PHOTOS: Conserved artifacts from the Hunley submarine captain

Local News

According to legend, Hunley Captain George Dixon ’s life was saved by a $20 gold coin during the Battle of Shiloh . The bullet struck the coin in his trouser pocket, absorbing the impact of the shot and sparing his life. For 137 years, no one knew whether the story was a historical fact or a romantic tale passed from generation to generation. During the excavation of the Hunley, a gold coin minted in 1860 was discovered lying on Dixon’s hip bone. It was warped from the impact of a bullet, and traces of lead were discovered on the coin. One side bears the image of Lady Liberty, and the other has been sanded and inscribe d with the following words: Shiloh April 6th 1862 My life Preserver G. E. D. (Friends of the Hunley)

CLEMSON, S.C. (WCBD)- A team from Clemson University has completed conservation of items belonging to Captain George Dixon, who captained the Hunley submarine.

Captain George Dixon was commanding the submarine when it mysteriously vanished in the middle of the 19th century. His remains were uncovered over a century later during the excavation of the ship and since a Clemson University team has been working to conserve pieces of his clothing and personal belongings.

The team said the belonging found with Dixon’s remains show that he was a man who paid careful attention to his appearance. Dixon was the youngest among the crew he commanded and convinced top generals in the Confederate Army to let him captain the Hunley.  The most famous artifact he carried was a $20 gold coin that absorbed the force of a bullet, sparing his life. The coin is curved from the impact and engraved “My Life Preserver”. 

Other preserved artifacts include a gold pocket watch, diamond jewelry, pure silver suspenders, a high-end buckle imprinted with “Paris 1860”, buttons, a pocketknife, and binoculars that likely helped Captain Dixon navigate the vessel. Several of the items are engraved with his initials, which the team suggests indicates he was a proud man who wanted to be remembered.

“These artifacts are a fascinating example of how conservation science and archaeology can work together to teach us about more than just important historical events but also the personality of the people that made them happen,” Friends of the Hunley Executive Director Kellen Butler said.

The collection will be displayed as part of the War & Wadrobe exhibit which launches Thanksgiving weekend at the Hunley lab. The exhibit features the preserved artifacts and a demonstration of the conservation process.

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