Curious Find on Confederate Sub Links North and South

National Geographic News
April 27, 2001

A "dog tag" worn by a Union soldier for identification was discovered inside the Confederate submarine H. L. Hunley, archaeologists said Friday.

The find baffles researchers. Was it a war souvenir? Or did it belong to a defector or a spy? Perhaps a Union soldier asked a Confederate opponent on the battlefield to take the tag and send it to his family as an indication of his death. Hunley researchers say all these scenarios are possible.

The Hunley sank on February 17, 1864, when it attacked the Union's Housatonic, becoming the first submarine to sink a warship.

The sub and its crew of nine never returned from the mission. The remains of the sub were found 131 years later, in May 1995, in the mud of Charleston Harbor, and were raised in August 2000. Since then, scientists have been painstakingly recovering the bones of the crew and other artifacts from the sludge-filled submarine hull.

At a news conference in Charleston on Friday, scientists said the name on the Union dog tag is Ezra Chamberlin. Records indicate he enlisted in the Union Army on September 6, 1861, and was a member of Company K, 7th Regiment, Connecticut Volunteers.

Hunley researchers said war records show that Chamberlin died on July 11, 1863, in the Battle of Fort Wagner, also known as the First Assault on Morris Island. Documents show that there is a grave and headstone for Ezra Chamberlin located in Killingly, Connecticut.

Tag Found With Skull

The dog tag appears to be made of copper and was found along with the the skull of a crew member. "It would appear that the sailor was wearing the tag around his neck," said project director Robert Neyland.

The German Light Artillery, which was a military unit of Corporal C. F. Carlson, a Hunley crew member, played a prominent role in the Battle of Fort Wagner, where Chamberlin died. Hunley scientists have not determined that the body on which the tag was found is that of Carlson.

The Hunley crew consisted of several diverse Confederate units. "It is unknown at this time whether any other Hunley crew members were at the Battle of Fort Wagner," researchers said.

"As the excavation of the Hunley continues, further mysteries are revealed which ask even larger questions than were asked before the Hunley's recovery," said Warren Lasch, chairman of Friends of the Hunley. The nonprofit group was formed to support the Hunley Commission, which was created by the State of South Carolina to acquire, recover, and preserve the H.L. Hunley submarine for public display.

Four Possible Scenarios

Continued on Next Page >>


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