CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCBD)- The H.L. Hunley submarine made history as the first successful combat submarine after sinking the U.S.S. Housatonic in 1864.
Shortly after, the Hunley and it’s 8-man crew disappeared…only to be found 136 years later. The submarine and it’s artifacts are considered a “time capsule” for the Civil War era.
Michael Scafuri is the lead archaeologist for the Hunley Project with over 20 years of experience in archaeological survey and excavation.
“You know, it’s an extremely cold case. It’s tough to solve those kinds of cases. We’re basically doing the same thing- this is one piece of it. It’s important to know what they didn’t do as much as it is to know what they did do,” says Scafuri.
Scafuri is part of the team that recently discovered an important new clue in the century old mystery. It seems that the Hunley’s air circulation system was not functioning or was disconnected on the night that it disappeared.
“What it tells us that there was no attempt to bring in air through this method. The snorkel-box system, as you can imagine, just as a swimming snorkel would- was designed to bring in air when submerged,” says Scafuri.
This snorkel-box system is constructed of 2 pieces of wood with leather in between. Scafuri compares it to a bellows; a way to pull good air inside the submarine and push bad air out.
“So the fact that they weren’t using it is important to us to understand what really happened that night,” he says.
While this discovery cannot confirm that the crew died from lack of oxygen, it still contributes more information to the narrative. Scafuri says that the Hunley’s mystery will continue to intrigue researchers for years to come.
“There’s always going to be an interest for further research. And that’s how it works. We’ll never be able to say with 100% certainty exactly what happened in 1864 without a time machine,” says Scafuri.
We’ll never know exactly what happened that night in 1864, but the Hunley and its crew will remain a fascinating piece of history with much to still discover.