Wednesday, February 17, 2016


JFK+50:  Volume 6, No. 1862


Charleston, South Carolina (JFK+50) 152 years ago at 8:45 p.m. this evening, February 17, 1864, the Confederate submarine H.L. Hunley sank the Union's 12 gun steam-powered sloop Housatonic becoming the first submarine to engage and sink a warship in recorded history.

The Housatonic, on blockade duty off the coast of Charleston, was severely damaged by a 135 pound torpedo that had been placed inside her hull from the Hunley's spar.  The Confederate vessel backed away after planting the device which then was detonated using a 150 foot rope.

There were eight crewmen aboard the 7.5 ton, 39.5 foot long submarine. They operated hand cranks which powered the propeller.  Their only lighting was provided by candles and the air supply was limited to what was inside the cabin.

Two previous crews, including Captain H.L. Hunley* who was one of the original designers of the submarine, perished.  PGT Beauregard, encouraged by Lt. George Dixon**, gave the order to retrieve the sub and make a third try.

It is believed that the Hunley survived for about an hour and then, for reasons not completely clear, sank to the bottom of Charleston Harbor where it remained "buried deep within the sand and silt" until 1995 when Clive Cussler found it.

After 137 years, H.L. Hunley was brought to the surface on August 8, 2000.   By September of last year, 1200 pounds of encrustations had been removed from the vessel giving it "the look and menace of a modern submarine."

H.L. Hunley is on public display today at 1250 Supply Street, North Charleston, South Carolina.

*Horace Lawson Hunley (1823-1863) was born in Sumner, TN and became a Louisiana state legislator, merchant, planter & lawyer.   HLH died in a test run of the submarine which was to bear his name on October 15, 1863.

**George Erasmus Dixon (1837-1864) lived in New Orleans & Mobile, AL.  He was a member of the Washington Light Infantry of Mobile before the Civil War & then joined the Alabama infantry and took part in the Battle of Shiloh.  

GED was hit in the leg by a minie ball at Shiloh but the "lucky" $20 Double Eagle gold piece he carried in his pocket saved his life.  The coin, which was a gift from his girlfriend Queenie Bennett, was found with his remains on the H.L. Hunley.

The gold coin, which shows evidence of the bullet strike, bears the following scripted inscription...

April 6 1862
My life preserver


"Dixon's 'Lucky' Coin Found," Southeastern Antiquing and Collectibles Magazine,

"Lt. George Dixon's Coin," Warren Lasch Conservation Center, Charleston, South Carolina,

"Secret Weapon of the Confederacy," by Jeffrey Taylor, National Geographic, July 2002.

"See history unfolding:  Solve the mystery," Friends of the Hunley,

H.L. Hunley 
by Conrad Wise (1864)
American Civil War Museum