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Books: Rebel Sub Volume 55 Number 4, July/August 2002
by Kevin Crisman

[image] The Confederate Hunley was the first submarine to sink an enemy vessel. (Dan Dowdey) [LARGER IMAGE]

Here's an adventure story for you: in a newly independent nation fighting for survival against daunting odds, a team of resourceful inventors builds a small but potent weapon that promises to break the enemy's stranglehold on the country's ports. The untried weapon is incredibly hazardous for its users--the chief inventor is killed in a horrible accident--but they persist until the night when a crew of volunteers launch themselves in a successful strike against their foe. The weapon and its crew survive the battle, yet never return home. For more than 130 years the mystery persists, until archaeologists find the missing heroes, their bones still arrayed as they perished in their hour of triumph.

Is this the far-fetched plot of a novel or movie script? No, rather the true story of the Confederate "fish-boat" Hunley, the first submarine ever to sink an enemy ship in action. Journalists Brian Hicks and Schuyler Kropf tell the engrossing tale of this American icon in their book, Raising the Hunley: The Remarkable History and Recovery of the Lost Confederate Submarine (New York: Ballantine Books, 2002; $25).

Raising the Hunley: The Remarkable History and Recovery of the Lost Confederate Submarine.html

The book is not a technical study of the vessel and its contents, but a look at the people involved in Hunley's career, from the participants in its Civil War service to the archaeologists, adventurers, politicians, and Civil War buffs who played roles in the sub's modern resurrection. Discoveries of this magnitude inevitably bring out the best and worst in people, and Hicks and Kropf go behind the scenes to give the reader a look at the petty jealousies, the rough competition, and the inevitable compromises that can't be found in archaeological reports. The authors, both senior reporters for the Charleston, South Carolina Post and Courier, have followed the story closely since the find was announced in 1995, and their enthusiasm for the subject shows. Entertaining, if at times overly dramatic in its narrative style, Raising the Hunley is a popular book in the very best sense of the word.

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© 2002 by the Archaeological Institute of America
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