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?

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?

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  • NorbertoH
    5/02/2014 - 01:31 p.m.

    That would be hard to get all of the cement out of the sub with out messing up the artifact that had took down a ship in a war but the people that were in it died to save are country.

  • connormabry
    5/02/2014 - 02:49 p.m.

    That's cool that the first submarine to sink a ship was hand cracked brovo to the men how did that much work.They were probably exasted by the time they got to the ship and then knocked out by the blast poor them.

  • tytanmayville
    5/02/2014 - 03:19 p.m.

    Why does the Hunley get to be restored when for instance here in Lawton, OK they tore down
    one of the 5 ORIGINAL CO-CA-COLA producing factories and replaced it with a strip mall?
    Man I wish the mayor of Lawton was smart enough to conserve CO-CA-COLA factory!
    I wander why the Hunley ran on man power? I'm glad their going to put the Hunley in a

  • Brandon1231-YYCA
    5/02/2014 - 09:33 p.m.

    I think that people who found this submarine are stupid because, they don't know their history. I think that they haven't known that this submarine was built in World War 1 or 2. It was for attacking wooden ships underwater. They were worked by men cranking handles that powered the ship. This metal thing had a bomb stuck onto the tip of it so it stuck the ships underwater and it exploded. Sometimes the sub sank d most of the time, it survived. I think that this ship was awesome and it might have had some men aboard.

    • Eugene0808-YYCA
      8/12/2014 - 08:55 p.m.

      REBUTTAL: Brandon, the submarine was built around the beginning of the Civil War, not World War 1 or World War 2. The article clearly says that the submarine was a 150 years old. The submarine was used to ship explosives on the ships in the Civil War.

    • Eric0221-YYCA
      7/28/2015 - 12:46 p.m.

      Brandon, I disagree that the submarine isn't built during World War I or World War II, the submarine was only made during the beginning of the civil war, not in the time that other countries had fought in the war trying to defend their countries. Another thing that I disagree is that the bomb didn't just used to explode the wooden sub, the bomb was there on the tip of the submarine so that it is used to sink other ships that are fighting in the civil war.

  • Chad5515
    5/05/2014 - 12:31 p.m.

    The first steam powered submarine was made in the 1860s so i guess the hand powered sub was still common and the steam or engine built subs were rare. So this submarine was controlled all by hand.

  • AustinS-Aus
    5/05/2014 - 01:32 p.m.

    This story was really pretty cool because i really love to learn history and social studies because i like to hear about the past.

  • demetrisbaezbrown
    5/05/2014 - 02:00 p.m.

    i wonder how effort it wouldve taken to crank that submarine.or maybe there were multible people cranking it instead of one.but then how many people were cranking it.

  • josebecerril
    5/05/2014 - 02:23 p.m.

    It must be a pain to try to get that sub moving i read a book about it in elementary school but it didn't tell about how it sunk.