Tag Archives: submarine loss

Spence VS Cussler: Who Found the Hunley?


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)

August 3, 2016. I just came into information today that leads me to believe that some of this information in this one article might be incorrect. I have a mountain of research to do on this and will let you know the end results and will make corrections to this article if the results of my research warrant it. Thank you for you patience and understanding.

Clive Cussler

Clive Cussler (Photo credit: Travelin’ Librarian)

The controversy over who found the Hunley has gone on for almost two decades. Both men have many supporters who have continued the arguments and added some of their own. Many of these arguments treat opinion as evidence and fact, and attempt to attribute causes of the combatant’s opinion to actions of the opponent. To sort out all of the claims and counter claims could take years of research, and some would never be satisfactorily resolved because they are based in partisan opinion. So, where do we start?

The August 23, 2008, article in the Charleston Post and Courier by Brad Nettles concisely states each side’s case in an unbiased fashion, and gives us our starting point (this is the link to Brad’s article http://www.postandcourier.com/article/20080823/PC1602/308239956 ). The article was written at the time Cussler dropped his lawsuit against Spence. Since the US Navy, the National Park Service, and the Hunley Commission all credit Clive Cussler as the founder of the Hunley (see the article), Dr. Spence is in the role of the challenger. This is a good place to start.

We could start with the appeals Dr. Spence has filed with the Hunley commission over his discovery, but we will go back to Dr. Spence’s discovery in 1970 instead. We will also cover the claim of ownership of the Hunley by Dr. Spence. This will be enough to settle the matter. However, we will also address some of the opinions of the controversy. An area I do not normally go into, in the case of the Hunley I find it unavoidable, as opinion has begun to overshadow fact in some areas of the controversy.

One more important point before we begin an analysis of the evidence; Mr. Cussler and Dr. Spence work in two very different worlds. Doctor Edward Lee Spence is an academic. Spence’s discoveries and underwater archeological work is funded by universities, foundations, and governments. Universities, foundations, and governments that receive their funding from donations and tax dollars. Dr. Spence does not have to show a profit. However, to be successful and recognized in the academic world, his work needs follow the standards of, and be acceptable to the academic world.

Clive Cussler on the other hand works within the commercial world. Clive Cussler is a novelist, and before that, he worked in advertising. Mr. Cussler’s work in underwater discovery is his hobby. I say hobby because it is his passion and not his job. To say his work in this field is a hobby does not undermine his contributions to the field. Clive Cussler has been awarded an honorary doctor’s degree for his work in discovering underwater wrecks.

Cussler makes his living in the public, first in advertising and then as a writer. Cussler uses profits from his novels to pay for his underwater explorations. Cussler’s background also insures that he understands the importance of public relations and marketing can have on income and recognition (which also impacts income). Cussler uses his position as a bestselling author to help his searches for underwater wrecks. He also uses his discoveries of underwater wrecks for public attention, which helps to promote his books. In the business world, this is smart, killing two birds with one stone. In the academic world, this is frowned upon and considered vulgar by some. In the commercial world of advertising and writing, this is just part of another day’s work.

We Take The Field …

Just like Angus Smith in 1876, Dr. Spence said he found the Hunley, but gave us no proof other than the position where he claimed the Hunley rested on the harbor bottom. Dr. Spence provided no photographs or artifacts from the Hunley. Dr. Spence has people willing to testify he found the Hunley just as Angus Smith did (but PT Barnum never paid Smith the reward), in the academic world a good article in a peer-reviewed magazine is enough to seal a legacy. Outside the academic world, you need to follow accepted procedures recognized by the public and international judicial system. A good example is the RMS Titanic.

RMS Titanic departing Southampton on April 10,...

