The Confederacy had a problem. Actually, they had a host of problems. However, in 1864 the Union had imposed a naval blockade on virtually every viable port of call in the South and this was choking off the resupply of critical goods and munitions from Europe. All possible efforts by Southern command were being focused on punching holes to break this blockade.
Despite the fact that the only previous two trials had resulted in immediate sinking and almost total loss of crew: including the submarine’s inventor Horace L. Hunley, eight men commanded by Lt. George E. Dixon bravely shoehorned themselves into the tiny confines of this bold, pioneering experiment. The submarine was propelled only via a crew operated hand-crank with the objective of delivering a powerful explosive device to the target on the end, of what amounts to, a long stick.
The Hunley crew stealthily, steadily cranked their way out into the choppy bay that day and incredibly,actually achieved their goal of blowing up and sinking the USS Housatonic, a big screw sloop, as she guarded the harbor. Not so incredibly, the H.L. Hunley never made it back to home port. Sketchy reports claim to have seen, the Hunley, prior to re-submerging, signaling the shore after delivering her payload, indicating that the sub may have been accidentally hit by other Union ships hastening to the scene to pick up Housatonic survivors. Others have surmised that the terrific concussion of the close range explosion knocked the crew unconscious and that without their efforts of cranking furiously toward the shore that their oxygen supply would have quickly exhausted.
The H.L. Hunley was discovered in 1995, very near the sight of the Housatonic sinking. It was raised several years later and the crew, still at their posts, were finally laid to rest in Charleston, with full military honors, nearly 150 years after the culmination of their ground-breaking mission.
When the Hunley was exhumed from the murky depths of Charleston Bay, it was nearly totally encased in a thick cement-like crust of hardened sediment, rust, and sand. Until recently, as part of the restoration process, it has been immersed in a bath of sodium hydroxide which is found effective in dissolving the substance.
Now, with little toothbrushes and small air brushes, historians are finally able to see the real Hunley and hopefully crack the mysterious puzzle of how the darned thing functioned and what happened on that February day in 1864.
Whether you hail from the North or the South, this is a pretty interesting page in our history. Are there lessons that we can carry away from the H.L. Hunley? I think there are.
1) Miracles do Happen! Nobody expected that whacky, Rube Goldberg invention to work and it did! Nothing ventured nothing gained. I’m sure that this was cold comfort to the families of those sailors…but, hey, war is expected to be dangerous. Miracles, unexpected or otherwise, require an element of faith. Jesus usually asked people to stand up or wash or roll up their bed when he healed them. Faith. And, sometimes, you have to just go for it. Get in there and crank your heart out. Keep praying for your miracle and don’t give up.
2) You have to have a goal. The crew of the Hunley had a goal and they achieved it. They also blazed a pretty big trail for submarine development. While they didn’t have a long career, others stood on their shoulders and took this innovation to the next level. We need to acknowledge that we are involved in a supernatural battle. As believers, our goal is to lead as many other folks as we can to faith in Jesus. As His ambassadors we are called to more than just lead people to Christ, we are to use His authority and His name to provide the answers, to deliver people from bondage and demonization and to heal what ails them. Just like that submarine, sometimes there are things that can cripple us in life and we can’t see them coming. We need to be armed to the hilt with the full armor of God and able to defend ourselves.
3) Long association in the world requires a good soak. The Hunley sat on the bottom of the bay for nearly 150 years. The elements she was exposed to left a hard impenetrable crust on her hull that required a lot of work and a special chemical bath to get rid of it all. We too are exposed to many damaging and dangerous things in this sinful world. Some are self inflicted and some are dropped upon us. In order to get rid of this binding crust of sin and bondage we need to soak. We need to immerse ourselves in the Word of God. We need to wallow in His cleansing Presence. It is the weight of this precious Glory, the residue of His Righteousness that allows us to break the chains, heal the sick and to scrape the world off our hulls so that we can stay in barnacle-free service.
4) Everybody dies. Those brave, doomed soldiers aboard the Hunley submarine like hundreds of thousands of soldiers and sailors in that conflict, died tragically. If the Lord tarries, we will all die: Maybe on the field of battle in our prime or perhaps in our sleep when we are really old and grey. It is imperative for all of us to be sure that we have really, truly accepted Jesus as our Saviour. It can’t just be an acknowledgement of a name from history it has to be personal,meaningful and relational. As with the example in the book of Acts, it is also necessary to receive the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Step one gets you Eternal Life, step two gets you the power to live an empowered, successful Christian life. (* For the full, low down skinny on the Holy Spirit, you may want to check out the page on this website called Holy Spirit 101 for more info )
* If you would like more info on the Hunley Crew funerals google: The Last Confederate Funeral, to see all the poignant pictures of the Confederate re-enactors and hoop-skirted mourners as the crew was laid to rest with casons and full military honors in the Charleston, South Carolina.