A Civil War?

Monday, August 6, 2012

War is never civil, but soldiers can act like gentlemen.

While in Charleston, South Carolina, Roland and I visited two sites dedicated to the War Between the States, commonly known as the Civil War.

This picture shows Fort Sumter. In late 1860, the fort was under construction and unmanned. A small federal garrison was located at nearby Fort Moultrie under the command of Major Robert Anderson.

South Carolina seceded from the Union on December 20, 1860. Six days later Major Anderson moved his forces, by night, from Fort Moultrie to Fort Sumter, which he thought would be easier to defend. South Carolina was outraged and demanded that the federal forces evacuate. They refused.

The Confederates tried persuasion first. It wasn't until April 12, 1861 that Confederate forces began bombarding Fort Sumter with cannonballs, firing the first shots in the Civil War.

Outnumbered and unable to get supplies, Major Anderson surrendered. The victorious Confederates allowed a ship to enter the harbor, load up the federal forces, and take them to New York. A gentlemanly resolution and a civil beginning to a war that would take over 600,000 lives.

Our other Civil War stop in Charleston reminded us of another type of gentlemanly behavior. First, though, here is some background.

The H.L. Hunley is the first known submarine to ever sink a ship. It was nothing like the submarines we are used to, however.

Today's submarines are built for long-term living and extended underwater stays. The Hunley had no place to eat or sleep and could stay underwater for two hours at most before the air supply would give out.

The picture shows a replica of the interior. Eight men sat on a bench and cranked the submarine along. Not a job for someone who was claustrophobic.

The Hunley used a barbed spar with a torpedo attached to the end by a rope. The idea was to ram an enemy ship below the waterline and back the submarine up while releasing the torpedo, which would explode when the submarine was far enough away to be safe. And it worked that way on February 17, 1864, when the Hunley attacked and sank the Union warship Housatonic.

But the successful mission had an unsuccessful ending, and the Hunley never resurfaced. Well, not until it was excavated in 2001. What happened is still a mystery, but one theory is that the submarine stayed under too long and the soldiers inside suffocated.

You can find out more about the Hunley at this link: http://www.hunley.org

But what does that have to do with gentlemanly behavior?

The artifacts found in the Hunley included a ring and a broach made of gold and covered with diamonds. The submarine's commander, Lt. George Dixon, had apparently carried them in his pocket. But what they were doing there is another of the mysteries surrounding the Hunley.

Some people believe that Lt. Dixon carried the jewelry for safekeeping. Their owner may have entrusted the ring and broach to Lt. Dixon to keep them out of the hands of Union marauders. If so, the strategy succeeded but the owner still lost.

That's speculation, of course. If true, however, Lt. Dixon's agreement to hold the jewelry was the act of a gentleman.

War is never civil. But individual acts during wartime can be.

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