High Tech Hunley

By May 8, 2017Blog

As the slow process of excavating the marvel continues, more and more revelations are coming to light about the technical sophistication of the H.L. Hunley, the world’s first successful submarine. This prompted a U.S. government historian to declare, according to the newspapers, that the discoveries are surprising and that “we” will have to revise our ideas about Confederate technical backwardness.

For anyone who has paid close attention to the War Between the States, the discoveries are not at all surprising. Unlike the government historian, we already knew that Southerners performed miracles of invention, engineering, and production during their fight for independence. But, alas, it is also not surprising that Yankees never seem to be able to overcome their prejudices about the South and continue to think they know everything without even taking a look.

The comments reported go back to the old prewar Yankee mythology that proclaimed to the world that Northerners were innovative and industrious and Southerners were backward and lazy.
It is true. Southerners did not have a lot of factories before the War. For a simple reason—they had better ways of making a living. They did not need them. Northerners had to have factories and had to have them supported by government subsidies and protective tariffs, which could work only because of Southern productivity.

This does not mean that Southerners were backward. Before the War, the South had Matthew F. Maury, who quite literally revolutionized ocean navigation for the whole world. It also had America’s greatest naturalist, John J. Audubon, and many other scientists and inventors. Though he made his career in the North, Cyrus McCormick, who invented the reaper that contributed more than any other single development to the prosperity of the Midwest, was a native of Virginia. Likewise, Richard Gatling of Gatling gun fame was North Carolina born. The Colt revolver, the sidearm that conquered the West, was manufactured in New York—on a design made by Texas Rangers.

It is a fact that during the War, Southerners established factories that provided nearly every thing that was needed for the armies, like the powder manufactory at Augusta. Georgia, under Col. George W. Rains. The two LeConte brothers in Columbia, South Carolina, went from Confederate service to found the sciences at the University of California. There was never any lack of materiel for the Confederate armies. Shortages arose when the railroads were torn up faster than they could be replaced, obstructing distribution. Besides the Hunley, Confederates pioneered in ironclad ships, torpedoes, fortifications, small arms improvement and numerous other areas.

By the way, the most important Northern war invention, the Monitor ironclad, was designed and built not by a Yankee but by a Swedish immigrant, John Ericsson.

Here’s hoping that Yankee observers will continue to “discover” the obvious about us.

Clyde Wilson

Clyde Wilson is a distinguished Professor Emeritus of History at the University of South Carolina where he was the editor of the multivolume The Papers of John C. Calhoun. He is the M.E. Bradford Distinguished Chair at the Abbeville Institute. He is the author or editor of over thirty books and published over 600 articles, essays and reviews and is co-publisher of www.shotwellpublishing.com, a source  for unreconstructed Southern books.

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