Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Discoverer of Confederate submarine plans return to Shreveport.


Shreveport Times
By John Andrew Prime
January 30, 2005

Red River and Cross Bayou will hum with activity in a way they haven't since the Civil War when famed diver Ralph Wilbanks returns to Shreveport in February.

Wilbanks, who discovered the wreck of Confederate submarine Hunley in 1995 off Charleston Harbor in South Carolina, with the backing of best-selling adventure author Clive Cussler, plans a return visit to explore parts of the waterways he first visited in 1999 with fellow diver Steve Howard.

"We plan to get to y'all around the 20th of February but it could be slightly later," Wilbanks said in an e-mail to The Times. "Now I have Harry Pecorelli working with me. He was with me when we found the Hunley."
Wilbanks has been featured in Cussler's series of nonfiction books titled "The Sea Hunters" and also appeared under his own name in fictional settings in at least one of Cussler's novels.
But his enduring mark in undersea annals will be finding the ill-fated Hunley in Charleston Harbor. Divers sought the Hunley for decades, and in a sense it was the Holy Grail of American undersea historical exploration.
With Cussler's backing, Wilbanks visited Shreveport in the late summer and early fall of 1999. Using a 25-foot research vessel bearing the sign of Cussler's nonprofit organization, the National Underwater and Marine Agency (NUMA), he and Howard towed side-scan sonars and magnetometers through the brown river and bayou waters, searching for traces of four Confederate submarines.
Official Civil War records indicate five such boats were in Shreveport in 1864 and early 1865, with one apparently dismantled and sent overland to Houston. However, when Union naval officers accepted surrendered Confederate naval stores in the summer of 1865, no submarines were turned over, although a just-completed ironclad, the Missouri, was given.
"This is very important, historically and archaeologically," said Gary Joiner, military historian, author and cartographer who worked with Wilbanks during the 1999 visit and will assist him again.
Finding the boats, Joiner said, "would prove what we know the records and the literature to be. Every indication is that those subs were here and that they never left. That Clive and Ralph are involved shows the importance of this because both are world-famous for their archaeological pursuits. I consider Ralph to be a maritime Indiana Jones."



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