Was Hunley the Victim of a Mighty Wind?

Stiles/Akin

Sergeant Major
Joined
Apr 1, 2016
Messages
2,310
Location
Atlanta, Georgia
#1
Dr. Cary Mock from USC is our speaker for the July meeting. His topic is "Weather and the Civil War." You may find this article from The Washington Post of interest.

Was Hunley the Victim of a Mighty Wind?
By Manuel Roig-Franzia, The Washington Post
April 26, 2004
The mystery of the CSS Hunley is one of those irresistible things, made all the more tempting to the scientific mind because the answers seem tantalizingly within reach. The old Confederate submarine fared so well during its 136 years at the bottom of the ocean, just outside Charleston Harbor, that Harry Pecorelli III, an underwater archaeologist studying the vessel, says it is "frozen in time," a stunning fossil of the Civil War.
Millions are being spent by a foundation dedicated to preserving the submarine, which was brought to the surface in 2000. A PhD-laden staff of full-time scientists pores over the craft, and a $40 million museum, which will chronicle the Hunley's distinction as the first submarine to sink an enemy ship, is in the works.
But such a specimen, and such a tale, is sure to attract others. The tug is especially strong in South Carolina, where something close to Hunley-mania has gripped a state long consumed by all things Civil War.
Everyone wants to know just what sank the Hunley, and everyone seems to have a theory, from a back-blasting torpedo to a lucky shot by a Union cannon.
Cary Mock, 41, an unassuming geography professor at the University of South Carolina, came under the Hunley's spell a few years back when a colleague casually asked him for a bit of historical climate information to make a little presentation about the Hunley "look sexy."
Mock is a weather guy. He pads around campus in dress slacks, a lumpily knotted tie and a pair of old running shoes. It wasn't long before Mock, who is not a member of the official Hunley research team, was caught up in the hottest parlor game in the Palmetto State: Who Killed the Hunley?
He ruminated for more than a year, but now he says he has the answer, or at least a darned good educated guess. Mock -- surprise, surprise -- says the weather did it.
To understand how the skies became the villain in Mock's tale of the Hunley, one has to understand a fellow named Alexander Glennie, an Englishman who came to South Carolina's Low Country and became semi-famous for relentlessly converting slaves to Christianity and for building an astonishing number of chapels.
Mock stumbled upon the Rev. Glennie four years ago when he was reading a South Carolina history book. Being the type of guy who looks at footnotes, Mock noticed that Glennie supposedly kept a detailed diary for almost 50 years, a staggeringly long record, if true. The hunt was on.
Mock traced Glennie's scribblings to the library at the mossy College of Charleston. But the trail went cold. Mock admits he "pestered" the librarians for months.
Finally, he got a short response. Mock made it to the library just before closing. There, out on the table, were six thick, leather-bound volumes.
He flipped through page after page of Glennie's beautiful cursive script. On the yellowing pages were hundreds of columns -- lovely columns -- of temperatures and barometric pressure readings and wind directions and skyscape summaries.
Mock had found a kindred spirit. Another weather junkie.
"I was kind of in shock," he said.
Glennie, who lived on Pawleys Island north of Charleston, was a painstaking weather watcher more than 70 years before meteorology even existed. On the afternoon of Feb. 17, 1864, hours before the Hunley pushed off with its eight-man crew, Glennie's eyes turned to the heavens, as always. He recorded clear skies, west winds and a temperature of 41 degrees, unseasonably cold for that time of year along the South Carolina coast, Mock said.
But Mock needed more.
He started compiling a database of historical weather reports from throughout the Southeast. He found Paul Tavel, a book binder in Nashville, whose 20-year weather record was spiced by French phrases. There were Union surgeons, a Confederate soldier in Houston and the Ravenels in Pinopolis, S.C., one of the state's wealthiest families, whose entrepreneurial members envisioned adding to their vast fortune by building a national weather network.
They were all chilly on Feb. 17, 1864.
"The 17th it was so coal that we all had to lye down and rap up in our Blankets to keep from freezing," Bartlett Yancy Malone wrote from Point Lookout, Md.
David Golightly Harris noted in Spartanburg, S.C.: "There was a very sudden change in the weather. To day all is frozen."
Mock read and read. Then he got out his maps. He plotted temperature on one; wind, precipitation, cloudiness on others. He overlaid them and stepped back.
Lying there before him was something big: a map indicating a column of frigid air a mile high. The cold front covered much of the Southeast and was headed for the Hunley crew, which waited to attack the USS Housatonic, one of the Union ships blockading Charleston Harbor. Based on his data, Mock ranks the front among the top 10 percent of the most severe cold fronts of the 1800s.
He envisioned the front lumbering into Charleston on the morning of the 17th. The winds from the west and northwest, along with the cold, sinking air, probably cleared the sky for a brief time, he said, giving a false sense of security.
"That's probably when they made the decision to go out," he said.
By the time the hand-cranked sub, nicknamed "the torpedo fish," detonated its explosive charge using a long spar extended from its bow, it was almost 9 p.m., he said. Mock believes the crew survived the attack, because there were reports of a blue signal light.
They were counting on the inbound tide to help speed the return trip, Mock surmises, but encountered an even more powerful force: the cold front's peaking winds, which worked against the tide.
Mock can see the men leaning hard into their cranks.
"They're obviously having to fight those winds," he said.
Four miles is a long way to go in an old locomotive boiler converted into a weapon of war. It surely must have seemed like an eternity going into a stiff wind, he said. Add the possibility that the vessel might have been damaged, and the chances of making it to shore would diminish rapidly.
With only a candle to measure their oxygen supply, the men might have run out of energy and air, drifting into unconsciousness, he said. "They picked one of the worst days to go out."
If only they had known better, Mock muses. If only there had been a modern weather guy such as him on shore. The crew might not have had to wait 140 years to be feted with an overdue burial in 2004 in front of thousands of Confederate reenactors in Charleston. Instead, they might have stepped from their submarine wrapped in glory and heard the cheers of the boys in gray.
The sub and its eight-man crew sank off Charleston after torpedoing the USS Housatonic.Cary Mock found data in old diaries.

