On August 29, an accident at the dock caused the Hunley to plunge to the bottom of the bay, drowning five of the new volunteer navy crewmen, with three escaping through the two hatches. Horace Hunley persuaded Beauregard to allow him to bring a new crew from Mobile to Charleston; men who had helped build the submarine and were very familiar with its operation. Led by twenty-year-old army veteran George Dixon as the new captain, five men from Mobile joined him to crew the vessel. On October 15, with Dixon absent but with Hunley himself at the helm, the ship sank in forty-two feet of water during a practice maneuver, killing all eight men aboard.
Historian Bill Potter addresses a tour group at the full-scale replica of the Hunley displayed outside The Charleston Museum
Lieutenant Dixon begged General Beauregard to give the boat one more chance to attack the Union blockading vessels. Skeptical but determined to use any means at his disposal, the General reluctantly approved another attempt. After cleaning and refitting the boat with a spar torpedo instead of a towed one, and with volunteers from the CSS Indian Chief added to Dixon’s crew, training began in November and December to prepare them for battle.
The USS Housatonic, sunk by the CSS Hunley on February 17, 1864 in Charleston Harbor—history’ first successful sinking of an enemy ship in combat by a submarine
At 8:45pm on February 17, 1864, the USS Housatonic—a 207 foot long, 1,240 ton sloop of war of the South Atlantic Blockading Squadron, bristling with seven heavy cannon—was on station outside Charleston Harbor. She had captured two blockade runners and helped reduce the city of Charleston to a pile of rubble, over its year and a half tour of duty in Charleston Harbor. Confederate traitors had made their way to the Union fleet commanders with the information about the H L Hunley, and the possible threat of a “torpedo boat that could swim underwater” tended to keep the watchmen diligent in their duties in the night. The night watch spotted the Hunley a hundred yards out and sounded the alarm. Small arms fire failed to stop the iron fish as it rammed the torpedo near the powder magazine and blew a huge whole in the side. The Housatonic sank quickly, but 155 of the 160-man crew escaped death. A submarine had sunk the first surface vessel in combat in history. There would be many more to come in history.
The Hunley, suspended from a crane during recovery from Charleston Harbor in 2000
The Hunley disappeared beneath the ocean waves, not to be rediscovered until 1970 or 1995, depending on who you believe. It was raised from its watery grave in 2000, and the crew buried in Magnolia Cemetery in 2004. Landmark Events visits the Hunley Museum in North Charleston for a private tour and lecture on the submarine. We also visit the gravesites of the valiant crews whose history-making exploits have captured the imaginations of multiple thousands of people ever since.
The graves of the last crew of the Hunley, Magnolia Cemetery, Charleston, SC—one of the stops on Landmark Events’ Charleston & Savannah Tour, April 19-23