Wednesday, August 06, 2014

CSS Hunley: 150th Anniversary of a Successful Submarine Attack

This Year in History


The submarine CSS Horace L. Hunley was built in 1863 by the Confederate States during the Civil War.  Hunley was 39 and a half feet long, weighing seven and a half tons, and was hand-powered by seven crew men turning a hand cranked propeller.  Hunley had many features on it that submarines still use today, such as ballast tanks that could be flooded with water and pumped dry with air, a tapered bow and stern, and diving planes.  Unlike today's submarines, Hunley's only means of attack was its single spar torpedo that had a 90-pound gunpowder warhead that could explode underwater, and might have even had an electric detonator to set it off.

CSS Hunley

Hunley's first, and only, attack was on February 17, 1864, trying to break the blockade at Charleston, South Carolina.  The submarine's attack managed to sink the steam powered USS Housatonic.  However, Hunley did not return from the attack and the blockade remained in place.

Hunley's fate remained a mystery for 131 years until it was discovered in May of 1995, not far from the site of its successful attack.  Hunley was recovered in 2000 and is currently undergoing conservation, further study, and on public display at the Warren Lasch Conservation Center.

CSS Hunley being recovered from Charleston Harbor on August 8, 2000.
Photograph courtesy of Naval Historical Center.
Author: Lyle Grisham
Completed as a student intern through the University of Arkansas at Little Rock History Department.


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