Originally created 04/25/06

Donation helps scientists study Hunley mystery



CHARLESTON, S.C. - A team of scientists from Tennessee, including experts from the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, are looking at the mystery of the sinking of the Confederate submarine H.L. Hunley, the first sub in history to sink an enemy warship.

The group, which also includes scientists from the University of Tennessee and the Y12 National Security Complex, was examining the sub Monday.

The visit is the result of the university's relationship with best-selling crime author Patricia Cornwell, who in February announced she would donate at least $500,000 to the Hunley project.

The scientists, who were to remain through today, will be looking at ways to remove the encrustation from the hull of the hand-cranked sub.

"This is a crime scene, and you are doing an autopsy on that submarine," Ms. Cornwell said last February.

Ms. Cornwell has been a supporter of the university and the National Forensics Academy, said Mike Sullivan, the director of the Law Enforcement Innovation Center, part of the university's Institute for Public Service.

Ms. Cornwell regularly visits Knoxville, Tenn., to meet crime scene investigators attending training programs at the center's National Forensics Academy.

Scientists think the hull maight provide clues to what caused the Hunley to sink in 1864.

The eight-man sub used a spar to attach a black powder charge to the Union blockade ship Housatonic off Charleston. The Housatonic sank, but so did the Hunley.

There are generally two theories about the Hunley sinking.

One is that the glass port in the conning tower was shot out during the attack, allowing water to rush in. The other is that the crew ran out of air as it tried to crank the sub back to shore.