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The Submarine That Wouldn’t Come Up

July 2024
20min read

The Confederates’ Hunley was the first submarine to sink an enemy warship, but her crude design made her a coffin for her crew

The sun set in a clear sky behind Charleston the afternoon of February 17, 1864. The besieged city lay in defiant silence, watching the Federal monitors at the entrance to the harbor. Out at Fort Sumter, where the war had begun, the faint boom of the sunset gun proclaimed that the little pile of rubble, now scarcely more than a symbol of resistance, was still held by its Confederate garrison. As the shadows lengthened, picket boats put out from the ironclads to begin the nightly vigils which the Federal Admiral John Dahlgren had so insistently prescribed.

Outside the bar, where the wooden ships comprising Dahlgren’s second line of blockade lay guarding the harbor’s entrance, the handsome sloop of war U.S.S. Housatonic prepared for a quiet night. A slight mist lay on the water as lookouts of the first watch took their stations. They were watchful but relaxed; it was not the sort of night a blockade-runner would choose for crossing the bar, and besides, the hard-driving Dahlgren was away on a trip to Port Royal.

About 8:45, Acting Master J. K. Crosby, officer of the deck, observed a slight disturbance in the water about a hundred yards distant and abeam. Crosby thought it was a porpoise, or a school of fish, or even a plank moving in the water. Whatever it was, it came on directly toward the ship. Crosby looked once more, decided to take no chances, and gave orders to slip the chain, beat to quarters, and call the captain.

His decision was a wise one. The Housatonic’s was about to experience the only submarine attack of the Civil War.

The Housatonic’ s dubious distinction came about by chance. If David Farragut had waited longer to capture New Orleans, Acting Master Crosby would have stood an uneventful watch. For the story of the Confederate submarine H. L. Hunley , known variously and mistakenly as the Fish , the American Diver , and the David , and nicknamed with grim accuracy the Peripatetic Coffin, really began in New Orleans. But for the early fall of that city, the Hunley ’s builders would never have begun a journey that led, eventually, to Charleston.

Sometime in 1861, James R. McClintock and lîaxter Watson of New Orleans, marine engineers and machinists, determined to build a submarine at private expense and operate it against the Federal blockade at the mouth of the Mississippi.

No submarine in recorded history had ever sunk a ship in combat, but McClintock and Watson were not discouraged by this. David Bushnell’s one-man submersible, the Turtle , had almost done the trick during the Revolutionary War, and Robert Fulton’s later submarine demonstrations left no doubt that men of daring and ingenuity could make and operate a lethal undersea weapon. Caught up in the fervor of the war’s first year, the two engineers determined to try.

To patriotism was added another motive, profit. At the start of the war, Jefferson Davis had invited applications for letters of marque authorizing private citizens to wage war against Union vessels. The Confederate government was ready to pay handsome financial prizes for the destruction of enemy men-of-war. A submarine operated with any success in the waters of a blockaded port might pay its way and show a return on the investment without ever going to sea.

Work on the boat began late in 1861. As expenses mounted, others joined in the project—John K. Scott, Robin R. Barron, H. J. Leovy, and Horace L. Hunley, a man whose enthusiasm for submarines was to grow with every setback. In the spring of 1862 the submarine, christened the Pioneer , was ready for a trial run in Lake Pontchartrain. When she destroyed a target barge, the enthusiasm of her owners was boundless. A letter of marque was obtained and plans were laid for action against the blockade.

At this point, Farragut entered the picture. He moved up the Mississippi late in April and captured New Orleans. The Pioneer disappeared, sunk either by accident or design, and was forgotten until it was found and raised many years later. McClintock, Watson, and Hunley packed their bags and moved to Mobile.

Farragut would come to Mobile, too, but not until the summer of 1864. When the ardent trio of submarine builders from New Orleans arrived, the city-seemed an ideal spot for their work. There were plenty of enemy vessels for their craft to operate against when they built it; there were shops in Mobile and about as much raw material for the construction as could be found anywhere in the blockaded South; and the city was under the command of an imaginative officer, Major General Dabney H. Maury, who was sympathetic toward projects involving underwater torpedoes. He welcomed the three men heartily, approved their plans for private financing of the project, and ordered the boat to be built in the machine shops of Park & Lyons. Furthermore, he extended technical assistance. Two young engineers from the 21st Alabama Infantry, Lieutenants George E. Dixon and William A. Alexander—the latter an Englishman who had come to America in 1859—were detached for special duty at the shops.

