Little Bits of History

Horace Hunley – Inventor

Posted in History by patriciahysell on October 15, 2015
Recovery of the CSS HL Hunley*

Recovery of the CSS HL Hunley

October 15, 1863: Horace Lawson Hunley dies. He was born in 1823 in Tennessee but shortly after his birth, his family moved to New Orleans. Hunley was a lawyer who had an established practice in New Orleans as well as serving in the Louisiana State Legislature. When the US Civil War began, he joined up with James McClintock and Baxter Watson in order to build submarines. Their first attempt was named Pioneer and it was for use by the Confederacy. The US Navy was also working on their own submarine. Pioneer was first tested in February 1862 in the Mississippi River and was then taken to Lake Pontchartrain for more trials. New Orleans fell to Union troops and so the men scuttled Pioneer to keep her out of enemy hands. She was raised and examined by Union troops and then sold for scrap.

The three men attempted to build a second submarine but it was a failure and sunk in Mobile Bay, Alabama. McClintock and Watson both abandoned the project. Hunley used his own funds and built a third submarine, the H.L. Hunley. Early trials were encouraging. Unfortunately during a trial run, a passing boat swamped the sub which was sailing with open hatches. The sub sank and four men were able to escape to safety; five men died. A new crew was recruited in Charleston, South Carolina.

Hunley was not part of the test crew but on this day, he decided to take command of a routine exercise. While out on maneuvers, the sub once again sank but this time there were no escapes and all eight crewmen died, including Hunley. He was 40 years old at the time. The sub was raised and was eventually able to be used. It was the first time a sub was able to sink an enemy vessel and the H.L. Hunley was responsible for sinking the USS Housatonic on February 17, 1864. After sinking the ship, the Hunley rose above the waters to signal land using a “blue light” and then submerged to return to land. It was lost at sea with eight men aboard.

The fate of the submarine was certain, but the cause has remained undetermined. It was possible that on their return to Sullivan’s Island, she may have collided with the USS Canandaigua as the Union warship went to the aid of the Housatonic. There is also some possibility that the torpedo used by the Hunley did not detonate properly. The sub was supposed to be at least 150 feet away but was reported to have been closer (100 feet). The sub may have been damaged by the blast. When the wreckage was finally discovered, it was noted that the pumps were not set, indicating the cabin was not flooding. It is possible the crew simply ran out of air and suffocated. There is also the possibility that the sub was actually struck by a cannon ball from the Housatonic. It is also possible the crew was knocked unconscious by the concussion of the torpedo due to proximity and died without waking and the blue light was something else.

Submarine life most of the time is hours and hours of boredom with intermittent terror thrown in to keep you on your toes! – Paul Perris

Life is not fair, life was not meant to be fair. We in the submarine service are fortunate to learn this fact early in life, that life is not fair. – Danny A. Alexander

Some ships are designed to sink… others require our assistance. – Nathan Zelk

The only good Marine is a SUB-marine! – EN1-SS Steve D. Gardella

Also on this day: Rostov Ripper – In 1992, Andrei Chikatilo, of Russia, was found guilty of 52 murders.
Going Postal – In 1888, a letter was received, purportedly from Jack the Ripper.
You Got Some ‘Splainin To Do – In 1951, I Love Lucy premiered.
Chance Chants – In 1764, Edward Gibbon was inspired to write his work on the fall of Rome.
Upgrade – In 1956, a new computer language was born.




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