Excavators search for Lt. Dixon
Friday, May 11, 2001
BY BRIAN HICKS
Of The Post and Courier staff
The end of their work in sight, archaeologists excavating the
Hunley have started their push to recover the sub's commander, Lt. George E. Dixon.
By Thursday afternoon, scientists had removed two-thirds of the
rivets that hold the hull plate over the forward area of the submarine's crew compartment.
Project director Bob Neyland said the plate, where the sub's snorkel box is mounted, could
be off by Saturday evening.
Then archaeologists will work in shifts to dig out the forward
part of the sub. There, they hope to find the remains of Dixon, his gold coin good luck
piece, and clues to why the Confederate submarine sank on Feb. 17, 1864, after sinking the
USS Housatonic four miles off Sullivan's Island.
"It's exciting to be getting this close," Neyland said.
"I think it will bring a certain amount of closure."
The excavation is stretching into its third month now, and so far
it has produced a treasure chest of information about the submarine.
Personal belongings - buttons, pipes, hats, shoes - have been
recovered, as well as tools used on the submarine - candles, pencils. The remains of eight
crewmen have been found still at their duty stations.
The machinery of the submarine has been almost exactly as William
Alexander - one of the Hunley's builders and crewmen - sketched it around the turn of the
The scientists have recovered just about everything now - except
Dixon and the blue light he used to signal a successful mission. Those finds are just
weeks, or days, away.
There are a couple of clues the archaeologists are specifically
looking for. One, they want to find the iron shards created when the grapefruit-sized hole
in the front conning tower was made. If that iron is low in the hull, even on the floor,
it would suggest the hole was made close to the time of the sinking - or even caused the
Hunley to go down.
If the shards are higher up, that would most likely mean the hole
was made years - decades, even - after the Hunley sank.
Scientists also will be looking for signs of injury on Dixon. If
the conning tower viewing port was shot out by sailors on board Housatonic, Dixon could
have been hit. The captain kept his head in the tower while steering the ship.
Neyland said Thursday the excavation will wrap up by the end of
the month. Then scientists will return in September to excavate around the machinery
bolted in near the forward and after bulkheads. Currently geologists are mapping the wall
of sediment remaining against the aft bulkhead, working up a fill sequence to find out how
the submarine filled with sediment.
Mysteries around The Hunley
7/17/01Is this Lt. George Dixon?
The mystery comes from a single picture, thought to
be of Lt. George Dixon. According to Senator Glenn McConnell, the photo shows a man
in his mid 20s, and was found tucked behind another picture in Queenie
album. Bennett was the woman who gave Dixon the famous gold coin which saved his
life at the Battle of Shiloh.
According to Senator McConnell, Queenie Bennett's descendants believed the
photo is of Lt. Dixon because it matches his description. However, some
historians have questions.
Some say that the lapels of the jacket in the picture, and the design of the
cravat, or tie, suggest a later period than in the mid 1860s. One historian has
suggested the tie was fashionable in England at the time, and perhaps Lt. Dixon was a
little ahead of his time.
McConnell does say that Lt. Dixon was a fashionable man, and had a reputation for being
a dashing man. His remains show he had very white teeth and his clothing found
inside the sub had some metallic threads, indicating his uniform is a cut above what was
expected to be found inside the Hunley.
The decision about this latest mystery should be made sometime this week and we will
let you know.
Used with permission of The Post
and Courier and Charleston.Net