RMS Titanic departing Southampton on April 10, 1912 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Does anyone in the world doubt that Dr. Robert Ballard found the Titanic? No. Why? Because Dr. Ballard brought back photographs from his discovery. However, RMS Titanic Incorporated owns the Titanic because they were the first to bring an artifact in front of a federal judge and claim ownership of the Titanic. Unlike Dr. Spence, Dr. Ballard kept the location of the Titanic secret from everyone not just the public. Dr. Ballard was afraid that treasure hunters would remove artifacts from the Titanic if he made the location public.

English: Arlington, Va. (Feb. 26, 2009) Deep-s...

English: Arlington, Va. (Feb. 26, 2009) Deep-sea explorer and underwater archaeologist, Dr. Robert Ballard, best known for his historic discovery of the RMS TITANIC, speaks to military and civilian personnel at the Office of Naval Research (ONR) about the future of deep sea exploration and its application for the fleet. (U.S. Navy photo by John F. Williams/Released) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Dr. Ballard’s one regret is that he did not bring back an artifact from the Titanic (see Dr. Ballard talk about this himself at this link http://youtu.be/mPSzZKTN2G0) and claim the Titanic himself. Outside the academic world to claim ownership of a wreck (historic or a fishing boat lost last week) you remove an artifact from the wreck and report to the nearest admiralty court (federal court in the United States). In an admiralty court an archeological dig on an historic sunken ship is treated no different than a salvage operation on a modern ship lost last week. If the ship is considered abandoned (which usually means the insurance company paid the claim and wrote off the wreck as a loss on its financial books), you declare to the judge the position of the wreck you claim and present the artifact as evidence. The judge then gives you ownership of the wreck. Dr. Ballard did not have any artifacts from the Titanic and could not claim ownership, which would prevent other people from being able to remove artifacts.

Dr. Spence, on several of his web sites, repeatedly points out that he filed a claim for ownership of the Hunley in federal court. He goes on to state that since no one spoke out against his claim this means he owns the Hunley. What Dr. Spence does not mention is that his claim of ownership in federal court was dismissed by the judge. In the academic world, if no one disputes your claims, and you are a respected academic (which Dr. Spence is) your claims are accepted. In admiralty court, you need hard evidence to support your claims, which Dr. Spence does not have, and so the judge dismissed his claim of ownership.

Painting of the sinking of the Central America

Painting of the sinking of the Central America (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In the world of treasure hunting, the race to the nearest admiralty court can resemble a race scene from a Three Stooge’s movie. The first person in federal court with an artifact is awarded ownership of the wreck. When the SS Central America was found, a helicopter was waiting to fly an artifact to the federal court in Norfolk. Good thing, as several rival treasure hunting groups were following the searchers hoping to get to a federal court first so they could claim the SS Central America. Dr. Spence also filed a lawsuit claiming he found the SS Central America, which was again dismissed by the court (Dr. Spence never tried to claim ownership of the SS Central America, only that he found it). Dr. Spence seems to have had many of his lawsuits dismissed by federal judges.

Who owns the Hunley is a complicated matter better suited to courts than web sites, but here goes.

If the Hunley was owned by the confederate government, then at the end of the Civil War it became United States government property under the jurisdiction of the GSA (General Services Administration). If the Hunley was private property, in 1970, (when Dr. Spence claims finding the Hunley) the first person in front of a judge with an artifact from the Hunley can claim and be awarded ownership by the court. In 1995, when Clive Cussler found the Hunley the Abandoned Shipwrecks Act of 1988 had already been passed which gives ownership of historic wrecks to the state in who’s waters the wreck is located.

