NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C. — The world got an unobstructed view of the Confederate submarine H.L. Hunley for the first time since the Civil War on Thursday as a massive steel truss that had surrounded the first sub in history to sink an enemy warship was finally removed.
The truss weighing more than 8 tons had shrouded the sub since it was raised off the coast of South Carolina almost a dozen years ago.
During the recovery, slings were snaked underneath the sub and attached to the truss. A crane lifted the truss and the hand-cranked Hunley onto a barge and then brought the sub to a conservation lab in North Charleston where it has been undergoing preservation ever since.
On Thursday, two overhead cranes lifted the truss up and away in a process that took about 15 minutes. When the truss was clear of the tank, the 20-or-so scientists and other workers applauded.
“It’s like looking at the sub for the first time. It’s like the end of a long night,” said Paul Mardikian, the senior conservator on the Hunley project. “The submarine was in the shadow of the truss and now you’re seeing it the way it was designed to be.”
The next step in the process of conserving the Hunley is modifying its conservation tank so chemicals can be used to dissolve the salt and encrustation on the hull. Mardikian says that should happen in about six months and then, after three months in the chemical bath, scientists will again drain the tank and begin using hand tools to remove the deposits.
“This is what’s going to be the final step in understanding what happened to the submarine. Finally, we’re going to be able to look at the skin,” he said.
The Hunley was raised at a 45-degree angle, the same way it came to rest in the Atlantic. In a painstaking operation last summer the sub was rotated upright and the slings were later removed. And late Thursday morning, the sub could finally be seen without any obstructions.
Kellen Correia, the executive director of Friends of the Hunley, said scientists waited to make sure the vessel was absolutely stable before removing the truss.
She said that about a half-million people have seen the Hunley since it was raised and expects increased interest and return visitors now that the sub can be seen clearly.
“When tourists came out to view the Hunley, it was a hard view,” she said. “We knew that. This is the first time you have an unobstructed view.”
Almost 12 years after the Hunley was raised, it’s still not clear why it sank on a winter night in 1864.
The sub and its crew of eight were lost after it rammed a spar with a black powder charge into the federal blockade ship Housatonic.
There are theories the sub could have been damaged by fire from the Housatonic or the crew was knocked out from the concussion from the blast. Another theory is the sub was struck by another Union vessel coming to help the Housatonic.
The remains of the crew, who were buried in 2004 in what was called the last Confederate funeral, were found at their stations and there seemed no rush to the escape hatch.
Friends of the Hunley: http://www.hunley.org/