CR4 - The Engineer's Place for News and Discussion ®
Login | Register for Engineering Community (CR4)


"On This Day" In Engineering History Blog

"On This Day" In Engineering History

Tune in to find out about significant engineering events that took place "on this day".

Previous in Blog: January 25, 1947 — The First Electronic Game is Patented  
Close
Close
Close
2 comments

February 17, 1864—The Hunley Sinks the Housatonic

Posted February 17, 2017 12:00 AM by Hannes

On this day in 1864, the pioneering Confederate submarine H.L. Hunley rammed and sank the USS Housatonic during the US Civil War. She was the first combat submarine to successfully sink an enemy warship.

The Hunley was the third prototype submarine developed by businessman, lawyer, and Louisiana state legislator Horace Lawson Hunley. Hunley’s first design, Pioneer, was intentionally destroyed ahead of the Union invasion of New Orleans in 1862. Hunley and his co-inventors then built the 36-foot hand-cranked American Diver, but this vessel sank during a storm in Mobile Bay in February 1863.

Begun weeks after the sinking of American Diver, the H.L. Hunley was much more successful. The 40-foot vessel was manufactured from a cylindrical iron boiler. A seven-man crew turned a hand-cranked propeller, while an additional officer steered and navigated. Hunley had two water ballast tanks, each with a seacock exposed to the open water, at either of her tapered ends. Crew members could raise the vessel by opening the seacocks and lower it via a hand pump. Two hatch covers fitted with watertight gaskets allowed the crew entry and exit through the top. Hunley’s designers attempted to solve the problem of airflow using a simple “snorkel box,” but this never worked as intended. Even without the box, the sub could stay submerged for up to two hours. Like most early submersibles, Hunley’s compartment was extremely cramped and only had space for her crew to crank the propeller, and lighting was provided by a single candle.

The Hunley received private funding for her construction and was successfully tested in Mobile, but the Confederate military seized her from her inventors in Charleston, SC in August 1863. From this point, the Hunley’s history is marred with tragic and sometimes ironic blunders. Later in August, her new Confederate captain accidentally stepped on the vessel’s diving plane control while preparing to make a test dive. The Hunley dove with one of the hatches open, killing five of her eight crew. Three months later, she failed to surface after a mock attack, killing the entire crew and inaugurating Horace Hunley as an inventor killed by his own work.

Finally, on the night of February 17, 1864, the Hunley attacked the USS Housatonic, a 12-gun sloop-of-war participating in the Union blockade of Charleston. She rammed a torpedo fitted to a 17-foot iron spar into the Housatonic’s hull, then reversed course to engage a 150-foot detonation rope. The Housatonic exploded and quickly sank but lost only five of her crew of 150. The Hunley’s fate has never been conclusively determined, but she never returned to Charleston Harbor. Treasure hunters repeatedly attempted to locate and recover her hull in the years following the sinking, but it wasn’t until 1995 that a submersible located the Hunley buried in sediment, and she was raised and recovered in 2000.

For years historians believed the Hunley sank en route to her naval station, but her wreck was located on the seaward side of the Housatonic, leading to a new theory positing that she was critically damaged by her own torpedo. If true, this would be a sadly fitting end to the life of a vessel marked by innovative engineering as well as tragic irony. For an excellent resource on the Hunley’s design, actions, and recovery, check out Friends of the Hunley.

Reply

Interested in this topic? By joining CR4 you can "subscribe" to
this discussion and receive notification when new comments are added.
Guru

Join Date: Mar 2011
Location: Lubbock, Texas
Posts: 8636
Good Answers: 111
#1

Re: February 17, 1864—The Hunley Sinks the Housatonic

02/17/2017 4:48 PM

A torpedo (charge) large enough to mortally wound the USS Housatonic detonated from the end of a 150 foot detonating trigger rope. Yes, that might well have killed the crew of the Hunley just from the concussion.

I would expect her rivets stretched, leading to irrecoverable leakage of the hull.

__________________
If it ain't broke, don't fix it. Just build a better one.
Reply
Power-User

Join Date: Dec 2016
Posts: 102
Good Answers: 3
#2
In reply to #1

Re: February 17, 1864—The Hunley Sinks the Housatonic

02/18/2017 2:44 PM

I saw the Hunley in:

1250 Supply St, North Charleston, SC 29405.

There was a mock up outside the exhibit, it was very cramped inside.

__________________
formally known as texasron
Reply
Reply to Blog Entry 2 comments
Interested in this topic? By joining CR4 you can "subscribe" to
this discussion and receive notification when new comments are added.

Previous in Blog: January 25, 1947 — The First Electronic Game is Patented  

Advertisement