A submarine was built and towed off Fort Morgan to be manned for an attack on the blockading fleet. It promptly sank, and the job had to be done all over again. It is with this third effort that we are concerned.

Somewhere an iron boiler was found, about twenty-five feet long and four feet in diameter, and the builders went to work to make a submarine out of it. They cut it in two longitudinally, tapered it fore and aft, inserted boiler-iron strips in the sides, and attached bow and stern castings. Inside the castings, bulkheads were riveted across to form water-ballast tanks for use in raising and lowering the boat. Of the tanks, Alexander noted later that “unfortunately these were left open on top”—a colossal understatement.

A strip twelve inches wide was riveted the full length on top, and flat castings were fitted to the outside bottom for ballast, fastened by bolts which passed through stuffing boxes inside the boat so they might be loosened to drop the ballast if necessary. Sea cocks were installed in the water-ballast tanks, and force pumps to eject the water.

Propulsion was the big problem. Coal could not be burned below water, both because of the limited air supply and for lack of a smokestack. A storage battery adequate to operate even the smallest submarine had not yet been invented. The builders spent weeks trying to devise some kind of electromagnetic engine but finally gave it up and settled for manual power. A propeller shaft was installed almost the length of the boat, supported on the starboard side by brackets, with eight cranks spaced so that the crew could sit on the port side and turn the cranks. The arrangement left no room to pass fore and aft, but at least it assured some motion in the water.

For depth control another shaft was installed, passing laterally through the boat just forward of the end of the propeller shaft. This controlled lateral fins, live feet long and eight inches wide, on the outside. A lever amidships allowed the fins to be raised or lowered. For the pilots guidance, a mercury gauge was attached to the shell near the forward ballast tank to indicate the depth of the boat when submerged, and a compass was installed nearby. A wheel, acting on rods that ran the length of the boat, operated the rudder.

Fore and aft on the boat’s flat deck, hatchways were installed with coamings eight inches high. Glass panes installed in the coamings provided the only means of seeing out of the boat when the hatches were closed. There was no periscope. An air box was set between the hatchways and equipped with a pipe so that fresh air could be taken in on the surface without opening the hatches. All in all, it was a fantastically primitive affair.

The boat was boarded from both ends, part of the crew passing through the forward hatch with the skipper entering last, and the rest entering through the after hatch with the second officer in the rear. The seven crew members took their seats facing the propeller shaft, the two officers fastened down the hatch covers, and the skipper lit a candle which would provide illumination under water and also give warning when the oxygen supply ran low.

When all was ready, the first and second officers let water into the ballast tanks until the water level outside reached the glasses in the hatch coamings, an indication that the deck was about three inches under water. Then the sea cocks were closed, the second officer took his seat with the others at the propeller shaft, and the cranking began. The captain, still standing, lowered the fin lever and the boat slid deeper under the water, the mercury gauge indicating its depth. When he was ready to rise, he raised the lever, elevating the forward ends of the fins; as the boat reached its normal ballast trim of three inches below the surface, or earlier if the captain chose, he and the second officer operated the pumps to force water from the tanks, lightening the boat. When they were safely afloat and ready to land, the second officer opened his hatch cover, climbed out, and passed a line ashore.

She could go four miles an hour in smooth water and remain submerged as long as the air lasted. She was named the H. L. Hunley , in honor of her chief financial backer.

The torpedoes were copper cylinders holding charges of ninety pounds of explosive each, with percussion and friction primer mechanisms set off by flaring triggers. The plan for firing them was as desperate as everything else connected with the project. A torpedo attached to the submarine by a line two hundred feet long would float behind the boat, which would approach its prey, dive under it, and surface on the far side. The torpedo would thus be dragged against the target and explode.

Almost from the moment she was put into the water, the Hunley was plagued with trouble and disaster. Her first trial in the smooth waters of the Mobile River was a success; as General Maury watched, she towed a floating torpedo, dived under an old flatboat and scored a hit, blowing fragments a hundred feet into the air. But once she was taken out into the choppy waters of the bay, it was another story. She responded poorly, she was in constant danger of swamping, and that deadly torpedo trailing behind her was continually swinging in the direction of the wrong boat.

