Tag Archives: H. L. Hunley

Dr. E. Lee Spence’s Hunley


English: Dr. E. Lee Spence, VP & owner, Intern...

English: Dr. E. Lee Spence, VP & owner, International Diving Institute (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Lee had been searching for the Hunley for some time in the area between the Housatonic and Sullivan’s Island. After sinking the Housatonic, the Hunley would have passed through this area as it returned to its pier. For over 100 years, people had searched this corridor, and a few had claimed to have found the Hunley. P. T. Barnum had something to do with the many people who claimed to have found the little submarine. Each one wanting to claim the $100,000 Barnum had put up for the Hunley. Barnum intended to put the submarine in his museum in New York City. Though many claimed to have found the sub, no one ever presented proof of their find, and Mr. Barnum kept his money.

In 1970, Dr. Spence was taking a break from his search for the Hunley, and enjoying a day of fishing when one of the party’s traps snag on something on the harbor bottom. He knew that there should not have been anything in the immediate area for a trap to snag on. Lee borrowed Joe Porcelli’s diving gear; he did not have his gear with him (they were fishing from Joe’s boat, the Miss Inah). After looking at the chart and their location, Lee felt it must be something from the Housatonic that snagged the trap. Now Lee’s curiosity was up, he had to see what the trap was caught on. Diving in cold water without a wetsuit or even a dry-suit can be life threatening, but Lee was going.

Confederate Submarine H.L. Hunley, suspended f...

Confederate Submarine H.L. Hunley, suspended from a crane during her recovery from Charleston Harbor, 8 August 2000. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The visibility was poor, but soon Lee saw the trap caught on what looked like a limestone ledge. The bedrock limestone, in this location, should be 100 feet or more under the sand; it did not make sense. Then his many years of experience in the field of underwater archaeology paid-off,  he realized he was looking at Civil War era encrusted iron. The currents had swept away enough of the sand from the wreck that Lee believed he was looking at the Hunley. There was nothing else this size from that time period it could be. He was so excited he ignored all the diving safety rules and raced all the way to the surface screaming, “I’ve found the Hunley!” Unfortunately, Lee did not have a camera that could take photographs in the poor visibility, nor did he bring up anything from the wreck (I will go into this more in next week’s article Spence VS, Cussler: Who found the Hunley?). I can understand Doctor Spence’s frustration. While on a pleasure snorkeling trip in Jamaica, I discovered a ballast pile that is probably an unknown wreck, but I too did not have a camera (I will write about this in the future).

The 1970’s were a pre-GPS era. So, Lee took sightings from various landmarks on shore using a magnetic compass. Then as the Miss Inah went back to the dock, he carefully recorded the boats heading, speed, and time on each course, so he could get back to the site again.

The following week two divers went out to confirm that Spence’s discovery was indeed the Hunley. In early 1971, Spence went with Mike Douglas and David McGeehee to photograph the wreck. But, unfortunately the ocean currents had again covered the wreck of the Hunley. Spence did report the find of the Hunley to the government and the university, which he considered the proper authorities. Unfortunately, Lee did not report the find to the press. Which, (apparently his opinion seems to consider) would have been a “misguided publicity stunt”. (See the quote from Dr. Spence’s article below.)

Dr. Spence did not report his discovery to the press until he needed the publicity to help him persuade the GSA (General Services Administration) to allow him to recover the Hunley. If the Hunley was property of the Confederate government then the GSA had authority over the wreck (this will also be discussed in next week’s article). As a matter of fact, in Dr. Spence’s article he said the following:

“Perhaps it should be noted that between November of 1970 and June of 1975, although in frequent contact with various government officials relative to my efforts to get permission to salvage the wreck, I kept my discovery entirely secret from the media. The fact that I kept it secret and applied in conformity with the government regulations, clearly shows that my claim was not some sort of misguided publicity stunt. I did not release anything to the media about my discovery until half a decade had passed and I realized that, without public interest and pressure, GSA would never issue the necessary permit.”

(I recommend reading his article, it can be found here: http://hunleyfinder.wordpress.com/article/the-discovery-of-the-hunley-by-dr-e-lee-9a3pk7ykcgda-2/ )

Dr. Spence did get the location of the Hunley entered into the National Register for Historic Places. Dr. Spence also filed a claim in federal district court claiming the wreck (the United States does not have an admiralty court and the federal courts handle admiralty cases). In 1995, Dr. Spence donated the Hunley to the state of South Carolina. (All four of these will be discussed in more detail in next week’s article.)

Doctor Edward Lee Spence is a pioneer in underwater archaeology. His accomplishments would fill a book by themselves, but I will list just a few:

Dr. Spence found his first five shipwrecks when he was 12 years old.

