The
Hunley

Click to read about Chapman's 1863 drawing

O

n February 17, 1864, the Confederate Hunley became the first submarine to destroy an enemy vessel in battle when it sank the Union sloop of war Housatonic outside Charleston harbor.  The Hunley did not return from that mission and lay on the ocean bottom for 136 years until its recovery in August 2000.

Karen and I traveled to Charleston in December 2000 and viewed the submarine in its tank at the Warren Lasch Conservation Center.  I hope the material presented here conveys a little of our experience of gazing down at this Civil War relic. 
 
The Hunley combines my interests in Victorian-era submarines and archaeology.  The state of preservation of the submarine makes it a significant example of 19th century submarine technology.  You can learn much more about the Hunley at the important other sites linked below.  Originally conceived to place the Hunley in context with the Jules Verne Nautilus speculation that is a subject of this site, these pages have become a major resource for reconstruction concepts and archaeological explanations.  
 

These pages make extensive use of rollover controls and popup content windows.  Your browser must have JavaScript enabled to view them.  Note that Windows XP SP2 turns Internet Explorer scripting off by default.  You will need to set the "Allow active content to run in files..." checkbox in the Security section of the Advanced tab in the Internet Options dialog.

The pages have two different but related areas of focus:

  • My un-official Hunley 3D reconstruction, based on published descriptions, photos, snap shots from the Friends of the Hunley web cams, and other sources, features detailed interior and exterior renderings.  Examine the work in progress here.
Click for the Hunley reconstruction
  • My Hunley archaeological interpretation, based on many of the same sources and drawing on my own extensive field experience on many other archaeological projects, attempts with 3D renderings to reproduce the experience of excavating the submarine.  Follow along here.

Click for the archaeology interpretation

   
Most recent content update:  7 Feb 13
The spar pop-up on the reconstruction page includes new material based on the January 2013 announcement by the Friends of the Hunley.  The pop-up is accessible from the mouse-over diagram near the top of the page.

E-mail me with comments

 
Click these links to read my own speculation and thoughts in popup pages:
How  was the Hunley lost?  Click for some thoughts.

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Is there a connection between the Hunley and the Nautilus or the cigar ships?  Click for a few words. Click to read about connections.
 
See more about the Hunley using the off-page links below.
Hunley historical context at the Naval Histoical Center The Naval Historical Center site has a comprehensive history of Confederate submarines.  
See The H.L. Hunley in Historical Context for designer James McClintock's description and William Alexander's description and drawing, done some time after the Hunley was lost and this page, SHIPS of the CONFEDERATE STATES: Submarine H.L. Hunley, for larger graphics including Alexander's drawings.
 
Chapman's painting Conrad Wise Chapman produced two sketches and a contemporary painting of the Hunley.  He was a consummate draftsman and work on the submarine continues to prove the accuracy of his depictions. You can see his famous painting here and his starboard-side drawing here.

Chapman's sketch

The Museum of the Confederacy The Museum of the Confederacy in Richmond, Virginia, has placed high-resolution images of all 31 Chapman Civil War paintings on its digital collection website.  This link goes to the first page of the collection.  Read the history and flip the pages to examine the Hunley painting (the first in the list) in detail, as well as the 30 other paintings.

Conrad Wise Chapman

 
NPS Submerged Cultural Resources In the late 1990s the National Park Service published their assessment of the Hunley underwater site on the web. The document duplicates some of the above material, but has information, such as detailed dimensions, concretion and sediment description, and some nice drawings not available anywhere else.  When the site was redone the excellent but very large on-line copy of the H.L. Hunley Site Assessment was replaced with a smaller low-resolution version.  

Hunley Site Assessment

The link to the Submerged Cultural Resources Report: H.L. Hunley Site Assessment PDF file is about halfway down the page in the Submerged Cultural Resource Studies section.

(A nearly complete copy of the original high-quality report is available to group members in the Files section at the CSS H L Hunley Yahoo group, linked below.)
 

Much has been learned about the Hunley since its recovery.
Click for particulars. The H.L. Hunley: The Secret Hope of the Confederacy by Tom Chaffin is the latest account of the Hunley story.  Chaffin takes a fresh look at primary source material about the Hunley's history, including personal letters of the principles and their relatives, and presents a new picture.  He challenges a number of myths that have grown around the submarine and its crew over the years.  Click the link for more information or for a good deal on your copy at amazon.com.
Click for particulars. Raising the Hunley: The Remarkable History and Recovery of the Lost Confederate Submarine by Brian Hicks and Schuyler Kropf is the most up-to-date account of the continuing Hunley story.  Presented in narrative form, the book covers the submarine's long history, and the politics and personalities that have affected it to the present day.  I have a few quibbles - a Jules Verne connection is highly overstated, for example - but this is a good, informative, recommended read.  Click the link for more information or for a good deal on your copy at amazon.com.


