Friday, August 24, 2007

"And guide our coward feet"

The Confederate submarine H. L. Hunley, first such vessel to destroy an enemy warship, will go on display at its own museum in North Charleston, South Carolina in 2012. Built in Mobile, Alabama and shipped by rail to Charleston, the Hunley used a spar torpedo to sink the U.S.S. Housatonic on the night of February 17, 1864. After signaling with a blue light that its mission was accomplished, the submarine and her crew were mysteriously lost.

The Hunley lay on the bottom, a virtual time capsule, until raised on August 8, 2000. She was commanded by Lt. George E. Dixon, and just as many predicted, the gold piece given him by his girlfriend as a good luck charm was found aboard. The coin had stopped a bullet at Shiloh, saving his life. The vessel and related artifacts continue to undergo study and preservation at the Warren Lasch Conservation Center at the former Charleston Naval Base. Her eight gallant crew members were interred at Magnolia Cemetery in April 2004. At least 50,000 attended the funeral, including 10,000 re-enactors.

On July 1, 2000 the Confederate flag was brought down from the dome of the South Carolina State House, victim of a ferocious campaign of hate and ignorance unprecedented in our history. Providentially, the Hunley broke the surface exactly 38 days later.

James E. Kibler wrote a poem called “For George Dixon, Commander of the C.S.S. Hunley” (included in his fine collection, Poems From Scorched Earth, Charleston Press, 2001). Dr. Kibler concludes with these lines:

The last, you sank the Housatonic,
Showed out your gleaming signal light of silver blue
And headed into light of history,
Exploded golden charm still at your side,
To bring the light as lamp to this dark selfish age
And guide our coward feet.

No comments: