The story of the world’s first successful submerged vessel to complete an attack on an enemy warship was presented last Thursday at the American Civil War Museum.

Before a near capacity crowd, Civil War reenactor and historian John Spaziani gave a presentation on the historic Confederate vessel H.L. Hunley that sunk the Union’s USS Housatonic.

However, this presentation came with a twist, as he spoke from the perspective of Confederate Lieutenant George Erasmus Dixon who served as the last commander of the Hunley.

The audience found out that Dixon first became a member of the Confederate submarine program by way of a special piece of currency.

Spaziani said Dixon was given a $20 gold piece from his sweetheart before going off to battle. This same gold piece would go on to save the commander’s life after it took the brunt of a bullet while inside the pocket of Dixon during battle.

“As long as I carry this coin, I’m gonna be okay,” said Spaziani.

In the aftermath of the gunshot, Dixon walked with a limp which lead to him being referred to the submarine program. 

Before the mission that went down in the history books, Spaziani said the Hunley sank twice beforehand on previous occasions due to human error.

Spaziani gave vital background information on the vessel as he said it would only travel around three to four miles per hour due to being propelled by manpower. He also added that the only light source on the vessel was a candle that stayed lit for only 45 minutes, followed by complete darkness.

These aspects were put to the test by members of the audience as Spaziani brought an interactive model of the inside of the submarine to the presentation. The volunteers were given seats next to each other and each had to pull their own weight in propelling the submarine forward by moving the crank in a circular motion to simulate the 1864 attack on the Housatonic.

“We’ve got her men; she’s going down,” said Spaziani. 

There’s more to this story in the current issue of the Times Virginian newspaper. Pick up a copy or view the full article in the e-edition version with a subscription.