CSS ''Hunley''

  • American Civil War
  • 2 mins

By Crusader1307

With the success of The ''David''-Class of semi-submersible ships, The Confederate Government began to explore better designs of related warships. As close to a “true” modern submarine was the CSS (Confederate States Ship) ''Hunley''. Designed and developed by Naval Engineer H.L. Hunley, the vessel was constructed from a cast-iron steamship boiler (roughly 40 feet long). She had a bean of 4 feet (in height) and weighed around 8 tons. Capable of 5 miles per hour speed (around 4 knots), she was not particularly fast (by comparative terms). Crewed by 7 men and 1 Officer, ''Hunley'' featured the Spar torpedo weapon system. Her 90-pound explosive shell was mounted on a 22-foot iron pole to her direct front (and was activated similar to The David ship's). ''Hunley'' had small access hatches (making it difficult to enter and exit). She featured hand cranked propeller power (as opposed to steam) and featured two ballast tanks which allowed her to rise and sink several feet in the water. When in attack, only the small Conning/Observation Tower (like The ''David''), was seen.

 

The first several “attempts” to test similar models were failures, including the last such test in early 1863 – which claimed the life of H.L. Hunley himself. Described by contemporary sources as a “floating coffin”, volunteering for duty was considered by many as a “death sentence”. Still, Hunley and her intrepid volunteers were sorely needed to break The Union Blockade. Commanded by Lieutenant George Dixon, the final prototype was readied for combat. The CSS ''Hunley'' made only one attack run in it's short career. On February 17, 1864, The USS ''Housatonic'' (a 12-gun Sloop of War), was targeted off Charleston, South Carolina. The ''Hunley'' advanced under cover of darkness and rammed it's Spar into the hull of ''Housatonic''. A massive explosion (made more effective by the ignition of the Powder stores) ripped open the Union ship – sending it to the bottom in under 5 minutes.

 

History records many speculations after that point. The ''Hunley''  did not return to Port. One theory was that she survived the attacked and was rammed by another Union vessel coming to the aid of ''Housatonic''. Another theory (widely accepted), is that ''Hunley'''s torpedo did not initially detonate. When she was less than 150 feet away, it did – causing a blast wave that knocked out the crew. A buildup of carbon monoxide within the small craft did the rest (the never woke up and eventually drowned). Many theories have been put forward. The CSS ''Hunley'' was never recovered by Confederate Authorities and most plans for continued submersible vessels were shelved due to continued Confederate losses on the battlefield. In 1995, the remarkably preserved wreck of The Hunley was discovered (made so by being buried in the sand and silt). So preserved, that she was able to be raised and brought to land for examination. The remains of The ''Hunley'''s crew were recovered and given “Confederate Naval” burial honors (which they long deserved). An amazing piece of conservation, The ''Hunley'' is still being carefully preserved and reconstructed – with the plans to open a multi-million dollar Museum and Visitor Center in South Carolina in the coming years.