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Confederate sub made history 150 years ago Monday

CHARLESTON, S.C. (AP) -- On a clear, moonlight night 150 years ago, the hand-cranked Confederate submarine H.L. Hunley glided out over glassy seas off South Carolina, sailing into history as the first submarine ever to sink an enemy warship.

A century and a half later - and nearly a decade and a half after the sub was raised - just why the Hunley and its eight-man crew never returned is a mystery, albeit one that scientists may be closer to resolving.

Monday marks the 150th anniversary of the Feb. 17, 1864, mission in which the Hunley sank the Union ship Housatonic as the Confederates desperately tried to break the Civil War blockade that was strangling Charleston. While the Housatonic sank, so did the Hunley.

On Monday evening, re-enactors planned a gathering at Breach Inlet between Sullivans Island and the Isle of Palms northeast of Charleston for a memorial service honoring both the Hunley crew and the five Union sailors who died. The loss of life came when the submarine set off a black powder charge at the end of a 200-pound spar, sinking the blockader.

The remains of the Hunley - which was built in Mobile, Ala., and brought to Charleston in hopes of breaking the blockade - were discovered off the coast in 1995.

Five years later, in August of 2000, cannons boomed, church bells rang and thousands watched from the harborside as the sub was raised and brought by barge to a conservation lab in North Charleston. There, scientists have since been slowly revealing the Hunley's secrets.

Among the first artifacts recovered from the silt and sand clogging the inside of the submarine were buttons from the crewmen's uniforms. Later came one of the most sought-after artifacts of the Hunley legend - a gold coin that had deflected a bullet and thus saved the life of Hunley commander Lt. George Dixon at the Battle of Shiloh.

The $20 United States gold piece was given to Dixon by his sweetheart, Queenie Bennett. The words "Shiloh April 6, 1862 My life Preserver" are inscribed on the coin.

One of the initial surprises was that there were eight crewmen, not the nine thought to have been aboard before the Hunley was raised. The remains were found indicating the crewmen were at their positions at the crank. There was no evidence of an attempt to escape through the hatches, raising speculation as to what prevented the Hunley from returning from its mission.

Scientists announced a year ago they may be closing in on exactly what happened.

An examination of the spar found it was deformed as if in an explosion. Scientists now believe the Hunley was less than 20 feet from the Housatonic when it sank. That means it may have been close enough for the sub's crew to have been knocked unconscious by the explosion - long enough that they may have died before awakening.

For years, historians thought the Hunley was farther away and had speculated the crew ran out of air before they were able to return to shore.

Those who went down on the Hunley comprised the third crew of the submarine. Two previous crews died in accidents before the sub could even attempt its mission.

In April of 2004, thousands of men in Confederate gray and Union blue as well as women in black hoop skirts and veils walked in a procession with the crew's coffins from Charleston's waterfront Battery to Magnolia Cemetery. There they were buried near the other crews in what has been called the last Confederate funeral ceremony.

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Iselin007 February 19 2014 at 2:21 AM

I find this Military Historical advent interesting and understand the respect it deserves.
My family tree has members on both sides of the Civil War. General Robert E Lee was father in law to one of my Great Ancestors Descendant's Charlotte Wickham. CSA Brigadier General Williams Carter Wickham fought along side a son of Robert E Lee. My Union relatives faced their Confederate family members on the same battlefields.

You can besure the crew members of both the Naval Vessels fought and died for what they believed in. Many of my relatives that fought in this war before I was born had survived the Civil War.

Many of the other families who fought against relatives weren't so lucky. For many of them they lost everyone.

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Edward J Cox February 18 2014 at 5:30 PM

Last year I traveled to Charleston to see the Hunley. I wasted my time... The submarine was not viewble by the public... Totally wasted trip. Tose of you that think it would be neat to see this...
As they say in New Jersey forgetaboutit....

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nancy mcgrew February 18 2014 at 5:19 PM

How can I print this information out without all the other stuff on here?

