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Hunley Update March 2, 2003 New Dixon photo found? - Phoot found in locket owned by Queenie B

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Postby TMSmalley » Sun Mar 02, 2003 10:32 am

Image
Story last updated at 9:12 a.m. Sunday, March 2, 2003

Clue to Dixon's identity locked in Queenie's locket
BY BRIAN HICKS
Of The Post and Courier Staff
He is handsome, dapper and well coiffed, with penetrating eyes and a stylish mustache that may make him appear older than he really is.


PHOTO PROVIDED/GEORGE BENNETT WALKER
This locket was found among jewelry owned by Queen Bennett, the wartime sweetheart of Hunley commander George E. Dixon. Bennett's great-grandchildren can't identify the man, but are convinced he's not a member of the family. Hunley scientists will attempt to overlay the face over Dixon's skull to see if this could be the Hunley's captain.

His expression is serious, perhaps a reflection of the times.

This image, literally the picture of a 19th-century Southern gentleman, has been preserved in a locket slightly smaller than a quarter for more than a century. Now, it raises one huge question: Is this George E. Dixon, captain of the H. L. Hunley?

The tiny photograph was found among family heirlooms held by the great-grandchildren of Queen Bennett, Dixon's wartime sweetheart. Along with the locket, the family holds an engraved pocket watch that may be another artifact of their doomed romance.

Together, the two pieces could hold clues that will help scientists unravel the mystery of Dixon's identity.

State Sen. Glenn McConnell, chairman of the Hunley Commission, says the photo will be compared to Dixon's remains, which were found inside the recovered Confederate sub. Researchers will try to trace the watch back to its source in hopes of picking up the young lieutenant's trail in wartime Mobile, Ala.

"This fits into the pattern of the brooch and ring found among Dixon's things. He liked nice things and could evidently afford them," McConnell said of the watch. "The picture resembles descriptions of him and appears to be the way he dressed. This opens up a whole bunch of new questions."

At the least, these finds may provide new details into the relationship between a feisty Southern belle and the man who led the world's first successful submarine attack in the dark days of the Civil War.

These two items were just a couple of the many Bennett keepsakes passed down through the generations. For a long time, George Bennett Walker Jr. had believed the watch belonged to his great-grandmother. He inherited it in the 1970s and had always found it interesting. A gold ladies pocket watch is rare, and this one is beautiful: a Swiss wind-up model with an ornate case embedded with emeralds and other precious stones.

Family lore held that it was the watch of Queen Bennett, who for most of her life was called Queenie. That in itself made the watch special because Bennett was a standout in a long line of interesting relatives.

THE "LITTLE REBEL" AND THE CAPTAIN

Born and raised in Mobile, Queen Bennett was the oldest of Robert and Sarah Bennett's eight children. One of the oft-told stories of Queenie, recounted in a contemporary newspaper article, concerned her arrest soon after the Union occupation of Mobile in 1865. Bennett and four other girls marched down to the federals' headquarters and cut the halyard holding up the U.S. flag, allowing the banner to fall to the ground. A surviving photograph of her is captioned "A little Rebel."

The most famous story of Queen Bennett, however, is the one about her lost first love, a dashing Confederate lieutenant named George E. Dixon. Few details of the story remain, but those that do elevate the story to legend.

Before the war, Dixon is believed to have worked as an auxiliary police officer and on steamboats. Bennett's father was a steamboat pilot, and that may have been how the two met.

Dixon was several years older than she, but there was a powerful connection, symbolized by a gold $20 coin that Bennett gave Dixon when he enlisted in the Confederate Army in October 1861. He carried the coin off to war in his left pants pocket.

On April 6, 1862, his company -- the 21st Alabama -- stormed the battlefield at Shiloh in West Tennessee. Early in the fighting, Dixon was shot in the leg. The coin deflected the bullet and saved his life.

Dixon had it inscribed with the date and name of the battle, his initials and the legend "My life preserver." He would carry the coin, and a limp, for the rest of his life.

Dixon was sent back to Mobile to convalesce, and there he spent more time with Bennett throughout 1862 and the first half of 1863. By day, he worked in a machine shop, where he helped build two odd contraptions the engineers called submarine boats.

The first of the fish-boats (what the rest of the guys called the subs) was lost in Mobile Bay; the second, christened the H.L. Hunley after its financier, was shipped to Charleston for use against the blockade.

After the Hunley sank twice on test runs, Dixon left Mobile and Bennett for South Carolina. Here, he salvaged and refit the Hunley and raised a third crew. All the while, he was writing letters home to Bennett.

One day, however, the letters stopped coming.

On Feb. 17, 1864, Dixon and his crew made history when the Hunley traveled four miles off Sullivan's Island and sank the USS Housatonic, a 200-foot Union warship. It marked the first time a submarine sank an enemy ship in battle, a feat that would not be repeated for more than 50 years.

Dixon and the Hunley disappeared that night, lost until the submarine was found and raised off the Atlantic floor in August 2000.

Seven years after Dixon disappeared, Queen Bennett married and moved to Mississippi.

