South Carolina Department of Archives and History
National Register Properties in South Carolina

H. L. Hunley, Charleston County
(Warren Lasch Conservatin Center, North Charleston)
H. L. Hunley

H.L. Hunley was the first submarine to sink an enemy warship in combat. It was built in spring 1862 in Mobile, Alabama at the Park & Lyons Machine Shop by a coalition of machinists and businessmen including engineers James McClintock and Baxter Watson, lawyer Horace L. Hunley, and four members of an organization of underwater “torpedo” (contact-mine) manufacturers called the Singer Submarine Corps. Eight crewmen operated the submersible. Seven individuals sat side-by-side on a wooden bench affixed along the port side of the vessel and turned a hand-cranked propeller featuring an innovative reduction gear system, while the commander was responsible for steering the submarine and deploying the weapons system. Following successful testing in Mobile, the submarine was shipped to Charleston, South Carolina by flatcar in August 1863 at the request of Charleston’s military commander General P.G.T. Beauregard. Beauregard hoped the submarine could help break the naval blockade that was then preventing access to the city’s harbor.

H.L. Hunley’s history-making achievement occurred on the bright moonlit night of February 17, 1864, when its commander, Lt. George Dixon, spotted the Federal steam sloop-of-war Housatonic moored approximately two miles from Battery Marshall in the north entrance to Charleston Harbor. The submarine silently approached its victim and was not sighted by the watch aboard Housatonic until it was so close the sloop’s heavy guns could not be depressed sufficiently to defend against attack. As Housatonic’s crew slipped the anchor chain and backed the engine in an attempt to avert the attack, H.L. Hunley detonated an explosive charge against the sloop-of-war’s starboard side just aft of the mizzenmast; five minutes later, Housatonic lay completely submerged. H.L. Hunley failed to return from the mission, and the exact cause for its loss remains a mystery. The submarine was discovered May 3, 1995 and recovered from its watery grave on August 8, 2000. Currently, H.L. Hunley is undergoing archaeological study and conservation treatment at the Warren Lasch Conservation Center. Listed on the National Register December 29, 1978.

View the complete text of the original nomination form for this National Register property.

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