Wednesday, November 22, 2006

'Hunley' likely to give up secret within year


Star News Online
November 22, 2006

North Charleston, S.C. In a year's time, scientists hope to solve the mystery of why the Confederate submarine H.L. Hunley sank, the chairman of the South Carolina Hunley Commission said Tuesday.

"Between the science of archaeology and the science of conservation in that laboratory, they will solve the ultimate mystery," state Sen. Glenn McConnell said after a commission meeting. "I think it's reasonable to say we're probably within a year of solving that."

The hand-cranked Hunley sank the Union blockade ship Housatonic in 1864, becoming the first submarine in history to sink an enemy warship.

It was found 11 years ago and raised in 2000 from the Atlantic and is in a conservation lab. But the vessel has been slow revealing its secrets.

There are generally two theories why it sank shortly after sending the Housatonic to the bottom. One is that it was damaged and took on water after the attack. The other is that the crew suffocated when they ran out of air.

Scientists are removing the sediment that hardened on the inside of the sub. Next spring, they will begin removing the hardened sediment from the hull.

"The exterior will be the real key to the thing," said Randy Burbage, a commission member. "You will be able to tell if another ship rammed it, which is a possibility, or if any other event may have happened."

Another artifact will soon be displayed at the Hunley lab - a watch once owned by Queenie Bennett, the sweetheart of the sub's commander, Lt. George Dixon.

The watch, as ornate as one owned by Dixon and which was found on the sub four years ago, is inscribed with the words "Queenie Bennett Dec. 25, 1862."

It's not known whether the watch was a Christmas gift from Dixon "but we think that is the last Christmas he spent with her," Burbage said.



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