published Tuesday, June 28th, 2011

Tennessee, history and a submarine

It may be a little unusual, but Tennessee — surrounded by eight states and no oceans — is in the news for a bit of history involving a submarine.

Our U.S. Navy today has a huge nuclear-powered sub named the USS Tennessee. But in this case, the story involving Tennessee and a submarine dates back to the War Between the States.

Horace Lawson Hunley was born in 1823 in Sumner County, Tenn. — not too far from Nashville. He became an engineer for the Confederacy during the War Between the States.

Hunley developed early submarines, and one was appropriately named for him. The H.L. Hunley had a crew of eight and was powered by hand cranking.

The Confederate sub became a threat to the Union’s Atlantic Coast naval blockade, which sought to cut off supplies from Britain to the Confederacy.

The Hunley reportedly was the first sub in history to sink an enemy warship — the Union blockade ship Housatonic.

But off South Carolina’s waters in February 1864, the Hunley sank, along with its crew of eight.

Now, back to modern times: The Hunley was raised from the Atlantic Ocean bottom in August 2000, and scientists have hoped to find out what happened to the Hunley back in 1864. They knew there were some holes in the hull, but they hadn’t determined what caused them. So, just last week, they cautiously rotated the hull.

But alas, their examination did not immediately yield an answer.

“Nothing jumps out at me,” said state Sen. Glenn McConnell, chairman of the South Carolina Hunley Commission. “But we will be examining it for any clue that might be there to help us solve the mystery.”

So history, and the mystery, go on.

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