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"Last Funeral of the Civil War" to Put Hunley Crew to Rest

Willie Drye
for National Geographic News
April 16, 2004
 
They died in an age of horse-drawn simplicity. But the eight Confederate sailors whose remains will be buried Saturday in Charleston, South Carolina, rode to their fates in the H.L. Hunley, a technological marvel that changed the world.

They made history when the Hunley, a Civil War submarine, attached a torpedo to the hull of the U.S.S. Housatonic and detonated it. The Housatonic sank just off of Charleston, and the crew of the Hunley became the first submariners in history to sink an enemy ship. But for some reason, the Hunley also sank to the bottom and didn't come up.

See Hunley-crew facial reconstructions in our photo gallery.


The submarine and the remains of its crew were recovered in August 2000.

Some are calling the somber, elaborate ceremony planned for the crew of the Hunley the last funeral of the Civil War, which ended 139 years ago this month.

Tens of thousands of people from all over the world are assembling in Charleston for the services. The gathering will include author Clive Cussler, who directed the search for the Hunley, and descendants of some of the crewmembers who died on the submarine. Dignitaries from as far away as Australia and England will also attend.

"I've never seen anything like it," said Glenn McConnell, a South Carolina state senator from Charleston who is chairman of the Friends of the Hunley, a committee formed to help preserve and display the historic submarine.

McConnell said funeral officials have issued press credentials to more than 400 reporters from around the world—four times the number issued when the President of the United States visits Charleston.

Funeral Procession

The funeral procession will begin at 10:30 a.m. Saturday and will include about 6,000 reenactors dressed in Civil War uniforms and another 4,000 wearing civilian clothing from the mid-19th century. Color guards from all five branches of the U.S. armed forces—wearing modern uniforms—will also be in the procession.

The Cabbell-Breckinridge Civil War Band from the Virginia Military Institute will play funeral music, and a bagpipe band from the Citadel—South Carolina's state military college—will play a dirge when the procession reaches Magnolia Cemetery.

There, amid the dogwood blossoms and oaks draped with Spanish moss, the Hunley crew will be buried, joining thousands of other Civil War soldiers interred there.

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.

Confederate Flag

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.

Crewmen Identified

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 height—he was well over six feet (two meters) tall—would 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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