Sea History 158 - Spring 2017

Page 18

Confederate Submarine

H. L. Hunley

First in History to Sink an Enemy Ship in Wartime by Mark K. Raga n

Submarine Torpedo Boat H. L. Hunley, D ecember 6, 1863. Painting by Conrad Wise Chapman (1842-1910). f you knew anything abour rhe Confederate submarine H. L. H unleyprior to its discovery by adve nture novelist C live C ussler's National U nd erwa ter a nd M a rin e Age n cy (NUMA) in 1995-chances are yo u had been informed that rhe vessel was little more than a crude monstrosity, fabri cated from a discarded steam boiler by desperate rebels in rhe closing months of the C ivil W ar. As has been proven from the vessel's intac t recovery, nothing could be furt her from the truth. In fac t rhi s first submari ne to sink an enemy ship in wa rtime was rhe third such vessel fa bricated in just two yea rs by a gro up of dedicated southern engineers . M embers of the Singer Secret Service C orps-one of the names rhe organization rhat fabricated rhe H unley went by-rook advantage of newly acquired knowledge, gained through trial and error with rhe first prototypes, and incorporated ir into design and bui lding of rhe H unley. The group's first vessel, christened rhe Pioneer, was fa bricated in New Orleans in 1861 -62 by steam gauge manufac turers James McCli m ock and his partner Baxter Warson. During rhe early days of rhe venture, they were joined by wea lthy anorney and fellow New Orlea ns nati ve H orace H un ley. From a postwar letter wrinen by


James McClintock comes rhe fo llowing: "In rhe years 1861 , '62, and '63, I, in connection with others, was engaged in inve ming and constructing a submarine boar or boar for running under rhe water ar any required depth fro m rhe sur face. Ar New Orleans in 1862 we built rhe fi rst boar, she was made of iron 114 inch thick. The boar was of a cigar shape 30 feet long and 4 feet in diameter." With her on ly offensive weap-

on described simply as a "magazine of powder," rhe three invemors applied fo r, and were granted, a len er of marque (privateer's commission) from rhe Confederate governmem on 31 March 1862. U nfo rtu nately, linle is know n rega rdin g rhe resting of the Pioneer, other th an rhe fac t rhar rhe three partners are reported to have "made several descems ... and succeeded in destroying a small schooner and several rafts."

The Confederate privateer submarine Pioneer, as drawn by fleet engineer William Shock. The scuttled vessel was discovered soon after the collapse ofNew Orleans and was dragged ashore by Union sailors.

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