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        More on the Mystery Sub - Page Two

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Interior of submarine looking forward from stern. The gear in the upper right portion of the photo is part of the hand powered propulsion system.
The two brackets amidships were probably used as seats by crew who turned the crankshaft. Visible at the bow of the vessel are the shafts and controls for the bow rudder and diving planes. Also visible, in the upper right center of the photo is the hatchway. Just forward of the hatch is a cylindrical aperture that likely functioned as a snorkel assembly. Photo by Dave Johnson, March 2001. (LSM Sub Master File) (Click photo for a larger view)

The next step was to assess the amount of chloride (salt) that was absorbed by the iron of the hull. A certain level of chloride in metal will cause it to rust. It is a process, said Johnson that can take place invisibly from the inside and reduce a heavy metal cannon or artifact into a pile of rust.

The conservators were preparing to set up for the submarine an electrolysis treatment, the common method of ridding metal artifacts raised from salt water of chloride. This method sets up an electric cell with positive and negative ends in a tank containing water and a chemical that allows the flow of an electric current. The artifact is put in the tank and the positively charged electrode draws the negative ions from the artifact and with it the corrosive chloride.

The conservators' test for chloride provided an unexpected result. “The milestone of the conservation treatment,” said Johnson, “was the discovery that the chloride levels of the submarine were below the treatable limit. The early removal of the submarine from Lake Ponchartrain may account for that and the fact that when the sub was removed, in 1878, the lake was probably mostly fresh water.”

At this stage in the treatment, the conservators are testing procedures for cleaning the submarine of the years of rust formed on the inside and outside. They are considering the use of wire brushes or air blasting with a mild abrasive agent. A system has to be developed and fine tuned. Once they have cleaned the submarine to its bare metal, it must be coated to protect it from further damage.

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The latest stage of conservation--submarine under loading dock awning at Euphrosyne Conservation Center, May 2001. (LSM DSCN0008) (Click photo for a larger view)

Every step in the treatment had to be specifically developed and tested for this particular artifact. The guiding principle, said Johnson, is that whatever we do, it has to be reversible. “We work with the knowledge that our technology is always increasing, and that we might want to utilize another technology in the future. If we use a technique that is not reversible, then we can't apply a new one.”

Identity by Design

The Louisiana State Museum submarine once was thought to have an identity. It was believed to be the Pioneer, a vessel built in New Orleans by a group led by Horace Hunley, a wealthy lawyer and customs agent. Recent findings in the National Archives, however, have proven otherwise.

The Pioneer was established by a letter of marque by the Confederate government as a privateer in March of 1862. Only a month later, however, New Orleans fell to David Glasgow Farragut, commander of the West Gulf Blockading Squadron, and the Pioneer was scuttled in a New Orleans canal. When the submarine was discovered, a team of Union experts examined it and prepared measured drawings to be sent to Washington for further study. It was these drawings and descriptions, found only three years ago by naval historian Mark Ragan, that showed the Pioneer to be a different vessel than the one owned by the State Museum.

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Hand-drawing of a Confederate submarine executed in December 1863 under the direction of William H. Shock, Fleet Engineer of the Western Gulf Blockading Squadron. (Click photo for a larger view)

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Shock's letter to Gustavus Fox, Assistant Secretary of the Navy, accompanying the drawing, illustrates the inherent danger surrounding the submarine. (Click photo for a larger view)

(Drawing and Letter from the National Archives, Index of Letters Received by the Secretary of the Navy from Officers below the Rank of Commander, Record Group 45.)

While the Pioneer was described as cigar shaped, 30 feet long and 4 feet in diameter, the New Orleans submarine is shaped more like a pumpkinseed, and is 20 feet long, 3 feet wide and 6 feet deep. The submarine still has a propeller shaft and gear that were part of its propulsion system. It was powered by two people who either hand cranked or pedaled the propeller. In the bow of the vessel were controls for a third man to adjust the diving planes and the bow and stern rudders. There is evidence of a sophisticated system to turn the bow and stern rudders simultaneously.

Greg Lambousy, Associate Curator of Exhibits at the Louisiana State Museum, has studied the physical aspects of the Museum's craft and is hoping to find a description of the submarine in records from nearby public and private libraries and archives. His research has led him to explore the work of the Scotsman John Nesmyth, who designed a “submarine mortar” John Hughs, who built the ironclad Manassas; and John Roy, an architect who experimented with cannons that fired underwater.

“Submarine building activity really took off during the Civil War,” he said. There were 20 to 30 submarine projects going on in the Confederacy and the Union. As a state-of-the-art weapon technology, the projects were shrouded in secrecy.

With any luck, Lambousy's efforts will reveal the long-held secrets of the rare Louisiana State Museum Civil War-era submersible.

Vital Statistics:
Project Grant: 2000 Conservation Project Award Grant: $38,400
Project Contact: Greg Lambousy, Curator of Exhibits
Louisiana State Museum
751 Chartres
New Orleans, LA 70116

Project Website: http://lsm.crt.state.la.us/
Project Conservators: Lynn Harrington
David Johnson
Herb Bump

Copyright 1999 Institute of Museum and Library Services.

Questions, comments, or problems? Contact IMLS via email imlsinfo@imls.gov or by phone (202) 606-8537.

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