CSS Hunley

CSS Hunley (Photo credit: AN HONORABLE GERMAN)

Seems simple, but this is where it gets complicated. A group of men who intended to use the Hunley as a privateer built the Hunley. They never intended to sell or give the Hunley to the Confederate government. A privateer, as I explained in an earlier article in this series, is a privately owned ship that is given a letter from a government to attack ships of a country it is at war with. Ok, fine, so if Cussler found the Hunley then South Carolina owns the Hunley. However, General Beauregard confiscated the Hunley after the second sinking and gave it to the Confederate Navy. Therefore, that means it was Confederate property and became United States property at the end of the war, and is under the control of the GSA. But, Captain Dixon persuaded General Beauregard to give the submarine back to the original owners, and the submarine was under the control of the original owners when it sank. Back to South Carolina right? Maybe. General Beauregard gave the submarine back to the original owners, but it is unclear whether he returned ownership or only gave them operational control of the submarine. As I said, ownership is complicated. Fortunately, the GSA turned over any interest in the Hunley to the United States Navy, which then donated the Submarine to South Carolina. So, in the end whoever had rights to the Hunley, South Carolina or the United States, it still ended up in possession of South Carolina legally.

No matter who could claim rights to the Hunley, Dr. Spence did not present artifacts to a federal judge with his claim of ownership and his case was dismissed by the judge. So, whoever had rights it was not Dr. Spence and he should have known this. If Dr. Spence did know this, then his claim of ownership is a publicity stunt to bolster his discovery claims.

Dr. Spence claimed that Cussler’s first public location was intentionally wrong to discredit his claim to be the one who found the Hunley. Cussler claims it was to protect the wreck from treasure hunters. Considering that after Cussler’s announcement the Hunley was found, hundreds of thousands of dollars were offered on the black market for parts of the Hunley, anything from the diving planes and the propeller to portholes; this makes Cussler’s claim sensible. Had the treasure hunters located the Hunley, parts of the submarine would have disappeared into private anonymous collections never to be seen again; something that has happened too many times with other shipwrecks, particularly since the passing of the Abandoned Shipwreck Act of 1988. Which is ironic since the politicians thought they were protecting shipwrecks with the act, which just goes to show that only honest men obey laws. By removing legitimate salvors and treasure hunters from the competition, that leaves only the thieves and archeologists, and the thieves have better funding.

H.L. Hunley - Downtown Charleston, SC

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

The archeologists would have been better off getting congress to pass a law requiring archeologists on every treasure hunt or salvage. Some of the treasure hunters and salvors would have complained at first. However, with cooperation between academia and their commercial counterparts the treasure hunters and salvors would have soon found out that an archeologists could be of great assistance to them in their work. On the academic side, they would be able to collect more information working with treasure hunters and salvors than they would ever be able to get funding for through their normal channels.

Mel Fisher's Treasure Museum

Mel Fisher’s Treasure Museum (Photo credit: mocr)

Mel Fisher, on his own in the 1960’s, was the first to realize the value of having a good archeologists on a treasure hunt. Unfortunately no one in the commercial, political, or academic world seems to have learned that lesson from Mr. Fisher. Political? Yes, Political. Politicians believe that it is not fair that salvors and treasure hunters should be able to make money from shipwrecks. The politicians think that objects of value are just laying around on top of the ocean floor, for someone to dive down and pick up, even though it took Mel Fisher two decades to find the wreck of the Atocha. The politicians want the state to get the money, in other words they want to be the ones who get to spend that money. Seem unbelievable? The state of Florida was so upset that Mel Fisher was finding millions “just laying on the sea floor” that they tried to defeat Mel Fisher in court and take everything he was finding.  When the courts (following salvage law) sided with Mr. Fisher, Florida created a new department in the Florida state government that was tasked with finding and recovering treasure from the sea floor. It did not take long for the state of Florida to realize that not only can it be hard to find wrecks, but also treasure hunters often spend more money to find the treasure than they recover from the wrecks. Florida quickly closed its new department and got out of the treasure hunting business.

