It is a little-known fact of the life of Horace Lawson Hunley that he was once a lawyer. His legacy is so imbued by the dramatic tale of building a submersible "iron torpedo boat", a submarine, in the midst of the American Civil War.

Born in Sumner County, Tennessee, Hunley later moved with his family to New Orleans. Horace Huntley became an attorney and practiced law in New Orleans even sitting in the Louisiana state legislature and enjoying a term as Deputy Collector of Customs.

Horace HunleyBy 1861, he had, as so many other Confederate men of the American South, abandoned his chosen and quiet profession and enlisted. Hunley obviously had engineering skills as he joined a small group of fellow officers in building the Pioneer, a prototype iron torpedo boat, also known as a submarine.

The prototype had to be destroyed when New Orleans fell to the federal Union Army in April of 1862.

A naval blockade of Confederate port cities was a primary component of the strategy and tactics of the federal Union Army. The promise of a covert submarine counterattack against this blockade held considerable weight with the devastated Confederate Navy.

In 1863, Horace Hunley financed and launched his own submarine at Charleston, which he vainly called the H. L. Hunley. Disaster hit during a night-time test run on August 29, 1863, when the H.L. Hunley suddenly sank even as she pushed off the Charleston wharf and before she could be sealed for dive. Not all crewmen could escape the vessel as it took on water and quickly disappeared under the water. The incident killed five of the eight submariners, but which did not include Hunley who observed from shore.

The blockade was strangling the Confederates and the order was given to salvage the submarine and raise it from the harbour bottom.

HL Hunley submarineHunley did join his crew on-board when his vessel was relaunched on October 15, 1863. The submarine sank again, later found at the bottom of the harbour at a steep angle, nose buried into the bottom. All eight submariners died, from either cold or asphyxiation, including Hunley.

For the second time, the H. L. Hunley was salvaged, re-floated and the dead crew members removed and buried, Horace Hunley buried with military honors at the Magnolia Cemetery in Charleston, South Carolina.

The Hunley was relaunched. With a new and probably apprehensive if not courageous crew, the Hunley was sent after the USS Housatonic and rammed it under-water, embedding an explosive device. The Hunley withdrew and waited. The explosion was violent and the Housatonic burned and sank. I the minutes following the sinking, the Huntley was seen on the surface and even sent a number of pre-arranged light signals to shore but then, perhaps having suffered catastrophic damage in the explosion, it sank for a third and final time, again taking the lives of all eight crew with it.

New Orleans had lost a lawyer but legal history found a hero.

This was the first time in military history that a submerged vessel, a submarine, ever sank an enemy ship.

The H. L. Huntley lay lost until it was discovered in 1995.

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