Raising A Civil War Submarine

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After more than 136 years below the surface, the Confederate submarine H.L. Hunley rose again Tuesday, as it was lifted to the surface of the Atlantic Ocean.

The submarine, which sank with its crew of nine in 1864 after ramming a spar with a charge of black powder into the hull of the Union blockade vessel Housatonic, was pulled from about 30 feet of water about four miles off Sullivans Island at 8:42 a.m. ET.

The Hunley was the first submarine to sink a ship in battle, and the remains of the Hunley's crew are expected to be found entombed within the sub's interior, reports CBS News Correspondent Lee Cowan.

Says State Sen. Glenn McConnell (R-SC) of the Hunley Commission said, "I would have to tell you it's going to be exhilaration on one hand, and yet it's going to be choking emotion over the fact we're completing for them what they themselves could not complete: the journey home."

The Confederate Hunley was a 40-foot hand-cranked experiment, fashioned from an old steam engine boiler. On a cold starry night in 1864, it rammed its torpedo into the side of a Union warship.

She became the first submarine to ever sink an enemy vessel, a feat not repeated for another 50 years. But she mysteriously sank as well. The South's secret weapon became the South's long-missing coffin.

"Those hatches were sealed on February 17th, 1864, and they haven't been opened since then," says historian Mark Ragan. "Everything that was taken on board that night is still in there."

It is one of the largest recoveries of its kind ever attempted. Filled with water and sand, the Hunley now weighs more than 30 tons. Divers fought the currents and on a good day, could barely see their hands in front of their masks.

"Most of the time, it's pitch black, like working in a coal mine, or trying to maneuver in a darkened room," says Robert Neyland, a U.S. Navy archaeologist.

To recover the sub, divers lowered an elaborate truss over the wreck. Along every inch of her hull, cushioned straps have replaced the silt that has cradled her for more than a century. Slowly, but surely, the entire assembly rose some 30 feet to the surface—a time capsule, intact, for relatives still waiting a homecoming.

"Most of the people we've talked with that have some relationship with the crew, they're excited that we've found it, that we're doing something about it," says McConnell. "They're excited it's going to be raised, and they're excited that the story of their ancestors is going to be told."

All nine will be given heroes' burials, while the craft in which they died will be carefully restored. They will be quietly remembered as pioneers who piloted the south's secret weapon to one historic victory, but never had the chance to savor it.

The Hunley will be out of water for only 12 hours before it is immersed again in a specially designed tank, where te multimillion-dollar restoration will begin.

  • CBSNews.com staff CBSNews.com staff

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