It sank 151 years ago, and was raised out of the ocean 15 years ago, but today is the first time the H.L Hunley submarine’s hull is revealed.
It’s a piece of Civil War history.
Archaeologist Michael Scafuri says, “It was the first submarine to sink an enemy ship in combat so it’s the grandfather, if you will, of submarines and their application and naval warfare.”
But something went wrong and the Hunley sank in 1864, killing the eight men on board.
Scafuri says, “Why it sank? We don’t know. That’s one of the thing’s we’re trying to figure out, what happened it it?”
Since the ship was brought on dry land in 2000 it has been hiding under a layer of sediment, or concretion, that is, until today.
Conservator and Collections Manager Johanna Rivera says, “We can see sections that we were not able to x-ray or see before and understand how the submarine works and how it was built, and that’s very important for us.”
Archaeologists are now learning more about damage to the hull and hope it will lead to a discovery about how the Hunley sank. To remove the concretion, conservators use chemical solutions and tools that are about the size of the ones dentists use.
Rivera says, “We have removed several tons of concretion and this is just the exterior. The interior we have removed 9-10 tons of sediment so we are really lightening up the weight of the submarine, which is why we have to do it so carefully, because the iron is fragile and you are removing the support that it used to have.”
The Hunley isn’t only uncovering information about American history, but it’s helping to make strides in the field of science.
Rivera says, “Techniques that we have used, people have been using it in Europe or maybe other places that they send us material for us to treat just because of the techniques we have come up with because of the submarine.”
The next step is cleaning up the interior to expose more answers in the mystery of the Hunley.
If you want to check out the Hunley’s newly revealed hull, the exhibit is open on Saturdays and Sundays at the Warren Lasch Conservation Center (1250 Supply St. North Charleston, SC).