During the Civil War, military reports identified only seven of the
eight men who died onboard the H.L. Hunley on Feb. 17, 1864 -- an
omission that has puzzled historians for years.
Who this man is, where he came from, and why he volunteered as a
crewman on the dangerous Confederate submarine is, like his name, a
Scientists know only the barest facts about the man sitting at
the Hunley's fifth crank position: He was in his early to mid-40s.
He was born in northern Europe but had been away from home, most
likely sailing, for a long time. His bones recorded chapters in a
rough life: a broken rib, broken leg, and a fractured skull. At five
feet eight inches tall, he was one of the shorter men on the
submarine, but that still did not make it easy to stuff his
arthritic body into the tight confines of the submarine.
"He was in pain for some time in his life," says Maria Jacobsen,
senior archaeologist on the Hunley project. "He was most likely a
It seemed the man's favored vice, other than possibly fighting,
was tobacco. Among a crew filled with smokers, he was one of the
"He did not let go of that pipe," Jacobsen says.
The name Miller has been associated with this man since at least
the 1890s, when the Daughters of the Confederacy erected a monument
to the Hunley and the men who died aboard it in three separate
accidents. Miller was a name given by William Alexander, who helped
build the sub and briefly served as its first mate. Alexander was
called away on Confederate Army business just weeks before the
Hunley disappeared Feb. 17, 1864, an hour after it sunk the USS
For years, historians have believed the elusive Miller was a
member of Wagener's German Artillery, a Lowcountry-based unit. That
is based on Alexander's own writings, in which he says Hunley
commander George E. Dixon planned to replace him with two men from
that company. One man from there, J. F. Carlsen, was definitely
onboard the submarine. And there was a Miller in the German
In other letters, however, Alexander makes statements that seem
to contradict the notion of Miller being a member of the artillery.
In an 1898 note to Charleston resident J.G. Holmes, Alexander names
the members of the crew in this order: "Dixon, Ridgeway (sic),
Miller, Becker, Wicks, Collins and, I think Lumpkin"
Although Alexander remembers Miller, he says he didn't know
Carlsen. The fact that Alexander remembers Miller makes it seem
unlikely Dixon recruited the man with Carlsen. In fact, the man the
Hunley project identifies as Miller wore a jacket that carried
buttons consistent with an infantry unit, not an artillery unit.
Forensic genealogist Linda Abrams has found 28 Millers in the
Confederate Navy, and is attempting to track them all, hopeful that
one of their trails leads to the Hunley. So far, she has had no
luck. Among the more interesting candidates: a Samuel Miller on the
Jeff Davis, a famous privateer ship that took nine vessels in the
name of the South during the summer of 1861. It is the same
privateer that Carlsen crewed.
Of course, there is a chance that this man is not the Miller that
Alexander remembers. Evidence suggests Dixon had alternate crewmen
he could use as needed. He told Alexander that he would hire two
replacements to fill the former first officer's spot.
Also, Dixon continued to operate the sub nearly every night in
late January and early February during a 10-day period when crewman
James A. Wicks was off on another assignment in North Carolina. It
would only make sense for Dixon to have a few backups handy.
If Dixon did have extra crewmen, this sailor could be any
anonymous soul, a man who gave his life, but not his name, to
Contact Brian Hicks at (843) 937-5561 or firstname.lastname@example.org.