The H.L. Hunley: The Secret Hope of the Confederacy

Tom Chaffin, Author . Hill & Wang $26 (324p) ISBN 978-0-8090-9512-4

This lively account of the first submarine to sink an opposing ship is an excellent niche history. Chaffin (Sea of Gray ) relates that H.L. Hunley was neither soldier nor engineer, but an adventurous New Orleans attorney turned exporter who wanted to make his fortune selling the submarine he developed with several partners to the Confederate Navy. After two unsuccessful tests, in 1863 a third submarine performed decently, but the unenthusiastic local commander extolled its virtues to General Beauregard, who agreed to commission a submarine. It was shipped to Charleston, S.C., where it sank twice during testing, drowning both crews— including Hunley himself. In February 1864, the submarine, named the H.L. Hunley , finally sank a Union blockader with its torpedo but never returned. The event assumed mythic status, culminating in great excitement when divers exhumed the wreck in 2000. Chaffin finishes with a lucid description of the impressive details of this splendid artifact of engineering. Sampling from letters, articles and memoirs, the author succeeds in separating facts from legend in this engrossing examination of a pioneering weapon of war. Maps. (Oct.)

Reviewed on: 08/11/2008
Release date: 09/01/2008
Genre: Nonfiction
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