“The night of February 17, 1864, was bitterly cold in Charleston, S.C. Union gunboats, part of the Federal blockade of the Confederacy, and Federal artillery on Morris Island had placed a near-stranglehold on the city that had fired the opening rounds of the war. But Confederates in Charleston had a secret weapon they hoped would strike a deadly blow to the Union blockade. Designed by Horace L. Hunley, James McClintock and Baxter Watson in Mobile, Ala., H.L. Hunley slipped silently through the harbor that February night, headed for USS Housatonic. A Union lookout on board the Federal sloop-of-war thought he saw something just below the water’s surface, heading toward the ship. Rumors had been circulating that the Confederates had a new secret weapon some called a ‘Torpedo Fish.’ Looking closer, the sailor sounded the alarm, but the crew could do little. The ship’s guns could not be depressed sufficiently to hit an object so close and below the water’s surface. Some sailors tried shooting at it, but it seemed nothing could stop the tube-like object’s 3-knot progress toward Housatonic. The tube slammed into the Union ship’s side, lodging a 135-pound torpedo in its hull with a spar that extended from the tube’s front.

“The ‘Torpedo Fish’ was actually H.L. Hunley, which had just conducted the first successful submarine attack on an enemy warship. After lodging the torpedo in Housatonic, the eight-man crew began to reverse the rotation of the hand crank that ran through the sub, effectively pulling Hunley away from the Federal vessel and, at least in theory, pulling the detonation rope taut between the two vessels, resulting in a massive explosion on Housatonic. The warship sank to the ocean floor within minutes. Hunley then surfaced, and its crew signaled they had completed their mission, and Confederates built a large fire on the shore to guide the sub in. But it never returned. Hunley and its crew were not seen again until a salvage team funded by adventure writer Clive Cussler discovered it in 1995 and a team brought it to the surface in 2000.”

From: Ural, Susannah J. “Ural on URLs: the Civil War on the internet.” Civil War Times 53.2 (2014): 17. U.S. History in Context. Web.

For more information about the H. L. Hunley, click on this link: Submarine


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