The Hunley sank on February 17, 1864, when it attacked the
Union's Housatonic, becoming the first submarine to sink a
The sub and its crew of nine never returned from the mission. The
remains of the sub were found 131 years later, in May 1995, in the mud
of Charleston Harbor, and were raised in August 2000. Since then,
scientists have been painstakingly recovering the bones of the crew
and other artifacts from the sludge-filled submarine hull.
At a news conference in Charleston on Friday, scientists said the
name on the Union dog tag is Ezra Chamberlin. Records indicate he
enlisted in the Union Army on September 6, 1861, and was a member of
Company K, 7th Regiment, Connecticut Volunteers.
Hunley researchers said war records show that Chamberlin
died on July 11, 1863, in the Battle of Fort Wagner, also known as the
First Assault on Morris Island. Documents show that there is a grave
and headstone for Ezra Chamberlin located in Killingly, Connecticut.
Tag Found With Skull
The dog tag appears to be made of copper and was found along with
the the skull of a crew member. "It would appear that the sailor
was wearing the tag around his neck," said project director
The German Light Artillery, which was a military unit of Corporal
C. F. Carlson, a Hunley crew member, played a prominent role in
the Battle of Fort Wagner, where Chamberlin died. Hunley
scientists have not determined that the body on which the tag was
found is that of Carlson.
The Hunley crew consisted of several diverse Confederate
units. "It is unknown at this time whether any other Hunley
crew members were at the Battle of Fort Wagner," researchers
"As the excavation of the Hunley continues, further
mysteries are revealed which ask even larger questions than were asked
before the Hunley's recovery," said Warren Lasch, chairman
of Friends of the Hunley. The nonprofit group was formed to support
the Hunley Commission, which was created by the State of South
Carolina to acquire, recover, and preserve the H.L. Hunley
submarine for public display.
Four Possible Scenarios
The researchers have proposed four scenarios for how the Union tag
may have come to be found on a Confederate vessel, although
"nothing can be confirmed at this time":
• The identification tag may have been a souvenir from the Battle
of Fort Wagner. It was common during war times for soldiers to collect
articles from a battleground.
• Ezra Chamberlin may have been a Union soldier who defected to
• Ezra Chamberlin may have been a spy trying to subvert the
mission of the Hunley.
• Ezra Chamberlin's last act on the battlefield may have been a
request for someone to take his identification tag and return it to
his family to notify them of his death.
South Carolina State Senator Glenn McConnell, chair of the Hunley
Commission said the find "creates more mysteries than
answers." McConnell and Randy Burbage, a member of the
commission, said in a statement Friday: "There is a stone at
Bethany Cemetery in memory of C. F. Carlson. If that is an empty grave
under a memory stone, could not that also be the case with the grave
of Ezra Chamberlin in Killingly, Connecticut?"
McConnell and Burbage said that while soldiers collected items of
battle, taking the identification tag of another soldier was not
common because men on both sides of the war were concerned about dying
with no way of having their remains identified and sent home.
"They would have been reluctant to remove the tag from a dead
soldier," said McConnell.
"If the tag was removed, how did they later identify the
remains of Ezra Chamberlin to bury him in Killingly,
Connecticut?" McConnell and Burbage wondered. "It would be
years after 1863 before the dead buried at Battery Wagner were exhumed
and moved," they note. "What occurred at Battery Wagner on
July 11, 1863, may have been more than a clash of sides. Could it have
been a meeting of friends or a change of heart?"
McConnell and Burbage said that additional research of prison
records and death records may help solve the puzzle as to why
Chamberlin's tag was on board. "Was the tag, in fact, on someone
else or on Chamberlin himself?" they ask.
"There at least exists the possibility that another of this
crew is like James A. Wicks. He, in the course of battle, went from
blue to gray [from Union to Confederate]. The heroic epic of the final
voyage of the Hunley grows in complexity rather than in
Friends of the Hunley said in a news statement that identification
tags during the Civil War were created only at a soldier's own
initiative. Some were fashioned of wood and hung on a string around a
The group notes that private vendors, known as "sutlers,"
followed troops and offered identification disks for sale just prior
to battles. No official military identification tags were issued by
the government until World War I in 1913.
The archaeologists also have discovered a Union Infantry button
inside the submarine. According to participants in the project, such
buttons have been recovered from other Civil War battlefields.
Confederate soldiers had limited supplies, especially of clothing, and
it was common for them to collect and wear discarded or captured Union
clothing and equipment. "To date, the buttons recovered from the Hunley
submarine as a whole represent a diverse collection of both
Confederate and Union military units."
The Hunley project is funded in part by the National