The following text is taken from the Friends of the Hunley web site in its entirety (4/19/12):

A lantern that helped give birth to one of the greatest maritime legends of the 19th century has finally finished a complicated, multi-year conservation process. The small tinplate artifact was found inside the Hunley’s crew compartment. The last time it looked in such good shape was during the waning days of the Civil War when it may have been used to give the Hunley captain’s last communication to land – the famous blue light signal – before he and his crew vanished
into the depths of the sea…

A blue light has long been a central event in the unsolved mystery of the Hunley’s disappearance. Historical records indicate the experimental submarine’s crew was to signal to shore with a blue light if they achieved their mission to take down one of the Union ships blockading Charleston harbor. Confederates on land would then light a fire to help guide the Hunley safely back to shore.

The evening of February 17th, 1864, the Hunley hit her target and became the first successful combat submarine in world history by sinking the USS Housatonic. Both Union and Confederate historical records outline a blue light being seen on the water after the attack.

The signal has confounded those working to discover and chronicle the events of that night. A popular theory to explain the Hunley’s demise is that the explosion that sank the Housatonic also fatally damaged the submarine. If the Hunley crew displayed the light, that means they did not die immediately and survived the actual attack.

This small lantern found near the Captain’s station was likely used to display the famous Hunley signal of maritime history, except there is one problem: scientists aren’t quite sure how it would have emitted a blue light.

The lantern’s glass lens, which is completely intact, appears to be completely white and scientists have found no evidence of blue tinting. It is possible whatever helped the lantern display a blue-hued light was lost to corrosion during the submarine’s 136-year stay of the ocean floor.

This amazing artifact — and the lingering questions surrounding its use — adds another element to the Hunley saga. With your continued help, more artifacts like these will be saved and available for future generations.

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