Florida’s lesson has not distilled the disdain academics and politicians have for amateurs and professionals (despite the fact that amateurs have made so many discoveries in so many fields see my articles on my research methods). One of Dr. Spence’s articles on his blog starts off in big bold letters (this is a direct quote) “Comment by Dr. E. Lee Spence on Dr. Clive E. Cussler and his Alleged Discoveries. For Heaven’s Sake, Cussler Writes Fiction For a Living!” Dr. Newell, the academic who replaced Dr. Albright at the University of South Carolina also seems to have considerable disdain for non-academics. While researching this series I found several different articles which claimed to quote Dr. Newell. I discovered that the quotes claimed anything from — a joint expedition with NUMA — to a SCIAA (University of South Carolina’s Institute of Archaeology and Anthropology) expedition to confirm Dr. Spence’s claim paid for in part by NUMA, during which Cussler was not even present (they seem to ignore the fact that the 1995 discovery followed the 1980, 81, and 94 searches). I went back and looked at these claims chronologically and realized that the first claims seem to match Cussler’s, but as time goes on the claims seem to change lessening Cussler’s involvement in the hunt for the Hunley.

There are two other things I noticed concerning Dr. Newell’s and Dr. Spence’s claims concerning NUMA and Clive Cussler.

First, when Dr. Newell’s statements about the joint expedition are examined and compared with past expeditions of NUMA and Cussler the claim is inconsistent with Cussler and NUMA’s past expeditions. The claims are also inconsistent with the 1980 and 1981 searches for the Hunley (under Dr. Albright, Dr. Newell’s predecessor) and the 1994 search for the Hunley when Dr. Newell was already heading SCIAA .

Second, Dr. Spence also claims that Ralph Willbanks had a copy of his just released book (which gave Dr. Spence’s location of the Hunley) with him on the search boat when Ralph found the Hunley. Here is the problem with that statement. The book in question is Treasures of the Confederate Coast: The “Real Rhett Butler” & Other Revelations by Edward Lee Spence published January 1995. The Hunley was found by Ralph Willbanks on 3 May 1995. So from the end of January to the beginning of May, basically February, March, & April, three months. The publish date is when the book goes to the printers. Publishing, with all the high tech advantages including the internet, is faster today than it was in 1995. When I am planning my publish date for a new book of mine I start with the date I would like my book to be available with online retailers and count back five to six months. That earlier date is the deadline for when I need to have my book with my distributors (e-books are much quicker). I also know that from the time I up load my book to my distributor to the earliest date I can get the first copies for myself is ten to twelve weeks.

So, you can see the time problem with Dr. Spence’s claim, that a book published in January 1995 was hand delivered by him to Ralph Willbanks before Ralph discovered the Hunley on May 3, 1995. It would be difficult for me to have a book published in January of 2012 and hand deliver copies to someone by 3 May 2012, even with the advancements that have taken place in book publishing since 1995. Though it may be possible (I believe more likely) that Dr. Spence gave Ralph copies of his newly published book shortly after Ralph found the Hunley.

CONCLUSION:

If Dr. Spence would have brought back with him an artifact from the Hunley, then if he had taken that artifact into a federal court to claim ownership of the wreck, there would be no controversy surrounding who found the Hunley. Also, Clive Cussler would not have spent $130,000 looking for the Hunley in 1980, 1981, 1994, and 1995. Mr. Cussler would also not have had to have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on a seven year court battle with Dr. Spence.

Did Dr. Spence find the Hunley? I do not know. I do know that Dr. Spence believes he found the Hunley. I also know that Clive Cussler did not know where the Hunley was when he started his search. Clive Cussler’s men brought back photographs and video. Also, by looking at his past work, if Cussler had been given the location to the Hunley he would have dove on the sub and listed it under “wrecks surveyed” and not under “wrecks discovered” at the NUMA website and in his non-fiction book’s index.

There is more I could write about, such as Dr. Spence’s faith in the accuracy of navigational charts; a faith that based on my at sea use of navigational charts I do not share (nor do the men of the USS San Francisco, as well as other ships). However, I believe these 3200 words give the reader enough information to come to an independent conclusion to determine for themselves if it was Cussler, Dr. Spence or both men who found the Hunley.