CLUES FROM THE PAST

Walker and his sister, Sally Necessary -- the great-grandchildren of Bennett -- had always believed that the pocket watch was far too ornate to have been a present from her father. They had even suspected that Dixon gave it to her, although they had no proof.

Their suspicions were raised while inspecting the watch last year. They opened the back of the watch's casing, where she would have inserted a key to wind it. Inside, they found this inscription: Queen Bennett, December 25th, 1862.

"When we opened that you could have heard a pin drop," Necessary said.

"I thought, 'Oh my gosh. She and Dixon were very close. He probably gave her the watch,' " Walker said.

Christmas 1862 was the last the couple spent together; in December 1863, Dixon was in Charleston.

The inscription caught the attention of people connected to the Hunley project when they saw a photograph of the engraving. The lettering is similar to the inscription on Dixon's gold coin. McConnell, Walker and Necessary suspect that Dixon might have had both engravings done at the same time.

Scientists want to know about the watch's origins, where it was manufactured and where in Mobile it might have been sold. They also want to know if it is similar to Dixon's own pocket watch, found among his belongings on the Hunley. Scientists at the Hunley lab will open Dixon's watch this week, and officials with the project say they would be thrilled to find a similar inscription.

The family plans to provide Hunley scientists access to more of Bennett's belongings, to see if they find more clues from the little Rebel.

A MYSTERIOUS STRANGER

Although Bennett's watch may provide another connection to Dixon, the locket may prove the more important find. It may finally put a face on the elusive Hunley commander.

"The potential that this picture could really be Dixon, that we may finally have a face to this brave man, is overwhelmingly exciting," said Warren Lasch, chairman of Friends of the Hunley.

Walker and Necessary, who are well-versed in their family's history and have many photos of their ancestors, could only say that they did not recognize the man.

"We have a picture of her father, and this man looks nothing like him," Necessary said. "He could be a family member, but he doesn't look like the rest of our family."

Walker says that, in their extensive collection of family photographs, there is not another image of the man found in Bennett's broken locket, which was found in a tin box filled with her jewelry.

This information has intrigued McConnell, who says scientists have proven that an earlier photo believed to be Dixon isn't the sub captain. Scientists used a process called facial overlay to transpose a digital version of the photo onto Dixon's skull to see if the features matched up. That earlier candidate was nowhere close.

"As our hopes on the other photo fade, here comes something else from Queen Bennett," McConnell says. "Now we have a new face to look at."

McConnell sees several similarities between the man in the locket photo and Dixon. Both seem to have high, sloping foreheads and strong brows. There is a mark on the man's chin that could be a cleft, which forensic anthropologists suggest Dixon had.

There are other encouraging signs. The man in the photograph has light hair, and contemporary descriptions of Dixon suggest he had fair hair. The man appears to be wearing a uniform. Though it is not a Confederate uniform, it could be that of a police officer or steamboat crewman.

When Dixon's pockets were searched, scientists found ornate jewelry that some suggest the captain planned to give to Bennett. In the photo, there is something on the man's collar that bears a resemblance to the brooch found in Dixon's pocket, although it may be larger than that piece.

When Dixon was recovered from the Hunley in 2001, scientists noted that his clothing was much nicer than that of other crewmen, fitting Dixon's reputation as a stylish man. McConnell says the man in the locket photo certainly appears to share that trait with Dixon.

Ultimately, it is too early to tell if this is Dixon. McConnell says he will ask scientists to examine the photo and run tests as soon as possible. The laboratory has made a three-dimensional image of Dixon's skull and the University of Tennessee. which debunked the earlier supposed Dixon photo, can reproduce a digital image of the photo and attempt another facial overlay.

It also may be possible to match the photo with the facial reconstructions that a team of experts is preparing for the Hunley project. Using the skulls of the eight men found on board, scientists say they can reconstruct the men's faces to a 98 percent degree of accuracy.

That, if nothing else, may finally settle the question.

"This opens up a whole bunch of questions, and it could answer some or just add more to the mystery," McConnell said. "This really starts to put the human side to the Hunley's story. It adds depth to it."
Tim Smalley
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Postby 82-1045815099 » Sun Mar 02, 2003 1:22 pm

:) Tim.
Thanks for the ongoing Hunley story. As a result of your reports, I bought, on my last Stateside visit, "Raising the Hunley" It's a great read.

Please continue passing on the latest Hunley news. We are the richer for your Hunley updates. I can't wait for the next one.

Alec Gibson




Edited By Rockape on 1046626047
82-1045815099
 

Postby TMSmalley » Mon Mar 03, 2003 7:49 am

Thanks Alec!
T
Tim Smalley
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Postby uboatjerry » Mon Mar 03, 2003 9:51 am

Hi Tim & Yall:

Thanks for the C.S.S. Hunley update. They always make for interesting reading.

Good Luck and Good Hunting,
Jerry Pope
DeSoto, Georgia C.S.A. :angry:
"Every man dies, not every man really lives." Braveheart
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Postby Dave » Tue Mar 04, 2003 8:45 am

Thanks Tim for the update on the Hunley. Do you know if they have finally decided where it will end up on display? Are they planning to do a facial reconstruction of all the crew members found inside?
David
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