If you missed the National Geographic Explorer TV programs, you'll like the National Geographic video Raising the Hunley: The Resurrection of a Civil War Legend.  The 60-minute program covers the project from the dives to uncover the submarine through its recovery to the completion of the cabin excavation.

Click for particulars at amazon.com

The History Channel program Digging for the Truth devoted an entire one-hour show to the Hunley in 2007.  Although one can find fault with some of the demonstrations (while exciting, the explosion test doesn't reproduce the Hunley torpedo detonation) there is a lot of good and up-to-date information in the show.  Purchase a DVD of the program "The Hunley Secrets Revealed" from the History Channel store.  It's worth the price.
 


Click for details. Secrets of a Civil War Submarine, by Sally Walker, provides a comprehensive, concise overview of the Hunley’s history, recovery, excavation, and conservation.  Targeting the late grade-school reader, the book is written in the style of and at a similar level to a National Geographic article.  Any reader will enjoy it and come away with a very good understanding of the Hunley project.   There are a few detail mistakes, such as in an explanation of neutral buoyancy, but the main point is always delivered successfully by the text.  I found several important bits of information I haven’t seen elsewhere. The explanation of archaeological techniques as applied in the Hunley excavation is the best I’ve read.  The book is nicely illustrated, although most of the photos have been previously published, and the interpretive drawings contain some fairly large inaccuracies.  Overall, I’m happy to have this in my collection of books about the Hunley and I’m glad to recommend it.

I haven't read The Voyage of the Hunley by Edwin P. Hoyt, but John McKee says that although not detailed it is "a good overview ... quite suited for the next of kin [of a Hunleyphile] who may want to know what the Hunley is all about without spending too much time reading it."  

Click for particulars.

Click for details or to buy Although only one chapter is about the Hunley, Lost Subs by Spencer Dunmore is a very nicely illustrated collection of submarine recovery accounts, including Holland's first boat and concluding with the Kursk. The twenty pages about the Hunley include a beautiful two page (9"x20") copy of Chapman's painting and numerous Dan Dowdey renderings.
 
Click to order at amazon.com

Mark Ragan has a new version of The Hunley: Submarines, Sacrifice, & Success in the Civil War, now renamed simply The Hunley.  Like the original, this slightly smaller format trade paperback edition is illustrated with period drawings, photos, and copies of documents.   The text of the first five chapters is nearly identical to the early edition, but laid out for easier reading and reference.  The expanded sixth and last chapter includes a detailed account of the recovery and excavation of the vessel, which happened since the original publication, and in which Ragan participated.  As in the original, Ragan’s personal accounts of his research and related activity enhance the overall reading experience.  The new work adds an index and includes expanded endnotes, increasing its value as reference tool.  

Purchase this interesting book at amazon.com.

The new Hunley, coming soon... Visit Cottage Industry Models, Ltd. for some beautiful Civil War era scale model kits.  William Blackmore currently offers three ironclads, two Davids, the Pioneer, and an old and new version of the Hunley, among other kits.  More importantly, he now offers a new Hunley kit with full interior that is as accurate as could be with the information available at the time.    Cottage Industry Models
Paper Hunley Model The Polish paper models web site Renova Model offers an inexpensive 1:25 scale paper Hunley kit true to the details presented on my reconstruction pages.   Be warned that this is a complex model requiring care and skill.  The nice photos shown on the linked Renova page appear to be a prototype.  They accurately reflect the kit with optional raised rivets.  The kit instructions are in Polish but an English translation can be downloaded about half way down this page. Renova Model

Please note that the web site and the kit are in Polish.

 
The depiction of the submarine in the next items is no longer completely accurate, but that does not diminish their value.
Click for the oriiginal hardcover particulars. I recommend this useful book about Civil War submarines.  I found the presentation a little disorganized, but the research for Union and Confederate Submarine Warfare in the Civil War by Mark K. Ragan is thorough and the comprehensive information provided is very good. 
     The updated paperback edition, re-titled simply Submarine Warfare in the Civil War was published in 2003.  It contains all the material in the original hardcover plus additional and more up-to-date material on the Hunley. 
     Click the links for particulars at amazon.com.
Click for the updated paperback particulars.
Click text links at right for used copies Mark Ragan's original The Hunley: Submarines, Sacrifice, & Success in the Civil War is out of print but used copies are available via amazon.com or bookfinder.com.  You can find copies below $20.  This richly illustrated, large format trade paperback has over 240 pages of historic photos, copies of documents, and Ragan's own account of his extensive research. 
The video The Hunley, with Armand Assante as George Dixon and Donald Sutherland as General Beauregard, presents the history of the Hunley accurately and dramatically.  I found the final moments of the crew somewhat surreal, but I recommend the film.  Karen and I sat at the crank in one of the submarine sets on view at the Warren Lasch Conservation Center and so vicariously drove the Hunley with the actors.  Click the image for particulars.