Hunley

Hunley (Photo credit: sfgamchick)

To learn more about the discovery of the H.L. Hunley by Clive Cussler we recommend The Sea Hunters, by Clive Cussler and Craig Dirgo.

To learn more about Dr. Lee 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

Dr. E. Lee Spence’s Hunley

Back to the H.L. Hunley

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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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The Submarine H. L. Hunley


English: Confederate Submarine H.L. Hunley. Se...

English: Confederate Submarine H.L. Hunley. Sepia wash drawing by R.G. Skerrett, 1902, after a painting then held by the Confederate Memorial Literary Society Museum, Richmond, Virginia Deutsch: Illustration des U-Boots „Hunley“ von R. G. Skerrett, 1902. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The story of the Hunley begins in the winter of 1861/62 in New Orleans with two steam gauge manufacturers, James McClintock and Baxter Watson. At the beginning of the war, the Confederacy had no navy and little money to build one. The Confederacy decided to use privateers as a way to put ships at sea to oppose the United States Navy. McClintock and Watson intended to build a submarine, apply for a Letter of Marque from the Confederacy, and attack United States shipping for profit. It was while building this first submarine, Pioneer, that Horace Hunley joined McClintock and Watson. On 31 March 1862, the men received a Letter of Marque from the Confederates States.

(Privateers are not pirates. Often governments will authorize, with a Letter of Marque, private ship owners to attack enemy shipping. The ship owner must prove he has a seaworthy ship and trained crew. When a privateer sinks or captures an enemy ship they report to a maritime court (in the United States this is any federal court) where a value is affixed to the captured or sunk ship and its cargo. The privateer receives half of the value and the government half. The privateer must follow all rules of war and comes under the control of the government that issued the Letter of Marque. Privateers are not as efficient as navy ships, but it is an effective way to put a large fleet of ships at sea to oppose an enemy.)

Français : Photographie d'Horace Lawnson Hunle...

Français : Photographie d’Horace Lawnson Hunley, qui réalisa notamment pendant la Guerre de Sécession un submersible pour soutenir les Confédérés. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One month after the Pioneer was completed; New Orleans fell to the United States. McClintock, Watson and Hunley scuttled the Pioneer so it would not fall into enemy hands. They gathered all of their diagrams and notes and left for Mobile, Alabama to build a second submarine. Pioneer was a very seaworthy boat, but with Pioneer II, they would experiment with submarine features not successfully used until the 20th century.

English: Confederate Submarine H.L. Hunley. Cu...

English: Confederate Submarine H.L. Hunley. Cutaway drawings published in France, based on sketches by William A. Alexander, who directed her construction. Deutsch: Schnittzeichnung des U-Boots „Hunley“. Zweite Hälfte des 19.Jahrhunderts. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The three built an electric motor to power their new submarine. Unfortunately, the motor did not have enough power to propel the submarine effectively. Next, they decided to use steam power. It was during this time that William Alexander joined the design and construction team. Once again, the mode of propulsion was unacceptable, the steam engine was removed from Pioneer II, and it was decided to use a hand crank to power the submarine. In early February 1863, the Pioneer II was lost; most likely while attempting to attack the United States blockading fleet at Mobile, Alabama.

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)

By the spring of 1863, our group of submariners joined with the Singer Submarine Corps (also known as the Singer Secret Service Corps). This next submarine would cost $15,000 to build, a large sum of money in 1863. Mr. E.C. Singer, of the Singer Submarine Corps, invested $5,000, Horace Hunley invested $5,000, and the remaining $5,000 came from a group of private investors. Later when more money was needed, Horace Hunley would provide the additional funds.

Charleston, S.C. (Jan. 28, 2005) – Civil War C...

