Observing the H.L. Hunley, everyone will dive into history beside the world’s first submarine to sink an enemy ship.
Leading a tour Saturday afternoon, Brenda Winstead, a docent with the Friends of the Hunley, at the Warren Lasch Conservation Center in North Charleston, on a former Navy base, spoke about how this privately funded, all hand-cranked, vessel struck on its third voyage off Charleston’s coast within a year. With the ramming of a 135-pound, spar torpedo, its crew of eight took down the USS Housatonic, a Union sloop-of-war, on Feb. 17, 1964, during the Civil War.
Speaking on the viewing platform overlooking the 40-foot-long sub, submersed in a 90,000-gallon conservation tank since 2000, five years after its discovery, Winstead described its tight working environs: 48 inches high, 42 inches wide.
“I’m 5-foot-9,” she said, rattling off the height range of its eight volunteer occupants from 5-foot-5 to 6-foot-1, after explaining that the commander, Lt. George E. Dixon, accessed his seat through a 21-inch-diameter conning tower.
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“You had to be slim and trim,” Winstead said.
She said this mission in the middle of the night, to elude spies, required strategy, such as “deadlights” to cover every porthole and shield the candles that gave the Hunley its only illumination inside. Dixon also had spent nights studying the tides off Sullivan’s Island through his “opera glasses” doubling as binoculars.
The hit on the Housatonic took it down in three minutes, claiming five lives, Winstead said, but then the Hunley soon sank its own fate, and the reason remains a mystery, especially because the sub’s crew signaled its success with “a blue haze” to the battery nearby on Sullivan’s Island.
However, with only limited oxygen in such tight quarters, scenarios for the Hunley’s demise include taking bullet fire from personnel on the warship or another U.S. Navy vessel, and the possibility of a concussion from the torpedo’s planting. That ‘s why research about the Hunley’s crew continues.
“They did not drown,” Winstead said. “They were asphixiated.”
More than a century later, the digging out took a year and a half, but being “packed in mud” preserved a trove of artifacts, Winstead said. They include a $20 gold coin found along his left hip bone, which forensics have proven as the good-luck charm from his girlfriend, Queenie Bennett. Look inside the glass case holding the coin and notice its severe indentation, from a mini-ball bullet during the Battle of Shiloh, in Tennessee, yet it shielded Dixon from further injury to his femur.
Winstead said Bennett would go on to marry, bearing many children with another veteran from Shiloh, and she died giving birth to twins, however a “great-great granddaughter has visited us.”
With forebears who fought in the War Between the States, including efforts to defend Fort Fisher, N.C., Bennett said she relishes helping tell history, and that it’s not about taking sides in recounting such chapters for visitors of all ages, especially to enlighten youngsters.
She called the Hunley’s crew of eight “brave patriots, fighting for what they believed in” and that 60 other men were waiting for a shot to help crank the sub at the time it sunk.
Twenty-minute guided tours by vessel are given, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturdays and noon-5 p.m. Sundays. Advance tickets are $16 for adults, and $8 ages 6-17, at 877-448-6539 (4-HUNLEY) or hunley.org. Walk-up tickets, if available, do not carry a service charge, and are $14 for senior citizens and military. Group tour, and other, details at 843-743-4865.
Find the Hunley’s home site at 1250 Supply St. From Interstate 26 west from U.S. 17 in Charleston, take Exit 216-B, for Cosgrove Avenue north. Turn left at the third traffic light onto Spruill Avenue, then right at the next light, onto McMillan Avenue, then right at the next light, ontlo Hobson Avenue for about one mile, then turn left on Supply Street, passing a public works building with a blue roof, reaching the Lasch Conservation Center on the left.
