Courage, innovation, and fortitude is what powered the H.L. Hunley the night she became the first submarine to sink an enemy ship in world history. A successful submarine attack would not happen again until World War I - more than half a century later. Though the H.L. Hunley immediately became famous after the events of February 17, 1864, because of the lack of information released about this secret weapon, little was know about her actual design.
Painting of the H.L. Hunley by Conrad Wise Chapman, dated circa. 1863-64.
(Image courtesy of the Museum of the Confederacy)
Before the discovery of the H.L. Hunley off Charleston Harbour, most believed the H.L. Hunley submarine to have been a basic, even somewhat crude, design. With only limited historical documents, drawings, and paintings to research from, it was speculated that the H.L. Hunley was simply built from a cylindrical iron steam boiler, was designed to be hand powered, had ballast tanks at each end that could be flooded, and that iron weights were placed under the hull of the submarine and could be quickly removed from inside by the crew inside if they needed to rise in an emergency.
But, upon locating the H.L. Hunley we learned that she was much more sophisticated than anyone imagined. Mark Ragan, a historian on the H.L. Hunley project, spent a good part of his life researching the H.L. Hunley, writing a book about it, and then actually getting to touch it underwater. Mark Ragan had the opportunity to go down with the dive crew in June 2000 and made some very exciting discoveries.
Illustration of three submersibles built by the team of Baxter Watson, James R. McClintock, and Horace L. Hunley.
(Image courtesy of Dan Dowdy).
The drawings and paintings gave the impression that the H.L. Hunley was more boxy than it actually is. Mark Ragan was quoted as saying, "The bow almost has a razor-like texture. It slopes back very gradually. It is much more streamlined than I originally thought."
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