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Sanders explores Hunley family tie


Wednesday, May 2, 2001

Of The Post and Courier staff


     The way Alex Sanders first heard it, the legend of the Hunley was a personal family tragedy.
     More than 50 years ago, Sanders' grandmother Carrie told him that his great-grandfather, Carl Morse, disappeared in the Hunley during the dark days of the Civil War.
     "She didn't say he was on it, she said he is in it," Sanders said Tuesday. "That was my impression - he is in it."
     It is a mystery that has lingered his entire life. Now he wants it solved. The College of Charleston president said Tuesday that he will give scientists excavating the world's first attack submarine a sample of his DNA.
     Just to see if it matches up with any of the crewmen found on the Confederate torpedo-boat.
     Sanders said he is somewhat encouraged by what evidence there is, all of it circumstantial. Morse, his great-grandfather, was in the Confederate Navy, which is where the Hunley got most of its crew. Morse was also a Charleston Harbor pilot.
     The only contradictory evidence Sanders has found is a newspaper article about his grandmother that appeared in the early 1960s. In the story, Carrie Sanders recounts the tale of her father - a blockade runner who went down in the "Little David."
     The Davids were distant cousins to the Hunley, a small fleet of cigar-shaped stealth boats that sat so low on the water they were almost invisible.
     With a crew of four, the steam-powered Davids attacked unseen with torpedoes at the end of long iron spars - exactly the same set-up the Hunley used.
     Throughout history, the Hunley has suffered from mistaken identity - it has been called "The David" in countless accounts. So just because Sanders' grandmother used the term once, when she was one of the last 90 Confederate veteran widows living, doesn't mean it wasn't the Hunley.
     There is this indisputable fact: No one is known to have died in a sinking of a David.
     Identifying the remains inside the Hunley has become a top priority for scientists - there is no record of exactly who was on board. Descendants of James A. Wicks, a Confederate sailor believed to be on the ship, have offered to submit DNA samples. And last week, one of the skeletons was found wearing the identification medallion of a Union soldier, raising even more questions about the crew complement of the Hunley.
     As for Sanders' DNA sample, Sen. Glenn McConnell, chairman of the Hunley Commission, said the scientists on the project will "seriously receive it and hope to have the opportunity to test it."
     Sanders is not extremely hopeful of proving a lineage with the famous final crew of the Hunley, but he believes it warrants some research.
     "It may be less than a 50 percent chance, but why not test it," Sanders said. "I'd say it's more likely that my great-grandfather is in there than a Union soldier."

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