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The Civil War’s H. L. Hunley, is coming to town

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The Colleton County Rice Festival will have a rather unusual guest this year. The H. L. Hunley is coming! Well, not quite, but it is an almost exact, full-sized replica.

“This sub is the exact same length, but four inches wider and taller,” said Mark Clark, commander of H. L. Hunley Camp 53 and the Hunley’s curator. He noted that the replica was made from parts of three separate submersibles used in the movie “The Hunley,” produced by Ted Turner.

The made-for-cable television movie was filmed in Charleston in 1998. The film, with Armand Assante and Donald Sutherland playing starring roles, aired in 1999. The original Hunley was found in the waters off Charleston in 1998, and was actually raised in 2000. It is now in the process of being restored.

Two replicas of the Hunley were constructed out of those parts, Clark said. “Tom Dangerfield of Summerville found the parts and retrieved them. He then made the first sub, which is on permanent display at Myrtle Beach. Then he made this one,” referring to the replica sitting in the side yard of his home in Grover, which is located about halfway between Walterboro and St. George. Clark noted that Dangerfield found out all he could about the original Hunley, then spent about a year-and-a-half making the second replica.

“Then we put it on the road. It’s not seaworthy, it’s just for educational purposes. It is 90-percent accurate, but it is just for show.”

Clark noted the model has been touring all over the United States since its completion. “It has been to California, Alabama, West Virginia, all over the U.S. The sub has drains to make sure it doesn’t retain rainwater, and the metal that it is made out of is not thick enough to be submersible. It was built to educate people about history.” He noted the sub has traveled to schools, parks, civil war battlefields, and many festivals.

Clark said local people first really became aware of the Hunley replica when he towed it down to Walterboro. “I carried the sub to Walterboro Motors on Bells Highway, where I bought my truck. A car show was being held there, and the sub was a big hit. Later, (Rice Festival President) Bubba Trippe called me, and I made plans to take the sub to Walterboro and tell people about the history of the sub.”

The Hunley has an interesting history. In 1863, news from Mobile, Alabama, of successful trial runs of the sub was received in Charleston. Confederate leaders wondered if this secret submersible weapon could help save Charleston from an ever-tightening Union blockade.

With proof of the submarine’s destructive powers becoming more well-known, the Hunley arrived by train in Charleston on the morning of August 12, 1863, and was soon granted an audience with besieged Charleston’s military commander, Pierre Gustave Tousant Beauregard, who soon put the sub to good use.

Although many people assume the original Hunley sank only once, it actually sank on three different occasions. Twenty-one people in three separate crews died on that sub. “The first two events were actually accidents,” Clark said. “During the first one, the sub was at the dock with its hatches open, and a big ship passed by and swamped it. Five people perished. In the second accident, the sub had actually gone out into the waters around Charleston, and people who investigated the event think that the sub dived, and the sub got stuck nose-first in the mud on the bottom. Eight people died. The third time the Hunley went out, it sank the ‘Housatonic,’ while it was on its maiden voyage, and was only 17 months old. It was the North’s biggest and newest ship that had been produced at that time. Eight people also perished when the sub sank during the altercation.”

Clark has been a member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans for the past 11 years. “I had a friend in the Sons of Confederate Veterans, and he told me that I might be interested in the organization,” Clark said. “I went to two meetings, and heard that a camp was opening up in Summerville. I was told that I needed to have an ancestor who was in the war in order to become a member, and my daughter, Theresa McKnight, found one, so I joined. My ancestor was named  Jacob Carroll.  Since that time, I have found a total of 83 ancestors who fought in the war that can be proved by lineage.”

Clark said that, before he joined the organization, he really wasn’t all that interested in history. “At first, I really didn’t think I would like it, but it didn’t take me long to start loving it. I was put in charge of the School Days Living History Program, and we regularly go to schools to educate students about the facts concerning the war.”

Clark is also a member of the 27th South Carolina Infantry, and the Eighth Georgia Volunteer Infantry. The two groups travel, putting on reenactments of battles. “We do reenactments all over the country. We’ve been to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania; Cedar Creek, Virginia; and also to locations in North Carolina and Georgia. We travel all along the east coast. We recently did a reenactment in Florida, and we have also done them locally in Charleston and Broxton Bridge. During the first week of May, Clark and his regiment will be participating in School Days in Columbia on Friday, a Memorial Service for Civil War veterans Friday night, a Remembrance Ceremony Saturday at Columbia’s Magnolia Cemetery, and will be participating in reenactments both Saturday and Sunday.