Excavators' finds uphold Dixon's romantic image
Tuesday, May 22, 2001
BY SCHUYLER KROPF
Of The Post and Courier staff
Hunley commander Lt. George Dixon is showing all the signs
of being the brave and dashing Confederate officer historians pictured.
His coat is of the finest material, and his teeth were well-kept,
except for the one cavity he had filled with a piece of gold.
Even how he died fits the image: slumped forward at his battle
station at the very front of the sub.
Dixon's skeletal remains were discovered last week and formally
announced Monday by Hunley officials.
The officer's identification means the last nine of the 23
Confederates who died in three Charleston sinkings of the submarine can be united and
buried together at Magnolia Cemetery. By comparison, only five Union sailors died on board
the sub's victim, the USS Housatonic.
"We have it in our grasp to bring all three crews back
together," Hunley Commission Chairman Glenn McConnell said Monday.
Dixon's bones are still in the sub, resting in the silt beneath
the forward conning tower. He is in a sitting position.
Archaeologists have found a jacket, plus an arm, spinal column,
skull and ribs. When combined, the evidence points to a tall man. Dixon was reportedly
about 6 feet.
His teeth are in good condition, McConnell said, unlike other
crewmen who showed rotted teeth from decay and tobacco use. The skull does not appear
damaged, McConnell said, which could put to rest theories that Dixon was wounded by small
arms fire during the attack.
It appears he worked the sub's dive planes and steering
mechanism, but not the forward ballast pump. That duty apparently was reserved for the No.
2 man, who sat behind Dixon and also worked the air-flow bellows, McConnell said.
If that arrangement is correct, historians may have to
re-evaluate who was responsible for the sub's second accidental sinking, which has been
blamed on sub benefactor Horace L. Hunley.
In the fall of 1863, Hunley captained the vessel on a test
mission in the Cooper River off Charleston when it sank nose first into the river bed.
When it was recovered, Hunley was found with a candle in his
hand, and it was largely presumed he failed in his effort to make the sub buoyant again.
If the duties were assigned to the No. 2 man in the boat, then Hunley may not have erred
as previously thought.
"I'm going to go back and look at it,' McConnell said.
Dixon's discovery - and that of a lamp he presumably used to
signal Confederates on shore after the attack - highlighted a quick-moving excavation as
the recovery team is hoping to finish up by month's end.
More is known about Dixon than any other member of the final
crew. He joined the Confederacy's 21st Alabama Regiment when the war broke out and was
wounded at the battle of Shiloh in 1862. His life was spared when a Union bullet hit a
gold coin in his pocket, preventing serious injury. The coin was a gift from his
sweetheart, Queenie Bennett of Mobile, Ala.
Dixon joined the Hunley project in Mobile after his recuperation
and officials are eager to find the gold coin. If he wore it around his neck, that
discovery could come soon. If it was in his pocket, it could be found on the floor beneath
All signs point to Dixon being well-respected as a soldier.
"Very handsome, fair, nearly 6 feet tall, and of most
attractive presence" is how a former company commander described him. "I never
knew a better man, and there never was a braver man in any service of any army."
Dixon commanded the sub for the last time on the night of Feb.