HL Hunley & USS Yorktown

Sat – 12/13

HL Hunley

Paul, Dave, and I visited the HL Hunley restoration site and it was one of the most memorable experiences in Charleston!  Seeing the submarine was OK (water was cloudy due to chemical treatments), but the stories of the guide made it very interesting.  Some highlights:

  • Hunley was a 40ft confederate sub built to try to break the Union blockade of food and supplies, engineer Horace Lawson Hunley began privately building it in Mobile AL in 1863.
  • Crewmen would have been pretty uncomfortable inside – just over 4′ high, only 8 mean could fit into the vessel – 7 propeller operators and an 8th to steer the sub.
  • The Hunley was dependent on the crew hand-turning a crank to power the single propeller. Batteries and a steam-powered engine proved impractical for the submersible.
  • Hunley was the first combat sub to sink a warship, but sunk immediately following its attack on the Housatonic in 1864 (only 5 died on the Housatonic and 150 were injured.)
  • The exact reason for why it sunk is not really known – theories include:  its own torpedo’s detonation and massive explosion (supposedly the sub was only about 20ft away at the time), an unsecured hatch, a lucky enemy shot that blasted a hole in the viewing port, they ran out of oxygen.
  • She then surfaced long enough for her crew to signal their comrades on the shore of Sullivan’s Island with a blue magnesium light,(or lantern) indicating a successful mission (but this really was not confirmed. )
  • Sub was finally located in 1995 and recovered in 2000 by the author, Clive Cussler’s research team from the National Underwater Marine Agency (which had been searching for the vessel for 15 years.)
  • Sunk 3 times and lost 21 crewmen – first sinking was due to an unsecured hatch (5 died) in Aug 1863, 8 died later that year in Oct
  • Remains of the crew were very well-preserved, didn’t have signs of trauma, and they were all found at their stations (not near an escape hatch.)
  • Rumors abounded that this could have been a suicide mission for the crew, but unlikely as there are a variety of reasons why the sub may have sank, also due in part to valuable items recovered from the Hunley skipper Dixon….

Hunley skipper George Dixon kept a good-luck charm in his pocket: A gold coin that was bent (and may have saved his life) when he was wounded nearly two years before at the Battle of Shiloh in Tennessee.  Dixon also carried a diamond ring and brooch that was recovered along with the lucky gold coin:

Following the Hunley visit we went to Magnolia Cemetery to see the graves of the crewmen.

Next stop was Patriot’s Point to climb aboard the USS Yorktown, the 10th aircraft carrier to serve in the Army.  Built during WWII, she was commissioned in 1943 and participated in several campaigns in the Pacific Theater of Operations, earning 11 battle stars and the Presidential Unit Citation.  She earned five battle stars in the Vietnam War and later served as a recovery ship for the Apollo 8 space mission.  Yorktown became a museum ship in 1975.  It was cool to check out the antique aircraft inside the carrier as well as on the deck and to explore all of its nooks and crannies, older technologies (especially in the operating room, etc.)  We found ourselves walking into rooms we weren’t allowed to be in here and there (private Army training event) and were sent on our way.  After a while the smell of the ship and the tight quarters made me feel a little light-headed!


Flight deck

Exterior views

Sat night we had an incredible dinner at Cypress, including an amazing Asian-style shrimp salad and I had the local wreckfish – one of our best dinners in Charleston!  Not surprising given that it’s part of the same restaurant family as Magnolia’s!



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