Hunley artifacts recovered
Friday, March 16, 2001
BY SCHUYLER KROPF
Of The Post and Courier staff
Archaeologists digging out the Confederate submarine Hunley
finally made contact with the crew, recovering two buttons that were sitting upside down
and inches apart on what appears to be a wooden bench.
The buttons, made of either copper or brass, are the first
artifacts recovered in the excavation of the Hunley. They are about the size of a quarter
and feature an ornate and flowing capital letter "A" cast in 19th-century
It's too early to determine what the "A" stands for,
but it could denote its owner was in the artillery or more likely that he came from the
state of Alabama, where the sub, her captain - Lt. George Dixon - and some of the other
Hunley sailors originated.
"Cool stuff here today," said project manager Bob
Neyland at the sub's conservation lab on the former Navy Base in North Charleston.
The wooden plank, discovered on the sub's port side, might be
something as simple as a shelf, but Neyland said more likely it is the bench or a piece of
a bench that members of the crew sat on as they cranked the sub's propeller shaft.
It was found at a downward angle and may have been intentionally
positioned that way for comfort to the men, or it may have collapsed after 137 years of
being submerged, Neyland said.
For overnight protection the plank was recovered with wet mud.
Meanwhile, the buttons, though tarnished, are in remarkably good
shape, Neyland said, adding that the eyelets appear ready to be sewed back onto clothing.
It is not clear how they got to be sitting on the bench since no
other piece of clothing has so far been found in the area. They might have been part of a
jacket that either rotted away or might have fallen to the floor of the sub and is buried
there, Neyland said.
It took more than four hours to remove them because they had to
be mapped and photographed. For preservation purposes, they were dunked in fresh water to
prevent further corrosion and may be made available for media pictures today.
"It is both chilling and exciting to think that the last
person to touch these buttons was in the midst of victory 137 years ago," said Warren
Lasch, chairman of Friends of the Hunley.
The two pieces were found by Hunley team archaeologists Mike
Scafuri while he was working in an area near the center of the crew compartment. Eight men
sat in the crew section on the night of Feb. 17, 1864, and cranked the Hunley's propeller
shaft when it attacked and sank the blockade ship USS Housatonic.
About 80 buckets of silt have been cleaned out of the sub this
week as archaeologists attempt to bring down the sediment level inside the crew
compartment. As the silt is removed, it is sifted through screens and during sifting work
Thursday work crews also found a small rubber gasket that could have helped seal any
number of points or mechanics inside the sub. Several small fragments of leather also were
In the next two weeks, scientists hope to have gone deep enough
to find the crank shaft. But Thursday's discovery of the buttons helps prove that
"everything that went out with the sub and went down with the sub is still in the
sub," Neyland said.
Used with permission of The Post and
Courier and Charleston.Net