War-era device may have been used to search for sub or used as ANCHOR?
Thursday, August 22, 2002
BY SCHUYLER KROPF
Of The Post and Courier Staff
Divers returning to the submarine H.L. Hunley wreck site have
made a curious find: a Civil War-era grappling hook that may have
been used by Union sailors to drag the sandy bottom in their search
to locate the sub after it sank.
But it also could have been used as an impromptu anchor by the
Hunley crew to stop the vessel from being pulled out to sea by
changing tides, something that, if true, could add a previously
unknown capability to the sub.
Archaeologists aren't sure which option is more probable. They
say the five-armed hook was found last week in a position consistent
with its being an anchor, 18 feet directly off the bow and pointed
right back at the sub.
"It makes an intriguing possibility, but none of it is
definitive," Hunley project manager Bob Neyland said Wednesday.
The 3-foot-tall grapple, heavily laden with marine growth and
clay, was resting about 10 feet down in the sea bed, which puts it at
the same layer in the ocean strata as the Hunley was when it was
recovered two years ago this month.
Divers using hand-held magnetometers found the grapple as part
of a return trip this month to check out several metallic anomalies
near the old wreck site. They had hoped to recover any lost pieces of
the sub, including a missing section of the shroud that had guarded
the propeller blade. The shroud piece wasn't found.
On the night of Feb. 17, 1864, the Hunley became the world's
first sub to sink an enemy warship when it rammed a black powder
charge into the Union blockade ship Housatonic, four miles out of
Charleston Harbor. The Housatonic sank in less than five minutes, and
the Hunley never returned.
Not long after the attack, the Navy ordered the sea bottom
around the Housatonic dragged with hooks for a distance out to about
500 yards in an effort to find the elusive stealth weapon.
Using hooks similar to what was found this month "they should
have come close to the Hunley if not right over it," Neyland said. At
one point during the wartime search, hard-helmeted divers were put in
the water when a hook snagged on something in the deep, but nothing
related to the Hunley was found, Neyland said.If the Hunley did use
an anchor, it would fall in line with one theory that the crew
decided to stay near the battle site while the tide changed so the
hand-cranked vessel would have an easier trip back to shore.
A length of rope was found pushed up against the sub when it was
recovered two years ago, but archaeologists aren't sure if that rope
is related to the hook.
The grapple is being stored in a freshwater bath at the Warren
Lasch Conservation Lab in North Charleston, where the sub is being
At least two other anomalies that bear investigating have been
detected buried near the Hunley site, Neyland said.
The recent return dive was paid for in part by a $15,000
donation from the National Underwater and Marine Agency, the
nonprofit group set up by author Clive Cussler that helped find the
sub in 1995.
The National Park Service also provided a $5,000 battlefield
grant, Neyland said.
Divers also report the site four miles off the coast is overrun
with jellyfish. "I can still feel the scar across my face," said
diver Harry Pecorelli, who got hit.