Originally created 03/03/03

Hunley captain's image may be preserved in locket



CHARLESTON, S.C. -- A fair-haired man's image in a locket may give a clue to what the ill-fated captain of the Confederate submarine H.L. Hunley looked like.

The locket is a family heirloom held by the great grandchildren of Queen Bennett, a Mobile, Ala., woman whose ill-fated wartime sweetheart died while commanding the Hunley, the first time a submarine to sink an enemy ship during war.

George E. Dixon and his crew of seven died on Feb. 17, 1864 after sinking the USS Housatonic, a 200-foot Union warship, four miles off Sullivan's Island across from Charleston.

While the submarine and the remains of the crew were brought to the surface in August 2000, what crew members looked like has remained elusive.

Researchers thought they had a picture of Dixon, but a three-dimensional image of Dixon's skull overlaid on that picture proved it was not. That technique may be used with the locket image.

The Hunley project also plans is to reconstruct facial features using the skulls of the eight men found on board. Scientists say they can reconstruct the men 's faces to a 98 percent degree of accuracy.

That, if nothing else, may finally settle the question of what Dixon looked like.

"The picture resembles descriptions of him and appears to be the way he dressed. This opens up a whole bunch of new questions," said state Sen. Glenn McConnell, the Charleston Republican and Hunley Commission chairman.

"This really starts to put the human side to the Hunley's story. It adds depth to it," McConnell said.

McConnell sees several similarities between the man in the locket photo and Dixon.

Both seem to have high, sloping foreheads and strong brows.

There is a mark on the man's chin that could be a cleft, which forensic anthropologists suggest Dixon had.

There are other encouraging signs.

The man in the photograph has light hair, and contemporary descriptions of Dixon suggest he had fair hair.

Queen Bennett's possessions also include a pocket watch. When part of that watch was opened last year, Bennett's great-grandchildren, George Bennett Walker Jr. Walker and his sister, Sally Necessary, found an inscription: Queen Bennett, December 25th, 1862.

That was the last Christmas that Dixon and Bennett spent together.

"When we opened that you could have heard a pin drop," Necessary said.

"I thought, 'Oh my gosh. She and Dixon were very close. He probably gave her the watch,' " Walker said.

The inscription intrigues Hunley experts because it is similar to an inscription on a $20 gold coin Bennett gave Dixon when he enlisted in the Confederate Army in October 1861.

He carried the coin off to war. On April 6, 1862, his company the 21st Alabama stormed the battlefield at Shiloh in West Tennessee. Dixon was shot in the leg, but the coin deflected the bullet. Dixon had it inscribed with the date and name of the battle, his initials and the legend "My life preserver."

Dixon was sent back to Mobile to convalesce through the first half of 1863 and spent more time with Bennett.

McConnell, Walker and Necessary suspect that Dixon might have had both engravings done at the same time.

Scientists want to know about the watch's origins, where it was manufactured and where in Mobile it might have been sold.

Hunley researchers also want to know if the engravings are similar to Dixon's own pocket watch, found among his belongings on the Hunley.

Scientists at the Hunley lab will open Dixon's watch this week, and officials with the project say they would be thrilled to find inscriptions similar to those on the Bennett watch and the coin.