FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE ** November 23rd, 2021 *
The man who Captained the Hunley died shortly after making world history when the legendary submarine vanished. His remains were uncovered over a century later during excavation of the crew compartment. The Clemson University team working to save Captain George Dixon’s artifacts have completed conservation on pieces of his clothing and personal belongings. Together they are a testament to the capabilities of conservation science and give a glimpse into the personality of the enigmatic Captain. The collection will go on display as part of the War & Wardrobe exhibit being launched this Thanksgiving weekend at the Hunley lab, which is also a major Charleston-area attraction.
The belongings found with Dixon’s remains show he was a man who paid careful attention to his appearance, perhaps out of necessity. The youngest among the crew he commanded, he managed to convince top Confederate Generals to give the experimental Hunley a try after two deadly test missions took the lives of a dozen men. The most famous artifact he carried was a $20 gold coin that absorbed the force of a bullet, sparing his life. The coin is curved from the impact and engraved “My Life Preserver”.
The other artifacts in the collection offer insight into Captain Dixon’s personality. He had at least a small amount of wealth given the fine clothes he wore and the substantial amount of gold he carried with him, including the coin, a gold pocket watch, and diamond jewelry. He also wore pure silver suspenders that would have been considered a fancy item during the Civil War. Like his gold watch’s fob and life-saving coin, he had them engraved with his initials. He was the only one of the eight-man crew who had any items engraved perhaps indicating he was proud of his name and wanted to be remembered.
Other items in the conserved collection include a high-end buckle imprinted with “Paris 1860”, buttons, a pocketknife, and binoculars that likely helped Captain Dixon navigate the vessel. The exhibit will display these artifacts and show the conservation process.
“These artifacts are a fascinating example of how conservation science and archaeology can work together to teach us about more than just important historical events but also the personality of the people that made them happen,” said Friends of the Hunley Executive Director Kellen Butler.
The Hunley Project (www.hunley.org)
On the evening of February 17, 1864, the H. L. Hunley became the world’s first successful combat submarine by sinking the USS Housatonic. After signaling to shore the mission had been accomplished, the submarine and her crew of eight mysteriously vanished. Lost at sea for over a century, the Hunley was located in 1995 by Clive Cussler’s National Underwater and Marine Agency (NUMA). The innovative vessel was raised in 2000 and delivered to the Warren Lasch Conservation Center, where an international team of scientists are at work to conserve the submarine for future generations and piece together clues to solve the mystery of her disappearance. The final goal of the project is to support the creation of a maritime museum to house one of the nation’s most comprehensive naval collections and tell the fascinating story of America’s history at sea. The Hunley Project is conducted through a partnership with the Charleston Naval Complex Redevelopment/Naval Base Museum Authority, Clemson University Restoration Institute, Friends of the Hunley, Naval History and Heritage Command, and South Carolina Hunley Commission.