As the South mobilized during the early part of the war, a letter written by an inventor named Frances Smith appeared in some confederate newspapers. In one of his letters, he wrote, "From the Chesapeake to the mouth of the Rio Grande, our coast is better fitted for submarine warfare than any other in the world."

The engineers that drew the plans and constructed the underwater wonder H. L. Hunley were far ahead of their time. Several men throughout history were a part of the evolution that led up to the first successful submarine. Horace L. Hunley, James McClintock and Baxter Watson were the three main innovators and designers behind the Confederate secret weapon concept that would eventually lead to the H.L. Hunley. McClintock, Horace Hunley and Baxter first built the submarine Pioneer in New Orleans in 1861 to defend the city against Federal forces. The three men later constructed two submarines at Mobile, Alabama: the American Diver and the H.L. Hunley. The Hunley was taken to Charleston, South Carolina, in August 1863. On 17 February 1864, after many trials and difficulties, including two fatal accidents, the refurbished H.L. Hunley became the first submarine to successfully sink an enemy warship when she engaged the Union blockading steamer USS Housatonic off the coast of Charleston harbor.

Photograph of Hunley financier and namesake Horace Lawson Hunley.
Horace Lawson Hunley
Southern Planter. Lawyer. Legislator. Merchant. Submarine Pioneer. Promoter. Patriot.

On December 29, 1823, Horace Lawson Hunley was born in Sumner, Tennessee. Hunley would eventually walk many paths in his life: Deputy Collector of Customs in New Orleans, State Legislator for the state of Louisiana, lawyer, merchant, a successful Southern planter and most notably, submarine innovator and financier.

In the early months of the Civil War, Hunley, as a keen businessman, realized the importance of keeping the supply lines with Europe open in a way that few in the new Confederacy understood. The North, being far more industrial than the South, had a larger, more modern fleet to block shipments from Europe. Hunley knew that if the South were to succeed against such a strong Navy, they would need to be cunning and innovative. In an attempt to do just this, Hunley would soon join James McClintock and Baxter Watson to design and finance a submarine.

Horace Lawson Hunley of New Orleans would end up giving more than his fortune and name to the world's first successful submarine. On October 15, 1863, during a test run, the 40-year old died with his crew when the H.L. Hunley was accidentally trapped on the bottom of Charleston Harbor, S.C.

Hunley gave his entire legacy to a vessel that would send a ripple of mystery, fascination and commitment all the way to this very day - and beyond.

Related Pages:

Innovation & Evolution
   American Diver
   SUCCESS: H.L. Hunley
The Hunley Revealed
   The Spar
H.L. Hunley Simulator

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