The find of the century…
The Charleston Harbor is home to the country’s most intriguing Civil War naval battle. Yes, I’m talking about the one and only HL Hunley, also called “The Diver”, “The Infernal Machine”, “The Fish Boat”, “The Peripatetic Coffin”. The Hunley was the world’s first combat submarine to successfully sink an enemy ship, and recently, I got a chance to see it.
The museum is open Saturday 9AM – 5PM and Sunday noon – 5PM. Admission is $12 (free for kids 5 years and under) and includes a 20 minutes guided talk on top of the 90,000 gallons tank holding the Hunley, access to interactive exhibits and two full size
Playing inside Hunley full size replica from the TNT movie
submarines replicas, and viewing of the Natl Geographic “Raising the Hunley” documentary.
Among the 3,000 artifacts recovered from the mysterious HL Hunley submarine, the most incredible findings are those not yet displayed to the public:
Like Lt. George Dixon’s watch, that when opened had the hands still in position!…or crewmen brain tissue inside the skulls, soft tissue in the shoes, and most amazing discovery of all… fingerprints!
However, here are the cool ones you can see at the HL Hunley Lauch Conservation Center (historic data taken from the exhibits):
The power of love
For more than a century a romantic legend has captured the hearts and minds of countless Civil War history buffs: the story of the lucky $20 gold coin that saved the life of Lt. George Dixon, the captain who lead HL Hunley in its final mission.
It was believed, his sweetheart, Queenie Bennet gave Dixon a 1860-minted gold coin as a good luck charm. And the coin delivered!
The lucky coin that dodged a bullet during Civil War Shiloh battle
During the 1862 Battle of Shiloh, he was shot point blank. A bullet ripped into the pocket of his trousers and struck the center of the coin. The impact was said to have left the gold piece bent, with the bullet embedded in it.
Was the legend true or merely a romantic tale?
The world got the answer 137 years later. In 2000, during the excavation of the H.L. Hunley, the gold coin was discovered next to the remains of Lt. George Dixon. It was deeply indented and carried traces of lead!
The front of the coin features the Lady Liberty image, while the back has the Shield and Eagle symbol and a hand inscription:
April 6, 1862
My life Preserver
G. E. D.
The above photo is from the coin replica displayed inside the HL Hunley Museum. It was cast from the original. Now, for $10, you can purchase a similar gold coin replica from the Friends of the Hunley online store.
Dixon’s gold and diamond ring and brooch…another charm, another love story?
While excavating the fragile waterlogged textiles of Lt. Dixon the Hunley research team uncovered two enigmatic pieces of gold jewelry:
Exquisite diamond gold jewelry on a Civil War secret mission?
• A 18-24 carat gold ring with 9 large diamonds It has no inscriptions or jewelry marks and resembles a ring for a rich and more mature woman.
• A gold brooch with 37 small diamonds. Originally pinned to a small piece of fabric, it appears to have been wrapped in cloth along with the ring, most likely for safekeeping.
The brooch featured a popular 1820s design symbolizing wealth and high status for its owner.
It is believed the two pieces were made from different jewelers. Together they represented quite a fortune during Civil War.
Why did Dixon carry such expensive jewelry with him in a perilous battle? Whom did they belong to? Were they also a lucky charm gift?
It was known that Lt. Dixon was a “ladies man”….
A Union soldier fighting with the Confederates on board Hunley?!
On April 27, 2001, the excavation team was surprised to discover a Union ID tag inside one of the most secret Confederate naval weapon!
Another Civil War mystery solved ~130 years later: Ezra Chamberlain's medallion found with a Confederate soldier inside the HL Hunley submarine
The ID tag was found on the skull of one of the Hunley crewmen, bearing the name and class of Ezra Chamberlain, Private, 7th Connecticut Infantry, Union Forces.
Was Ezra onboard that fateful night? Did he switch sides?
Was he a prisoner and thus forced to operate the Hunley?
Was Ezra’s ID tag picked up from the battlefield by a Hunley crewman as a souvenir of war?
Mystery Solved! Early 2002, forensic experts found that the Hunley crewman wearing the tag was in his 30s, while Ezra would have been only 24 at the time of the mission. Further research suggests that Pvt. Chamberlain was killed in action 7 months earlier, during the Fort Wagner battle on Morris Island.
The brass medallion was indeed a battlefield souvenir picked up by Joseph Ridgaway.
A candle in the wind…
This simple white candle was used to light the interior of the submarine.
Only one candle lit the cramped 4 foot interior ...here it is more than a century later
When the flame of the candle diminished, the crew knew the oxygen level in the hull was getting low.
Before the Hunley’s last mission, Lt. Dixon put the crew to rigorous training to test their physical and emotional endurance.
On one occasion the men hat to wait at their stations for 2 and half hours, in complete darkness, while the submarine was resting on the ocean floor.
This exercise proved extremely helpful during the mission since most of the navigation was done after the candle light blew off.
To walk in their shoes…
When found this leather shoe still had bones and tissue inside, more than 130 years after the submarine sinking!
A shoe from the past...another inspirational human touch from HL Hunley submarine
Where is smoke, is (explosion) fire…
Three wooden tobacco pipe bowls were found inside the Hunley, with one still holding a tobacco wad! Among the personal possessions scientists also found the remains of a delicate matchstick.
One of three tobacco pipes found inside the Fish Boat
Dress for success…
On May 3rd, 1995, NUMA (National Underwater Marine Agency) archaeologist
The suit of the man who first touched the Hunley
Harry Pecorelli, wore this wetsuit during his first dive to investigate an object on the ocean floor.
Upon touching the sub, he radioed back to the boat, “I don’t know what it is, but it is definitely not the Hunley.”
The structure proved to be the Hunley, and Harri Pecorelli became the first person to touch the elusive submarine in more than 130 years!
Then Harry was affectionately nicknamed “the first person to have never found the Hunley.”
Check out this cool animation of the “2000 Raising of Hunley” provided on the museum official website.
A face to remember
The human remains underwent comprehensive analysis by some of the world’s most noted forensic anthropologists.
The heroic crew of HL Hunley who sunk the Housatonic
The results were remarkable showing the crew spatial distribution and the facial reconstruction of each member.
A biographical and physical portrait was assembled for each man who perished in the 1864 attack.
In 2004 the crew was buried with full military honors at Magnolia Cemetery in Charleston. They were laid to rest next to the two previous crews who also died while serving on HL Hunley.
2011 update! Hunley is sitting in an upright position almost 150 years after its sinking.
“Instead of looking like an artifact, it now looks like a stealth weapon,” said Sen. Glenn McConnell, chairman of the South Carolina Hunley Commission. The newly exposed side of the hull may finally reveal the answers needed in solving the century old mystery…”we are seeing some tantalizing clues on that side,” said Hunley lead archaeologist Maria Jacobsen.
Relive the Civil War’s true “Mission Impossible” with the HL Hunley in Charleston!
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