ship.

The sub carried a crew of eight – seven seamen to crank, one captain to steer – and one weapon, a single explosive charge lashed on the end of a spar sticking out of the front of the hull.

The Hunley had water-tight hatches, but couldn’t stay submerged for long as there was no way to introduce fresh air into the interior.  Instead, the crew depended on darkness to hide their movements.

And so one night the Hunley quietly snuck up on the USS Housatonic, which was on blockade duty in Charleston Harbor.  The crew started cranking like crazy, and somehow managed work up enough speed to stick its charge into the sloop’s hull.

The charge exploded, ripping a hole in the hull.  All hands were rescued, but the ship sunk.  However, in the excitement that followed something went very wrong, and the Hunley also went down with all her crew trapped inside.

There it laid until discovered in the 1990’s about 100 yards from the remains of the Housatonic, buried under several feet of silt.  At least two different underwater explorers claimed credit for its discovery, including novelist Clive Cussler.

The Hunley was finally riased in August of 2000, and now resides in a submersion tank at the Warren Lasch Conservation Center in North Charleston, where it is being studied by historians and scientists.

The remains of the unfortunate sailors were still insde when the submarine was recovered.  Forensic artists made reconstruction of the crew’s faces, then their remains were given a military burial in Charleston.

A scale model of the Hunley stands outside the Charleston Museum.