New evidence uncovered in mystery of the
Confederate submarine, The CSS Hunley

It has been reported that researchers working on the Confederate submarine, the CSS H.L. Hunley in North Charleston, South Carolina have uncovered startling new evidence that the submarine was only 20 feet away when it ignited its torpedo that sank the Union warship, the USS Housatonic off South Carolina in 1864. This is vital new evidence as it has always been presumed that the submarine was much further away when it sank and that the Confederate crew ran out of air before they could return to the shore.

This new evidence is based on brand new archaeological evidence discovered by conservator Paul Mardikian in January 2013 who whilst working on crusted material at the end of the spar has found evidence of a copper sleeve. The spar was the iron pole in front of the hand cranked submarine that held the torpedo. This recently identified copper sleeve is in exact keeping with a preserved diagram of a purported design of a Hunley torpedo that a Union General acquired after the Civil War and is currently housed in the National Archives in Washington. "The sleeve is an indication the torpedo was attached to the end of the spar" said Paul Mardikan and the rest of the 16 foot spar shows a deformity in keeping with it being bent during an explosion. This new evidence means that the crew being so close to the explosion could easily have been rendered unconscious and knocked out and concussed by the sheer force of the explosion. As such, they could have died before waking due to lack of oxygen. It is worth noting that all the crew were found in their designated positions when the submarine was recovered. There was no evidence of abandoning ship.

Lt Gov. Glenn McConnell, a member of the South Carolina Hunley Commission said "I think the focus now goes down to the seconds and minutes around the attack on the Housatonic. Did the crew get knocked out? Did some of them get knocked out? Did it cause rivets to come loose and the water rush into the hull?"

The final answers will come later this year when the conservators start removing encrustations from the outer hull of the H.L Hunley and determine what actual impact the explosion would have had on the submarine. A computer simulation of the attack will also take place based on this new information and small models could also be used to recreate the attack.

Maria Jacobsen, the senior archaeologist on the Hunley project, said of the new discovery that the torpedo was actually attached to the spar as "not only extremely unexpected, its extremely critical. What we know now is the weapons system exploded at the end of the spar. That is very, very significant". She added that it has long been thought that the material at the end of the spar was part of some sort of device to release the torpedo rather than part of the torpedo itself.

The CSS H.L. Hunley was built in Mobile, Alabama and deployed off Charleston in an attempt to break the Union blockade during the American Civil War. It was the first submarine in history to sink an enemy warship. It sank during the successful attack and all its crew were lost. It weighed 7.2 short tons and was 40 feet long. She was powered by a hand cranked propeller and her speed was 4 knots. She was crewed by 7 enlisted men and an officer. She lost 21 seaman in 3 sinkings during her short career. It was finally found in 1995 and raised in 2000 and brought to a laboratory in North Charleston where it is currently undergoing conservation.

Article by Stewart "Goober" Douglas

Sources: "Experts find new Evidence in submarine mystery" by Bruce Smith, Associated Press - Jan 2013.

The above article first appeared in the ACWS Newsletter, Spring 2013