The actual submarine was different in many respects than what historians thought it would be. Before the recovery, the image of the Hunley was established by Civil War paintings, sketches and personal memories. The most important visual image of these sources was a painting by the famous Civil War artist Conrad Wise Chapman. This painting shows the Hunley, removed from the water, and sitting on a dock. This painting does not adequately reflect the true streamined appearance of the sub.
The most detailed written description of the sub was an account by a former crewman, Mr. W.A. Alexander. He wrote his story for a New Orleans newspaper in 1902, over 37 years after the War. He gave information about the size of the submarine. We know now that Mr. Alexander remembered the Hunley as being larger than it really is. He described the inside of the crew area as four feet wide and five feet high. In actuality, the height of the sub, inside, was only about 48 inches and the width even less.
As the preservation effort continues, more information will be found about the Hunley and probably more differences found.
So far, the following differences have been found between the real submarine and previous concepts about it.
- It has long been thought that the submarine had a crew of nine men. However, it appears that all of the human remains have been removed and only eight men have been found.
- The sub is much more streamlined. Mr. Alexander said that the builders had taken a cylindrical locomotive boiler and added wedge shaped bouyancy tanks to each end. The replicas were built like this. However, the real sub builders had added tanks that were much more dagger shaped and curved. This gives the submarine a graceful, streamlined appearance that almost looks like a living thing.
- As previously mentioned, the crew space was much smaller than believed. The average man, today, is several inches taller than the average man of the Civil War era. A large man could not have gotten into the sub. Crew members had to be small men and even they had to crouch severely to get into the sub and crank it.
- The torpedo boom or spar was not mounted on the top of the sub. It was attached towards the bottom of the bow on a hinge type device that allowed the spar to be moved up and down.
- The recovered spar is made of iron, not wood, as believed before.
- One very visible difference is that the sub's rivets are not as prominent as expected. The sub was made from a former locomotive boiler where large rivets with exposed heads are the rule. However, few rivets can be easily seen on the submarine. It is now believed that the rivet heads are flat and are countersunk into the steel plates to lessen water resistance. If this is the case, the same method is still used in much aircraft construction. Further investigation of the sub will be required to see exactly how the rivets are installed.
There are some small glass ports along the top of the submarine that allowed light to enter the boat. No prior mention had ever been found of this feature. There is a small rectangular glass viewport in the front of the forward conning tower that allows the sub commander to see where he is going. It was known that there were viewing ports on the sides of the towers but not the front.Return to the home page of the Hunley and Charleston's Civil War History.
- There are small pieces of iron installed on the sides of the sub that were evidently used for trim tabs that helped stabilize the sub as it was being cranked.
- It was thought that eight men actually cranked the boat - This is not true. There are only seven crank stations. Evidently, the ships officer stationed in the stern of the sub performed other duties and did not operate the crank.
- The crew was thought to be positioned on both sides of the crank - This also appears wrong. It seems that all of the men sat on the left side of the boat to crank. Means were provided to offset their weight either by the weight of the crank support brackets or by another method not yet known.
- New, unexpected features of the vessel have been discovered. A bellows has been found that is connected to the piping of the air box. This helped force air into the boat and made the air box more efficient than natural air flow.
- The propeller driving system has been found to be more complex than originally thought. It was believed that the crank was fastened directly to the propeller. However, it has been found that crank was connected to the propeller through a chain and sprocket arrangement that was fitted with a flywheel.