Hunley excavation team completes conservation of infamous lantern aboard the C.S.S. H.L. Hunley

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.

One comment

  1. The strength of The Friends of the Hunley is as a fund-raising organization. Science is definitely not its forte, as this article shows. I offered the Friends of the Hunley’s newsletter, “The Blue LIght,” my research on the myth of the blue lantern over a year ago, and the editor’s response was “we write our own stuff.” They passed on the opportunity to publish research which shows that the blue lantern which has been a central part of the narrative for at least thirty years is a figment of the imagination of 20th century authors. The “blue light” which was described by an eyewitness on the sunken USS Housatonic, and the “two blue lights” reported by a postwar correspondent to be the prearranged signals between the Hunley and her shore base, have a meaning quite different from the oil burning lantern with a blue lens which modern researchers imagined when they read the historic accounts. In 1864, “blue light” meant a pyrotechnic, hand-held, chemical flare, much like a modern road flare, which had been used by civilians and the world’s militaries for many years before the Civil War for general illumination and night-time signaling. Period dictionaries, science texts, military manuals, etc all confirm the historic meaning of “blue light.” Modern authors have repeated the blue lantern myth ad nauseum, until it has attained the status of unquestioned gospel. The Friends of the Hunley continues to perpetuate this silly myth, contrary to the historical and scientific evidence which discounts it. My research paper is entitled “Blue Light and the H.L. Hunley Debunking the Blue Lantern Myth (Civil War Navy The Magazine Volume 1 Issue 1 Spring, 20212, p. 6). It details why the lantern recovered from the Hunley has no blue lens: it was not used to make the blue light signal. Two YouTube videos demonstrate the manufacture and use of pyrotechnic blue light according to the US military period formula: “Burning Blue LIght” and “Making Civil War-Era Blue Light.” It is unfortunate that we have been brainwashed for the past thirty years about the nature of the signal purported to have been sent by the Hunley, and it is disappointing that the organization charged with funding the Hunley’s conservation is an active participant in perpetuating the myth of the blue lantern.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s