THE HISTORIC MISSION


The Hunley making her way out to sea on the night of February 17th, 1864.
(Image courtesy of Dan Dowdey).

The USS Housatonic.

Illustration of the crew of the USS Housatonic firing upon the approaching H.L. Hunley submarine.
(Image courtesy of Dan Dowdey).

Illustration of the H.L. Hunley
detonating its torpedo onside the hull of the USS Housatonic.
(Image courtesy of Dan Dowdey).

Illustration of the H.L. Hunley and the sinking USS Housatonic in the background.
(Image courtesy of Dan Dowdey).

Illustration of the H.L. Hunley resting on the sea bottom.
(Image courtesy of Dan Dowdey).



The Date: February 17, 1864.

The Location: Just outside Charleston Harbour approximately four miles off Breach Inlet in Sullivan's Island on the moonlit sea.

The Conditions: Cold. Bone chilling. Quiet.

The Situation: Desperate. Frightening. A turning point in history.

The Ship: A lookout aboard the Union Navy's largest ship was tired, cold -- but restless. Talk of a Confederate secret weapon was in and out of his thoughts. Suddenly he spotted something move in the chilly waters. A porpoise? There were certainly a lot of them around. But something about this one didn't seem right.

The Underwater Secret: While the cold bit through the lookout's coat, 8 men poured sweat over hand cranks that powered a spinning propeller while their captain manned the dive planes - steering man, iron, anxiety and raw courage towards its final destination.

The Alarm: The alarm rang out. This was definitely no porpoise. Nor was it debris floating from a war-torn Fort Sumter. This was something bizarre. The ship's cannons could not target an object so low in the water. Shots rang out and bullets ricocheted as other union sailors joined in the frantic firing of revolvers and rifles. The object continued to approach at about three knots.

Contact: Below the waterline - as bullets bounced off its cylindrical body, the H.L. Hunley rammed her long metal spar into the stern area, planting a 135 pound torpedo into the Warship Housatonic. The men inside the Hunley lunged forward from the impact, then quickly backed their sub out as the 150-foot attached detonation rope played out. Within seconds, the world rocked and every man, above and below, became enveloped in a concussion of destruction.

Aftermath: The explosion caused the USS Housatonic to burn for three minutes before sending the sloop-of-war collapsing to the bottom killing five sailors. The Hunley then surfaced long enough for her crew to signal their comrades on the shore of Sullivan's Island with a blue magnesium light, indicating a successful mission. The shore crew stoked their signal fires and anxiously awaited the Hunley's safe return. But minutes after her historic achievement, the Hunley and all hands onboard vanished into the sea without a trace.

That night history was made. At the same moment, a mystery was born. The Hunley became the first submarine ever to sink an enemy ship. But why had she suddenly disappeared? What caused her to sink? And would she ever be found?

The Hunley Today:

Since the end of the War Between the States, explorers and treasure seekers have scoured the sea around the site of the fallen Housatonic, hoping to discover the Hunley and her crew. In the years following the Civil War, a reward of $100,000 was even offered by the great showman, P.T. Barnum, to encourage mercenaries to find the lost vessel. But as the years passed by, the story of the Hunley remained shrouded in mystery with her secrets hidden and her resting place unknown for well over a century.

The world would have to wait until the tools of modern technology could begin to unlock the secrets of the Hunley. In 1995, author and adventurer Clive Cussler found the Hunley resting on the floor of the Atlantic Ocean. Intact and remarkably well preserved, the Hunley was found buried deep within the sand and silt just outside of Charleston Harbor.

The recovery of the Hunley has turned out to be one of the most important single events in the history of South Carolina. After being lost at sea for 137 years, the Hunley was revealed on August 8, 2000, seen for the first time in her entirety, from bow to stern and top to bottom. It was indeed a remarkable moment in history.

Today, well over a century after Lt. Dixon and his courageous crew vanished, the South Carolina Hunley Commission and a private, non-profit group called the Friends of the Hunley are solving the mystery of the Hunley like a puzzle that reveals new information one piece at a time. They are engaged in the single most important archaeological investigations of the century and are everyday coming closer to solving the mystery of why the Hunley never came home.



Related Pages:

The Civil War
The Strategy
The First Crew
The Second Crew
The Third Crew
The Historic Mission
Complete The Journey


Copyright (c) 2014 Friends of the Hunley.
All Rights Reserved.

 


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