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Excavators search for Lt. Dixon

Friday, May 11, 2001 DIXON2.jpg (12196 bytes)Lt. Dixon

Of The Post and Courier staff

     The end of their work in sight, archaeologists excavating the Hunley have started their push to recover the sub's commander, Lt. George E. Dixon.
     By Thursday afternoon, scientists had removed two-thirds of the rivets that hold the hull plate over the forward area of the submarine's crew compartment. Project director Bob Neyland said the plate, where the sub's snorkel box is mounted, could be off by Saturday evening.
     Then archaeologists will work in shifts to dig out the forward part of the sub. There, they hope to find the remains of Dixon, his gold coin good luck piece, and clues to why the Confederate submarine sank on Feb. 17, 1864, after sinking the USS Housatonic four miles off Sullivan's Island.
     "It's exciting to be getting this close," Neyland said. "I think it will bring a certain amount of closure."
     The excavation is stretching into its third month now, and so far it has produced a treasure chest of information about the submarine.
     Personal belongings - buttons, pipes, hats, shoes - have been recovered, as well as tools used on the submarine - candles, pencils. The remains of eight crewmen have been found still at their duty stations.
     The machinery of the submarine has been almost exactly as William Alexander - one of the Hunley's builders and crewmen - sketched it around the turn of the century.
     The scientists have recovered just about everything now - except Dixon and the blue light he used to signal a successful mission. Those finds are just weeks, or days, away.
     There are a couple of clues the archaeologists are specifically looking for. One, they want to find the iron shards created when the grapefruit-sized hole in the front conning tower was made. If that iron is low in the hull, even on the floor, it would suggest the hole was made close to the time of the sinking - or even caused the Hunley to go down.
     If the shards are higher up, that would most likely mean the hole was made years - decades, even - after the Hunley sank.
     Scientists also will be looking for signs of injury on Dixon. If the conning tower viewing port was shot out by sailors on board Housatonic, Dixon could have been hit. The captain kept his head in the tower while steering the ship.
     Neyland said Thursday the excavation will wrap up by the end of the month. Then scientists will return in September to excavate around the machinery bolted in near the forward and after bulkheads. Currently geologists are mapping the wall of sediment remaining against the aft bulkhead, working up a fill sequence to find out how the submarine filled with sediment.

More Mysteries around The Hunley

7/17/01DIXON2.jpg (12196 bytes)Is this Lt. George Dixon?

The mystery comes from a single picture, thought to be of Lt. George Dixon.  According to Senator Glenn McConnell, the photo shows a man in his mid 20s, and was found tucked behind another picture in Queenie Bennett's photo album.  Bennett was the woman who gave Dixon the famous gold coin which saved his life at the Battle of Shiloh.

 According to Senator McConnell, Queenie Bennett's descendants believed the photo is of Lt. Dixon because it matches his description. However, some historians have questions.

Some say that the lapels of the jacket in the picture, and the design of the cravat, or tie, suggest a later period than in the mid 1860s. One historian has suggested the tie was fashionable in England at the time, and perhaps Lt. Dixon was a little ahead of his time.

McConnell does say that Lt. Dixon was a fashionable man, and had a reputation for being a dashing man.  His remains show he had very white teeth and his clothing found inside the sub had some metallic threads, indicating his uniform is a cut above what was expected to be found inside the Hunley.

The decision about this latest mystery should be made sometime this week and we will let you know.



Used with permission of The Post and Courier and Charleston.Net



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