What sunk a sub powered by cranking by hand? This drawing shows how the Hunley was propelled (Wikimedia Commons/AP photo)
What sunk a sub powered by cranking by hand?
Lexile

Scientists near the city where the Civil War began will soak a Confederate submarine in a chemical bath to reveal its hull for the first time in 150 years. They want to solve the mystery of the demise of the first sub to sink an enemy warship

The hand-cranked H.L. Hunley rests in a 76,000-gallon conservation tank. It will be treated with a solution of sodium hydroxide for about three months to loosen the encrustation on the hull and interior. Then the sub will soak in the chemical bath for at least four more years to prevent further corrosion.

Eventually the Hunley will be put on display in a new museum in North Charleston.

Conservationists will drain the tank each day. Wearing protective gear, they will use hand tools to remove the hard sand, sediment and rust coating. Then they will refill the tank each evening.

"This is the end of the beginning" of the preservation work, said Nestor Gonzalez-Pereyra, the associate director of the Lasch Conservation Center at Clemson University's Restoration Institute. "In a year we may be able to have the clues."

Removing the encrustation could yield clues to its sinking off Charleston, S.C., in February 1864. The war had begun with the bombardment of Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor three years earlier.

The 40-foot sub and its crew of eight had set off a powder charge that sank the Union blockade ship USS Housatonic. The Confederacy wanted to break a Union blockade of Charleston. But the Hunley never returned and just why remains a mystery.

The wreck was discovered off the coast in 1995. The silt-filled interior was excavated and the remains of the crewmen removed.

Last year, scientists announced it appears the charge that sank the Houstonic was attached to the 16-foot spar at the front of the sub. That could mean the crew was knocked unconscious and died before awakening. A closer look at the hull may provide clues.

Critical thinking challenge: Why was the Hunley powered by people instead of an engine? Did engines that could operate underwater exist in the 1860s?

Filed Under:  
Assigned 8 times


COMMENTS (46)
  • JohnH322
    5/02/2014 - 08:46 a.m.

    The Hunley was hand powered because the only engines that existed in the 1860's were steam powered and could not function underwater. Also the fumes from a steam engine in close quarters would make the crew sick.

  • codydbz1
    5/02/2014 - 08:51 a.m.

    i think its cool that scientist is trying to find out a sub from wwii sunk a enemy war ship by going through three months to get the rust off.

    • keylanmurry
      5/02/2014 - 03:04 p.m.

      as i said to someone else, it is the Civil War, not World War II. If you look back in the arcticle, it says it there. if you are not sure look back.

  • Isabellab308
    5/02/2014 - 08:55 a.m.

    I think this is really cool. I have been to the H.L. Hunley museum before and it was really cool. I got to see the H.L. Hunley in the tank of water. I think it will be awesome if they can find out why the H.L. Hunley sunk. It would be another huge mystery solved.

  • Alexl608
    5/02/2014 - 08:55 a.m.

    I think its cool how scientist are trying to look at a submarine from WWII and trying to figure things unknown to us and unknown things that are a mystery to us.

  • alexh_227
    5/02/2014 - 09:34 a.m.

    FIRST OF ALL! WHO HAD THE TIME TO CRANK AND PROPEL A SHIP FOR LONG JOURNEYS! This made NO sense that humans had to go through SO MUCH trouble just because some people are lazy! GIVE THEM A GRAMMY!

    • keylanmurry
      5/02/2014 - 02:58 p.m.

      Well, first of all, its the 19th century. They did not have all that new technology we have today. They were just doing there job its not that they had time for it. How are people lazy too? pay attention to what you are saying and reading.

  • jeanfar
    5/02/2014 - 10:39 a.m.

    This is pretty interesting I guess. I don't get why it takes so long in the sodium hydroxide though. By the way I am only commenting because my teacher told us to for a grade.

  • Benjamin393
    5/02/2014 - 11:51 a.m.

    Well that's interesting, I wonder how that sub sank? But maybe it didn't come back because they died when they blew up the USS Housatonic the debris of it hit the sub opened up a breach and they all died.

  • noahf-Cla
    5/02/2014 - 12:14 p.m.

    I was confused by this article. It was not well explained. All I understood was that there was a hand-powered submarine. The submarine charged at a boat, then randomly sank, and they are trying to find out why. There was no need for this article.

ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT