FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
H.L. Hunley, a submersible known as the "Souths secret weapon," had just turned for shore after sinking the Union blockader USS Housatonic one chilly February night in 1864, when it vanished in Charleston (S.C.) Harbor with all hands. The fate of the first submarine to sink an enemy vessel in combat and her nine young volunteer crewmen remained a mystery for nearly 135 years, until a team led by the Naval Historical Center in Washington, D.C., provided some answers.
Dr. Robert Neyland, NHCs chief underwater archaeologist and Hunley project director, called the revolutionary vessel "a national treasure" comparable to the Wright brothers aircraft. "It is the very first successful military submarine," he said. "Not until World War I would another submarine sink an enemy ship."
Novelist and adventurer Clive Cussler and divers from his non-profit National Underwater and Marine Agency found Hunley in 1995. A team led by the National Park Service Submerged Cultural Resources Unit surveyed the wreck in 1996 to determine if the submarine could be recovered. In 1999, a team led by Neyland surveyed the wreck of USS Housatonic, confirming that while over 200 feet of the vessel remains, the starboard stern, the area reportedly hit by Hunley, is missing.
Because archaeologists found Hunley intact, except for a hole in the forward hatch, it is believed that the submarine was quickly covered and filled with sediment. "In many ways this is like recovering a bottle -- everything is contained inside the submarine," Neyland said.
In mid-May, a team of experts working in zero visibility began work to raise Hunley from the sea bottom, where she lies completely buried under three to four feet of sand and shells. When the recovery, excavation, and conservation of Hunley are complete, Hunley be on display at the Charleston (S.C.) Museum in a new wing built especially for the vessel and its associated artifacts. Organizations participating in Hunleys recovery include: the Naval Historical Center; the Friends of the Hunley; National Park Service Submerged Resources Center; South Carolina Institute of Archaeology and Anthropology; College of Charleston; South Carolina Hunley Commission; and Oceaneering, one of the largest deep water salvage and recovery companies in the world.
POINT OF CONTACT: LT Steven T. Gibson, USN, Public Affairs
Officer, Naval Historical Center, 202/433-0412.
7 July 2000