The Secret Weapon under the Waves: The Story of the H.L Hunley, the Civil War’s Lost Submarine

In the Middle of the Civil War, The Confederate States of America launched a top Secret Project that would change the tide of battle. This project was known as the  H.L Hunley. During the Civil War, just after the first battle in 1861, the Union Army employed the Anaconda Plan Strategy. This strategy in summary was a plan to cut off the Southern States from crucial supply lines by cutting off transportation methods and destroying factories. On land, the Union Army destroyed railways and roads, but on the Sea, the Union army set up a wall of Battle Ships to prevent goods and supplies from entering ports. The blockade of the Southern Ports crippled the Confederate army and civilians alike because it now met that food, clothing and supplies were scarce and gunpowder and ammunition became even more scarce, directly impacting the war effort.

H.L Hunley

H.L Hunley

After nearly two years of constriction, the Confederacy needed a solution, and what they came up with  could be revolutionary. After almost a year of planning, the Confederacy resolved to construct a submarine, that would slip out into the bay and plant explosive charges in the hulls of the Union blockade vessels. The Hunley was  constructed in Mobile Alabama. The 40 ft vessel was then transported in secret by rail to Charleston, South Carolina on August 12, 1863. The Hunley was designed for a crew of eight, seven to turn the hand-cranked propeller and one to steer and direct the boat. Each end was equipped with ballast tanks that could be flooded by valves or pumped dry by hand pumps. Extra ballast was added through the use of iron weights bolted to the underside of the hull. In the event the submarine needed additional buoyancy to rise in an emergency, the iron weight could be removed by unscrewing the heads of the bolts from inside the vessel.

George E. Dixon, A Confederate Lieutenant was entrusted with command of the Hunley. Before the War, Dixon worked as a Steamboat Engineer while living in New Orleans. Dixon then selected 7 more. The Hunley made its first and only attack  on the night of February 17, 1864. The target was the USS Housatonic, which was anchored in the Charleston Harbor, 8 miles off shore. The Hunley attached a torpedo to its target, and the Housatonic sank. However the Hunley never made it back to base either. The Hunley’s sinking has been enshrouded in mystery since the events. However in 2000, after years of searching the Hunley was found and raised back to surface where it is now studied in a lab in Charleston.

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