Recently, Duke University issued a press release claiming one of their student’s discovered what caused the Hunley’s crew to perish and the submarine to sink in 1864. In today’s digital age, the story spread across the internet quickly due to the sensational headline. However, a spokesman for the Hunley Project said today, the story is not accurate.
The pioneering submarine and her history have captured the imaginations of people across the globe. The Hunley Project regularly receives theories from the public about what led to the submarine’s loss and other ideas related to their research. “The case of Duke University’s press release is a bit different as it has created quite a stir,” said Kellen Correia, Executive Director of Friends of the Hunley. Duke University is not part of the Hunley Project’s investigative team. They don’t have access to the detailed forensic and structural information related to the submarine, which would be essential to draw any sort of reliable or definitive conclusions.
The Hunley Project said they felt the need to issue a statement today to make sure the unsubstantiated theory claimed by the Duke University student does not continue to spread, in view of the comprehensive research conducted by the Hunley team on the submarine for more than 15 years. The idea of a concussive wave from the torpedo explosion killing the crew, as outlined in the Duke University release, has been previously considered and is one of many scenarios the Hunley Project team has been investigating.
“The Duke study is interesting; they just unfortunately didn’t have all the facts. If it were as easy as simple blast injuries, we would have been done a while ago. Though a shock wave can cause life-threatening injuries, this is something we discounted quite a while back based on the evidence,” said Jamie Downs, former Chief Medical Examiner for the State of Alabama.
The Hunley became the world’s first successful combat submarine in 1864 and then mysteriously vanished without a trace. She remained lost at sea for over a century and was raised in 2000. Since then, a collaborative research effort with the U.S. Navy, the Smithsonian Institution, Clemson University and others has been underway to uncover the reasons for the Hunley’s loss and conserve the vessel for future generations.
Using detailed information about the composition and dimensions of the Hunley’s iron structure, forensic analysis of the crew’s remains, and other research and archaeological data, the Hunley Project and its partners have conducted comprehensive digital and physical simulations for the past several years. While the likely cause of the submarine’s demise has not been concluded, the scenario of a concussive wave killing the Hunley crew has been deemed not likely by those working on the actual submarine and who have access to this key data.
Their most recent study was issued by the U.S. Navy this month and was conducted in collaboration with the Hunley Project. “Given the amount of uncertainty surrounding the vessel’s final mission, a bottom-up technical analysis was commissioned alongside ongoing archeological investigation of the Hunley. Calculations of Hunley’s engagement with Housatonic were successfully completed and it was observed that the engagement would have been devastating to Housatonic while resulting in relatively low levels of loading on Hunley,” according to their report. For the full report, go to: https://www.history.navy.mil/research/underwater-archaeology/sites-and-projects/ship-wrecksites/hl-hunley/hunley-incident-analysis.html
The Hunley Project remains committed to sharing the most accurate information about the submarine that is available and welcomes discussion and ideas from the public and other academic institutions about the Hunley and her history. Still, Correia cautions, “As tempting as it may be, we are careful not to jump to definitive conclusions until all the research has been evaluated.”
The Hunley Project
On the evening of February 17, 1864, the H. L. Hunley became the world’s first successful combat submarine by sinking the USS Housatonic. After signaling to shore that the mission had been accomplished, the submarine and her crew of eight mysteriously vanished. Lost at sea for over a century, the Hunley was located in 1995 by Clive Cussler’s National Underwater and Marine Agency (NUMA). The innovative hand-cranked vessel was raised in 2000 and delivered to the Warren Lasch Conservation Center, where an international team of scientists are at work to conserve the submarine for future generations and piece together clues to solve the mystery of her disappearance. The Hunley Project is conducted through a partnership with the Clemson University Restoration Institute, South Carolina Hunley Commission, US Navy Naval History and Heritage Command, and Friends of the Hunley.