Horace L. Hunley, a Mobile, Alabama, commodities broker, who financed the Confederate submarine that carried out history's first successful torpedo attack. Courtesy Louisiana State Museum, New Orleans

Conrad Wise sketched the Hunley shortly after her recovery from an 1863 training accident that killed her entire crew. Courtesy Valentine Museum, Richmond, VA

This 1875 drawing of David Bushnell's Turtle (1775) had several flaws, including non-existent ballast tanks and a screw rather than a propeller. Courtesy Naval Historical Center.

The American Diver, drawn by James McClintock in 1872. (Courtesy of the British Admiralty, Record Division. Researched by Mark Ragan and Richard Wills)

 

Earliest Hunley drawing


The earliest known drawing of the Hunley, drawn by James McClintock in 1872. (Courtesy of the British Admiralty, Record Division. Researched by Mark Ragan and Richard Wills)

Plan and profile of the hull of the Hunley. (National Park Service Submerged Cultural Resource Unit)

Simon Lake's drawing

A sketch of the submarine H.L. Hunley made by Simon Lake from a description of the vessel by Charles Hasker, one of the crew that survived the first sinking. Published in McLures Magazine in January 1899 and available at the National Archives; researched by Mark K. Ragan.

Drawing of Singer's Torpedo from General Gilmore's private papers. Available at the Library of Congress; researched by Mark K. Ragan.

 

Drawing of Singer's Torpedo from General Gilmore's private papers. Available at the Library of Congress; researched by Mark K. Ragan.

Alexander sketch

W.A. Alexander's sketch of the CSS H.L. Hunley from Charleston's Maritime Heritage, 1670-1865 by P.C. Coker III (1987, CokerCraft Press: Charleston, SC. Pp 264).

 


Drawing of McClintock's first submarine, the Pioneer. (Courtesy of the National Archives; Researched by Mark Ragan)

1861
Early in the Civil War, the Confederate government authorized citizens to operate armed warships as 'privateers.' A New Orleans consortium headed by cotton broker H.L. Hunley gained approval for the operation of Pioneer, a 34-foot-long submarine designed and built by James McClintock. The boat held three persons, one to steer and two to crank the propeller.
1861
Early in the Civil War, the Confederate government authorized citizens to operate armed warships as 'privateers.' A New Orleans consortium headed by cotton broker H.L. Hunley gained approval for the operation of Pioneer, a 34-foot-long submarine designed and built by James McClintock. The boat held three persons, one to steer and two to crank the propeller.

 

A Civil War-era submarine that was long thought to be Pioneer but is not was discovered and raised in 1878 and is on display at the Louisiana State Museum. Its true origin remains a mystery.

Civil War-era submarine

Civil War-era submarine


In a March 1862 demonstration on Louisiana's Lake Pontchartrain, a submerged Pioneer sank a barge with a towed floating torpedo. In April 1862, the U.S. Navy captured New Orleans, and its builders scuttled Pioneer. Soon discovered, the boat was sold for scrap in 1868.

The Alligator
The Alligator, with its large, hand-cranked propeller.


 

1861
Villeroi obtained a contract from the U.S. Navy for a larger submarine, the 46-foot-long Alligator. Its propulsion was originally 16 oarsmen with hinged, self-feathering oars, but an improved version had a three-foot-diameter, hand-cranked propeller. Weapon: an explosive charge that a diver would set against an enemy hull. Alligator entered service on June 13, 1862, the first submarine in the U.S. Navy. Towed south from Philadelphia for operations in the James River, the boat proved too large to hide and support divers in the relatively shallow water, and it foundered and sank in a storm in 1863.

1861
Villeroi obtained a contract from the U.S. Navy for a larger submarine, the 46-foot-long Alligator. Its propulsion was originally 16 oarsmen with hinged, self-feathering oars, but an improved version had a three-foot-diameter, hand-cranked propeller. Weapon: an explosive charge that a diver would set against an enemy hull. Alligator entered service on June 13, 1862, the first submarine in the U.S. Navy. Towed south from Philadelphia for operations in the James River, the boat proved too large to hide and support divers in the relatively shallow water, and it foundered and sank in a storm in 1863.


Despite its hopeful name, the David met with little success.

David

Despite its hopeful name, the David met with little success.

 

1862
Confederate Army officer Captain Francis D. Lee created the low-freeboard steamboat known as David (as in David and Goliath). It could either directly ram an enemy or make use of a spar torpedo, an explosive on the end of a long pole. The Southern Torpedo Boat Company in Charleston built several as a profit-making venture (anyone who could sink a blockading Union warship could earn substantial bounties).

1862
Confederate Army officer Captain Francis D. Lee created the low-freeboard steamboat known as David (as in David and Goliath). It could either directly ram an enemy or make use of a spar torpedo, an explosive on the end of a long pole. The Southern Torpedo Boat Company in Charleston built several as a profit-making venture (anyone who could sink a blockading Union warship could earn substantial bounties).

Sketch made by McClintock in 1872, which may represent the features of American Diver.

American Diver


Sketch made by McClintock in 1872, which may represent the features of American Diver.


