6 June 2017
CHARLESTON, S.C. — The inside of a Civil War submarine, shrouded in mystery since it vanished with its crew of eight 153 years ago, will be viewed by the public for the first time on Wednesday.
The H.L Hunley was the world’s first successful combat submarine.
The innovative hand-cranked, single-propeller sub was built in Mobile, Alabama, for the Confederate government.
The Union fleet had blockaded Charleston Harbor, and the Confederacy was desperate to restore the shipment of vital military supplies. The Hunley was ordered to
Charleston, along with other ships, to challenge the Union blockade.
On the evening of Feb. 17, 1864, the 40-foot Hunley sank the Union Army’s USS Housatonic.
After completing the mission, the Hunley mysteriously vanished, remaining lost at sea for more than a century.
Many searches over the decades were unable to locate the submarine.
In 1995, the National Underwater and Marine Agency, led by New York Times-bestselling author Clive Cussler, finally found the Hunley.
The Hunley was raised in 2000 and delivered to the Warren Lasch Conservation Center at the former Charleston Navy Base, where an international team of scientists is working to conserve the submarine for future generations and piece together clues to solve the mystery of her disappearance.
Initial theories were that the Hunley sank because of collateral damage caused by the spar torpedo used to sink the Housatonic, but others argued, based on historic anecdotes, that the sub might have survived for more than an hour after detonating the torpedo.
After the sub was raised, a team of historians examined it, and theorized that a crewman on the Housatonic fired a rifle round into the Hunley’s viewing ports, causing it to sink.
Archeologists in 2013 announced new evidence indicating that, as was initially theorized, the Hunley might have been closer to the detonation than realized, and the sub was damaged by the explosion and sank.
Other theories include the sub being trapped by tides and the crew suffocating or the Hunley being clipped by another vessel and taking on water through an open hatch.
Scientists are continuing to work in the cramped confines of the Hunley’s roughly 4-foot-tall hull. They are slowly breaking off a layer of sand, sediment, shells and corrosion products, called concretion, that built up on the Hunley while the sub was lost at sea.
“The work has offered stunning new views of the Hunley, unearthed human remains and offered operational and design discoveries,” a news release from the Warren Lasch Center said,
“Tomorrow, an exclusive photography and filming opportunity of the recently exposed Hunley crew compartment will be held. For the first time in over a century, you can actually see portions of the inside of the world’s first successful combat submarine.”