On the way to or from the Hunley site, the Lowcountry is hopping with places steeped in history, right off the U.S. 17 corridor. This list starts with two sites a short drive south of Georgetown:
Hopsewee Plantation, 494 Hopsewee Road, along U.S. 17, 12 miles south of Georgetown, just before the North Santee River crossing is the birthplace of Thomas Lynch Jr., one of four signers of the Declaration of Independence from South Carolina – besides Thomas Heyward Jr., Arthur Middleton and Edward Rutledge.
Open Tuesday-Saturday and Dec. 27-31 (check later in month for January), with guided tours of the home and grounds at 11 a.m,, noon, and 1 and 2 p.m., for $20 adults; $17.50 ages 65 and older; $10.50 ages 12-17; and $7.50 ages 6-11; and lunch meals served in River Oak Cottage, 11 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Also, sweetgrass basketmaking classes, 1-4 p.m. Thursdays, resume Feb. 2, for $55 each.
Details at 843-546-7891, 843- 970-2779 or hopsewee.com.
Hampton Plantation State Historic Site
Hampton Plantation State Historic Site, 1950 Rutledge Road, near McClellanville, is open 9 a.m.-5 p.m. daily (but not Dec. 25) for winter, through March. On U.S. 17, head 16 miles south on U.S. 17 from Georgetown, and after crossing the South Santee River, into Charleston County, take the first right (west) on Rutledge Road, and find the park entrance on the right in three miles. Free admission to grounds.
▪ 40-minute, guided mansion tours at noon and 2 p.m. Mondays, Tuesdays and Fridays, and 10 a.m., noon and 2 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays – and “History in the Landscape” guided 1.1-mile walks, 1-2 p.m. first Saturday monthly through March, then 11 a.m.-noon first Saturdays, April-July – each $7.50 ages 16 and older, $3.75 S.C. seniors, $3.50 ages 6-15, and free ages 5 and younger – or house and grounds tours in combo for $10 ages 16 and older, and $5 ages 6-15 and 65 and older.
▪ “Hampton Illuminated,” 5:30-7 p.m. this Saturday, for $15, with reservations at 843-546-9361; and “First Day Hike,” 1.25 miles, guided, 10 a.m. Jan. 1, for free. More details at www.southcarolinaparks.com/hampton/introduction.aspx.
Boone Hall Plantation & Gardens
This place in Mount Pleasant is more than a 335-year-old landmark along U.S. 17 that cues a right turn on Long Point Road – about two miles past S.C. 41 – for a straightaway shortcut to pick up Interstate 526 west into North Charleston and points west and south of the Holy City.
The site’s namesake family’s descendents include John Rutledge, a U.S. Supreme Court justice and S.C. governor, and his younger brother, Edward Rutledge, a signer of the Declaration of Independence.
Access the acreage at 1235 Long Point Road, less than a mile from U.S. 17. Winter hours through March 12 are 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Mondays-Saturdays, and noon-5 p.m. Sundays (but closed Dec. 25). Admission is $24 ages 13-64; $21 ages 65 and older, military, and AAA members; $12 ages 6-12; and free ages 5 and younger. “Second Day” tickets available for free upon request, for patrons who miss out on exploring all of a day’s attractions.
Christmas decorations will remain up through Jan. 1, and the Charleston Restaurant Association’s 34th annual Lowcountry Oyster Festival, benefiting four charities, is 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Jan. 29, and tickets for this event at $17.50 ages 11 and older, and free for ages 10 and younger.
Details at 843-884-4371 or boonehallplantation.com.
See Founding Father’s estate at Snee Farm
Charles Pinckney National Historic Site
Across the street from Boone Hall, at 1254 Long Point Road, this property lets visitors take in scenic Snee Farm, home to another former S.C. governor, a man who also had helped draft the U.S. Constitution, to which he was a signatory, and served President Thomas Jefferson as ambassador to Spain.
Free to see, the 28-acre site’s open 9 a.m.-5 p.m. daily (but not Dec. 25 or Jan. 1). Details at 843-881-5516 or www.nps.gov/chpi/index.htm.
Contact STEVE PALISIN at 843-444-1764.