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Viewing the Civil War, Under Water


Welcome to the Victorian era, my Muse whispers, while I draft scenes about a 19th Century submarine for my anthology story with other co-bloggers. So I let my Muse teleport me back to when an enthusiastic child-cousin raced up to me at a café near dawn one day — because of a Civil War submarine … not in the military but for sale somewhere….

I was fully expecting that his new hobby as a Civil War buff was the reason. True to form, it was about wartime tools and weapons and most of all submersibles. The youthful cousins, it seemed, had honed in on an innovative wooden submersible from the Civil War ingenuity. (Many inventors were drafted or otherwise pressed into service, but not all.)

A wooden submersible was the aim of an open-water dive in Hawaii for myself and a few cousins. They missed the fact that I was the babysitter-slash-chaperone for the day while playing with a Civil War invention they’d located somewhere. I still to this day don’t know who invented it, because the sites for the U.S. Navy and similar track their projects. I presume many other records were lost or otherwise secreted during the Civil War aka, War of Aggression to the Confederates.

Sharing my alternator mouthpiece and air tank with the enthusiastic young cousin killed two proverbial birds with one stone as we practiced underwater lifesaving techniques and also descended to 19th Century underwater craft.

As the bubbles cleared, it came into view. The coral beds and schools of vibrantly tinted fish parted in the luminescent waters. A wooden cylindrical object with a paddle wheel attached was the target of the dive. Yes, the cousins had located a one-manned invention that utilized not a hand-cranked propeller but a one-man pedal-activated-paddle-wheeled-submersible. Needless to say, the dive guides monitoring decided to have a gander, too. Peddling it around a tropical bay was about as much fun as I’ve ever had in the Deep Blue.

Privateers and smugglers – sometimes from the most surprising quadrants and echelons – utilized underwater submersibles during the Civil War. Contraband as well as weaponry were secreted aboard the underwater crafts, in active use since the American Revolution.

Easily the most popularized Civil War submarine is familiar to readers and American audiences, the HL Hunley. I won’t belabor by repeating.

A few sites about the known history of Civil War submersibles appear on the Internet and on the popular Enjoy the viewing.



  1. Christine Koehler says:

    Neat blog, Kristen-Marie. I love the navy part of the Civil War, it’s mentioned so little, though.


  2. Jennifer Ross says:

    I didn’t know they had submarines back then.

    I didn’t know submarines could be made of wood.

    I certainly didn’t know you could power a submarine with a paddle wheel.

    Fascinating, K-M. Thanks. I can’t wait to read the story.

  3. Susan Macatee says:

    That sounds so exciting, K-M!

    I’ve been to the museum in Virginia where they had the top section of the Monitor, the Union sub. Also models of the other Civil War submarines. Great stuff!

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