Charleston, S.C. (Jan. 28, 2005) – Civil War Confederate submarine Hunley conservators Philippe de Vivies, left, and Paul Mardikian remove the first section of the crew’s bench at the Warren Lash Conservation Lab in the former Charleston Navy Shipyard, S.C. Archaeologists and conservators are hopeful that once the bench is removed, they will discover new Hunley artifacts. Photo courtesy of Naval Historical Center (RELEASED) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In July 1863, the H.L. Hunley (named after the largest investor in the submarine) slid into the harbor for the first time. The Hunley incorporated knowledge learned from Pioneer and Pioneer II, and benefitted from the additional designers and engineers who had joined the project since 1861. Modern historians and academics greatly underestimated how advanced this submarine was, until it was raised in 2000. The most surprising feature discovered after the submarine was raised in 2000 is internal frames spaced every three feet to strengthen the hull, just as the modern United States Navy’s nuclear powered submarines have.

Two U.S. Navy submarines come alongside the fl...

Two U.S. Navy submarines come alongside the fleet ballistic missile submarine tender USS Hunley (AS-31) at Navy Fleet Ballistic Submarine Refit Site 1 at Holy Loch, Scotland (UK), on 1 December 1985. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Hunley passed all its sea trials successfully. Next, the Hunley made a demonstration for high-ranking Confederate officers in the Mobile River. The Hunley submerged to twenty feet and approached a coal barge using its depth gage and compass. Behind the Hunley on a towrope was a powder keg with contact detonators. After destroying the barge, the Hunley surfaced and returned to shore.

English: Charleston Navy Yard, S.C. (Mar. 7, 2...

English: Charleston Navy Yard, S.C. (Mar. 7, 2003) — The pocket watch that belonged to the commanding officer of the Civil War-era submarine “H.L. Hunley,” Lt. George Dixon. The watch was retrieved from the Hunley and archeologists hope to use it to determine the time the sub sank on February 17, 1864. U.S. Navy photo. (RELEASED) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

After the successful demonstration the Confederate officers were anxious to put the Hunley to use against the blockading fleet of the United States. Mobile Bay was shallow and the United States ships too far out to sea for the Hunley to be used effectively, so it was decided to send the submarine to Charleston, South Carolina. The commander of Mobile, General Slaughter, sent a letter of introduction to the commander of Charleston, General P.G.T. Beauregard, on 31 July 1863. Admiral Buchanan in Mobile also sent a letter to his counterpart in Charleston, Admiral Tucker.

Revised 2:3 ratio Stainless Banner battle ensi...

Revised 2:3 ratio Stainless Banner battle ensign (never flown aboard CSS Albemarle) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In early August 1863, the Hunley was lifted onto two flatbed cars at the Mobile train station and strapped down, to be shipped to Charleston. Due to the size and weight of the submarine this was no easy task.

Civil War Submarine H. L. Hunley (Replica)

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

After arriving in Charleston, the Hunley made three nighttime raids into the harbor in the third week of August, but did not sink any ships.  After more failed and cancelled attempts to sink ships of the United States Navy, the Confederate Army seized the submarine from its owners and turned it over to the Confederate Navy. (This is important when we discuss the salvage of the Hunley in a later article). The Confederate government determined the value of the submarine to be $27,500, but there is no evidence that shows this sum was paid to the owners. The inexperienced navy crew was docking the submarine on 29 August 1863 when something went wrong and the submarine submerged with the hatches open and the crew inside. Four men escaped and five men drowned. On 13 September 1863, the Hunley was raised.

Civil War Submarine H. L. Hunley (Replica)

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

On 19 September, General Beauregard turned the submarine over to Horace Hunley. It is not clear, if ownership was transferred or only the operational control of the submarine. On 15 October 1863, with Horace Hunley at the controls the submarine Hunley was making practice attacks on the CSS Indian Chief when something went wrong and the submarine sank with a loss of the entire crew. After being raised and dry-docked for maintenance, the Hunley was ready for operations by 14 December 1863.

English: Charleston Navy Yard, S.C. (Mar. 7, 2...

