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Each week on the Junior Curators blog, we travel back in time to a different place in Tennessee history. Stories may be about a famous person, place or event from Tennessee’s past. They will include things like priceless artifacts, pictures, videos, and even some games. Be sure to better understand the story by answering the questions at the end of each post.
After learning the story, be sure to share what you've learned with your parents, family, or friends. Try making your own exhibit about it, shooting a movie, or writing a story about it. Let your creativity run wild!
by Christopher Grisham
You may hear about the use of submarines during World War I, but did you know submarines were used during the Civil War? The first submarine to sink an enemy ship was used by the Confederate Navy. A submarine is a ship designed to operate underwater.
The North, or Union, had a bigger and more powerful Navy than the Confederates, or the South. They used it to blockade southern ports; this meant that important supplies could not reach the Confederacy. The Confederates needed to find a way to fight the Union ships that were all around them. One way to do this was by using submarines. Tennessean, Horace Lawson Hunley, designed one of the earliest submarines as a solution.
The H.L. Hunley, named after its designer, was a 40-foot iron tube operated by eight men. It was supposed to dive underwater and put explosives on the hull of enemy ships to sink them. Any new weapon created for war can be very dangerous, including the H.L. Hunley. During an early test, the Hunley sank when it went underwater before all the hatches were closed. Five of the nine men working died during that test. The Confederates recovered the submarine and tried again. The Hunley sank again in another test killing all eight men working, including Horace Lawson Hunley. In total, the Hunley sank two times during testing. It was recovered again for an official mission.
Life-size bust of Cpt. Horace Lawson Hunley – Tennessee State Museum collection
In November 1863, the Hunley was given its first mission. The goal was to sink the Union ship, the Housatonic. The Hunley had 135 pounds of gunpowder attached to a 16-foot pole. The explosive was successfully attached to the ship. The charge ignited and BOOM! It exploded. The Housatonic quickly sunk. The mission was a success but at a cost.
16.75 in. model of the C.S.S. Hunley made by Bob Bass – Tennessee State Museum collection
Unfortunately, the Hunley was too close to the explosion and it sank as well. The entire crew perished, or died. The Hunley stayed lost underwater until researchers found it in 1995. Today, archaeologists still study the Hunley’s wreck to discover what happened on its first and only mission.
Learn more by taking a tour of the H.L. Hunley Museum here.
Submarine – a ship designed to operate completely underwater
Blockade – to seal off a place to prevent people or goods from going in or out
Hull – the main body of a ship
Hatches – an opening, especially on a ship
Recovered – found and restored to working condition
Researchers – people who study something to learn new information
How did the H.L. Hunley get its name?
Why would the Confederate Navy want to build submarines instead of building more battle ships?
Many historians consider the Hunley to be the first successful submarine attack. Do you think it was a success? Why or why not?
See if you can design your own submarine using objects around your house. Possible materials: toilet paper tube, aluminum foil, tape, straws, pipe cleaners, glue
Tennessee State Social Studies Standards
4.31 Explain how the Union’s Anaconda Plan used geographic features to isolate and defeat regions of the south and the Confederacy as a whole.
Christopher Grisham is the K-12 Education Manager