H.L. Hunley's Crew Laid To Rest

CHARLESTON, S.C. -- Horses pulled flag-draped coffins of the eight-man crew of the 
Confederate submarine H.L. Hunley through this historic port city Saturday to an 
ancient cemetery, where they were buried in what was described as the final funeral 
of the Civil War. Cannons boomed 50 times as the remains were laid tightly together 
in a single plot under a dogwood tree near the Cooper River.

"They are really the last ones coming home from the war," said state Senate leader 
Glenn McConnell, who wore a Confederate military uniform and gave the homily. 
"They were never buried, never had a funeral. We've finished the journey for them."

More than 6,000 Civil War re-enactors marched behind the horse-drawn caissons on 
a 4 1/2-mile procession from Charleston's Battery to the northern edge of the city. 
Thousands more lined the streets and attended the funeral near a Confederate 
monument in Magnolia Cemetery.

As the coffins rolled by, accompanied by individual honor guards, almost everyone 
stood snap straight. Other than the helicopters circling, it was quiet.

Many spectators wore antebellum clothing. Hundreds of women wore black hoop skirts, 
long black gloves and hats, and black veils.

"It's been special to be a part of history," said Fred Burt, a farmer from Fuquay-
Varina and one of about 150 North Carolina re-enactors who marched. He carried 
a sword. "It's a way to honor those who went before us."

There was a heavy police presence along the route and at the cemetery, but 
authorities reported no troubles or protests in a state with frequent tensions 
about Confederate history.

Governors of 14 Southern states were invited to the ceremony, but declined to 
attend. Most cited scheduling conflicts, but they may also have been wary of the 
political implications of attending an event with thousands of Confederate 

Visitors came from across the South and beyond. Police estimated the total 
crowd at 20,000.

In the city where the Civil War began, a dance, lectures and tours this week 
celebrated the Hunley.

Standing amid the eight coffins on Saturday, McConnell said: "The world has never 
been given an opportunity to honor these men. Until today."

131 years in the mud

The cigar-shaped Hunley sank just off shore at nearby Sullivan's Island on Feb. 17, 1864, after making the world's first successful submarine attack, a feat not duplicated until World War I. Researchers found the partially buried sub in 1995, then lifted it from the ocean floor five years later. Silt and mud had encased the sub and preserved the remains of each man in remarkable condition -- some still had hair, shoelaces were tied, one pipe was still packed with tobacco and brain tissue was present in most men. The nation's best researchers, archaeologists and historians spent the past two years piecing together each man's history and likeness. Then, in daily news conferences all last week, individual busts of each man were unveiled so that on Saturday, it was as if people were buried instead of just piles of bones. Experts said they were astonished at what they discovered about the men through bone analysis and research: Half were born in Europe, and only three of the crew members were from the South. That, and the Hunley's role as a pioneering submarine, have caused leaders here to carefully position the Hunley as a bright symbol of the Confederacy -- and something more. Instead of race and flags, they want people to think of eight brave men who made history in an iron tube. A $40 million Hunley museum is planned. "It's a symbol for all of America," said McConnell, who owns a Civil War gift shop here. "Only about a quarter of the crew was from the South. Hunley shows this was a conflict that wasn't just North vs. South. It was much more complicated. This is a story of America, and a part of America." Scott Poole, a historian at the College of Charleston, said he thinks it's too early to say what the Hunley will come to represent. "Lots of different people will bring lots of different perspectives," he said. "It's difficult not to bring a political agenda to it." One of the Southerners on board, James A. Wicks, was born in North Carolina, probably Down East, but later settled near Jacksonville, Fla. He married and had four daughters and was in his 40s when the submarine went down. A great-great granddaughter, Mary Elizabeth McMahon, received the flag from his coffin as about 20 other family members looked on at the burial site. In all, about 50 descendants of three crew members attended. Descendants for the other five crewmen, many of them unmarried and young when they boarded the Hunley, haven't yet been found. McMahon, 59, a hotel sales manager from Atlanta who is a graduate of UNC-Chapel Hill, said she vaguely remembers family stories about Wicks' role on the Hunley, but hadn't paid attention until the sub was found. "These men were brave," she said. "They are a perfect example of the great bravery that anyone who volunteers for service performs. And this is a time to celebrate their lives and all of the lives that were lost in the Civil War."
Dangerous mission
All of the men were described Saturday as courageous heroes who boarded a hand-cranked, experimental submarine without knowing their fate. Two previous crews -- 13 men in all -- had perished on earlier practice dives. This crew, hand-picked by its captain, Lt. George Dixon, was trying to end a strangling federal blockade of Charleston. Before the mission, he wrote of them: "I have got a splendid crew ... best I ever seen." About 8:45 p.m. on Feb. 17, 1864, the sub rammed a torpedo into the USS Housatonic, the Union navy's largest ship, sinking it and killing five. Dixon signaled the success to shore, but wasn't heard from again. Researchers do not yet know why the sub sank.

Back to Wayne County Civil War Pages