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Submarines During The Civil War

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A submarine is defined as “something that functions or operates underwater; specifically: a naval vessel designed to operate underwater.” This definition holds true today but started at the beginning of the Civil War when submarines originally became a popular choice of weaponry. In general, submarine crews were composed of a commander, who steered the boat, and six or more men who used hand cranks to move the boat. Many inventors intended on creating electric motors to move the boat, but they were unable to produce enough torque. Submarines were primarily used in combat because they could travel invisibly. Innovations like submarines did not just change the way people fought wars–they also changed the way people lived.
In 1623, Cornelius Drebbel,
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Thus is the body of the saltpetre broken up and decomposed by the power of the fire and so changed the nature of the air, or as when a wet hand or cloth is waved about on a hot iron, or molten lead, which by expansion or enlargement due to heat cracks and bursts with a noise like thunder
Although Drebbel’s submarine was used as a tool for underwater exploration, inventors soon recognized their military potential. Bishop John Wilkins describes the strategic advantages of submarines in Mathematical Magick written in 1648. The advantages he described include the ability to travel invisibly, safety from tides and covert travel against a Navy of enemies. Overall, submarines were advantageous to science, and to the
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Hunley. It was built with the intention of “attacking Union ships that were blockading Confederate seaports”. It was equipped with a long pole containing an explosive charge; this “spar torpedo” was used to place an explosive on an enemy vessel and detonate it. There was no air supply in the Hunley with the exception of the main compartment. The Hunley was the first submarine to successfully sink another ship. It was responsible for sinking the USS Housatonic, but after signaling its success, the Hunley itself sank. Overall, the Hunley suffered three tragedies. The first crew drowned on August 29th, 1864 followed by and the second crew on October 15th later that year. Inventor Horace Hunley himself was one of the many casualties of the CSS
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