In later months, when the Hunley ’s latent tendency to drown her crews had become virtually a fixed habit and she had become known as the Peripatetic Coffin, it was generally reported that she sank first in Mobile Bay, drowning a full crew of nine men. This is apparently incorrect; but though she did not sink until later, General Maury and her owners alike agreed that her future in Mobile Bay was exceedingly dubious.

They talked it over and decided Charleston would be a better base of operations. Nowhere was the need for aid more acute than at this beleaguered port in the summer of 1863. Fort Sumter was under almost constant bombardment, a combined land and sea attack was underway, and the magnificent Federal ironclad, the New Ironsides , loomed as one of the greatest threats to the city. If the Hunley could slip out some night and sink that great ship, it would be a tremendous blow for the Confederacy.

Maury, accordingly, offered the privately owned boat to General P. G. T. Beauregard, commander of the city’s defenses. Beauregard had been trying in vain to establish a fleet of torpedo boats, but the big brass of the Confederate Navy had been slow to assist him. Why waste money on torpedo boats when you can build ironclads?

To Beauregard, the offer must have come almost as an answer to prayer. He accepted, the Hunley was loaded on two flatcars for what must have been one of the most remarkable railroad trips of the war, and destiny’s date with the Housatonic drew nearer.

And now the Hunley ’s difficulties began in earnest.

Beauregard asked Commodore John R. Tucker, flag officer at Charleston, for naval volunteers to operate the deadly-looking little boat. Lieutenant John Payne, an Alabamian whose valor had been demonstrated in a skirmish with enemy pickets only a few weeks before, immediately asked for the command. A crew joined him, and the Hunley was towed to Fort Johnson for trial runs.

A few nights later tragedy struck. The submarine was lying at the wharf, ready to go out for a dive. The crew members had already taken their places, and Payne was standing forward ready to close the hatchway, when the swell from a passing steamer poured over the deck. The Hunley swamped and went down like a rock.

Payne escaped through the open hatch, watched the bubbles rising where the boat had sunk, and grimly asked permission to raise the boat, collect another crew, and try again.

The experiment might have been given up at this point except for an event that electrified Charleston, delighted Beauregard, and redoubled the optimism of the Hunley ’s backers.

While the Hunley had been traveling across country on her flatcars, work was being completed at Charleston on a small iron boat that lay low in the water with a long pole extending from its bow. It was called the David , and the projection off its bow was a spar torpedo—a pole capable of being raised or lowered from the boat, with a torpedo fitted into a socket at the end of it. It was operated by a crew of four men.

On the night of October 5, the David , under command of Lieutenant William T. Glassell, steamed out to the New Ironsides , rammed her with the torpedo, and damaged her so badly that she was out of action for the remainder of the siege of Charleston. The explosion poured water down the David ’s little smoke-stack and drowned her boiler, and sailors on the ironclad were peppering her with shot; Glassell gave the order to abandon ship. He and James Sullivan, the fireman, were captured in the water, but Engineer James H. Tomb after a while noted that the David was drifting away from the ironclad. Returning to the boat, he found Pilot J. Walker Cannon, who could not swim, hanging to it, and the two re-entered it, got the engine going, and brought it back into port.

This was another first, the first time a warship had been damaged by a torpedo boat, and at Charleston enthusiasm reached fever pitch. In this atmosphere, Lieutenant Payne had no difficulty in finding a second crew for the Hunley . So the Hunley was raised, repairs were made, and the practice runs were resumed. And history repeated itself, this time alongside the wharf at ruined Fort Sumter. The little boat swamped again, and only Payne and two others of the crew escaped. (It might be well to note at this point that no exact count of the men lost on the Hunley is ever likely to be made. Her unhappy fame resulted in such garbled reports, even from those close to her, that scarcely two stories agree. All that can be done at this date is to make an informed guess, and on that basis fourteen men had now lost their lives on the submarine.)

For all his enthusiasm, Beauregard began to wonder if the Hunley was worth the effort. But at that time, Horace Hunley himself arrived from Mobile with a volunteer crew and a burning conviction that the navy crews simply did not understand how to operate his boat. He asked permission to operate her himself, with a crew who had learned her eccentricities at Mobile.

With some misgivings, Beauregard agreed. The Mobile crew took out the Hunley , dived successfully, and returned safely. The general relaxed. Then, on the rainy morning of October 15, in the presence of a large number of persons, Hunley took his boat into the water, submerged, and failed to come up.

