No Yankee on Hunley, experts say
Saturday, February 9, 2002
BY SCHUYLER KROPF
Of The Post and Courier Staff
Seems there wasn't a Yankee on board the Hunley after
Forensic investigators said Friday that the sailor
found wearing the dog tag of a Union soldier named Ezra Chamberlin was too old
to have been the Connecticut Yankee.
A study of the sailor's remains indicates the man
wearing the medallion was in his 30s; war records indicate Chamberlin would
only have been about 24 at the time.
"The age is not in agreement with the age that
Chamberlin would have been," said Linda C. Abrams, genealogist for the
Chamberlin's possible role in the Hunley saga had
added more intrigue to an already intriguing story. Scientists excavating the
sub's interior last year found the medallion stamped with Chamberlin's name
and his outfit - Company K, Seventh Regiment Connecticut Volunteers - around
the neck of the man serving as first officer of the Hunley.
Chamberlin was reported killed while attacking Morris
Island at the mouth of Charleston Harbor on July 11, 1863 - seven months
before the Hunley disappeared in Feb. 1864.
The find sparked a number of theories: He was a
defector to the South; he was a spy; he was a prisoner of war forced to sail
on the experimental torpedo boat.
But most likely, Abrams said, the medallion was just
picked up by a rebel soldier after a battle - a souvenir worn as a trophy
"like an Indian carrying a scalp."
After finishing the excavation of the Hunley last
year, scientists have turned their attention to studying the collected data,
the recovered artifacts and the men who sailed aboard the sub on its final
This week, Doug Owsley - head of physical
anthropology at the Smithsonian Institution's Museum of Natural History - and
a team of experts have rebuilt the crew members, sorting all the bones found
on board. Because there was little mingling of remains, the job was easier
than they had anticipated.
The early findings of the physical anthropologists
tell a sad tale and reveal several surprises. It appears that all eight men on
board the sub were white and of European descent.
They had back problems and torn rotator cuffs from
cranking the Hunley's propeller inside the cramped, 42-inch-wide hull. Owsley
said they were taller than he expected and that they ranged in age from young
adulthood into the 40s.
The youngest crewman, whom scientists affectionately
refer to as "the kid," was about 18 to 20. "He was an
enthusiastic, gung-ho sailor," Owsley said, adding that his personality
probably resembled that of a high school student on an adventure.
Owsley said that the team hopes to eventually
"write the biographies of these men as is told in the skeletons."
Abrams has been following a skimpy path of records on
the men who sailed on the Hunley's final voyage. It is almost certain that
none of the men came from South Carolina, but tracing their origins has been
hampered by poor record-keeping by the Confederate government - enlistment
papers did not ask for hometown or birth date. So far, her hunt has had mixed
results: She has good information on two of the men, and she doesn't even have
the first names of two others.
Still, she is hopeful of being able to identify and
learn the story of these men, "so we at least bury them by their names
and not as unknowns."
Jamie Downs, the chief medical examiner for the state
of Alabama, will be studying the remains over the next few months, trying to
determine why the crewmen died. This summer, facial reconstruction experts
will begin the process of putting a face on the crew members - a process that
likely will take a month per man.
Owsley, Abrams and the rest of the scientists will
convene at the lab in May to trade information in the ongoing process of
trying to solve the mystery of the Hunley's final hours.
Used with permission of The Post and
Courier and Charleston.Net