Thu September 13, 2012
The Hunley's Mobile Connection
When people to think about the American Civil War, epic battles like Gettysburg and Shiloh can come to mind. However, not all of the action during the “war between the states” happened on land. In fact, one notable battle took place underwater outside of Charleston South Carolina.
The Confederate vessel Hunley was the first successful submarine to sink an enemy ship in combat; and it was built in Mobile. The Hunley was built by James McClintock and Baxter Watson, and finances by New Orleans lawyer Horace L. Hunley. While innovative, the sub did not survive its mission to sink the Union frigate Housatonic. It sank shortly after delivering its explosive payload and remained at the sea floor for one hundred thirty-six years. It was found by a team lead by maritime author and explorer Clive Cussler, Shea McLean was on that team…
“The first time I went down, it was zero visibility, and before you knew it…it was just there. And there I was nose to nose literally, at the bow of the sub. I took time and reflected that this was a gravesite, a tomb for these young men.”
Outside, next to the retired battleship U.S.S. Alabama, where McLean is the curator, is a full sized model of the Hunley based on an eye witness drawing. The message from people like McLean is that Alabama’s gulf coast has bragging rights that extend beyond mock-ups of the sub Hunley. Historian Sid Shell counts himself among them…
“Hunley built another boat in New Orleans known as the Pioneer when Farragut ran the river and showed up off New Orleans they sank that boat and brought all their plans and came to Mobile. And here in Mobile they set about to build another boat.”
The Civil War was the source of a number of technological advances ranging from canned foods to the ironclads like the Monitor and the Merrimac. Shea McLean says Mobile’s role in creating the Hunley ranks right up there…
“You could, in fact, say Mobile was the Cape Canaveral of the Confederacy, there were a lot of things going on, people were implementing ideas that have never been tried in warfare before and a lot of these things have carried and been used successfully at later times.”
The Hunley now sits in a tank at a museum/lab in Charleston South Carolina where a team of scientists and archaeologists work around the clock to preserve the sub. If this effort is successful, it may also preserve the story of Hunley and its Mobile connection.
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