A press conference was held March 7, 2003 at the
Warren Lasch Laboratory where the Confederate Submarine H L Hunley is
being studied. Sub Commander Lt. George E. Dixon’s watch, recovered
earlier this year, was being presented and opened for the first time.
The watch was found among the remains of the figure identified as the
Commander of the Confederate Submarine H L Hunley. It was removed from
textiles in an area that would have been Dixon’s right hand pocket.
The crystal was black and cloudy, and once removed it was found that
the hands and face were corroded, even though x-rays showed that the
workings were in relatively good shape. When archaeologists pried open
the ornate gold pocket watch they did not find what they were looking
for, the hour time stopped for the crew. Observers could see that the
minute hand was at 22 minutes. The second hand was at 20 seconds. The
hour hand was broken and the pieces were set aside. Discussion among the
scientist determined that the hour hand appeared to point between 6 and
9. "We are now able to narrow the time frame down to between 6:00 and
9:00, but the question remains, is it a.m. or p.m.?" Dr. Robert Neyland,
director of the Hunley project, told everyone.
The watch may have kept ticking for 12 hours or even 24 hours after
the attack. This does confirm the possibility that the crew didn't
drown; instead, they may have suffered a slow and agonizing death by
asphyxiation. Had the sub filled with water, the watch would most likely
have stopped ticking almost immediately. We know from the scientific
evidence that there was an air pocket inside the sub for years after it
sank, as confirmed by the presence of stalactites.
The Confederate Submarine H L Hunley, with a spar mounted explosive
device, torpedoed the USS Housatonic on February 17, 1864 at about 8:45
p.m. It was the first submarine to sink an enemy ship in battle and was
not heard from until one hour later. The Hunley sank off the coast of
South Carolina and was lost until discovered in 1970 by Dr. E. Lee
Spence. It was raised in 2000, and among the discoveries scientists
found the watch and the remains of the sub's captain, Lt. George Dixon.
Found with his remains were the famous $20 gold piece, a ring (Kentucky
Colonel) containing nine diamonds, and a brooch with 37 small diamonds.