Sunday, December 25, 2011

A Piece of Charleston History Pulled From The Ocean Dating Back To The Civil War

The Hunley preserved in the tank
Many years ago in my mischievous youth, we would impale these onto our bicycle spokes with a clothes pin. The idea behind this peculiar behavior was to make our bikes sound like they were motorized. The louder, the better, so more than one was often employed to achieve the desired effect. The bubble gum that accompanied these, shaped into sugar coated thin squares, was the first thing pulled from the wrapping and while chewing it to a consistency necessary to blow into balloon shapes, we would quickly shuffle through the rest of the contents with hopes of acquiring the one cherished piece that would make you the envy of your peers. Doubles were inevitable and often became the fodder for the aforementioned practice.

It appears the practice has become extinct. I haven't observed any kids riding around the neighborhood these days with this item flapping on their spokes. Children today are too technically sophisticated for such simple minded inventions and collecting apps is the more desired preoccupation of the young. Come to think of it, clothes pins are a rather rare commodity themselves. As for the item, I don't even know if they sell them anymore. Enthusiasts of this forgotten custom of a bygone era who have them in their possession today, whether by accident or design, benefit greatly. Quite simply put, I speak of baseball cards.

Baseball card collecting was popular in those early years, but something else became available in the form of collectible cards during the 1960's. Collectible cards portraying the American Civil War were printed and sold. Each card depicted a notable battle or person that was involved in this conflict that split the United States in two. Some of the more significant events I remember from those cards was the shelling of Fort Sumter, the Battle of Bull Run, the encounter between the Monitor and the Merrimack, Stonewall Jackson being shot by his own troops, the Battle of Gettysburg, and Robert E. Lee surrendering at Appomattox, to name a few. Since I also liked to draw, I often carefully recopied battle scenes on paper with pencil and crayon. Those cards were the spark that lit the fire of my interest in wanting to learn more about that part of history. 

I am from Northeastern Ohio, and in that part of the U.S. you are far removed from the many notable places and events of the Civil War, but here in the South, in Charleston, you are in the heart of it all. It is tightly weaved into the very fabric of Charleston's identity and for visitors it is inescapable, both by land and water. The Spiritline Cruises in Charleston Harbor shuttles people back and forth on a daily basis to the place where it all started, Fort Sumter. The guides on one of the numerous historic carriage rides seen crisscrossing the historic district are dressed in Confederate uniforms. You can get up close and personal by physically touching the iron mortars and cannon at Fort Moultrie or White Point Gardens that were used to bombard Fort Sumter on April 12, 1861.

A replica of the interior
One notable event I do not recall seeing on those cards was the infamous sinking of the USS Housatonic just outside of Charleston Harbor by the Hunley in 1864. In fact, my first exposure to the story of the Hunley was by way of a movie and then in more detail, when I moved to Charleston. Most likely, there are quite a few people in this country who don't know the Hunley exists or its story. For those who don't, the Hunley was the first successful combat submarine. Successful, meaning the Confederate submarine accomplished its one and only mission. It didn't successfully return to port. The Hunley disappeared under the waters off of Sullivan's Island and for 136 years its fate remained a mystery.

The Hunley crew crossed a foot bridge connecting Mt. Pleasant to Sullivan's
Island at this location in 1864. It became the Pitt Street Bridge, now known as Pickett Bridge.
Its final resting place was discovered and in 2000 the Hunley was carefully and meticulously raised, still in tack, from the waters of the Atlantic Ocean. There are theories as to what happened to the Hunley, but no one really knows for sure what caused its demise. Scientists have been puzzling over the remains of the Hunley since its recovery, searching for clues that will assist them with providing a feasible hypothesis.

You can view the Hunley and the artifacts uncovered with it at its own museum where it is displayed in a 90,000 gallon conservation tank. Museum location is the Warren Lasch Conservation Center, 1250 Supply Street (on the old Charleston Navy Base), North Charleston, South Carolina. A startling discovery was made in 2002 while researching the interior of the sub that confirmed a long held legend. For the complete story of this find and tour information go to Friends of the Hunley.

1 comment:

Hummingbird said...

Thank-you for your telling of the history of the H. L. Hunley. I appreciate the time you took to share what you learned and found out.

C. McClintock