American Civil War: Mystery deaths of crew of submarine H. L. Hunley finally solved after 150 years

Posted: August 27, 2017 by oldbrew in History, innovation, News

Confederate Submarine H.L. Hunley, suspended from a crane during her recovery from Charleston Harbor, 8 August 2000 [image credit: Barbara Voulgaris, Naval Historical Center]


The Hunley was the first combat submarine to sink a warship, in 1864. It was very basic, being designed for a crew of eight, seven to turn the hand-cranked propeller and one to steer and direct the boat. Its discovery in 1995 was described by the Director of Naval History at the Naval Historical Center as “probably the most important find of the century.” ‘Tens of thousands’ attended an official funeral in Charleston, South Carolina in 2004, including all five branches of the U.S. armed forces.

A full 22 years after their bodies were discovered, scientists have come up with an explanation for the mysterious deaths of the crew of the Civil War submarine the H. L. Hunley 150 years ago, reports the IB Times.

The Confederate crew of eight were found seated in their stations on the hand crank that powered the ship. They showed no sign of struggle or trying to escape. They also displayed no sign of physical injury. The bilge pumps hadn’t been used and they hadn’t tried to escape through the air hatches.


The submarine was only discovered in 1995, found lying about 300 metres from where the Housatonic came to rest. It was retrieved from the seafloor in 2000. For decades, no one has had any idea how the crew died.

But researchers at Duke University now say that the crew were killed instantly from the force of a torpedo blast, publishing their findings according to research published in the journal PLOS ONE.

“The disappearance of the Hunley has long stood as one of the great mysteries of American history,” said study author Rachel Lance of Duke University in the US. “Finding the cause of death of the crew has finally allowed us to declare the mystery solved.”

When the submarine was opened up, the bodies of the eight men were discovered in their puzzling apparent peace. Scientists now believe that they died on 17 February 1864, the instant they rammed a torpedo into the hull of the Union ship Housatonic, using a total of 61kg of black powder.

Continued here.

Comments
  1. Gamecock says:

    I think Lieutenant Payne may have been the first to say, “Hey, y’all, watch this!”

  2. oldbrew says:

    Another Hunley disaster:
    On August 29, 1863, The Hunley’s new crew was preparing to make a test dive, when Lieutenant Payne accidentally stepped on the lever controlling the sub’s diving planes as she was running on the surface. This caused the Hunley to dive with her hatches still open. Payne and two others escaped, but the other five crewmen drowned.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/H._L._Hunley_(submarine)

  3. Dodgy Geezer says:

    From the Wiki …There is evidence that Hunley survived as long as one hour following the attack at about 8:45 p.m. The day after the attack, the commander of “Battery Marshall” reported that he had received “the signals” from the submarine indicating she was returning to her base. The report did not say what the signals were. A postwar correspondent wrote that “two blue lights” were the prearranged signals, and a lookout on the Housatonic reported he saw a “blue light” on the water after his ship sank.] “Blue light” in 1864 referred to a pyrotechnic signal in long use by the U.S. Navy…

    The suggestion that they were killed instantly is based on a belief that the explosive was close to the submarine, but there is no definite proof of this. The explosion theory was first put forward 4 years ago – all this is is a mathematical model of what would happen IF the explosive was close…

  4. craigm350 says:

    I remember reading about the hunt to find the Hunley in Clive Cussler’s The Sea Hunters (Cussler has done two of these books, interesting reads and his enthusiasm for hunting relics of the past is effervescent and some of the expeditions end up in his novels). The next time a ship was sunk by a sub was WW1.

    http://www.numa.net/expeditions/hunley-c-s-s/

  5. oldbrew says:

    Propulsion: Hand-cranked propeller – Wikipedia

    The original stealth sub.