The word reached Mobile, and the two young engineers, Dixon and Alexander, who had been assigned to help build the boat, heard it with mixed emotions. Both men were determined now to offer their services for yet another try at operating the Hunley . They applied for permission to make the effort, and Beauregard, reserving judgment until the Hunley should be raised again, ordered them to report to his chief of staff, General Thomas Jordan.

Beauregard himself was present when the submarine was brought up, and the sight of its interior left an indelible impression on his mind. Fourteen years later he still remembered the horror of it. “The spectacle,” he recalled, “was indescribably ghastly; the unfortunate men were contorted into all kinds of horrible attitudes; some clutching candles, evidently endeavoring to force open the manholes; others lying in the bottom tightly grappled together, and the blackened faces of all presented the expression of their despair and agony.”

Sickened, he called a halt to the experiments. But Dixon and Alexander pleaded eloquently for a chance to bring some good out of the repeated tragedies. Beauregard hesitated, and General Jordan offered a suggestion: instead of using the Hunley as a submarine, why not use it as a David? In short, fit it with a spar torpedo instead of the dangerous trailing explosive, and let it attack from the surface.

Under these terms the General consented, or such was his recollection in 1878. But later his resolve may have softened, or the terms were interpreted broadly, for while the Hunley acquired a spar torpedo it continued to operate under water.

Meanwhile, Dixon and Alexander were making their own expert appraisal of the story as they pieced it together after the Hunley was raised.

The boat had been found on the bottom of the river at an angle of about 35 degrees, her bow deeply buried in the mud. The bolts holding down each hatch cover had been removed, but the hatches were closed. Considerable air and gas escaped when they were lifted. Hunley’s body was found forward, his head in the hatchway and his right hand still extended in the dying effort to open the cover. The candle in his hand, significantly, had never been lighted. The sea cock on the forward ballast tank was wide open and the cock wrench lay on the bottom of the boat. In the after hatchway the corpse of Thomas Parks, second-in-command and a member of the firm at whose shop the boat had been built, still pushed at the hatch cover; the sea cock on his tank was closed. Hunley and Parks had died of asphyxiation while the others drowned below them. The clumsy arrangement for dropping the iron keel ballast had failed; the bolts had been partly turned, but not enough to release it.

Studying the grim evidence, the two engineers thought they could agree without question on what had happened. The decisive moment had come immediately after the boat submerged. Hunley had turned the fins to go down and then decided he needed more ballast—that is, more water in his tank to assist in the dive. Without pausing even to light his candle, he had opened the cock. Instantly, the boat dropped so low that the glass panes in the coamings were covered and the craft was plunged in darkness. Hunley began trying to light his candle, the water continued to rush into the tank through the open sea cock, and the boat sank rapidly. The ballast tanks, it will be recalled, were “unfortunately left open on top.” Now, Hunley’s tank flooded in the darkness.

“The first intimation they would have had of anything being wrong,” Alexander wrote in later years, “was the water rising fast, but noiselessly, about their feet in the bottom of the boat. They tried to release the iron keel ballast, but did not turn the keys quite far enough, therefore failed.”

The boat was refitted, and Dixon and Alexander went to General Jordan to ask for a crew. Jordan relayed their request to Beauregard, who balked at first but finally agreed to let the Alabamians go aboard the Indian Chief , the Confederate Navy’s receiving ship, and ask for volunteers. He insisted, however, that they give a full account of the Hunley ’s past misadventures. This was done, and eventually a crew of volunteer sailors took their places, under command of two lieutenants from an infantry regiment, in a privately owned submarine operated on orders of an army general.

The Hunley was off and, if not running, at least limping again.

The attitude of Confederate Navy officers on the scene appears to have been skeptical if not downright hostile. Flag Officer Tucker, asked to provide the submarine with a tow down the harbor, assigned the David to the task, with Lieutenant Tomb, one of the heroes of the New Ironsides attack, in command. Tomb was directed to report his opinions as to the Hunley ’s safety and efficiency to Tucker.

Tomb was skeptical, but in the days that followed, Dixon, Alexander, and their crew appeared to have broken the Hunley jinx at last. They made a series of successful dives in Charleston’s immediate vicinity, and it was decided the Hunley must seek a victim among the blockading vessels outside the bar instead of going out after a monitor, as had been earlier planned. For, alarmed by the success of the David in disabling his finest warship, Admiral Dahlgren had ordered chain booms to be placed around the monitors—the Weehawken , the Passaic , the Montauk , the Catskill , and the Nahant . Accordingly, Dixon was ordered to moor his boat off Battery Marshall on Sullivan’s Island, where it could proceed by interior channels to the area where Dahlgren’s wooden boats lay.

