Jan 11

H.L. Hunley Fully Visible for the First Time

Wednesday, January 11, 2012 11:06 AM


HL Hunley in its conservation tank at the Warren Lasch Conservation Center, Charleston.

On February 17, 1864, Confederate-built H.L. Hunley became the world’s first successful combat submarine when it attacked and sank the 1240-short ton screw sloop USS Housatonic at the entrance to the harbor of Charleston, South Carolina. H.L. Hunley surfaced briefly to signal a successful mission to comrades on shore with a blue magnesium light, after which it was never seen again. All eight of its crewmen were presumed lost and despite multiple search efforts, the submarine could not be relocated. 

Over 136 years later, on 8 August, 2000, H.L. Hunley was raised from the sea floor using a specially-designed support frame, or truss. A multi-disciplinary team, under Project Director and Head of the NHHC Underwater Archaeology Branch, Dr. Robert Neyland, coordinated Hunley‘s recovery. 

Post recovery, the 40-foot, 17,000 pound truss continued to support the sub in a custom built, 90,000-gallon conservation tank at Warren Lasch Conservation Center in Charleston, SC while it underwent archaeological investigation. During the careful, year long excavation of its interior, H.L. Hunley remained in the same tilted position in which it was found to ensure minimal disturbance of its contents. Conservation of the recovered artifacts is being conducted by professionals from the Warren Lasch Conservation Center and Clemson University. In 2011, after the interior of the hull had been completely excavated, Hunley was re-positioned so that it now sits upright and no longer requires the support of the truss, which will be removed tomorrow morning on 12 January, 2012.

Throughout its treatment, the submarine has been on display to the public, however, when the truss is removed, visitors finally will be able to have a fully-unobstructed view of the vessel in its conservation tank.

A 3-D animation of the recovery and rotation of H.L. Hunley may be viewed here: Hunley Submarine Rotation

For more information on the H.L. Hunley project, please visit the Friends of the Hunley website: http://www.hunley.org/ 

HL Hunley in its truss at the Warren Lasch Conservation Center, Charleston.

  • Andy (JADAA)

    This has been an extraordinary accomplishment of recovery, preservation and display of an undeniably historic artifact. Kudos to the entire spectrum of groups and individuals who have helped make this happen.

  • Jim Valle

    As Maritime Archaeology becomes more and more mature we will probably end up learning as much from it as we do from standard historical methods if not more. As the Hunley project demonstrates, however, it can be a very expensive and painstaking business. Also potentially very lucrative as attested to by the results of the Central America and Republic salvage expeditions to name just a few.

  • As an engineer I would have love to been a fly on the wall when the designers were thinking of this thing. The people who built this and the people who raised her up are testaments to our great country!

  • Chris Rucker

    It is incorrect to say that the Hunley signaled to shore with a “blue magnesium light.” Nothing of the kind existed in 1864. Robert Flemming, a lookout on the sunken Housatonic, testified that he saw “a blue light on the water” just ahead of the USS Canandaigua, which had come to the rescue of the Housatonic’s crew. In 1864, “blue light” was a handheld, pyrotechnic signal in long use in the military and civilian spheres. Flemming recognized this pyrotechnic signal, and it has been hypothesized that it was displayed by the Hunley’s crew. Note that modern authors have all misrepresented the “blue light” as a blue lantern, since they did consult period dictionaries, military manuals, chemistry textbooks, etc, all of which confirm the nature of “blue light” as it was known in 1864.

  • Chris Rucker

    The recently completed conservation of the lantern recovered from the Hunley confirms that it has no blue coloration. It is a common lantern used like a flashlight by the crew, not a signal lantern. This is the final nail in the coffin of the modern “blue lantern” myth, begun when researchers failed to realize the 1864 meaning of “blue light” as a pyrotechnic signal. It is past time to put the blue lantern myth to rest, and understand the true nature of the 19th century signaling technology used by the Hunley crew.