60558101_2192049147577591_6934209177380192256_n.jpg
 

Fewer ads. Lots of American Civil War content!
JOIN NOW: REGISTER HERE!

Mark F. Jenkins

Colonel
Member of the Year
Joined
Mar 31, 2012
Messages
12,881
Location
Central Ohio
#2
Interesting possibility. Thanks for posting!

(Meteorology and war have a long and complex history... reminds me that it wasn't until reading his obituary a couple of years ago that I learned that one of the principal weathermen on Eisenhower's staff prior to D-Day lived in our town -- not only that, I once cleaned his pool as part of a summer job!)
 

Polloco

First Sergeant
Joined
Sep 15, 2018
Messages
1,360
Location
South Texas
#4
Even though the Southern States are known for their warm climates we do occasionally experience some blue northers down here. Which include some very fierce winds some of the times. This "mighty wind" theory is as good an example as any and better than some as to why the Hunley sank. But it's just that a theory or a guess no one will ever know for sure.
 

JPK Huson 1863

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
Forum Host
Joined
Feb 14, 2012
Messages
18,385
Location
Central Pennsylvania
#9
I think it's referring to men struggling against the ' mighty wind ' that day.

" but encountered an even more powerful force: the cold front's peaking winds, which worked against the tide.
Mock can see the men leaning hard into their cranks.
"They're obviously having to fight those winds," he said
. " From the article.

Did anyone ever figure out why Hunley sank previously? I'm only asking because something sank it twice before. If both previous times were from the same cause, why not the 3rd?
 
Joined
Jan 8, 2016
Messages
807
Location
Charlestonian displaced to Bodrum,Turkey
#10
I think it's referring to men struggling against the ' mighty wind ' that day.

" but encountered an even more powerful force: the cold front's peaking winds, which worked against the tide.
Mock can see the men leaning hard into their cranks.
"They're obviously having to fight those winds," he said
. " From the article.

Did anyone ever figure out why Hunley sank previously? I'm only asking because something sank it twice before. If both previous times were from the same cause, why not the 3rd?
Each time was different... but always user error.
 

rebelatsea

1st Lieutenant
Joined
Mar 30, 2013
Messages
4,273
Location
Kent ,England.
#13
Totally out of out time period, but not entirely out of context (it's naval), the Kreigsmarine had a hydrogen peroxide fuelled torpedo under development, and the literal translation of it's name was "farting torpedo".
 



Fewer ads. Lots of American Civil War content!
JOIN NOW: REGISTER HERE!
Top