Captain's "Lucky Coin" Found in Civil War Submarine

National Geographic News
May 24, 2001

Researchers recovering artifacts from the Civil War submarine H.L. Hunley have found one of the most sought objects in the project: a bent gold coin that the captain was said to carry as a good-luck piece after it saved him from death by a bullet.

The coin turned up inside the submarine alongside the recently recovered remains of Lt. George Dixon. It was discovered amid pieces of textile that may have been part of Dixon's clothing.

"Possibly he kept it in his pants pocket," said Robert Neyland, director of the project that has been recovering and analyzing the remains of the long-submerged vessel, which was raised last year from Charleston Harbor.

The Confederate submarine sank on February 17, 1864, shortly after an attack on the Union blockader U.S.S. Housatonic. The Hunley recovery project has been supported in part by the National Geographic Society.

The newly discovered coin is bent, which is consistent with reports that it saved Dixon from the loss of a leg or even his life by deflecting a bullet directed at him on April 6, 1862, during the Battle of Shiloh.

According to accounts, Dixon's sweetheart, Queenie Bennett, had given him a 20-dollar U.S. gold piece for luck, and he kept it in his pants pocket wherever he went.

"Some people may think this is a stroke of luck, but perhaps it's something else," said senior archaeologist Maria Jacobsen. "[It tells] me that Lt. Dixon was a lady's man. Perhaps he winked at us yesterday [when the coin was recovered] to remind us that he still is."

The discovery of the coin "absolutely confirms" the identity of Lt. George E. Dixon aboard the submarine, said Warren Lasch, chair of Friends of the Hunley. "It removes all doubt, and also speaks of his character and faith," he said.

Commenting on the find, Senator Glenn McConnell, chair of the Hunley Commission, said: "Part of the Hunley's excavation was to separate fact from fable. The discovery of the coin and its inscription is like discovering Cinderella's glass slipper."

The coin was minted in 1860. One side—the side hit by the bullet—bears an image of Lady Liberty. The other side, which has a federal shield-and-eagle symbol, appears to have been sanded and inscribed. It bears four lines of cursive script that read: Shiloh/April 6, 1862/My life Preserver/G. E. D. [Lt. Dixon's initials].

The coin was removed from the Warren Lasch Conservation Center, where artifacts from the Hunley have been studied, and is now in a secure location, according to the researchers.

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