Controversy about the Hunley
The submarine Hunley has been surrounded with controversy ever since it was built. Some of the controversies from the past have been:a. Who would be in charge and operate the submarine?Modern Controversies
It was built in Mobile, Alabama and brought to Charleston by train. A civilian crew from Mobile came along and first operated the boat. Some officers in the Confederate army thought they were timid in not attacking the Federal fleet right away. The Confederate Government took control of the ship and replaced the civilians with a military crew.
b. Should it attack while submerged or stay on the surface?
The boat was built to surface and submerge as a real submarine. After the disastrous sinking while diving under the vessel Indian Chief, General Beauregard ordered it to only operate on the surface. Many associated with the Hunley wanted to operate as a true submarine.
c. Ever since the sinking in 1864, historians have been in disagreement about many things related to the submarine. Such as:
How many times did it sink ?
How many crewmen died in its operation?
What kind of torpedo was used?
There is dispute about the torpedo used to sink the Housatonic. Some say it had a barb and was stuck into the enemy ship and detonated by a rope after it had backed away. Others say the torpedo was mounted on a long wooden pole and detonated by contact fuses when pushed against the enemy ship. (This was the view of Milby Burton, the historian/director of the Charleston Museum when the replica there was built.) Still others say the torpedo did blow up on contact but was mounted on a long iron rod that angled down so that it would hit the enemy ship below the water line. (The Recovery of the Hunley has provided an answer to this question. The torpedo was indeed mounted on a long iron rod or spar. But it did not angle down. The spar was mounted close to the bottom of the boat and could be adjusted up or down. It also appears that the torpedo was stuck into the Housatonic and detonated by a rope after backing away.)
The controversy over the Hunley continues to this day. The recent discovery and recovery of the boat has resulted in major disputes that the original crew of the boat could not have imagined. Some of these are:a. Who owned the wreck of the Hunley?
This has been resolved by an agreement where the Federal Government owns the vessel but it is in permanent custody of South Carolina.
b. Did Clive Cussler and his organization find the Hunley by themselves?
A researcher, working with the University of South Carolina Institute of Archeology and Anthropology, claims that he was working with Cussler and his group when Cussler violated the agreement and claimed finding the Hunley for himself and his divers. Cussler complained in the press about the researchers future involvement with the submarine. Because of the controversy, the University of South Carolina removed the researcher from the Hunley project in June of 1995. The researcher then resigned from his job with the University.
c. Had the Hunley been found previously?
A Charleston diver, has claimed that he found the lost submarine in 1970. Although he never offered any proof, the diver filed Federal papers claiming the Hunley find. In September, 1995 the diver signed over any claim he might have on the Hunley over to the state of South Carolina.
Shortly after this, the South Carolina Institute of Archeology and Anthropology officials asked this diver to help them find the wreck. This was during the five months period in 1995 from when the boat was found until Cussler released the exact sub’s location. Nothing came of this effort.
d. In what state should the raised and preserved Hunley be put on permanent display?
When the sub was found, both South Carolina and Alabama officials wanted it to be put on permanent display in their states. Alabama’s claim was based on the fact that the boat was built in Mobile before being brought to Charleston. Some members of the Alabama Congressional delegation included a report in the Defense Appropriations Act saying the Hunley should go to Alabama. South Carolina Senator Fritz Hollings took measures to block the language of that request.
South Carolina Congressman Mark Sanford introduced a bill that would convey Federal ownership to South Carolina. As said previously, this controversy was resolved with the boat coming to South Carolina but still owned by the USA.
e. Where should the submarine be placed while the restoration process is being done?
Original plans call for the Hunley to be put on display at a new section of the Charleston Museum. However, when funding for the new section was slow in coming, an effort was started by the Hunley Commission to investigate having the submarine placed on the former Naval Shipyard while it was being restored and put into condition for display.
This effort was strongly resisted by the City of Charleston officials, including Mayor Joe Riley. They were concerned that the move might become permanent and the Hunley would never be returned to the Museum. As a result of this controversy, money has been approved for the new Hunley wing of the Museum and architectural and construction plans are underway.
However, since that time, the wisdom of this plan has been seen by all of the parties involved. There are special considerations for the area to be used for restoration that can be done cheaper at the former shipyard than at the Museum. There will be tons of silt and water to cope with during restoration that will not be necessary for permanent display. The restoration process may take as long as seven years. Plans call for public viewing of the sub to be possible at some time in the future during the restoration.
f. Should the Hunley have been recovered at all or left as a memorial to the crew?
Since it was found, there were definite plans underway to raise and restore the boat. However, there is a vocal minority that feel strongly that the boat should have been left in place and undisturbed. These sentiments were often seen in letters to the Editor of the Charleston Post and Courier newspaper.
g. In what city will the Hunley be put on permanent display?
Three Charleston area communities were competing to be the location for the Hunley museum. The Hunley is expected to bring tourists from all over the world to Charleston. The cities of Charleston, North Charleston and Mount Pleasant made proposals to the Hunley Commission about how they would support and display the Hunley when it has been preserved. The time of preservation may be much less than the original estimate of seven years because of the potential of a new method of preservation. The summary of each city's proposal is as follows:
City of CharlestonThe city of Charleston proposed the Hunley Museum be built on Liberty Square between the new National Park Service Fort Sumter Visitors Center and the Dockside Condominiums. The site is very close to the spot where the Hunley was first put into Charleston harbor in 1863. The site also has a view of Fort Sumter and Charleston Harbor. The site would benefit from being in the area now visited by thousands of tourists. City of North CharlestonNorth Charleston proposed to permanently house the recovered vessel on a Cooper River site adjoining the northern end of the former Charleston Navy Base. This is an 11 acre site near the Warren Lasch laboratory where the Hunley is undergoing preservation. This would be part of the planned 20-year, 3,000-acre, $1 billion Noisette project to revitalize North Charleston. The North Charleston project team brings international talent to the Hunley project, including the firm of Ralph Appelbaum Associates, designers of the Washington, D.C.-area Newseum and United States Holocaust Museum, Nashville's Country Music Hall of Fame and Richmond's Civil War Visitor Center. City of Mount PleasantThe city planned to display the Hunley at the Patriot's Point Naval and Maritime Museum. This is the Naval and Maritime Museum for South Carolina. The Hunley would be a centerpiece for one of the most successful museums of its kind in the United States, with its own facility, designed specifically for its unique exhibition. Patriot's Point already has over 400,000 visitors per year.
In February, 2004, the SC Hunley Commission decided that the city of North Charleston would be the permanent home of the sub. The SC Legislature must still approve the decision.
h. Should a Breach Island Bridge be renamed in honor of the Hunley?
A proposal to name the new bridge across Breach Inlet for the Hunley has led to unexpected controversy. The new bridge replaces a bridge named for William Thompson of Revolutionary War fame. Thompson and his colonial troops prevented British soldiers from crossing the Inlet and attacking the American fort on Sullivan's Island during a battle in July, 1776. When the announcement was made that the new bridge was to be named after the Hunley, many people did not like the idea of removing the Thompson name. A "compromise" of sorts was reached. A historical marker for Thompson and his men will be erected on the Sullivan's Island side of the inlet.
What future controversies await the little submarine? If the future is like the past, many more controversies and disagreements lay in store for the little submarine.
Return to the home page of the Hunley and Charleston's Civil War History.