Tuesday, February 18, 2014

February 17, 1864

February 17, 1864

---Charleston, South Carolina: CSS Hunley vs. USS Housatonic.  The CSS Hunley, an experimental submarine designed by James McClintock, Horace Hunley, and Baxter Watson, has been some time in the developing, having sunk twice, killing both crews, including Hunley.  On this night, with eight men turning the crank propeller shaft, and George Dixon steering, the Hunley sorties out of the harbor to attack the Federal blockade ships.  Hunley steers for the Housatonic, a 12-gun steamer five miles offshore. 

Blueprint of the Hunley

Although the Federal fleet had dealt with semi-submersible torpedo boats before, a fully submersible vessel was something new.  A lookout on the Housatonic saw something rippling the water, and the crew responded with small arms fire, but it was too late.  On a long spar extending from the bow of the submarine was a torpedo.  The Hunley struck the hull of the Housatonic below the waterline and detonated the torpedo, which ignited the ship’s magazine. 
Eyewitness drawing of the explosion of the Housatonic
The Housatonic sinks in mere minutes, but most of the crew escape and are picked up later by other Federal ships.  The Hunley, having just been the first submarine to sink an enemy vessel in battle, never returns to port.  She takes on water, perhaps a result of the shock waves of the explosion, and sinks.  She is found in 1995, and when raised, is found to contain the bodies of Dixon and all his crew.

CSS H.L. Hunley


---Luman Harris Tenny, a young Federal infantry officer, arrives home on furlough:

17th. Went on my way rejoicing at 9 o’clock. Found open arms at- home. How good to be here again. I couldn’t realize it down in Tenn. I am happy—one thing short! Treasure Carrie! God be praised for the blessing of home and friends.

---Mary Boykin Chestnut comments in her diary on some of the political insider buzz in the Confederate capital, and the military infighting:

February 17th.—Found everything in Main Street twenty per cent dearer. They say it is due to the new currency bill.

I asked my husband: “Is General Johnston ordered to reenforce Polk? They said he did not understand the order.” “After five days’ delay,” he replied. “They say Sherman is marching to Mobile.[1] When they once get inside of our armies what is to molest them, unless it be women with broomsticks?” General Johnston writes that “the Governor of Georgia refuses him provisions and the use of his roads.” The Governor of Georgia writes: “The roads are open to him and in capital condition. I have furnished him abundantly with provisions from time to time, as he desired them.” I suppose both of these letters are placed away side by side in our archives.

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