Confederate Submarine Base Located
A Shreveport historian and urban archaeologist named Marty Loschen believes he has solved a long forgotten Civil War mystery. What happened to 4 Confederate submersibles known to be in Shreveport, Louisiana during the last 2 years of the Civil War but whose whereabouts is still totally unknown. He recently announced that he believes he has found the remnants of a hand-propelled craft in the banks of a branch of Cross Bayou about half a mile west of where the Confederate Navy had a well established shipyard.
Cross Bayou's mouth on Red River was home to the leaky Ironclad the CSS Missouri and a fast picket namely the Webb. Several months ago, Marty Loschen and his brother were searching the Bayou's mouth when the water levels were particularly low. They spend much of their time exploring the more remote, forgotten and forbidding surrounding areas of Shreveport. They discovered there decades old rusted ironwork, metal strips and some oddly formed trees which were indicative that they had grown over something curved and long rotted or rusted away. He has in his possession an 1864 map of Shreveports defences which indicate that there were some small buildings where he discovered the rusty artefacts. On his discovery he said "There is your sub base....... There's an island out there. My theory is if you're going to have a clandestine sub base, you've got to put it out there. Look, there are structures out there, near what I found. It has to be". He is waiting for a further period of low water to make further explorations. The artefacts are currently under 10 feet of water.
It is worth noting that this area has been explored before for the lost Confederate submarine fleet. Famed diver Ralph Wilbanks who found the CSS Hunley off Charleston, South Carolina in 1995 has visited Shreveport twice in the past 15 years searching for lost Confederate submarines. In addition, a team of diver researchers performed sonar and magnetometer in the area of Cross Bayou and found parts and remains of a Civil War gunboat called the Iron Duke.
However, these claims have been strongly disputed by history professor at Louisiana University and author, Gary Joiner who has been researching the Confederate submarines for over 3 decades. He states that the artefacts do not belong to the submarines as they were tube shaped like the CSS Hunley and did not incorporate metal straps as stiffening ribs which have been discovered. Gary Joiner has discovered substantial evidence that the lost Confederate submarines were built and subsequently lost and undiscovered in the Shreveport area. Existing Confederate and Federal spies both reported in detail the submarines dimensions and appearances as well as plans to lay mines in the Red River to prevent a Union invasion that never came. In all 5 Confederate submarines were built. One was lost in transit from Shreveport to the HoustonGalveston area in Texas. This evidence is backed up by the late historians and authors Eric Brock and Katherine Brash Jeter who undertook considerable research into the Confederate Navy and discovered that a number of machinists and engineers who built the CSS Hunley were resident and working in Shreveport during the last year of the Civil War. Another interesting note is that after the Civil War, a youth recalled that he had been part of a human chain that deposited large amounts of Confederate material including saddles, rifles, munitions, swords, bayonets and other military items into Cross Bayou just before the Federal forces occupied Shreveport. Nothing has ever been recovered.
Gary Joiner believes the long lost 4 Confederate submarines built like the CSS Hunley (but with one rather than two turrets) lie somewhere in the Cross Bayou locality. He thinks that they will still be in good condition beneath the sandy mud which is an excellent preservative. He says the USS Cairo was salvaged from the Yazoo river after 8 decades in pretty good condition. It is worth noting that other parts of Louisiana are not immune from Confederate submarine history and mythology. In 1878, dredgers were working on the Bayou St John and made a very strange discovery. They recovered a Confederate submarine probably built in 1862 which was 20 foot long, 3 feet wide, 6 feet deep, made of riveted iron and powered by a hand cranked propeller. Nothing else is known about the vessel. It is presumed it was scuttled by the Confederates in order to prevent it falling into Federal hands after the US capture of New Orleans. There is no period documentation and its original name and other details remain unknown. It was subsequently left on open display at the Spanish Fort amusement park as a curiosity. It was also filled with concrete in a misguided and questionable attempt at preservation. Fortunately, it has now found a new home and a better state of preservation at the Louisiana State Museum. The old concrete has now been removed as part of a major restoration project. Hopefully more history and information about all these Confederate submarines will emerge in the future.
Article by Stewart "Goober" Douglas
Sources: John Andrew Prince, The (Shreveport) Times, Wikipedia, various Interner Sources and Atlas Obscura.
The above article first appeared in the ACWS Newsletter, Spring 2015