Saturday, December 24, 2011
Remember the Hunley & ID Intrepid Crew
Secretary of Defense pays respects to 1804 crew of USS Intrepid in Tripoli
By Susy Raybon, Military Community Examiner
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For the first time in history a United States Secretary of Defense visited Tripoli, Libya, and paid tribute to Navy Lieutenant Richard Somers and his crew of sailors who died aboard the USS Intrepid during the first Barbary War in 1804.
Saturday (Dec. 17, 2011), Leon Panetta laid a wreath on the graves of the sailors who were interred in Tripoli’s Protestant cemetery.
The 2012 Defense Authorization Act includes a provision that requires the Defense Department to begin the process of identifying and returning Lt. Somers and his crew to U.S. soil and to report back to Congress the feasibility of recovering and positively identifying the missing sailors.
Examiner’s Note: To some the task of identifying 200 year-old remains might seem impossible unless you know the story of the H.L. Hunley, the Confederate submarine that sank in Charleston Harbor in 1864. The remains of those onboard that ill-fated submarine have been identified.
Bill Kelly: Thank you Susy for pointing out the latest technological advances make it possible for positive identification of even centuries old remains, and the identification of the men of the Hunley by the Smithsonian scientists certainly indicate the same techniques can be applied to the remains of the men of the Intrepid. Both the Somers and Wadsworth families have offered to provide DNA samples to use to attempt to positively identify Master Commandant Richard Somers and his first officer Lt. Henry Wadsworth, and the third officer Lt. Joseph Israel can be identificated using the same methods.
H.L. Hunley was a Confederate submersible that demonstrated the advantage and danger of undersea warfare. Although not this nation's first submarine, Hunley was the first submarine to engage and sink a warship.
Privately built in 1863 by Park and Lyons of Mobile, Alabama,Hunley was fashioned from a cylindrical iron steam boiler, which was deepened and also lengthened through the addition of tapered ends. Hunley was designed to be hand powered by a crew of nine: eight to turn the hand-cranked propeller and one to steer and direct the boat. As a true submarine, each end was equipped with ballast tanks that could be flooded by valves or pumped dry by hand pumps. Extra ballast was added through the use of iron weights bolted to the underside of the hull. In the event the submarine needed additional buoyancy to rise in an emergency, the iron weight could be removed by unscrewing the heads of the bolts from inside the vessel.
On 17 February 1864, the Confederate submarine made a daring late night attack on USS Housatonic, a 1,240-ton (B) sloop-of-war with 16 guns, in Charleston Harbor off the coast of South Carolina. H.L. Hunley rammed Housatonic with spar torpedo packed with explosive powder and attached to a long pole on its bow. The spar torpedo embedded in the sloop's wooden side was detonated by a rope as Hunley backed away. The resulting explosion that sent Housatonic with five crew members to the bottom of Charleston Harbor also sank Hunley with its crew of eight. H.L. Hunley earned a place in the history of undersea warfare as the first submarine to sink a ship in wartime.
The search for Hunley ended 131 years later when best-selling author Clive Cussler and his team from the National Underwater and Marine Agency (NUMA) discovered the submarine after a 14-year search. At the time of discovery, Cussler and NUMA were conducting this research in partnership with the South Carolina Institute of Anthropology and Archaeology (SCIAA). The team realized that they had found Hunley after exposing the forward hatch and the ventilator box (the air box for the attachment of a snorkel). The submarine rested on its starboard side at about a 45-degree angle and is covered in a 1/4 to 3/4-inch encrustation of ferrous oxide bonded with sand and shell particles. Archaeologists exposed a little more on the port side and found the bow dive plane on that side. More probing revealed an approximate length of 34 feet with most, if not all, of the vessel preserved under the sediment.
In August 2000 archaeological investigation and excavation culminated with the resurrection ofHunley from its watery grave. A large team of professionals from the Naval Historical Center's Underwater Archaeology Branch, National Park Service, the South Carolina Institute of Archaeology and Anthropology and various other individuals investigated the vessel, measuring and documenting it prior to preparing it for removal. Once the on-site investigation was complete, harnesses were slipped underneath the sub one by one and attached to a truss designed by Oceaneering, International, Inc. Then after the last harness had been secured, the crane fromKarlissa B began hoisting the submarine from the mire of the harbor. On August 8 at 8:37 AM the sub broke the surface for the first time in over 136 years where it was greeted by a cheering crowd in hundreds of nearby watercraft. Once safely on its transporting barge, Hunley finally completed its last voyage back to Charleston, passing by hundreds of spectators on Charleston's shores and bridges. The removal operation reached its successful conclusion when the submarine was secured inside the Warren Lasch Conservation Center in a specially designed tank of freshwater to await conservation.
All who viewed the vessel said Hunley incorporated an unexpectedly graceful and beautiful design.
It is certainly a marvel both for its time period and for modern day researchers. No doubt this small submarine will be the key to unlock many mysteries of a bygone era.
