Episode 11: Civil War Submarine Mystery


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In this episode, scientist and author Rachel Lance, joins Russell Hillier to share the story of how she solved the mystery of the H.L Hunley, the world’s first successful submarine that sank over 130 years ago during the height of the American Civil War.

Historical Background

February 1864, Charleston Harbour:

There were rumours of course.

Men on board Union warships blockading Charleston Harbour had heard about this new contraption of war. This enemy ship that sailed unseen and under the waves. This submarine.

When the Hunley submarine launched its attack on the night of February 17, 1864, some onboard the USS Housatonic thought it was a log carried out on the tide. Others guessed right and tried to lower the angle of the ship’s cannons and when that failed, they began using musket fire to drive off the partially submerged enemy ship. All to no avail.

The blast from the first ever successful submarine attack sunk the Housatonic in less than five minutes. Men clutching to Housatonic’s rigging thought they saw the enemy submarine go down as well.

Thus began the mystery of just what exactly happened to Hunley submarine.

Was the submarine destroyed in the blast?

Did a “lucky shot” from a sailor’s musket punch a hole through the iron body?

Or was it something else entirely.

Rachel Lance, scientist and author of “In the Waves: My Quest to Solve the Mystery of a Civil War Submarine,” has answered the question: why did the Hunley submarine sink. Listen in to find out about the research that went into solving the mystery of the Hunley submarine.

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