By now it was November. Quarters for the crew were provided at Mount Pleasant, seven miles from the battery, and practice runs were begun in earnest.

A major problem soon became apparent, the matter of distance. The station of the nearest frigate, which they understood was the Wabash , was twelve miles away. The Hunley could reach a speed of about four miles an hour in comparatively smooth water and light current, but in rough water her speed was much slower. The ideal attack plan, Dixon and Alexander agreed, would be to go out with the ebb tide on a dark, calm night, strike, and come in with the flood tide.

But whole weeks went by, and the wind held contrary. The Wabash , or whatever vessel it was that lay off in the distance, was too far for the crew of the Hunley to reach by a reasonably safe hour. They ventured out five, six, even seven miles, but each time they were forced to turn back, the men cranking with all their might to avoid drifting out to sea.

In all this time, the Hunley showed only one structural fault. The air box, which was supposed to provide fresh air through a pipe while the Hunley lay just below the surface, had not worked out well. When ventilation was needed it was necessary to come up high enough for the after-hatch cover to be opened. Several times, when they did this, they could hear conversation and song from Federal picket boats, and they realized how vitally important it was to choose dark nights for their expeditions.

The whole matter of the limited air supply at last led Dixon and his English associate to undertake an experiment. Painfully conscious of their exposed condition and low speed when they had to surface, they decided to find out just how long it was humanly possible for them to stay down without coming up for air.

The Back Bay off Battery Marshall was chosen for the test. All hands agreed they would go out, submerge, sink, and lie on the bottom for as long as possible. When any man felt he had reached the limit of his endurance and must go up for air, he was simply to say, “Up.” Regardless of who spoke the word, it was to be considered an order for all hands to obey instantly.

Late one afternoon, after making several brief dives, they were ready. While a crowd of soldiers watched from the bank, unaware of the plan, Dixon and Alexander compared watches, noted the time, and took the Hunley down. She sank to the bottom of the bay, the men quit turning the propeller, and the experiment was on.

For a long time they sat motionless, looking silently at one another across the shadows cast by Dixon’s candle. Twenty-five minutes passed. The candle went out and could not be relit. Still no one spoke the word that would terminate the experiment.

As the Hunley continued to lie on the bottom of the bay, the curiosity of the watching soldiers ashore turned to alarm, and then to a conviction of disaster. A message was sent to General Beauregard, reporting that the ill-fated “coffin” had claimed another crew. Powerless to attempt a rescue, the watchers gradually drifted away as the sun set.

And now, in the darkened boat, the limit was reached at last. A man gasped, “Up!” and, in the instant he spoke, every other man aboard echoed the word.

“Start the pumps!”

The bow of the Hunley began slowly to rise, but the stern clung to the bottom. Something had gone wrong with Alexander’s pump; it was not emptying its tank. As the boat began to tilt dangerously, Alexander made a desperate guess. The valve must be fouled. Working frantically, he felt for the cap of the pump, took it off, lifted the valve, and fumbled for an obstruction.

Seaweed lay thick around the valve. The Englishman snatched it off, replaced the cap, and renewed his pumping. One of the crew had begun to babble incoherently as the stern of the Hunley slowly began to rise.

But the worst was over. They reached the surface, and with all the strength he had left Alexander flung open his hatch cover. For a while they slumped, gasping. Then they made for shore. A match was struck, and watches were examined. It had been two hours and thirty-five minutes since the submarine had dived.

Meanwhile, the secret of the Hunley had reached the ears of the distracted Admiral Dahlgren. A Confederate deserter gave him a remarkably accurate account of the submarine, her construction, her weaknesses, and her potentialities. Dahlgren had called for precautions against torpedo boats after the New Ironsides was attacked, but now he made his orders doubly detailed.

“The ironclads,” he directed, “must have their fenders rigged out and their own boats in motion about them. A netting must also be dropped overboard from the ends of the fenders, kept down with shot, and extending along the whole length of the sides, howitzers loaded with canister on the decks and a calcium [light] for each monitor. The tugs and picket boats must be incessantly upon the lookout, when the water is not rough, whether the weather be clear or rainy.”

