It has been more than a century since the H.L. Hunley sank to the bottom of the sea during the American Civil War, but the series of events that led to its death remain a mystery. The historic Confederate vessel is the first submarine ever to sink an enemy ship.
On February 17, 1864, the H.L. Hunley fulfilled its mission of raiding the Union ship Housatonic in order to strengthen the Confederate forces as they tried to breach the blockade that was suppressing Charleston. The Hunley was successful in subduing the Housatonic, but it sank along with it in the process.
When the Hunley was recovered from the sea some 15 years ago, scientists and historians began speculating that the sinking was caused by a detonated torpedo, loose hatch, or even an enemy shot that bore a hole in the Hunley’s viewing port. The crew’s well-preserved remains were also found in their respective stations instead of areas near escape hatches, which would have been expected in an emergency situation.
A notable artifact found in the ship’s remains is a gold coin that belonged to Lieutenant George Dixon, who was the Hunley’s commander. The coin was said to have saved Dixon’s life when it deflected a bullet during the Battle of Shiloh. Uniform buttons that belonged to the crewmembers were also recovered among the debris.
A year ago, members of The Hunley Project made a major development in determining the real reason the ship’s crew members failed to return from their mission. Scientists examined the spar of the ship and found its deformed state to be a result of some form of explosion. As a result, they believe that the Hunley was close enough to the Housatonic to cause the sub’s crew to be knocked out by the power of the explosion.
Civil War re-enactors gathered on Monday evening at Breach Inlet to hold a memorial service in honor of the Hunley sub’s crew, as well as the Union sailors who died along with them.
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