In 1991 & 1992, he served as the Chief of Underwater Archeology for San Andres y Providencia, a 40,000 square mile area in the western Caribbean owned by Colombia.

"Wreck Chart" (map showing location ...

“Wreck Chart” (map showing location of the Civil War era blockade runner Georgiana, with a cross section of the wreck) This wreck is one of the many wrecks found by Dr. E. Lee Spence (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Dr Spence has worked on hundreds of wrecks from ancient times to modern, all over the world.

Dr. Spence is one of five people in the world with a Doctor of Marine Histories (College of Marine Arts, 1972).

Doctor Spence’s awards and honors are numerous, and from around the world.

He has survived numerous calamities while on sites, including: being shot at, running out of air underwater, pinned under wreckage, and caught in fish nets, to name just a few.

Lee is also a published editor and author of numerous non-fiction books, and has been a magazine editor and publisher of at least five different magazines.

Dr. E. Lee Spence with priceless, ruby studded...

Dr. E. Lee Spence with priceless, ruby studded, over one kilo, 22 kt gold sword handle once owned by 19th century pirate kings of Bali. It was part of a hoard of treasure hidden from the Dutch forces who invaded Java for the purpose of driving out the pirates. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If it were said that Dr. Spence was the role model used to create the Indian Jones character, it would not be surprising.

I would like to take a moment to thank Doctor Edward Lee Spence for all of his contributions to diving, underwater archaeology, and education.

On a personal note, Doctor Spence has been a pioneer, and casts a shadow over a field that has enthralled me since my childhood, and continues to do so today.

Job well done!

To learn more about Dr. Spence’s discovery of the H.L. Hunley we recommend Treasures of the Confederate Coast: The ‘Real Rhett Butler’ and Other Revelations by Edward Lee Spence.

Our Other Hunley Articles:

The Submarine H.L. Hunley

Clive Cussler’s Hunley

The Hunley Blue Signal Light

Spence VS Cussler: Who Found the Hunley

Back to the H.L. Hunley

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The Hunley Blue Signal Light


English: U.S. Army Capt. Andrew Fleagle, 1st B...

This is an example of flairs at night. Definately more visible than an oil lantern. (English: U.S. Army Capt. Andrew Fleagle, 1st Battalion, 12th Infantry Regiment fire support officer, observes illumination rounds fired during Operation Tora Arwa V in the Kandahar province Aug. 2. The illumination rounds were fired from M777 Howitzers and are used to help illuminate a certain area the Soldiers need to see. (Photo credit: Wikipedia))

This is not one of the articles in the Hunley series, it is an apology. In my articles I always try to walk the fine line between sharing new information and “talking down” to my readers (I don’t like it when people do that to me either). People today are so very informed about a wide variety of subjects. The problem is that sometimes I forget that some things are not common knowledge. The Hunley‘s blue light is just such a case.

Some sources inter-change blue light and blue lantern. This is incorrect. The Hunley did have a lantern on board, but they did not use the lantern to give the famous blue light signal. At that time, blue light, was a term that described a signal flare that gave off a blue light. The blue light can be seen for about 4 miles at sea and a lantern can be seen for about 1 mile. Many people who searched for the Hunley also did not understand this difference, which led them to search for the Hunley in the wrong location.

Chris Rucker wrote a very good and surprisingly short article on this topic ( here is the link http://civilwartalk.com/threads/h-l-hunleys-blue-lantern-myth.64150/ ). Chris has conducted research using the orignal ingredients for the Civil War area flare, and shared his research on YouTube.com (the video titles are in his article). Chris’ research on this topic will be shared in a longer article in the first issue of Civil War Navy magazine.

I apologize that I was not more specific in my article. Thank you Chris for sharing your knowledge and efforts with us all.

HL Hunley Replica

HL Hunley Replica (Photo credit: www78)

H.L. Hunley - Downtown Charleston, SC

H.L. Hunley – Downtown Charleston, SC (Photo credit: Jason Barnette Photography)

Hunley

Hunley (Photo credit: sfgamchick)

first view of CSS Hunley since it sank in 1864

first view of CSS Hunley since it sank in 1864 (Photo credit: AN HONORABLE GERMAN)

Civil War Submarine H. L. Hunley (Replica)

Civil War Submarine H. L. Hunley (Replica) (Photo credit: hyperion327)

Civil War Submarine H. L. Hunley (Replica)

Civil War Submarine H. L. Hunley (Replica) (Photo credit: hyperion327)

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Our Other Hunley Articles:

The Submarine H.L. Hunley

Clive Cussler’s Hunley

Dr. E. Lee Spence’s Hunley

Spence VS Cussler: Who Found the Hunley

Back to the H.L. Hunley

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