"Last Funeral of
the Civil War" to Put Hunley Crew to Rest
for National Geographic News
April 16, 2004
They died in an age of horse-drawn simplicity. But the eight Confederate
sailors whose remains will be buried Saturday in Charleston, South Carolina,
rode to their fates in the H.L. Hunley, a technological marvel that changed
They made history when the Hunley, a Civil War submarine, attached a torpedo
to the hull of the U.S.S. Housatonic and detonated it. The Housatonic sank
just off of Charleston, and the crew of the Hunley became the first
submariners in history to sink an enemy ship. But for some reason, the
Hunley also sank to the bottom and didn't come up.
The submarine and the remains of its crew were recovered in August 2000.
Some are calling the somber, elaborate ceremony planned for the crew of the
Hunley the last funeral of the Civil War, which ended 139 years ago this
Tens of thousands of people from all over the world are assembling in
Charleston for the services. The gathering will include author Clive Cussler,
who directed the search for the Hunley, and descendants of some of the
crewmembers who died on the submarine. Dignitaries from as far away as
Australia and England will also attend.
"I've never seen anything like it," said Glenn McConnell, a South Carolina
state senator from Charleston who is chairman of the Friends of the Hunley,
a committee formed to help preserve and display the historic submarine.
McConnell said funeral officials have issued press credentials to more than
400 reporters from around the world—four times the number issued when the
President of the United States visits Charleston.
The funeral procession will begin at 10:30 a.m. Saturday and will include
about 6,000 reenactors dressed in Civil War uniforms and another 4,000
wearing civilian clothing from the mid-19th century. Color guards from all
five branches of the U.S. armed forces—wearing modern uniforms—will also be
in the procession.
The Cabbell-Breckinridge Civil War Band from the Virginia Military Institute
will play funeral music, and a bagpipe band from the Citadel—South
Carolina's state military college—will play a dirge when the procession
reaches Magnolia Cemetery.
There, amid the dogwood blossoms and oaks draped with Spanish moss, the
Hunley crew will be buried, joining thousands of other Civil War soldiers
Despite the huge crowd, funeral planners say their main objective will be to
conduct an appropriate service.
"This is a Christian burial for these men," said Kay Long of Charleston, a
member of the committee that planned the funeral. "It's very important that
this be dignified and solemn. It's imperative that we all keep in mind that
we're attending a funeral. It's not a flag rally, not an event. Our primary
goal is that this be conducted with the dignity that these men deserve. It's
their last journey home."
The Hunley crew will be buried in the city where the United States'
bloodiest conflict erupted in April 1861. Passionate and irreconcilable
disagreements between northern and southern states over slavery, states'
rights, and economic systems split the nation. South Carolina and ten other
slaveholding southern states withdrew from the United States, and the two
sides went at each other with a murderous fury.
When the fighting ended in 1865, more than 600,000 Americans had died.
Reminders of the Old South and the Civil War are abundant in Charleston, and
public displays of the Confederate battle flag have stirred controversy in
South Carolina and elsewhere.
Still, funeral planners decided to drape the coffins of the Hunley crewmen
with one version of several flags that flew over the Confederate States.
"We decided to be historically correct," McConnell said, noting that the
flag that will drape the coffins also was used as the ensign for the
Confederate Navy. "We'll give the men what they should have gotten if their
bodies had been brought home then."
There will be plenty of U.S. flags displayed as well, McConnell said, as
well as state flags. The funeral service will honor men who "put aside fear
and answered the call of duty," he said. But McConnell said there were
differing perceptions of duty in 1864.
"Unquestionably, it was a very complex war," McConnell said. "People marched
to different drums for different reasons."
The men aboard the Hunley fully represented that complexity. Investigators
who examined the remains of the crew and dug into their backgrounds after
the submarine was raised discovered that only two of the eight men were from
the Confederate States, and one of those men served in the U.S. Navy before
joining the Confederate cause. Four crewmen were recent immigrants from
The Hunley's commander may have been from Ohio, where slavery was illegal.
One crewman was from Maryland, a slaveholding state that did not withdraw
from the Union.
Although these men died nearly a century and a half ago, forensic experts at
the Warren Lasch Conservation Center in Charleston have extracted details
about their personal lives that make their deaths seem almost recent.
North Carolina native James Wicks was a ruddy-faced father of four
daughters. He served in the U.S. Navy, and his ship took part in two battles
against the Confederate fleet. When his ship was sunk, however, Wicks
enlisted in the rebel navy.
Frank Collins, who was from Virginia, clearly was determined to serve aboard
the Hunley: His exceptional height—he was well over six feet (two meters)
tall—would have made it difficult for him to squeeze into the submarine's
cramped confines. The forensic experts discovered through dental analysis
that Collins had frequently clamped metal needles between his teeth, perhaps
while working as an apprentice in a cobbler shop before the war.
Joseph Ridgaway, from Maryland, sustained a broken nose and a shoulder
injury, which may have happened while he was working with other Hunley
crewmen on the hand-powered crank that turned the submarine's propeller.
Arnold Becker probably was from Germany and may have endured extended
periods of hunger or serious illness during his childhood
A crewman named Lumpkin, who may have been from the British Isles, enjoyed
smoking so much that his pipe had worn a small notch in his teeth where he'd
clamped down on the stem.
Another European named Miller was a pipe smoker too. Also, he had suffered
several broken bones before joining the Hunley crew.
European J.F. Carlsen was a young man with an apparent fondness for danger.
He served on a private ship that was authorized by the Confederacy to
capture merchant vessels. Carlsen later joined the Confederate Army and was
recognized for bravery in battle.
George Dixon, who commanded the Hunley, was an engineer on a steamboat that
traveled the Mississippi River between Cincinnati and St. Louis. Dixon was
living in Mobile, Alabama, at the outbreak of the war, where he'd become a
policeman and joined a local Masonic lodge. He enlisted in the Confederate
Army in October 1861.
In April 1862, Dixon was at the bloody Battle of Shiloh in Tennessee when he
was hit in the thigh by a bullet that could have killed him. But a gold coin
in his pocket stopped the slug. The bent coin was found with Dixon's remains
in the Hunley.
Dixon was given command of the Hunley after two crews were killed trying to
learn how to operate the submarine. He handpicked the men he wanted for his
Five Hunley crewmen came from the C.S.S. Indian Chief, which was stationed
With his crew in place, Dixon was eager to use his new weapon against the
Union maritime blockade, which was stifling the Confederacy's ability to
fight. In a letter written shortly before his death, Dixon told a friend
that he'd assembled a "splendid crew" and predicted that one night they
would "surprise the Yankees completely."
On the evening of February 17, 1864, Dixon and his carefully chosen crew did