This weekend, there will be a little bit more
of the Hunley to see.
A new exhibit featuring the Confederate sub's rudder, snorkel tubes and aft cutwater will go on public display for the first time Saturday, alongside one of the more significant artifacts found among the crew's belongings.
Scientists at the Warren Lasch Conservation Center said the Union identification tag stamped with the name of Ezra Chamberlin will be on display. The coin-sized medallion will be housed in an argon-filled display case designed to halt corrosion.
"It has not been treated yet, so we will use the argon gas so it won't corrode," said Paul Mardikian conservator on the Hunley project. "Because argon gas is heavier than air, it pushes the oxygen away."
The medallion, about the size of a Sacagawea dollar coin, is stamped with Chamberlin's name and his Connecticut infantry group. The identification tag was privately printed - the U.S. military didn't issue official dog tags until the 20th century.
When the tag was found around the neck of a Hunley crewman in April 2001, some people believed the remains belonged to Chamberlin, who had either defected or was taken prisoner.
But scientists and historians say that, most likely, the medallion was just a battlefield souvenir. History records that Chamberlin died on Morris Island in July 1863, a month before the Hunley arrived in Charleston. Forensic tests show that the man found wearing the tag was in his mid- to late-30s, while Chamberlin was only 24 at the time he supposedly died.
Only George Dixon's gold coin good-luck piece is considered a more important artifact on this project. Mardikian said that displaying Chamberlin's medallion is basically a trial run to finally putting the gold coin on exhibit.
The pieces of the sub going on display vary in significance. The aft cutwater is basically a triangular piece of metal that was mounted in front of the rear conning tower to divert water around the hatch. The snorkel tubes, pipes about four feet long, were sometimes used to draw air into the crew compartment.
More important is the sub's square rudder, which was found lying in the sand beneath the sub.
Some scientists say the detached rudder could play a role in why the Hunley sank after downing the USS Housatonic on Feb. 17, 1864.
BY BRIAN HICKS
Of The Post and Courier Staff
Used with permission of the Post and Courier and Charleston. Net