Scientists Study The Last Men Who Served On The H.L. Hunley
By Nancy Jennis Olds April 2004
Several teeth, packed in a small narrow box surrounded in foam material, were laid in a neat row. Gold fillings gleamed like tiny percussion caps on the molars and an incisor. One filling was cast in a silver amalgam material.
This was not a dental office. It was Dr. Doug Owsley's office at the Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C. We were peering at the teeth of Lt. George E. Dixon. He was commander of the H.L. Hunley, the Confederate submarine that disappeared off the waters of Charleston, S.C., on the night of Feb. 17, 1864, after sinking the USS Housatonic.
Owsley, the head of physical anthropology at the Smithsonian Institution, worked with a team of scientists, including Department of the Army forensic genealogist Linda Abrams and medical examiner Dr. J.C. Upshaw Downs, the chief medical examiner for the state of Alabama and a former resident of Charleston.
Eight men were aboard the Hunley when it sank for the third and final time. Five of the crew drowned on Aug. 29, 1863, and all eight crew, including the sub's namesake and benefactor, Horace Lawson Hunley, were lost when the Hunley went down again on Oct. 15, 1863. Both times the Hunley was salvaged. After the third sinking it took 136 years before the sub was raised.
The information that Owsley and Abrams share about the third crew provides a fascinating look at the lives of these courageous men who crewed the first submarine to successfully attack and sink an enemy ship.
Every available space in Dr. Owsley's cramped offices is filled with cases of skulls and bones gathered over the years for research. In the midst of this vast collection Owsley moves around quickly. He is an amicable host who is constantly asked to lend his expertise when a skeleton is found. At the moment he is analyzing two young female skeletons discovered after wild animals had scattered the bones.
He was asked to examine the remains found in the sediment that filled the Hunley. The skeletons were well preserved, allowing Owsley a rare opportunity to thoroughly analyze the remains and provide some details about the crew.
Each set of remains, and any artifacts discovered near them, was meticulously cataloged. Owsley shared his notes on two of the crew, BB and AA.
The youngest member of the crew, identified by Dr. Owsley as BB because of his position inside the submarine, was a Caucasian male whose bone age was from 19 to 22 years and whose femur histology (tissue structure of the thighbone) was recorded to be 21.8 years. He was also the shortest crewmember. According to Owsley's findings, "He would have been the least cramped and had the greatest ease of movement within the submarine".
The young man's vertebrae showed some wear, a "strain induced deterioration of joint surfaces." Tobacco staining on the teeth indicated that he might have smoked cigars and chewed tobacco. No pipe facets that were related to pipe smoking were evident on the teeth. Further study of the skeletal remains showed the kind of bone growth and fusing of bone that confirmed his age.
The remains discovered in the AA section of the Hunley belonged to a Caucasian male whose bone age was between 24 to 25 years. The femur histology was 28 years. Dr. Owsley's notes reference the "medial epiphyses [ossification] of the clavicles [collarbone] are in the final stage of union and the hyoid [complex of bones at the base of the tongue] is intact with the wings fused to the body".
Owsley found evidence that AA had health problems. According to his records, the "nasal septum is markedly deviated to the right side. This degree of deformity would have impaired airflow through the right half of the nasal chamber."
This man's teeth were stained slightly from tobacco and there are no indications of pipe smoking. He had cavities and abscesses. Teeth near the abscesses were probably extracted. Six lower jaw teeth had a total of eight cavities.AA had five gold fillings and one filling made from a silver amalgam. The teeth had file marks in the enamel where the fillings were embedded. Different techniques in the manufacture and placement of the fillings could signify that more than one dentist repaired the teeth.
Upon further examination of the remains, Dr. Owsley discovered an injury that revealed the identity of the victim. Owsley's notes say: "This injury was caused by a gunshot wound to the upper thigh, which was primarily a soft tissue injury that caused only superficial damage to the bone. The bone did not fracture and there is no evidence of a serious infection."
A radiograph of the proximal half of the left femur revealed "lead spatter, small metallic particles." They were lead from a bullet and gold from a coin.
AA was Lt. George E. Dixon, of Co. E, 21st Alabama Volunteers, who had volunteered to command the H.L. Hunley. He had been wounded at the Battle of Shiloh. The location, date, his initials and the words, "My life preserver," were engraved on the $20 gold piece that deflected the bullet. He carried the coin with him and it was found in the Hunley sediment.
Linda Abrams identifies POW-MIA remains from the overseas recovery of casualties of World War II, the Korean War, Vietnam and subsequent battles for all branches of the military. About three years ago, Dr. Robert Neyland, project manager for the recovery and excavation of the Hunley, invited Abrams to identify the remains of the Hunley's crew through researching military records and by analyzing the DNA.
Neyland was familiar with the POW-MIA office of the Pentagon. He needed someone with Abrams' solid track record. She has worked with more than 800 cases over 14 years and has identified all the remains.
Abrams says she decided to accept the challenge although she was unfamiliar with Confederate Civil War history. She wanted to approach this research in a way no one had done before.
