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The Charleston “Fish Boat” Mystery

Posted By ShoutCarolina,Date: 04.08.2009

An engineering marvel, a Civil War naval battle success, a human tragedy and a century old mystery. The H.L. Hunley Confederate Submarine elusive disappearance coupled with an incredible manpower struggle has captivated the hearts and minds of people around the world.

Hunley submarine and crew painting

• Excerpts from the fascinating book “Charleston Mysteries – Ghostly Haunts in the Holy City” by Cathy Pickens.
• H.L Hunley submarine replica photos taken at the SC State Museum in Columbia.

Hunley Engineering Facts
• The submarine was built in Alabama by Baxter Watson, James McClintock and Horace L. Hunley (who funded most of the project).

• 40 by 4 foot torpedo shaped tube equipped with a 20 foot spar carrying 90 pounds of explosive.

• 17 feet long torpedo spar, a hallow iron pipe attached with a slingshot yoke to the bow. It was meant to ram the explosive into the target ship without requiring the sub to fully submerge.

• 4 by 3.5 foot cabin that can barely fit 8 men who sat hunched on benches and powered the shift by hand cranking a center shaft while a ninth crew man steered.

• 2 knots top speed in calm waters

• Once submersed the men could only breathe the air in the vessel so to conserve air they traveled in almost complete darkness with just one single candle lit.

Crew operating the Hunley submarine

Hunley Key Episodes
• The sub arrives in Charleston in the spring of 1863 and immediately crews of volunteers begin their training.

• Tragedy strikes from the beginning after 5 men drowned when the vessel submerged with the hatches still open. The curse continues when 8 more men, including its builder H.L. Hunley, die after the sea cock is left open.

• The sub earns the gruesome nicknames of “murdering machine”. General Beauregard, the Confederate leader charged with breaking the Union blockade, describes the scene as “ghastly” and later wrote “The unfortunate men were contorted into all kinds of horrible attitudes…and the blackened faces of all presented the expressions of despair and agony“.

• Words leak to the Union troops that the Confederates possessed an “infernal machine”, a mysterious underwater weapon.

• On February 17, 1864 the Housatonic became the world’s first ship to be sunk by a submarine attack and the ship sank within minutes. Because it sat in shallow waters its crew was able to hang on until the rescue boats arrived. The Housatonic was unsalvageable.

The Hunley attack on The Housatonic

• The Hunley used her blue lantern to signal success and then it mysteriously disappeared into the sea. The submarine was found 136 years later in almost intact shape as shown by the U.S. Naval Historical Center photos.

• Controversy surrounds even her discovery claimed by both Dr. E Spence Lee, a South Carolina native and avid wreck hunter and Clive Cussler, best selling author of the “Raise the Titanic”.

• In 2000 the submarine was raised from sea floor and moved to a former naval base in North Charleston. Researchers found the 8 crew men still sitting at their posts, a pocket watch, a comb and a $20 gold coin.

And the mystery continues almost 10 years later. The more clues revealed, the more puzzling the sinking story is

You can see this fascinating submarine at the Warren Lasch Conservation Center in North Charleston. Tours are offered Saturday from 10 AM - 5 PM and Sunday noon – 5 PM. Tickets are $12, seniors, military and members pay $10, and kids under 5 get in for FREE. Check the website for a very cool Hunley Simulator and ongoing forensics photos.

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    2 Responses to “The Charleston “Fish Boat” Mystery”

    1. » Exciting things to see and do at the Charleston Museum, our country’s first museum! »South Carolina Family Attractions, Free, Affordable and Fun Things To Do Says:

      [...] H.L. Hunnley was the world’s first submarine to successfully sink an enemy ship. A full size replica is on display in front of the Charleston Museum entrance. Amazingly it was built only from few available sketches and paintings before the sub recovery. Just another Hunley mystery… [...]

    2. » Best field trip in Columbia! Ride a space rover, play with lasers, be an architect or an acrobat at SC State Museum. »South Carolina Family Attractions, Free, Affordable and Fun Things To Do Says:

      [...] is filled with many historic gems and surprises: Powers of Nature exhibit, the mysterious and tragic H.L. Hunley submarine, the kids magnet The Best Friend of Charleston replica, the enormous megalodon shark and much [...]

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