 

1863
Hunley's New Orleans consortium shifted operations to Mobile, Alabama, and built a second, slightly improved submarine, which may have been called American Diver. McClintock spent a lot of time and money trying to replace hand-cranking with some sort of electrical motor, but without success. This submarine sank in rough weather in Mobile Bay; the crew was rescued.
1863
Hunley's New Orleans consortium shifted operations to Mobile, Alabama, and built a second, slightly improved submarine, which may have been called American Diver. McClintock spent a lot of time and money trying to replace hand-cranking with some sort of electrical motor, but without success. This submarine sank in rough weather in Mobile Bay; the crew was rescued.



These drawings were made sometime after the Civil War from information provided by W.A. Alexander, one of the original builders.

Civil War drawings


These drawings were made sometime after the Civil War from information provided by W.A. Alexander, one of the original builders.

 

1863
Hunley's consortium built a third submarine about 40 feet long. Crew: probably nine, eight to crank the propeller and at least one to steer and operate the sea cocks and hand pumps to control water level in the ballast tanks.

The Confederates sent the submarine to Charleston to try to break the Federal blockade. It sank almost immediately, perhaps swamped by the wake of a passing steamer, and some crew members were lost. Confederate Commanding General P.G.T. Beauregard became disenchanted, but Horace Hunley persuaded him to allow "one more try" under Hunley's personal supervision. The boat sank again, killing Hunley and the crew.

1863
Hunley's consortium built a third submarine about 40 feet long. Crew: probably nine, eight to crank the propeller and at least one to steer and operate the sea cocks and hand pumps to control water level in the ballast tanks.

The Confederates sent the submarine to Charleston to try to break the Federal blockade. It sank almost immediately, perhaps swamped by the wake of a passing steamer, and some crew members were lost. Confederate Commanding General P.G.T. Beauregard became disenchanted, but Horace Hunley persuaded him to allow "one more try" under Hunley's personal supervision. The boat sank again, killing Hunley and the crew.

CSS H.L. Hunley, recovered after a fatal accident and awaiting a "go-no go" decision by Charleston-area commanding General P.G.T. Beauregard.

CSS H.L. Hunley


CSS H.L. Hunley, recovered after a fatal accident and awaiting a "go-no go" decision by Charleston-area commanding General P.G.T. Beauregard.


The boat was found and raised, and two members of the original team who had not been aboard when it sank harassed Beauregard often enough that, after "many refusals and much discussion," he agreed to allow one more attempt, but not as a submarine. Now named CSS H.L. Hunley in honor of her spiritual father, the boat would now bear a spar torpedo and operate awash as a David.


 

Intelligent Whale is now an exhibit at the National Guard Militia Museum of New Jersey, in Sea Girt, N.J. It was never a serious contender in the submarine sweepstakes.

Intelligent Whale


Intelligent Whale is now an exhibit at the National Guard Militia Museum of New Jersey, in Sea Girt, N.J. It was never a serious contender in the submarine sweepstakes.

 

1863
A group of Northern speculators formed the American Submarine Company to take advantage of a vote in the U.S. Congress to approve the use of privateers. However, when President Abraham Lincoln declined to accept the authority, construction of this consortium's submarine, the Intelligent Whale, languished. The boat was not completed until 1866, long after the war ended. The then ostensible owner, O.S. Halstead, made several efforts to sell it to the government, and the U.S. Navy finally held formal acceptance trials in 1872. The Intelligent Whale failed. Halstead was not present, having been murdered the year before by his mistress's ex-lover.
1863
A group of Northern speculators formed the American Submarine Company to take advantage of a vote in the U.S. Congress to approve the use of privateers. However, when President Abraham Lincoln declined to accept the authority, construction of this consortium's submarine, the Intelligent Whale, languished. The boat was not completed until 1866, long after the war ended. The then ostensible owner, O.S. Halstead, made several efforts to sell it to the government, and the U.S. Navy finally held formal acceptance trials in 1872. The Intelligent Whale failed. Halstead was not present, having been murdered the year before by his mistress's ex-lover.

1863
The French team of Charles Burn and Simon Bourgeois launched Le Plongeur (The Diver). It was 140 feet long, 20 feet wide, and displaced 400 tons. Power: engines run by 180 pounds-per-square-inch compressed air stored in tanks throughout the boat. To operate it, crew members filled ballast tanks just enough to achieve neutral buoyancy, then made adjustments with cylinders that they could run in and out of the hull to vary the volume (Bourne's concept). Le Plongeur proved too unstable: A crew member's movements could send her into radical gyrations.

1864
On February 17, after months of training and operational delays, the spar-torpedo-armed CSS H.L. Hunley attacked the USS Housatonic, which bears the dubious distinction of being the first warship ever sunk by a submarine. Shortly after the attack, Hunley disappeared with all hands, not to be found until 1995  about 1,000 yards from the scene of action. With hatches open for desperately needed ventilation, the boat may have become swamped by the wake of a steamer rushing to the aid of the Housatonic. In summer 2000, Hunley was recovered and is now undergoing conservation and study.

 

 

 

 

  Hit Counter