But, as Dahlgren went out nightly to see for himself whether his monitors were maintaining a proper vigil, the “diving torpedo” he feared was watching its opportunity to go against a wooden vessel outside the bar. It was an eventuality the harassed admiral had not considered.

Now that the underwater test had been successful, the Hunley resumed her regular schedule, going out as often as the weather permitted and taking even more risks than before in her efforts to reach a target. But still the wind was against her.

About the end of January, 1864, there came an even bigger disappointment. Alexander was ordered back to Mobile to build a breech-loading repeating gun. Alexander departed, crushed, and Dixon set out dejectedly to train a new second-in-command.

So matters stood when, on the night of February 17, the wind turned to fair and the sea grew calm. Dixon decided that, in spite of a bright moon, he could wait no longer. At Battery Marshall, a signal was agreed on for his use in case the Hunley wanted a light as a guide for her return trip. The crew filed aboard, the hatches were closed, and the Hunley slipped under the water. The time had come at last.

Acting Master Crosby’s prompt alarm at sight of the supposed plank floating in the water abeam of the Housatonic brought the sloop’s captain, officers, and men piling onto the deck. By now a moving phosphorescent light clearly marked the path of the strange object below them.

It had changed direction. At the sound of the call to quarters it had come almost to a halt and then begun to move toward the stern of the vessel. When Captain Charles W. Pickering arrived on deck, the object was already on the Housatonic ’s starboard quarter.

The sloop, a screw steamer of 1,240 tons launched at Boston late in 1861, carried thirteen guns, but by now it was impossible to use these weapons. The shadow in the water was so near that attempts to train a gun on it were futile. Captain Pickering and several others on deck began firing with revolvers and rifles.

The chain had been slipped, and now the engines began backing. At the time the order was given it was the right thing to do, for the submarine was abeam. But now it was approaching from the starboard quarter, and the Housatonic ’s engines sent the sloop closer toward its enemy.

It was too late to change direction. Before the men on deck had grasped what was happening, the vessel was shaken by a great explosion between the mainmast and mizzenmast. Timbers and splinters flew through the air; men fell stunned or injured to the deck; the entire stern of the vessel seemed to disintegrate. There was a great rushing of water, an immense cloud of black smoke rose from the stack, and the Housatonic went down almost immediately. Less than an hour after Acting Master Crosby had first sighted the mysterious shape in the water, the survivors of the Housatonic were being rescued. At muster next morning, only five members of the crew failed to answer.

History had witnessed the first sinking of a warship by a submarine. The feat would not be duplicated for half a century.

A Federal court of inquiry convened aboard the Wabash the following week, reviewed the evidence, and found no indication that anyone aboard the sunken ship had been remiss in his duties. Admiral Dahlgren hastened back from Port Royal, redoubled his precautions against torpedo attacks, and called on the Navy Department to offer a large reward to any crew that captured or destroyed a torpedo boat. And in Charleston and Mobile friends of the Hunley and her crew waited word of the submarine’s fate.

The word did not come for a long time. Not until a Federal picket boat was captured off Fort Sumter did Beauregard, and the whole Confederacy as well, learn the magnitude of the little submarine’s accomplishment. Coupled with this news was the report that Dixon and his men had not been captured, a grim indication that they must have been lost.

It was April before a letter was sent to General Maury, still pressing from Mobile for official word of the Hunley ’s fate. Captain M. M. Gray, torpedo officer in the Office of Submarine Defenses, expressed the opinion that she had sunk with the Housatonic . Gray believed the submarine had gone into the hole made in the Housatonic by the explosion and had been unable to muster sufficient power to back out.

It was as good a guess as any. Alexander speculated later that it must have happened just that way. Dixon, he reasoned—in a long memoir in the New Orleans Picayune of June 29, 1902, which is the richest source of information about the Hunley —had deliberately risked the moonlight in his ardor to sink the sloop, and had been observed by the lookout when he came to the surface for a final observation before striking her. Not knowing the Housatonic was about to back down upon him, he had submerged a few feet and steered for the stern. The combined momentums of the two vessels brought them together sooner and with greater force than he had anticipated, and he and his crew had been unable to back their boat out of disaster.

Partly because of the Federals’ justified fear of torpedoes, Charleston did not fall until February 17, 1865. When divers first went down to look at the wreck of the Housatonic , they saw no trace of the Hunley . But years later she was found, lying on the bottom of the harbor, still pointing toward the vessel she had sunk. Within her still lay the remains of the last crew of the Peripatetic Coffin.

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