Click for particulars



Visit these sites for even more information about the Hunley:

Friends
of the
Hunley

Spend some time at the official, but rather dormant Friends of the Hunley web site, reviewing the excavation and conservation reports, historical data, and goodies like a 360o panorama of the interior.   Friends of the Hunley

National Geographic
 Magazine
On-line 

The National Geographic on-line site has a capsule version of the article in the July 2002 issue and a few extras, like a rotatable 3D view and notes by the author and photographer.
(You may find the single issue at your local library.)
Click to visit the NGS site

Scientific American
 Frontiers
On-line 

Scientific American Frontiers recently featured the Hunley.  You can view The Uncivilized Engine of War on-line here or read a transcript of the program here Click to read about the show

MIT World

On 25 Apr 2003, the MIT DeepArch Research Group sponsored a lecture, Civil War High Tech: Excavating the Hunley and the Monitor, now available for on-line viewing.  The entire video is three hours long.  Maria Jacobsen's Hunley presentation begins after a ten-minute introduction and lasts about an hour and twenty minutes.  The content is very good, covering the project from the underwater work up to early 2003, with tidbits not previously published.

View the MITworld video stream here.

CSS H L HUNLEY
Celebrating the history and Solving the mystery...

Engage in conversation, speculation, and exchange information on the Hunley here.  Such a forum could have and should have been part of the official site.
Hunley discussion group

CSS Hunley
A Digital Restoration

Visit Mike McMillan's site for very nice renderings of his 3D restoration. A digital restoration

The Art of
Daniel Dowdey

His renderings appear in many publications about the Hunley.  Visit The Art of Daniel Dowdey for much more.  3D renderings of the Hunley and more

CSS Hunley

The Morris+Bailey CSS H.L. Hunley site has a 3D Hunley reconstruction and a number of nice renderings.  There  is also some good information about the Confederate David semi-submersibles. Morris+Bailey CSS H.L. Hunley

Tim Smalley's
RC Submarines

Tim Smalley's RC Submarine site has Hunley photos and information not found elsewhere.
For even more, visit his RC Submarine projects page and scroll down to his working, scratch-built Hunley content.
Tim's scratch-built Hunley project

DENIX

Underwater
Archaeology

The DENIX (Defense Environmental Network & Information eXchange) Underwater Archaeological Resources Conservation page has several informative publications about the archeology and conservation of the Hunley (Legacy Project 04-106 and 05-106).  
(For some reason the DoD has allowed the site certificate to expire.  Nonetheless, the site is safe.)
Click to go to the DENIX Underwater Archaeology page


These underwater archaeology sites aren't directly related to the Hunley, but provide another perspective on the technology of the Civil War:
THE HUNT
for the
ALLIGATOR
The US Navy also experimented with a submarine during the Civil War.  The Alligator never saw action, but like the ironclad Monitor, it was lost during a storm at sea while under tow.  Learn about this boat and follow the attempt to find it at this National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration site and at the Navy and Marine Living History Association web site. Hunt for the Alligator
Monitor National Marine Sanctuary This excellent National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration site provides considerable material on the wreck of the Civil War ironclad Monitor Click to visit the Monitor site.
Read about the 2002 Expedition that raised the Monitor's turret with its two Dhalgren guns.  Go directly to the expedition pages for graphics and interpretive material. Click to visit the 2002 Expedition pages.
 
Finally, not archaeology, but a book about an important 19th century submarine inventor who was forgotten for many years and is still neglected in submarine history.
Ictíneo I & II Before Horace Hunley and the team of engineers began their submarine experiments, Narcís Monturiol was designing and building his first Ictíneo, or New Fish.
Between 1859 and 1868 Monturiol built two submarines that were more advanced than any other of the time.  The double-hulled Ictíneos had oxygen generation and CO2 absorption equipment and ballast tanks that were emptied by pressure.  The submarines completed many successful dives as deep as 30 meters near Barcelona.  Monturiol could never achieve the speed he needed through human power, so he eventually fitted the second boat with two engines, a standard steam engine for surface power and a chemical engine for underwater operation.  Unfortunately, his desire for perfection was greater than his practicality and his second prized boat was seized and sold for scrap when the submarine enterprise went bankrupt.

Find this book at amazon.com

Monturial's Dream, by Matthew Stewart, is a biography of the inventor and the story of his turbulent times, but contains considerable information about the submarines that were the focus of the inventor's later life.

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  This page and its contents Copyright © 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2011 Michael & Karen Crisafulli. 
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20 Jul 11