She compared the investigation of the crews' remains and records to the investigation of a crime scene. Crime scenes are contained and evaluated before evidence can be tampered with. Witnesses are interviewed immediately after the incident before they can be influenced by media reports.
When Abrams began to research the Hunley crew, she found that the trail of information had been affected by preconceived theories that were not substantiated by hard evidence. Her research with the National Archives on Confederate military records was based on 3 by 5-inch index cards, all that was left of the original records which had been destroyed.
Full names were missing, places of enlistment weren't listed, although some military transfers were inscribed. It was incomplete information at best. Abrams went through 120 Confederate ship rosters. She spent hours searching for existing records obtained from various archives, probate courts, funeral homes and libraries throughout the country.
She says she encountered staffers at some institutions who were woefully ignorant about the Hunley crew's significance and were reluctant to give their support. She also found others who couldn't do enough for her. Abrams became acquainted with crew descendents who were unaware of their ancestor's place in history and were grateful to learn about it.
Historians were not entirely sure who the last crewmembers aboard the Hunley were.
Obtaining permission from families whose ancestors probably served aboard the Hunley to exhume a known relative's grave takes patience and persistence. Also, it is very vital that any DNA extracted this way must come from the maternal line of the family to be considered reliable.
The crew of the Hunley was comprised of soldiers and sailors who volunteered for the mission. Some of the crew was from Europe. At least two of the men were nearly or over 40 years old.
One was identified as James A. Wicks, married with two daughters. He had deserted the U.S. Navy by jumping ship from the USS Congress and swimming to shore. Shortly afterward, he enlisted in the Confederate Navy in Richmond.
An artilleryman, J.F. Carlsen, 20 to 23 years old and European, possibly Scandinavian, enlisted with Co. A, Light Artillery South Carolina Volunteers, also known as the German Artillery, before he volunteered to become the very last crewmember aboard the Hunley before its fateful voyage.
The man in charge, Lt. George E. Dixon, had been a riverboat engineer on the Mississippi. He had enlisted in the Confederate Army as a private and rose through the ranks quickly.
Abrams found records of two male friends of Dixon who had named their sons George. Dixon was described as handsome, "quite the fellow" from some sources. According to Abrams, "Dixon had the right stuff." She hopes to find more information on him. "He must have been an exceptional person," she says.
Abrams admits that the research and analysis required to identify the Hunley's last crew is more daunting than her work identifying the remains of contemporary POW-MIAs. She has faced their skulls almost pleading for them to "talk to me!"
Although the eight men will be laid to rest after 136 years submerged in the H.L. Hunley, the work in uncovering the secrets of their life and death will continue.
The crew was composed of Lieutenant George E. Dixon (Commander), Frank Collins, Joseph F. Ridgaway, James A. Wicks, Arnold Becker, Corporal C. F. Carlsen, C. Lumpkin, and Augstus Miller.
Apart from the commander of the submarine, Lieutenant George E. Dixon, the identities of the volunteer crewmen of the Hunley had long remained a mystery. Douglas Owsley, a physical anthropologist working for the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of Natural History, examined the remains and determined that four of the men were American born, while the four others were European born, based on the chemical signatures left on the men's teeth and bones by the predominant components of their diet. Four of the men had eaten plenty of maize, an American diet, while the remainder ate mostly wheat and rye, a mainly European one. By examining Civil War records and conducting DNA testing with possible relatives, forensic genealogist Linda Abrams was able to identify the remains of Dixon and the three other Americans: Frank G. Collins of Fredericksburg, Va., Joseph Ridgaway, and James A. Wicks. Identifying the European crewmen has been more problematic, but was apparently solved in late 2004. The position of the remains indicated that the men died at their stations and were not trying to escape from the sinking submarine.
On April 17, 2004 the remains of the crew were laid to rest at Magnolia Cemetery in Charleston, South Carolina. Tens of thousands of people attended including some 6,000 reenactors and 4,000 civilians wearing period clothing. Color guards from all five branches of the U.S. armed forces—wearing modern uniforms—were also in the procession. Even though only two of the crew were from Confederate States all were buried with full Confederate honors including being buried with a version of the Confederate national flag.
Another surprise occurred in 2002, when a researcher examining the area close to Lieutenant Dixon found a misshapen $20 gold piece, minted in 1860, with the inscription "Shiloh April 6, 1862 My life Preserver G. E. D." and a forensic anthropologist found a healed injury to Lt. Dixon's hip bone. The findings matched a legend, passed down in the family, that Dixon's sweetheart, Queenie Bennett, had given him the coin to protect him. Dixon had the coin with him at the Battle of Shiloh, where he was wounded in the thigh on April 6, 1862. The bullet struck the coin in his pocket, saving his leg and possibly his life. He had the gold coin engraved and carried it as a lucky charm.
The National Underwater and Marine Agency (NUMA), originally an organization within the fiction of author Clive Cussler, is a private non-profit organization in the United States. Cussler created and leads the actual organization which is dedicated to "preserving maritime heritage through the discovery, archaeological survey and conservation of shipwreck artifacts."