HUNLEY COMMANDER FOUND
Researchers also discover lantern that might have been used as signal of successful
BY SCHUYLER KROPF
Of The Post and Courier staff
Officials are expected to announce today that they have
located the remains of Hunley commander Lt. George Dixon,
along with a lantern that may have been used to announce the successful sinking of the
federal blockade ship USS Housatonic.
Dixon's remains lie beneath the forward conning tower. The lamp
reportedly was found behind him, an arm's reach away.
The discoveries were made some time on Thursday, Hunley
Commission Chairman and state Sen. Glenn F. McConnell said Sunday night.
A forensics examination of the bones showed they belonged to a
tall man in his mid-20s, according to McConnell.
Dixon was well over 6 feet tall and about 26 years old at the
time of the Feb. 17, 1864, attack.
As the captain, he also would have been stationed at the front of
the crew compartment where he would have manned the sub's diving and steering instruments.
"It's an older gentleman, a taller fella," McConnell
The remains of the eight other crewmen recovered so far show them
to be years younger.
The lantern, covered in concretion when it was discovered, has
Dixon reportedly waved a blue carbide light across 4 miles of
night ocean approximately 45 minutes after the 8 p.m. attack. That was the agreed-on
signal to let Confederates on Sullivan's Island know the sub had successfully sunk the
Housatonic by ramming it with a 90-pound explosive charge.
The light was spotted by rebel sentries, but it would also be the
last known contact with the sub. Some time afterward, the vessel sank for a still
Theories for the sinking range from the Hunley being hit by
another Union ship, or possibly being penetrated by small arms fire from sailors aboard
Dixon's remains have not yet been removed from the Hunley. One of
the questions to be answered when Dixon's skull is examined is whether he was wounded
before the sub sank.
Officials plan to release an X-ray picture of the lamp today. At
this point, archaeologists aren't sure whether the lens in the lamp is indeed blue, or
whether it burned carbide - what coal miner lamps used - or was lit by a wax candle.
The lantern reportedly was found beneath the air bellows that
helped circulate breathing air through the sub. The bellows was also removed this weekend,
giving archaeologists more room to move around.
Of all the men on the final Hunley crew, authorities know the
most about Dixon. He reportedly came from Kentucky, worked around boats for a time, and
enlisted in the Confederacy's 21st Alabama Regiment when the war broke out.
He was wounded at the battle of Shiloh in 1862, but his life was
spared when a Union bullet smacked into 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.
The coin has not been found, but it is the most sought-after
artifact yet to be recovered.
The Hunley excavation team is now working overtime trying to
finish most of their work before the month is over. Two teams are working in daily shifts,
and most of the sub has been excavated.