Archeologists search for answers about HL Hunley, USS Housatonic off Charleston coast

Local News

CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCBD) – 157 years ago the USS Housatonic plummeted to the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean after the HL Hunley submarine struck the Union naval ship with a torpedo in an attempt to break the blockade on Charleston in 1864.

It took all of 15 minutes for the Housatonic to sink as the Hunley’s crew perished.

“There was a loss of five lives aboard the Union blockader and of course the Confederate submarine sort of disappeared into the shroud of history with the loss of its crew of eight members,” said Jim Spirek, the State Underwater Archeologist of South Carolina.

Now the University of South Carolina has partnered with The Hunley Commission to uncover more details about the engagement.

Archeologists, led by Spirek, have a long list of questions they hope to have answered.

“Can we find out more about that blast damage, what actually occurred to the ship? How devastating was the attack? Also to find a little more about life aboard a blockader,” said Spirek. “Was it a truly a devastating blow to where (the torpedo) did hit the powder room and the Housatonic completely blew up from that or was it simply just the torpedo?”

The crew is diving down under about 30 feet of water to the wreckage, that’s covered in several feet of the sediment itself.

Using tools to remove the sediment, Spirek and his team are making progress trying to reveal the blast area of the torpedo.

“We made a 12-foot-wide diameter hole. We’ve gone down and we’ve come across some pieces of iron and metal. A couple of little artifacts is all we’ve found at this point,” said Spirek.

The archeologists end their exploration this week. Spirek says that another discovery might be possible in the wreckage.

“If we do find the area of the blast damage, it would be nice if there were fragments of the Hunley torpedo itself down there. That would be a really amazing find,” said Spirek. “Also the Hunley lost a few bits and pieces off of itself. So was that a part of the attack as well?”

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