- Historic Sites
The Submarine That Wouldn’t Come Up
The Confederates’ Hunley was the first submarine to sink an enemy warship, but her crude design made her a coffin for her crew
April 1958 | Volume 9, Issue 3
It was as good a guess as any. Alexander speculated later that it must have happened just that way. Dixon, he reasoned—in a long memoir in the New Orleans Picayune of June 29, 1902, which is the richest source of information about the Hunley —had deliberately risked the moonlight in his ardor to sink the sloop, and had been observed by the lookout when he came to the surface for a final observation before striking her. Not knowing the Housatonic was about to back down upon him, he had submerged a few feet and steered for the stern. The combined momentums of the two vessels brought them together sooner and with greater force than he had anticipated, and he and his crew had been unable to back their boat out of disaster.
Partly because of the Federals’ justified fear of torpedoes, Charleston did not fall until February 17, 1865. When divers first went down to look at the wreck of the Housatonic , they saw no trace of the Hunley . But years later she was found, lying on the bottom of the harbor, still pointing toward the vessel she had sunk. Within her still lay the remains of the last crew of the Peripatetic Coffin.