English: Charleston Navy Yard, S.C. (Mar. 7, 2003) — Senior Conservator of the Civil War-era Confederate submarine the H.L. Hunley, Paul Mardikian, uses a microscope to examine a pocket watch that belonged to the sub’s commanding officer, Lt. George Dixon. The watch was retrieved from the Hunley and archeologists hope to use it to determine the time the sub sank on February 17, 1864. U.S. Navy photo. (RELEASED) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It was during this time the Hunley was fitted with a spar type torpedo and would use this on future attacks instead of the towed powder keg. On the night of 14 February 1864 the Hunley ventured forth on what would be its last patrol. This was the night that the Hunley successfully attacked and sank the USS Housatonic. Shortly after the torpedo exploded and the USS Housatonic sank, with only its masts remaining above water, a Confederate sentry saw the signal from the Hunley for the lamp on shore to be lit to aid the submarine back to its dock. The signal was a blue light shown by the Hunley. The historians and academics deny the signal was given, and claim the blue light seen was a lie because the Hunley sank with the Housatonic and never had a chance to send the signal.

English: USS Housatonic.

English: USS Housatonic. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Since 14 February 1864, most historians and academics alike called the sinking of the USS Housatonic an unqualified success because, as they stated, “the Hunley sank the Housatonic and itself.” Though there were three separate salvage operations to remove parts of the Housatonic (it was considered a hazard to navigation) without any trace of the Hunley found, the professionals continued in their belief that the Hunley sank underneath the Housatonic.

English: Naval Historical Center, Navy Yard, W...

English: Naval Historical Center, Navy Yard, Washington D.C. (Feb. 21, 2003) — This Civil War-era wallet was discovered by Naval Historical Center archeologists during their excavation of the Confederate submarine H.L. Hunley. The archeologists stated that the wallet was in remarkably good condition. Hunley became the first submarine in history to sink a warship during the Civil War in 1863. Photo by Chris Ohm. (RELEASED) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Then 120 years after that historic night a package of papers were found in the archives of Suitland, Maryland. These papers were the 115 pages of handwritten testimony from the United States Navy Inquiry into the loss of the USS Housatonic. Sealed with a wax seal these papers had never been read. It was in the testimony that a seaman Fleming from the Housatonic testified that as he was in the rigging watching the USS Canandaigua coming to their rescue he saw a blue light appear on the water just in front of the Canandaigua and off the stern quarter of the Housatonic.

US Navy 030221-O-0000O-002 Scientists at the W...

US Navy 030221-O-0000O-002 Scientists at the Warren Lash Conservation Center examine a Civil War-era wallet found during excavation of the Confederate submarine H.L. Hunley (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The location the H. L. Hunley was found in proves that the Hunley successfully attacked the Housatonic, and then withdrew to wait for the incoming tide to return to its dock. It was while the submarine was waiting on the tide to shift that the USS Canandaigua (unaware of the Hunley’s presence) ran over and sank the submarine.

The Hunley

The Hunley (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The blue light controversy is one of several controversies surrounding the Hunley, including who actually found the Hunley, Clive Cussler or Dr. E. Lee Spence.

Next week’s article will be on Cussler’s discovery of the Hunley. The following week will be on Dr. E. Lee Spence’s discovery of the Hunley.

To learn more about the Hunley and the men who designed, built, and sailed her I highly recommend The Hunley: Submarines, Sacrifice & Success in the Civil War, and Submarine Warfare in the Civil War, both by Mark K. Ragan. I have Submarine Warfare in the Civil War in my print library, and have thoroughly enjoyed the book.

Our Other Hunley Articles:

Clive Cussler’s Hunley

The Hunley Blue Signal Light

Dr. E. Lee Spence’s Hunley

Spence VS Cussler: Who Found the Hunley

Back to the H.L. Hunley

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Sunday’s Article: The Hunley


Sunday’s Article: The Hunley.

The first in a series of articles about the Hunley, and our search will start in an surprising place. See you Sunday.

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