HL Hunley Civil War submarine: new clue could explain its mysterious disappearance



A broken pipe may help explain why a famous Civil War submarine sank off Charleston, South Carolina over 150 years ago.

The HL Hunley became the first submarine to successfully attack an enemy ship in combat when it sank the wooden ship USS Housatonic February 17, 1864. The Confederate ship disappeared with its eight crew members.

Over 130 years later, the Hunley was discovered at the bottom of the ocean. The submarine was lifted and taken to a lab in North Charleston in 2000.

Since then, curators and archaeologists have worked to preserve the vessel and study its contents in the hopes of finally understanding what happened.

They found the broken intake pipe on the front of the Hunley while cleaning up the thick hard coating like rock of sand, shells, marine life and other material – called concretions – that had accumulated there. over time. The hose carried water to a ballast tank which helped the submerged submerge and surface.

There was a 1 inch gap where the pipe was supposed to go up on the side wall.

Friends of the Hunleys

A pipe running from the Hunley’s ballast to the outer hull ruptured when the submarine sank in 1864.

“This left a crescent-shaped opening in the hull that would be a great place to flood and sink your submarine,” said Clemson University archaeologist Michael Scafuri, who has worked with the Hunley team since 2000. .

The evidence is interesting, but not conclusive.

Scafuri said researchers can tell the pipe broke around the time the Hunley sank due to the amount of concretion covering the break, but they cannot yet say whether the pipe broke. broke during the attack or collapsed after it sank.

“Obviously with something like that it is important (to know) whether it happened on the night of the attack and thus may have caused the sinking, or whether it happened two weeks later for another right after the submarine has already sunk, “he said. noted.

Researchers at the University of Michigan found that it would only have taken 50 to 75 gallons of water to drag the Hunley to the bottom of the ocean, according to a Friends of the Hunley press release organization. It would only have taken a few minutes for so much water to flow through the hole.

The hole was small enough that a crew member could have stuffed something in it to slow the water flow, or pump out the water, but this does not appear to have happened.

“They were not trying to escape or take other measures to save the submarine,” Scafuri said. “There is no sign of panic on board.

On the night of the attack, Scarfuri said the captain’s lone candle would have been the only light in the cramped 25-foot-long crew area. If the candle had gone out or had been lost, they would have been working in the dark. There would also have been quite a bit of ocean noise around them.

“I don’t know if he could see it, I don’t know if he could hear it,” he said.

The skeletal remains of the crew members were found at their posts and their bodies showed no obvious physical injuries.

Conservators work to clean up the layer of sand, seashells and marine life that has accumulated on the Hunley during the submarine's nearly 136 years on the seabed.

Friends of the Hunleys

Conservators work to clean up the layer of sand, seashells and marine life that has accumulated on the Hunley during the submarine’s nearly 136 years on the seabed.

A number of theories have attempted to explain the mystery of the Hunley. Perhaps the crew went too far, misjudged their oxygen supply, and got trapped by the current. Perhaps a nearby ship collided with the submarine, knocking it off balance in chaotic waters. Perhaps a bullet went through a porthole, killing the captain and leaving the crew adrift.

The Hunley used a 135-pound bomb that was attached to a 16-foot-long pole to sink the Housatonic Some scientists believe the shock waves from the explosion could have killed or disabled the crew, but a US Navy Study determined that they would have survived the blast.

“It’s kind of a mystery,” Scarfuri said.

He compared archeology to a crime scene investigation, but said it was now a very cold matter.

“All the evidence that was fresh at the time of the sinking is now blurry,” Scarfuri said.

Scarfuri said that each new piece of evidence gives researchers a better understanding of this important naval battle. He hopes they will one day find out the truth, but said he couldn’t make any promises.

“It’s not up to us,” he added. “It’s proof. ”

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