Wednesday, January 09, 2008

 

Hunley shows 'Southern ingenuity,' says preservation expert

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Mooresville Tribune
By Melinda Skutnick
January 09, 2008


An educational discussion about the “Southern ingenuity” of the first submarine to sink an enemy ship brought local members of the Sons of Confederate Veterans to the Mooresville Public Library Monday night.

“We’re in education and preservation,” Jack Marlar, chief technical advisor for the H.L. Hunley Commission, said of the SCV, for which he serves as a field representative. “The more people know about the South, the more they’ll like us.”

During his presentation to the members of SCV Camp 2106 of Mooresville, Marlar discussed the many technological innovations the South was making during the Civil War, which are exhibited by the H.L. Hunley – a Confederate submarine that made its debut in 1863.

Among the technological advances of the Hunley was a cutwater, an angled piece of metal at the top of the sub allowing it to divide the water as the vessel moved, aiding in stabilization and aerodynamics, Marlar said. There was also an air box, more commonly known as a snorkel box, providing better air flow to the submarine’s eight crew members.

The crew, which sat on a bench on the left side of the vessel, operated the sub using a crank shaft. The Hunley’s design forced the seven crew members operating the crank to bend over, putting the weight of their bodies “exactly perpendicular to the axle,” said Marlar, which helped keep the sub upright.

The Hunley, which was salvaged just off the coast of Charleston, S.C., on Aug. 8, 2000, also had a four-section ballast bar on its bottom, allowing the submarine to remain vertical while doubling as a safety device, explained Marlar.

Crew members could detach singular sections of the ballast bar to help retain buoyancy in the water.

However, noted Marlar, the ballast bar was still attached to the vessel when it was brought up from the ocean floor, “which adds to the mystery of what went wrong.”

Shortly after sinking the USS Housatonic with a torpedo on Feb. 17, 1864, the Hunley’s eight crew members perished when the submarine never made it back to shore. Years of speculation about what happened to the vessel after signaling that it would be returning to base have left researchers pondering this mystery.

“If they only made it back, (the Confederate army) probably would have made a dozen of these things,” said Marlar, adding that this single event, had the vessel returned, could have changed the war.

With innovations such as a fly wheel, a balance tube to keep actuation and many other technological advances, Marlar said the Hunley proves brilliant engineering.

Commander Mike Brewer of the Mooresville SCV said the members in attendance Monday evening gained a great deal of knowledge about the famed submarine.

“Learned a lot about the Hunley, specifically about the engineering aspects of the Hunley that I wasn’t even aware of,” he said. “Everybody I talked to really appreciated (the presentation).”

Brewer added that the organization, which thrives on studying the history of the Confederacy based on facts, has been trying to get Marlar to speak to them about the Hunley for “a couple of years, but he’s in such high demand.”

Monday’s speaker at the Camp’s monthly meeting – held at the library on the first Monday of each month – allowed for a new, interesting perspective on the way the Hunley was built, noted Brewer.

When the ship was raised and brought into Charleston in 2000, many artifacts were aboard the vessel, Marlar said, including pocket knives, Lt. George E. Dixon’s watch and a $20 gold piece given to him by his love with the inscription “Shiloh April 6 1862 My life preserver G.E.D.”

The gold piece is believed to have saved Dixon’s life by blocking a bullet when he was shot in 1862.

Two additional metal objects were found in the Hunley, a nine-diamond gold ring and a 37-diamond gold broach, both discovered wrapped in cloth under Dixon’s seat at the helm of the vessel.

All of these artifacts from the H.L. Hunley as well as the submarine itself can be viewed at the Warren Lasch Conservation Center in Charleston, S.C.


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