Uncle Horace

Horace Hunley
Horace Hunley

In Volumnia Farm House where I grew up there is an original picture of my great great uncle, Horace Lawson Hunley.

I knew the story of how he and my grandfather, uncle Horace’s brother-in-law Robert Ruffin Barrow, built a submarine called the H.L. Hunley to attempt to break the Union Blockade of Southern Ports during the Civil War, and that he had lost his life in that submarine, which now lies in a museum in Charleston, South Carolina.

Horace Lawson Hunley

Born: December 29, 1823

Died: October 15, 1863 (39)

Born in Sumner County, Tennessee Horace Lawson Hunley was the only son of John and Louisa Hardin Hunley. He had one sister, Volumnia Washington Barrow who married Robert Ruffin Barrow. Horace moved to New Orleans in 1849 where he studied law at the University of Louisiana.

Throughout his lifetime Horace was very successful in obtaining money. He was a Deputy Collector of Customs in New Orleans, Louisiana State Legislator, lawyer, merchant, planter and helped in with the civil war as financer and designer.

During the Civil War, the Confederacy offered bounties up to $50,000 for the sinking of Union ships to stop the blockading of southern ports. So in 1861 Horace worked on the first prototype submarines for the south with James R. McClinock and Baxter Watson. In 1862, they built the Pioneer, but had to be deliberately sank or scuttled to prevent the Union from capturing it once New Orleans fell. One of the donors to the submarine project was Robert Ruffin Barrow, his brother-in-law.

The second submarine built, American Diver, was towed to Fort Morgan where it attacked a blockade but sank in the mouth of Mobile Bay. The third submarine called the H.L. Hunley gave a demonstration on July 31, 1863 by sinking a barge and was later given to General P.G.T. Beauregard in Charleston Harbor. During the first test Five out of nine men died when a wake of a passing ship went in the open hatch. On October 15, 1863 a second crew was recruited with Hunley taking command. All eight men on board were killed including Hunley. The vessel was raised again and in 1864 sank the enemy vessel USS Housatonic. However, the H.L. Hunley sank one last time killing everyone on board.

Horace L. Hunley was buried on November 8, 1863 at Magnolia Cemetery in Charleston, South Carolina.

We have the brass stencil that was used to paint the Name H.L. Hunley on the submarine. It was only later in college that I learned the significance of the submarine and the H.L. Hunley, and that it was the first submarine to sink a ship in war; it sunk the Union Ship Housatonic in 1864. Numerous books and documentaries have been written about uncle Horace and the H.L. Hunley and I will not go into details, that would be a story in itself; one has only to search the internet.

H.L. Hunley stencil
H.L. Hunley stencil