National Geographic : 2002 Jul
C HE WAS a beautifully modeled boat, and worked to perfection," wrote James McClintock, the Hunley's chief designer. To maximize the speed and range of the 40-foot-long, man-powered sub, her builders made her as sleek as a barracuda. Hull plates were butted together and riveted to backing plates rather than lapped like fish scales. Rivets were flush with the hull, further reducing drag. "We've been awestruck by the ingenuity haorwtch suc owr that went into this submarine," says project historian Mark Ragan. Yet, as Ragan admits, "The Hunley proved fatal to just about every man who entered its hull." The novel inven tion killed more Confederates (21) in fatal sinkings than it did Yankees (5) in battle. James McClintock blamed the mishaps on in experienced submariners, not the submarine. But others have pointed out potentially lethal design flaws. For instance, fore and aft ballast tanks were left open at the top, perhaps to in crease the volume of air available to the crew, hut l ravin theP ch ui ulnpr'hl to flnCridin Viwport Still, no one can say just why the Hunley was lost. Says project director Robert Neyland, "We haven't found the smoking gun-yet." Bow Seated at the helm, beneath the forward hatch, the cap tain used a compass to stay ( on course but had to surface Ballast tanks in the bow and and sight through a viewport stern were flooded to make to locate targets. With the the sub sink and dumped out Hunley submerged and under way, the captain maneuvered lateralfins called dive planes to change depth without having to adjust water levels in the ballasttanks. to make it rise. Packed with 135 pounds of blackpowder, the barbed "tor pedo" (we would call it a mine) slipped onto a nearly 20-foot long spar.Rammed into a ship, the charge heldfast as the sub backed off, spooling out a line tied to a detonating trigger.