A little history for your Saturday Posted by: McQ
on Saturday, July 07, 2007
Probably one of the more interesting discoveries in recent years was that of the Confederate submarine "Hunley". It got its name from its inventor and builder, Horace Lawson Hunley, and became the first submarine ever to sink an enemy ship (the USS Housatonic, an 11 gun steam ship) on February 17, 1864 in Charleston harbor.
The Hunley was actually the third attempt by the inventer to successfully launch a submarine, the first two having failed. One of the more interesting aspects of the development of the Hunley is that it was a completely privately funded effort.
The South's war effort was suffering from its inability to export its cotton and import necessary manufactured goods because of the Union naval blockade. So Hunley, the entrepreneur, saw a big payday in the future if he could design a ship which could successfully break the blockade.
The submarine was a very interesting vessel, incorporating some sophisticated technology, such as a working snorkel along with some rather rudimentary technology, such as hand-cranked propulsion. However, the choice for hand-cranked propulsion was a result of lessons learned from the other two subs, where steam power was found to be less effective.
The ship was a large cylinder thought to be a converted steam boiler. While it was 40 feet long, it was just 4 feet high. It actually had 10 sealed portholes and, as mentioned, a snorkel system which probably pumped in fresh air by use of a bellows. As mentioned the propulsion system was hand-cranked with 7 men turning what looked like a giant cam shaft. With 7 "manpower", the Hunley could reach a cruising speed of 3.5 mph. It also had forward and aft ballast tanks which could be filled or emptied of water to move the sub up or down.
She was steered from up front by the captain using a sort of primitive joy-stick like those found in early aircraft. In reality it was, especially for its time, an amazing craft.
As to its attack on the USS Housatonic, it occurred at about 9pm at night. But the action, involving a 'torpedo' was nothing like that in which a modern submarine would engage. Thats because the 135 pound torpedo was actually attached by a 17 foot iron spar to the body of the Hunley. What the Captain had to do was spot his target, aim the entire sub at it and then ram it to place the torpedo. The torpedo had a barbed harpoon sticking out of its front and would actually stick into the hull of the ship. That's precisely what the Hunley did that night. Once placed, the submarine had to back off as the torpedo was on a 150 foot rope. After the submarine had backed off sufficiently, that rope was pulled and activated the charge.
The resulting explosion blew the Housatanic in half and killed five Union sailors. With that explosion a new and deadly era in naval warfare was ushered into being.
The Hunley was lost soon afterward although it surfaced long enough after the explosion of the torpedo to shoot a blue flare. But it then disappeared.
The Hunley was found again in 1970, but it was only recently that the submarine, in its entirety, was raised from the depths. Kept in tact, it has yielded a treasure trove of information. Researchers have mapped every thing that was found aboard to include the 1600 bones of the crewmen and thousands of other objects. According to the researchers, it appears, given the position of the bones found, that the Hunley's end must have been very swift as it appears none of the men made any effort to escape.
One last bit of history about the first successful submarine. The 7 lost on Feb. 17th of 1864 weren't the first to be lost on the ship. 5 had been killed on an earlier test run shortly after its arrival at Charleston harbor when the sub sunk due to a crewman's error. It was raised. Within a few months it sank again, killing everyone inside, including its inventor, H.L. Hunley. When it attacked the Housatanic that night, it had been twice raised from the depths of Charleston harbor by the Confederate navy.
One of the more interesting finds since it has been raised the third and final time is a $20 gold piece. The sub's final commander, Lt. George Dixon, was a veteran of several land battles with the Confederacy. Legend had always had it that at the battle of Shiloh, Dixon had been shot in the hip, but the bullet was stopped from penetrating by a $20 gold piece he had. Excavators found that badly bent $20 piece in the Hunley ironically engraved with "My life preserver".
The South’s war effort was suffering from its inability to export its cotton and import necessary manufactured goods because of the Union naval blockade.
Much of the South’s problem was the result of a self-inflicted wound. In 1862 and 1863, prior to the creation of an effective blockade by the Union, southern states burned the majority of their cotton crops as a means to entice the UK and France into the war. It didn’t work.
For the million or so slaves who fled to Union lines during the war, and thus liberated themselves, it was about slavery. Note that over one hundred thousand of those slaves went on to wear Union blue. Numerous historians have noted that because of the involvement of these self-liberated people the war resembles the sorts of slave rebellions which were undertaken in South America when Bolivar promised freedom to those slaves who would fight against Spain.