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Hunley Update - It's a matter of time

Place for general submarine conversation

Postby TMSmalley » Mon Aug 11, 2003 7:00 am

Image copyright Friends of the Hunley
The Associated Press

It was 8:49 when the gold pocket watch belonging to the commander of the Confederate submarine H.L. Hunley stopped. That would be about the time the sub sank a Union blockade ship off the South Carolina coast, researchers said Thursday.

But nothing is certain about how hand-cranked Hunley, the first submarine in history to sink an enemy warship, was sunk the night of Feb. 17, 1864.

It's not clear if the time on Lt. George Dixon's watch is morning or evening and whether it stopped because of water flooding the sub or because it simply wound down.

Friday marks the third anniversary of the raising of the submarine from the ocean floor off Charleston. The Hunley is at a conservation lab at the old Charleston Navy Base.

When Dixon's watch was opened earlier this year, scientists found a broken hour hand - believed to be pointing somewhere between 6 and 9 - a minute hand pointing to 22 and a second hand pointing to 20.

Scientists now say the watch showed 8:23. Accounts from Union observers put the time of the Hunley attack on the blockade ship Housatonic at 8:45 p.m.

However, the Confederates used local apparent solar time and the Union Navy local mean solar time in setting watches and clocks. Calculating the differences, Dixon's watch would read 8:49 Union time.

That might indicate the Hunley flooded shortly after ramming a spar with a powder charge into the hull of the Union blockade ship Housatonic.

But Warren Lasch, chairman of Friends of the Hunley, says such a conclusion would be premature. He said scientists still have to examine the workings of the watch.

"An important clue we will soon discover is whether or not the watch was completely wound down," he said. "We still don't know if the time is a.m. or p.m. or even the same day."

State Sen. Glenn McConnell, R-Charleston and chairman of the South Carolina Hunley Commission, said scientific evidence indicates the Hunley filled slowly with water.

"It is entirely possible that the Hunley's crew compartment remained watertight long after the oxygen the crew needed to survive was gone," he said. "If the watch was protected from the invasion of water, then it would have continued to tick until it eventually wound down."

As many as 10,000 people, including Civil War re-enactors both blue and gray, will march in next year's funeral procession for the eight crewmen. The burial is set for April 17.

Solving Hunley sinking mystery may be matter of time, experts say

Of The Post and Courier Staff

Now we may know why the South lost the Civil War: Confederate time was about a half-hour slower than Yankee time.

Archaeologists studying the Confederate submarine H.L. Hunley say a clue to the sub's sinking may come from the historical fact that the Southern navy and the Northern navy used two sets of clocks to record the time of day.

Hunley scientists stumbled across the differing clock settings while investigating commander Lt. George Dixon's gold pocket watch that was found inside the sunken sub.

It was stopped at 8:23, which is a significant clue.

Hunley historians are exploring whether the sub, after attacking the blockade ship USS Housatonic on the night of Feb. 17, 1864, sank quickly instead of surviving for many moments after the battle, as some believe.

The theory that scientists are looking at is based on a bit of clock mathematics.

Sailors on the Housatonic said the attack came between 8:45 and 9 p.m. Adding the 26 minutes of Confederate lag-time onto Dixon's watch makes it 8:49 p.m. (Yankee Standard Time) was well within the Union accounts for the attack.

If the sub sank quickly after the attack, seawater most assuredly would have stopped the mechanics in Dixon's watch from functioning, officials contend.

Sub enthusiasts say the time discrepancy adds to the mystery of the sub, but they warn it is far too early to consider a watch setting as anything conclusive.

"We still don't know if the time is a.m. or p.m., or even the same day," said Warren Lasch, chairman of Friends of the Hunley.

Scientists plan to examine the watch's spring to see how far it is wound down. Doing so will tell them if the hours safely ticked on or if the watch halted abruptly for some unexplained reason.

Hunley archaeologist Harry Pecorelli said the watch's spring is iron and heavily degraded. It will be X-rayed and cleaned. Watch experts from the National Association of Watch and Clock Collectors will then try to determine if the spring is fully wound, partially wound or at its final setting.

"If we lock in on the exact time, we lock in on the time sequence of her fate," said Hunley Commission chairman state Sen. Glenn McConnell, R-Charleston.

The Hunley became the world's first successful attack sub when it rammed about 90 pounds of explosive black powder into the Housatonic. The ship sank in five minutes. The Hunley and her eight crewmen never returned.

Theories to the cause of the sinking abound. The sub could have been damaged during its attack and taken on water, or crew members could have suffocated at their stations trying to get back to shore. There are indications the men died in a dry environment. A blue light also was seen being waved over the ocean, which was Dixon's predetermined signal to shore of a successful attack.

The Hunley is being housed at the Lasch Conservation Lab in North Charleston where research is continuing.

The sub was discovered off Charleston in 1995 by a dive team funded by best-selling author Clive Cussler. Friday marks the third anniversary of its recovery.


In apparent ó or local ó solar time, noon is the precise moment
when the sun is on the meridian, an imaginary line passing from north to south through the zenith.

Even though the average solar day is 24 hours, the actual length varies throughout the year because of the difference in the speed of revolution of the Earth around the sun. It is more convenient to define time in terms of the average of the apparent solar time. This is called mean solar time and is the basis of standard time.

In the 1800s, time of day was a local matter. Most cities and towns used some form of local mean solar time. But because of the difficulty this caused in railroad scheduling, railroad companies agreed in 1883 to a system that divided the United States into four standard time zones. This became law with the Standard Time Act in 1918.

Edited By TMSmalley on 1060599920
Tim Smalley
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