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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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1000|Char. 1000  Char.
markiesplatter86 February 17 2014 at 7:31 PM

With out our leaves and tea who would we be. Inter Coastal and Reefs.

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Skyscuba33 February 17 2014 at 10:06 PM

HAD A GREAT VISIT THERE !!

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liondog96 February 17 2014 at 10:08 PM

Claustrophobia is the worse. I can see what these guys went through since I became that way in the fire academy when some clown decided to shut my air valve off while being entangled in wires in a dark room.

Flag Reply +4 rate up
marcookkidd2001 February 17 2014 at 10:40 PM

Interesting about the Hunley. I want to hear more.
But whatever happened to the jet with the nuclear bomb that crashed around the mouth of the
Savannah river? That happened a while back, too. Has that been found?

Flag Reply +4 rate up
delstv February 17 2014 at 3:54 PM

Absolutely amazing. It's hard to believe they worked out things such as ballast and navigation. If they died at their stations, it must have been an explosive concussion shock or maybe they did run out of air and just fell asleep.

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sigardener February 17 2014 at 11:27 PM

Was the Hunley discovered by author Clive Cussler in which he wrote about the CSS Hunley

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2 replies
randmhunley sigardener February 17 2014 at 11:37 PM

no

Flag Reply 0 rate up
Jim Mehne sigardener February 17 2014 at 11:40 PM

Not by him personally, but by the non-profit organzation he founded NUMA. if you have read his books you would know this is a part of them. he had started NUMA to find lost ships and has been very succesful doing it. some of his books are somewhat base on the real NUMA...

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JOSEPH SPENCER February 18 2014 at 12:52 AM

Don't judge the times of 1861 by 2014 standards , Every man that fought the war believed in what he was doing. He also had his own reasons to fight.

Flag Reply +11 rate up
Kevin February 18 2014 at 4:03 AM

Apparently I read a different story than the rest of the recent commentors. Think of it this way... We're losing the war, and many of your friends and family have already been killed or wounded. But we have a plan. We want to do something thats never been done before, and we've tried twice already and everybody died. But we think the third time is the charm.

It makes me think of the Mercury astronauts. We've all seen the videos of dozens of rockets exploding on or just above the launch pad. Are you feeling lucky? Strap me to 1000 tons of high explosives and light the fuse. What could possibly go wrong?

The Hunley was the first, and Heroes or not, her crew had a huge set of stones. May our Honored dead, rest in Eternal Peace, Oh Lord.

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2 replies
jaluty Kevin February 18 2014 at 4:18 AM

Please restrict your prayers to home and leave us out of them. Other than that you put forth a brilliant response.

Flag Reply +4 rate up
1 reply
grumpa109 jaluty February 18 2014 at 8:43 AM

Jaluty, My friend, Kevin has a Constitutional Right to speak about his faith and if you were open minded, you wouldn't be offended by his speech. I could say to you, please restrict your un-belief to home and leave us out of them, but I am aware that you have a right not to believe. You are getting close to being an intolerant person!

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hrdchgr69 Kevin February 18 2014 at 6:21 AM

100% kev, you hit it on the head,, we must try or die !
new endevors are hard and scary things at times,but, once over the hurdle, lookout ! could they have ever imagined the subs we have today !!?? :)

Derrick
USAF 81-85
USMC 87-92 OOHHH RAHH !

Flag Reply +10 rate up
calderasf February 17 2014 at 3:13 PM

Fantastic piece of history!

Flag Reply +6 rate up
Purple Shell February 17 2014 at 3:06 PM

Ken Follets second book of the North and South Trilogy, "Love and War", has complete and accurate information about the Henley. He did a lot of research for the book. There were no "blacks" in the crew. I just finished the trilogy, I leaned a lot about our history. Very interesting and well researched.

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