The Charleston Museum’s “Weaponry Wednesday” on Tumblr

The Charleston Museum ranks among Charleston, South Carolina’s treasured historical resources.  I list it among the “must see” stops for any tour of Charleston.  That’s saying a lot, since as you know there are a lot of things to see in Charleston.

The museum has always been active with social media (Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Flickr).  Recently they expanded out to Tumblr, including photos from their collection.  The Tumblr feed is not just a bunch of random artifact pictures.  Rather they are presenting weekly series – “Textile Tuesday” and  “Ephemera Friday.”

Wait… this isn’t Craig’s Frilly Fashion blog.  This is To the Sound of the Guns!  We want to look at “Weaponry Wednesday!”

That’s more like it!  Maynard Carbine from Massachusetts Arms Company, Chicopee, Massachusetts (where they knew how to make guns, back in the day).

The carbine was made in 1857.  The weapon was designed by Dr. Edward Maynard, a New York Dentist.  The paper primer worked fine, until it got damp.

But this is “To the Sound of the Guns” and you came her for artillery stuff, right?

Ah… yes… A Parrott incendiary shell, in fact one fired by Federals into Charleston during the war.

The museum has posted other artillery artifacts in the feed, including some from outside the Civil War period:

This is a Spanish ammunition chest dating to the Spanish-American War.

Great stuff on the museum’s Tumblr feed.  As the museum is full of fascinating artifacts, I recommend this as a weekly stop for your Civil War browsing.


New Hunley discovery may alter interpretation

I’ve been posting much about the low country of late.  So this news item fits in line.  From the Charleston Post and Courier:

Hunley legend altered by new discovery

For nearly 150 years, the story of the Hunley’s attack on the USS Housatonic has been Civil War legend.

And it has been wrong.

Scientists have discovered a piece of the Confederate submarine’s torpedo still attached to its spar, debunking eyewitness accounts that the Hunley was nearly 100 feet away from the explosion that sent a Union blockade ship to the bottom of the sea off Charleston in 1864.

Instead, the Hunley and its eight-man crew were less than 20 feet from the blast. And that changes everything about the story — and possibly even provides a clue as to why it sank.

“I would say this is the single-most important piece of evidence we have found from the attack,” said Maria Jacobsen, senior archaeologist on the Hunley project.

Basically, Hunley conservators found a piece of the torpedo’s copper shell, peeled back from the blast, when they removed a century of hardened sand and shell from the submarine’s 20-foot spar. The torpedo was bolted to the spar, contradicting the conventional wisdom that the torpedo was planted in the side of the Housatonic with a barb like a fishing hook, slipped off the spar and then detonated by rope trigger when the sub was a safe distance away.

Instead, the Feb. 17, 1864, attack off Charleston was a dangerous, close-quarters assault that risked the sub and crew.

“This changes some things,” said Lt. Gov. Glenn McConnell, longtime chairman of the state Hunley Commission. “They were much closer to the explosion than we believed, but I don’t believe this was a suicide mission.”

Read full article here.  And take a look at the photo gallery here.

By my count this is the third “interpretation” of how the designers of the Hunley fixed the torpedo for the final mission (and I’m sure there are other interpretations I’ve missed).  Prior to the submarine’s recovery in 2000, the most often depicted arrangement was some form of contact device centered on a spar projecting from the top deck of the vessel.  The replica outside the Charleston Museum has just such a setup.

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Replica of H.L. Hunley

Such positioning would require the submarine to be well submerged in order to contact it’s target below the waterline.  And of course it would place the submarine in close proximity to the resultant explosion.  But this was based on contemporary sketches of the submarine.

Later interpretations had some sort of barb on the torpedo to fix the explosive to the target.  That interpretation held that a release line played and triggered the explosion when the submarine had backed off sufficiently.

Depiction on the Friends of the Hunley Site

This interpretation has the spar fixed to the bottom of the vessel and is backed up with documentary evidence.  Andy has a more detailed discussion on this setup posted.   The documents also indicate the torpedo had three fuses, in order to ensure the detonation.

With this latest discovery, the interpretation leans towards the torpedo arranged to explode under the target ship – the USS Housatonic.  If so, that’s actually more dramatic than my mundane description allows.  From a technical perspective, this means the Confederates had already determined the optimum position to detonate a torpedo in order to sink a ship – directly beneath it.  However, not until after World War II would technical advances produce a weapon to achieve such effects with consistency.

One thing for sure, what we know of the Hunley will continue to evolve as the artifacts reveal their portion of the story.

Charleston Museum: Blasted – Assorted Projectiles and Explosives of the CW

The Charleston Museum is one of my favorite stops when visiting the Low Country. The museum features a rich collection, with no small section devoted to the Civil War (and you’ve seen some photos from that section here on this blog).

Currently, through September 10, the museum hosts “Blasted: Assorted Projectiles and Explosives of the Civil War.”


From the museum website:

Continuing its commemoration of the Sesquicentennial of the Civil War, the Charleston Museum presents Blasted: Assorted Projectiles and Explosives of the Civil War. This original exhibition explores the varied and sometimes revolutionary artillery shells and small arms projectiles that were used during this country’s defining conflict. Artifacts on exhibit include a rare Quinlivan shot designed to penetrate Federal ironclads and a two-chambered incendiary shell likely intended for use in Charleston’s defense.


Charleston became one of the most fortified locations in the world during the Civil War and practically lay under siege from 1862 through 1865. If you include Fort Sumter in the Charleston Area, the city became one of the most heavily bombarded targets of the Civil War. No small wonder projectiles still turn up today.

Images of a few of the projectiles are also displayed on the museum’s Flickr page, where I hotlinked these photos. However none appear to be the Quinlivan shot, which is an angular headed projectile. I photographed that oddity during my last visit in 2010:

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Another reason to stop by the Charleston Museum in the “Holy City” where the Ashley and Cooper River meet to form the Atlantic Ocean.