The H. L. Hunley: Book summary and reviews of The H. L. Hunley by Tom Chaffin

The H. L. Hunley

The Secret Hope of the Confederacy

by Tom Chaffin

The H. L. Hunley by Tom Chaffin X
The H. L. Hunley by Tom Chaffin
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Book Summary

On the evening of February 17, 1864, the Confederacy’s H. L. Hunley sank the USS Housatonic and became the first submarine in world history to sink an enemy ship. Not until World War I—half a century later—would a submarine again accomplish such a feat. But also perishing that moonlit night, vanishing beneath the cold Atlantic waters off Charleston, South Carolina, was the Hunley and her entire crew of eight. For generations, searchers prowled Charleston’s harbor, looking for the Hunley. And as they hunted, the legends surrounding the boat and its demise continued to grow. Even after the submarine was definitively located in 1995 and recovered five years later, those legends—those barnacles of misinformation—have only multiplied.

Now, in a tour de force of document-sleuthing and insights gleaned from the excavation of this remarkable vessel, distinguished Civil War–era historian Tom Chaffin presents the most thorough telling of the Hunley’s story possible. Of panoramic breadth, this Civil War saga begins long before the submarine was even assembled and follows the tale into the boat’s final hours and through its recovery in 2000. Beyond his thorough survey of period documents relating to the submarine, Chaffin also conducted extensive interviews with Maria Jacobsen, senior archaeologist at Clemson University’s Warren Lasch Conservation Center, where the Hunley is now being excavated, to complete his portrait of this technological wonder. What emerges is a narrative that casts compelling doubts on many long-held assumptions, particularly those concerning the boat’s final hours. Thoroughly engaging and utterly new, The H. L. Hunley provides the definitive account of a storied craft.

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Reviews

Media Reviews

"Sampling from letters, articles and memoirs, the author succeeds in separating facts from legend in this engrossing examination of a pioneering weapon of war." - Publishers Weekly.

"Starred Review. Avoiding uninformed speculation, Chaffin crafts an exciting narrative of an important innovation in military technology and the political considerations that shaped its development." - Kirkus Reviews.

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Author Information

Tom Chaffin

Tom Chaffin is a professor of history and the director/editor of the James K. Polk Correspondence Project at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. His books include Sea of Gray and Pathfinder. His work has appeared in The New York Times, Harper's Magazine, Time, and other publications. He lives in Knoxville.

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