Submarine warfare in the Civil War: the CSS Hunley

The first submarine ever used in warfare was named The Turtle, appropriately enough. Take a guess when it was used– would you say 1914, or 1899 or even 1864? You would be wrong.

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The Turtle was a one-man- human powered sub– used against the British in 1776. It was designed by American David Bushnell during the Revolutionary War. It failed to damage any British ships, but it made the British a lot more vigilant about security for their ships.

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Robert Fulton, of steamboat fame, built a submarine named the Nautilus in France in 1801. It even had a sail for propulsion when it was on the surface.

The Confederate States of America first tried to use a submarine-like ship when it lauched the David in 1862. Its smokestack and breathing tube stuck up above the waterline, so it wasn’t completely submersed, but it was close to being a submarine. It used a spar torpedo (an explosive charge attached to a pole on the bow of the vessel) to punch a hole in a Union ironclad, but the ship did not sink. The Confederacy built 20 more Davids, but none of them managed actually to sink an enemy ship.

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Click on the above black box to see an artist’s rendering of the Hunley.

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So along came the Hunley. Forty feet long and only 4 feet wide, it was a converted boiler. It carried a nine man crew, and eight of them turned a crankshaft to propel the ship forward. The goal was to implant the explosive canister from a spar torpedo again. Yet this was a very dangerous assignment. The men sat hunched over in the darkness, their only light a candle– which also would warn them that their oxygen was depleted when it sputtered out. Several crews died, but eventually, on July 17, 1864, the Hunley sank the USS Housatonic near Charleston harbor. But the sub and its crew were never seen again.

The sub, in fact, was lost completely, until it was discovered by divers in 1995. In 2000, it was carefully brought to the surface. The remains of its crew were examined and later laid to rest. The Hunley is now being restored so that it can go on permanent display.

The Union made its own sub, name the Intelligent Whale, but it was never used in battle. They also bought a sub from the French, the Alligator, but it was lost at sea in 1862. Submarines would not be used again in battle by Americans until the 20th century.

Links for further information:
David Bushnell and the first American submarine
Who were the crew of the Hunley?
Civil War submarines

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2 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by That one girl who loves Justin Bieber on November 17, 2011 at 8:56 pm

    I would LOVE to go to BORDERS and get my book…..But NO I cant’t because it’s CLOSED! Boooo Hooo Hooo # grrrface

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