Saturday, March 17, 2001
BY BRIAN HICKS
Of The Post and Courier staff
The buttons found inside the Hunley this week may have come off a coat worn by Cpl. C.F. Carlson, the last man to join the Confederate submarine's final crew.
The two buttons, which sport an ornate "A" on their faces, come from the Montgomery, Ala., company of Halfman & Taylor and were designed for artillery unit jackets. Of the nine men on board the Hunley when it sank the Union Sloop Housatonic and disappeared Feb. 17, 1864, two came from artillery outfits.
Early speculation is that the buttons could have come from James A. Wicks or Carlson, Hunley Commission Chairman Glenn McConnell said Friday.
Post and Courier research on the Hunley crew indicates Carlson may be the best candidate. Carlson joined the crew less than two weeks before its final voyage, replacing former first officer Lt. William Alexander. (On Feb. 5, 1864, Alexander was called back to his outfit, the 21st Alabama, in Mobile.)
If anyone on board was still wearing the uniform of a previous assignment, it likely would have been Carlson.
The buttons, displayed for reporters Friday, are in remarkable condition. Scientists say even the eyelets on the back are in good enough shape to sew them onto jackets again.
"The buttons of the re-enactors are not in better shape," Hunley conservator Paul Mardikian joked. "They still need to be preserved, though."
On the back of the buttons is stamped the company name of "Halfman & Taylor, Montgomery." Bob Bradley, chief curator at the Alabama Department of Archives and History, said Friday that Halfman & Taylor was a wartime company in the first capital of the Confederacy that distributed military wares manufactured in Great Britain.
The company's supplies included buttons like those found in the Hunley, made in England and imported, and calvary swords. Bradley said the Hunley buttons appear to be regulation issue artillery unit buttons. The company was selling buttons to the Confederate States Army as early as 1861.
On one of the buttons, Mardikian said, archaeologists detected a substance that could be hemp or thread of some kind. The buttons, found on a port-side bench for the crew, could have been attached to a coat that deteriorated.
The buttons are only part of a hugely encouraging week of excavation by Hunley scientists. The wooden bench discovered attached to the port side of the hull was as significant a find as the buttons.
The pristine condition of the wood makes it likely that the submarine's interior was devoid of oxygen soon after it sank. What is surprising, Mardikian says, is that no parasite ate the wood.
That means other artifacts and remains deeper in the submarine may also be in good condition.
"The board is in great shape," Mardikian said. "We still expect to find textiles and bones."
The bench has been uncovered in two of the three areas scientists are excavating after removing a trio of hull plates. So far, the bench sits at the same angle in the middle and aft-most openings.
The excavation resumes Sunday, with archaeologists led by Maria Jacobsen continuing to dig in the muck that filled the submarine shortly after its sinking. The scientists have now dug down about 2 feet.
Friends of the Hunley Chairman Warren Lasch, who spent some time digging in the sub this week, said the sediment is like "Play-Doh clay." And in that clay, Lasch said, archaeologists hope to find many more artifacts like those discovered this week.