Despite the huge crowd, funeral planners say their main objective will be to conduct an appropriate service.
"This is a Christian burial for these men," said Kay Long of Charleston, a member of the committee that planned the funeral. "It's very important that this be dignified and solemn. It's imperative that we all keep in mind that we're attending a funeral. It's not a flag rally, not an event. Our primary goal is that this be conducted with the dignity that these men deserve. It's their last journey home."
The Hunley crew will be buried in the city where the United States' bloodiest conflict erupted in April 1861. Passionate and irreconcilable disagreements between northern and southern states over slavery, states' rights, and economic systems split the nation. South Carolina and ten other slaveholding southern states withdrew from the United States, and the two sides went at each other with a murderous fury.
When the fighting ended in 1865, more than 600,000 Americans had died.
Reminders of the Old South and the Civil War are abundant in Charleston, and public displays of the Confederate battle flag have stirred controversy in South Carolina and elsewhere.
Still, funeral planners decided to drape the coffins of the Hunley crewmen with one version of several flags that flew over the Confederate States.
"We decided to be historically correct," McConnell said, noting that the flag that will drape the coffins also was used as the ensign for the Confederate Navy. "We'll give the men what they should have gotten if their bodies had been brought home then."
There will be plenty of U.S. flags displayed as well, McConnell said, as well as state flags. The funeral service will honor men who "put aside fear and answered the call of duty," he said. But McConnell said there were differing perceptions of duty in 1864.
"Unquestionably, it was a very complex war," McConnell said. "People marched to different drums for different reasons."
The men aboard the Hunley fully represented that complexity. Investigators who examined the remains of the crew and dug into their backgrounds after the submarine was raised discovered that only two of the eight men were from the Confederate States, and one of those men served in the U.S. Navy before joining the Confederate cause. Four crewmen were recent immigrants from Europe.
The Hunley's commander may have been from Ohio, where slavery was illegal. One crewman was from Maryland, a slaveholding state that did not withdraw from the Union.
Although these men died nearly a century and a half ago, forensic experts at the Warren Lasch Conservation Center in Charleston have extracted details about their personal lives that make their deaths seem almost recent.
North Carolina native James Wicks was a ruddy-faced father of four daughters. He served in the U.S. Navy, and his ship took part in two battles against the Confederate fleet. When his ship was sunk, however, Wicks enlisted in the rebel navy.
Frank Collins, who was from Virginia, clearly was determined to serve aboard the Hunley: His exceptional heighthe was well over six feet (two meters) tallwould have made it difficult for him to squeeze into the submarine's cramped confines. The forensic experts discovered through dental analysis that Collins had frequently clamped metal needles between his teeth, perhaps while working as an apprentice in a cobbler shop before the war.
Joseph Ridgaway, from Maryland, sustained a broken nose and a shoulder injury, which may have happened while he was working with other Hunley crewmen on the hand-powered crank that turned the submarine's propeller.
Arnold Becker probably was from Germany and may have endured extended periods of hunger or serious illness during his childhood
A crewman named Lumpkin, who may have been from the British Isles, enjoyed smoking so much that his pipe had worn a small notch in his teeth where he'd clamped down on the stem.
Another European named Miller was a pipe smoker too. Also, he had suffered several broken bones before joining the Hunley crew.
European J.F. Carlsen was a young man with an apparent fondness for danger. He served on a private ship that was authorized by the Confederacy to capture merchant vessels. Carlsen later joined the Confederate Army and was recognized for bravery in battle.
George Dixon, who commanded the Hunley, was an engineer on a steamboat that traveled the Mississippi River between Cincinnati and St. Louis. Dixon was living in Mobile, Alabama, at the outbreak of the war, where he'd become a policeman and joined a local Masonic lodge. He enlisted in the Confederate Army in October 1861.
In April 1862, Dixon was at the bloody Battle of Shiloh in Tennessee when he was hit in the thigh by a bullet that could have killed him. But a gold coin in his pocket stopped the slug. The bent coin was found with Dixon's remains in the Hunley.
Dixon was given command of the Hunley after two crews were killed trying to learn how to operate the submarine. He handpicked the men he wanted for his crew.
Five Hunley crewmen came from the C.S.S. Indian Chief, which was stationed at Charleston.
With his crew in place, Dixon was eager to use his new weapon against the Union maritime blockade, which was stifling the Confederacy's ability to fight. In a letter written shortly before his death, Dixon told a friend that he'd assembled a "splendid crew" and predicted that one night they would "surprise the Yankees completely."
On the evening of February 17, 1864, Dixon and his carefully chosen crew did just that.
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