Wallet provides no clue to Hunley crewman’s identity
CHARLESTON, S.C. – A leather wallet found aboard the Confederate submarine H.L. Hunley contained sediment that might be the remains of paper but no clue about the crewman who owned it, Bob Neyland, the Hunley project manager said Thursday.
"We found inside sediment that could be organically rich as though it came from decomposing paper," Neyland said. "Some of it seemed to have some thin gray lines to it."
The wallet was found near the remains of a crewman who sat in the middle of the hand-cranked submarine, the first in history to sink an enemy warship.
Samples of the sediment will be sent to Clemson University for analysis to determine if it is, indeed, decomposed paper, Neyland said.
Meanwhile, scientists are progressing with the work of trying to positively identify and of making facial reconstructions of the crewmen.
Scientists know which remains are those of Lt. George Dixon, the commander of the submarine which sank in February, 1864, after sending the Union blockade ship Housatonic to the bottom off the coast near Charleston.
"There are some thoughts about some of the other individuals, but at this point we have not positively assigned a name to the other crew members," Neyland said.
The leather wallet is the only one found on the submarine, although a number of items carried by Dixon, including a gold watch and diamond ring, were found aboard the Hunley.
"You can make a contrast between George Dixon and the rest of the crew," Neyland said, noting Dixon’s possessions also included the $20 gold piece that saved Dixon’s life at Shiloh by deflecting a Yankee bullet.
"The rest of the seven men in the crew, by contrast, have really nothing, except the clothes on their backs, their pipes and a few possessions such as the wallet," Neyland said.
Next up for scientists is opening Dixon’s gold watch.
"I know there is a lot of anticipation (about), if the hands of the watch are still there, what time they stopped at," Neyland said.
"I would think it would have continued to tick for a certain few minutes in there, underwater, but that it would stop sometime within a 15 or 20 minute period," Neyland said.
"On the other hand, there’s an interesting theory that if there was still air trapped in the submarine … I guess it would have continued to run until it wound down," Neyland said.
The Hunley was raised off the coast of Charleston in 2000 and is now in a tank of cold water at a conservation lab at the old Charleston Naval Base.
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