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1 reply to nancy mcgrew's comment
josephpallotta February 18 2014 at 7:05 PM


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jonpl February 18 2014 at 3:31 PM

I would love to see this incredble piece of history in person ! SWEET....

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Alan February 18 2014 at 1:41 PM

I was on the submarine ride at Disneyland in California when I was a kid back in the 60s.

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fox12ga February 18 2014 at 1:34 PM

The first Sub was floated in the Passaic River in Paterson NJ I beleive Last I knew it was on display in Westside park In the Totowa section of Paterson I think it was named the John P Holland Some historians dispute this So I may get some feed back on this. The first Colt revolvers were made about a mile away also in Paterson

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ricci614 February 18 2014 at 3:21 PM

The first recorded successful submarine was built by Cornelius van Drebbel and sailed on the Thames River in 1620 although the principles of submarine technology were known as far back as William Bourne's paper of 1578. In all probability, Bourne was theorizing and never actually built a sub.

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Rob Bauer February 18 2014 at 3:58 PM

The Holland is considered by many to be the first "modern" submarine, mostly because it used an electric motor when submerged, ran on a gasoline engine when on the surface, and even carried a torpedo for armament.

Several other early submarines were built with varying degrees of success. The Revolutionary war saw an earlier one-man, hand-cranked submarine called the Turtle built by David Bushnell. Wilhelm Bauer, a relative of mine, was building submarines in Germany and Russia in the 1850's.

Family history has it that two members (Not related to Wilhelm at the time/yet.) helped build the Hunley and its two Confederate predecessors, the Pioneer and the American Diver. I've been able to confirm that one did, so two isn't unlikely. While I haven't been able confirm or deny a connection between the Hunley and Wilhelm Bauer, it is known that Wilhelm visited relatives in the US at about the time of the beginning of the Civil War. Some of those relatives at one point were in Ohio, in the same area the ones who worked on the Hunley came from. So, it's just possible that the Hunley has some unexpected German roots, and a much closer connection than anyone ever thought....

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Let's get going! February 18 2014 at 12:53 PM

To those who post here to bandstand your ideologies: Shame on you for not following the topic. If you aren't talking about the HUNLEY, you are off the thread...plaiin and simple.
As a Union reenactor, I was caught up in the salvage of this historical submarine. The solemnity of her tribute as she broke the water's surface was proper as befits the recovery the fallen. When I was invited to be a member of the honorguard that stood for the crew, I was sad that I was on active duty, and unable to be there. People that render military funeral honors understand that we are honoring a fellow countryman's service and sacrifice for his country.
YOU, the reader of this post, when you blather on about your personal agendas instead of commenting on the story, all you are doing is behaving like a spoiled child. You are dumbing down yourselevs and ranting like a three-year-old having a tantrum. Please, if you can't comment about the topic, rant all you like to your pet fish, dog, or cat...you are just succeeding in demonstrating to the world how ignorant you are.
My final words: The Hunley and it's crew made history 150 years ago. They were brave, and praiseworthy in their fight. They died in service to their nation, which has always been a part of OUR nation, and they are a story about Americans. Lets take a moment, say eight seconds of silence, to remember them. They may have faught with the CSA, however, they were American fighting men, are due the relection and respect of those fallen in service. I salute them.

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ashumate3 February 18 2014 at 12:45 PM

I remember taking a ride on a diesel/electric sub in the '60's. Can one imagine the close quarters of the Hunley?

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dianahernandez.pr February 18 2014 at 11:13 AM

U-Haul's South Carolina SuperGraphic actually highlights the Hunley as a great piece of our nation's history! http://www.uhaul.com/SuperGraphics/35/Venture-Across-America-and-Canada-Modern/South-Carolina

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ihave1465fans February 18 2014 at 10:50 AM

It took 400 years but the Greeks finally ran the Turks out of Greece. No the war is not over !

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