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History of the Submarine

Horace Lawson Hunley


Inventor Horace Lawson Hunley & Submarine

Inventor Horace Lawson Hunley & Submarine

U.S. Naval Historical Center

During the American Civil War, Confederate inventor Horace Lawson Hunley converted a steam boiler into a submarine.

This Confederate submarine called the could be propelled at four knots by a hand-driven screw. Unfortunately, the submarine sank twice during trials in Charleston, South Carolina. These accidental sinkings in Charleston harbor cost the lives of two crews. In the second accident the submarine was stranded on the bottom and Horace Lawson Hunley himself was asphyxiated with eight other crew members.


The Hunley

Subsequently, the submarine was raised and renamed the Hunley. In 1864, armed with a 90-pound charge of powder on a long pole, the Hunley attacked and sank a new Federal steam sloop, USS Housatonic, at the entrance to Charleston Harbor. After her successful attack on Housatonic, the Hunley disappeared and her fate remained unknown for 131 years.

In 1995 the wreck of the Hunley was located four miles off Sullivans Island, South Carolina. Even though she sank, the Hunley proved that the submarine could be a valuable weapon in time of war.


Biography - Horace Lawson Hunley 1823-1863

Horace Lawson Hunley was born in Sumner County, Tennessee, on 29 December 1823. As an adult, he served in the Louisiana State Legislature, practiced law in New Orleans and was a generally notable figure in that area.

In 1861, after the start of the American Civil War, Horace Lawson Hunley joined James R. McClintock and Baxter Watson in building the submarine Pioneer, which was scuttled in 1862 to prevent its capture. The three men later constructed two submarines at Mobile, Alabama, the second of which was named H.L. Hunley. This vessel was taken to Charleston, South Carolina, in 1863, where it was to be used to attack blockading Union ships.

During a test dive on 15 October 1863, with Horace Lawson Hunley in charge, the submarine failed to surface. All on board, including Horace Lawson Hunley, lost their lives. On 17 February 1864, after it had been raised, refurbished and given a new crew, H.L. Hunley became the first submarine to successfully attack an enemy warship when she sank USS Housatonic off Charleston.


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