Discovery may rewrite Hunley's history, final moments

Hunley spar

By Eric

NORTH CHARLESTON, SC (WCIV) -- Is it time to rewrite the history of the final moments of the Hunley? Hunley research teams recently uncovered a new, very old piece of evidence.

"This was so solidly attached to the submarine," said Paul Mardikian, the Hunley research team's senior conservator.

It's a spar, in simplest terms a long rod that extended out from the Hunley. At its tip a torpedo was attached, that torpedo is believed to have sunk the USS Housatonic in 1864.

"This evidence, right here and on the front, indicates the explosive was probably within 20 feet of the crew," said Lt. Gov. Glenn McConnell, the Hunley Commissioner.

This contradicts what researchers have thought for years, that the spar rammed the torpedo into the Housatonic. It was believed the crew of the Hunley then backed away to a safe distance, as the federal ship exploded.

What's new, a piece of copper found on the end of the spar. It tells archaeologists the torpedo was still attached, and only feet from the Hunley and crew members when it blew up.

"It was close up at the Housatonic," McConnell said. "They (the Hunley crew) controlled the explosion, so it wasn't an accident. The question is now what happened?"

Experts like Mardikian say this latest discovery could reshape the Hunley's history.

"We are looking at the weapons system of the Hunley and everything is really important because the material has deformed," he said.

Did the force of the explosion then cause the sub to sink alongside the Housatonic? Or was the Hunley crew knocked out or disoriented from the blast?

A next step will include chipping away at the sub's hull which is still covered in a sandy concrete. That could unlock the final answer of the Hunley's final moments.

"Because under that covering I think are the final clues that will allow us to focus-in to the final secret of the Hunley," said McConnell. "Why she did not come home that evening."

Scientists say it will take about a year before the Hunley's hull can be cleaned and examined. By then the picture could get even clearer.