Civil War-era submarine's interior revealed after years of restoration

Staff archaeologists Shea McLean, left, and Maria Jacobsen mark a grid using tooth picks in mud sediment located inside the Confederate submarine H.L. Hunley in 2001. Scientists provided a sneak peek of the interior of the Civil War-era submarine on Wednesday.


By CLIF LEBLANC | The State, Columbia, S.C. | Published: June 7, 2017

Scientists provided a sneak peek of the interior of the Hunley Civil War-era submarine on Wednesday.

It was the first look inside the vessel since it sank in 1864.
As technology slowly peels away evidence of unanswered questions about the world’s first successful combat submarine, the Hunley continues to hold onto its chief mysteries.

Nearly 17 years after experts began working to unravel why the Confederate sub went down off the Charleston coast, questions linger about why it sank and precisely how the eight-man crew perished.

“We have 90 percent of (the evidence),” project archaeologist Michael Scafuri said Wednesday. “But we still can’t say conclusively.”

The Confederate Hunley sunk the USS Housatonic on Feb. 17, 1864. The submarine and its crew of eight then mysteriously vanished. It wasn’t until 1995 when the submarine was found. It was raised in 2000.

Now, more than a year of painstaking work inside the cramped hull has revealed better views of the experimental war craft’s innards, members of the research team said during a media tour at the former Charleston Navy Base.

A two-person team outfitted in safety uniforms have been inside the sub since early last year, using stainless steel orthopedic tools and a pneumatic chisel to gently remove the sea’s encrustation that slowly enveloped the sub after it went down on Feb. 17, 1864, said project conservator Johanna Rivera-Diaz of Clemson University.

Their work has turned up many small bones – fingers, wrists and teeth, Rivera-Diaz said.

Most of the bones have been traced to first crewman Arnold Becker, who sat closest to the Hunley’s captain, George Dixon, near the sub’s bow, turning the propeller crank, she said.

“When I find something, I step back and say, ‘Wow,’” Rivera-Diaz said.

Still, the pace of the job can be frustrating.

“We were hoping to be pretty much done” some 18 months after work on removing encrustation began, she said, but the new timetable is now the end of this year.

Even then, there is no firm date for solving the deepest mysteries of the Hunley, Scafuri said.

“I could never say, ‘This is what happened ... until we’re done,” the archaeologist said, declining to site an end date.

©2017 The State (Columbia, S.C.)
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