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The H. L. Hunley: The Secret Hope of the Confederacy Hardcover – September 30, 2008

4.3 out of 5 stars 32 customer reviews

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From Publishers Weekly

This lively account of the first submarine to sink an opposing ship is an excellent niche history. Chaffin (Sea of Gray) relates that H.L. Hunley was neither soldier nor engineer, but an adventurous New Orleans attorney turned exporter who wanted to make his fortune selling the submarine he developed with several partners to the Confederate Navy. After two unsuccessful tests, in 1863 a third submarine performed decently, but the unenthusiastic local commander extolled its virtues to General Beauregard, who agreed to commission a submarine. It was shipped to Charleston, S.C., where it sank twice during testing, drowning both crews— including Hunley himself. In February 1864, the submarine, named the H.L. Hunley, finally sank a Union blockader with its torpedo but never returned. The event assumed mythic status, culminating in great excitement when divers exhumed the wreck in 2000. Chaffin finishes with a lucid description of the impressive details of this splendid artifact of engineering. Sampling from letters, articles and memoirs, the author succeeds in separating facts from legend in this engrossing examination of a pioneering weapon of war. Maps. (Oct.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


“The boldest and most powerful book yet written on the saga of the H. L. Hunley. Each detail is sharply etched and dramatically told for a compelling read. The H. L. Hunley is a classic of Civil War history.” —Clive Cussler
“Tom Chaffin’s study is the most thorough treatment of the subject . . . [This] detailed and entertaining book about early naval submersibles will inform students, scholars, and general readers.” —Joseph G. Dawson III, Journal of American History
“Combining a masterful command of his subject with a novelist’s flair for weaving a good story, Chaffin takes readers on an intriguing journey centered on one of the landmark events in maritime history . . . The preeminent volume on the subject.” —Mike Bunn, Alabama Review
“Chaffin’s skillful integration of historic documentation and the archaeological materials illuminates how vital both sources are in gaining a clearer understanding of the past . . . An authoritative text on the vessel.” —Michael Christopher Tuttle, Journal of Military History
“Dramatic, well-written and filled—perhaps overfilled—with fascinating information, Chaffin’s chronicle of the H. L. Hunley belongs on the bookshelf of every military history aficionado.” —Chris Patsilelis, St. Petersburg Times
The H. L. Hunley is a revelation.” —William McKeen, Creative Loafing
The H. L. Hunley is not only the most up-to-date book about the unusual craft, it is also the most readable and accessible. If there is a Civil War or local history buff on your Christmas list this year, you could hardly do better than to present them with a copy of this book.” —John Sledge, Mobile Press-Register (Alabama)
“The volume can stand as the best available to date.” —William H. White, Sea History
“Detailed and fascinating . . . Tom Chaffin has produced what may be considered the most exhaustive and accurate account of the submarine and the men who built her in his new book The H. L. Hunley: The Secret Hope of the Confederacy. Given the iron-fisted control the Confederacy exerted over the media to preserve its military secrets and a dearth of official or personal correspondence on the matter, Chaffin faced a daunting task in piecing together his history, but his hard work pays off here in a rich and lively book about visionaries, mercenaries and a technological marvel.” —John G. Nettles, Flagpole (Athens, GA)
“[A] brisk retelling . . . Civil War historian Chaffin reconstructs the mythic, short journey of the first submarine in world history to sink an enemy ship.” —Teresa Weaver, Atlanta (A Best of the Georgia Shelf pick)
“A smoothly narrated and comprehensive story of a lost ship in a lost cause.” —Rob Hardy, U.S. Naval Academy Alumni Association & Foundation
The H. L. Hunley: The Secret Hope of the Confederacy is narrative history at its most readable and remarkable.” —Leonard Gill, Memphis Flyer
“[A] grand and sweeping story of the Hunley’s origins and the creative, brave men behind it.” —Mike Walker, North Florida News Daily
“A captivating history of the Civil War-era Confederate submarine.” —Myles Hutto and John Stoehr, Charleston City Paper
“Tom Chaffin tells the story of the Hunley’s design and construction, the fateful battle and loss of both [the Hunley and the USS Housatonic], and the discovery and raising of the submarine in The H. L. Hunley, composing a narrative that crackles with excitement and suspense.” —Fredric Koeppel, The Commercial Appeal (Memphis, TN)
“A first-class recounting of the Hunley, from its roots in New Orleans to the first—and failed—submarine at Mobile, Ala., to two founderings during trials and training at Charleston and finally to the submarine itself.” —Jules Wagman, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
“Avoiding uninformed speculation, Chaffin crafts an exciting narrative of an important innovation in military technology and the political considerations that shaped its development. Insightful and intriguing, meriting a place toward the front of the squadron of Civil War, naval and aquatic archeology titles.” —Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
“Sampling from letters, articles and memoirs, the author succeeds in separating facts from legend in this engrossing examination of a pioneering weapon of war.” —Publishers Weekly
“A definitive reading of the submarine’s forensic evidence.” —Garden & Gun magazine
“This outstanding piece of scholarship and clear writing will answer most questions and lay to rest most legends about the famous Confederate submarine, the first of its kind to sink an enemy warship . . . The research that went into this book was also exhaustive (it is also unbiased), but it doesn’t make the book exhausting. Altogether, “the secret hope of the Confederacy” is now a good deal less secret, and Civil War collections can fill many gaps with a single purchase.” Roland Green, Booklist
“Fueled by obsessive scholarship and a boyish sense of wonder, Tom Chaffin takes us deep down into uncharted fathoms of the Civil War—and then surfaces with a finny, fascinating tale that’s equal parts Shelby Foote and Jules Verne.” —Hampton Sides, author of Blood and Thunder
“There is no more compelling human or high-tech story in the annals of the Civil War than the saga of the remarkable H. L. Hunley and its brave, ill-fated crew. Drawing on a vast archive of original sources and an abundance of interpretive skill, Tom Chaffin has crafted an informed, dramatic page-turner. This is authoritative military history that reads like a novel.” —Harold Holzer, cochairman of the USS Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission and coauthor of The Confederate Image
“Chronicling this multifaceted story of the Confederacy’s secret hope, Tom Chaffin has answered many of the mysteries surrounding the H. L. Hunley. With an extensive examination of primary documents, he has taken on the mythologizers, offering instead an extraordinary contribution to historical understanding.” —Orville Vernon Burton, author of The Age of Lincoln
“The author provides a complete history of the Hunley as well as biographical sketches of the individuals involved in its financing, design, construction, and operation . . . Utilizing a variety of published and unpublished source materials, as well as interviews with the Lasch Conservation Center archaeologists tasked with the vessel’s excavation and preservation, Chaffin also dispassionately examines the many myths and mysteries surrounding the Hunley. The relative viability of competing theories, among them inquiries into the mythical ‘blue light,’ the location of the wreck, how the submarine was lost, etc., is addressed, often raising more questions than answers. With well-supported conclusions and appealing writing, The H. L. Hunley will serve as a fine introductory book for the interested general reader, as well as a handy resource for the more dedicated students of the Civil War navies.” —Andrew Wagenhoffer, Civil War Books and Authors
“An excellently written and well-documented account of a piece of Civil War history . . . Of the numerous [Hunley] books to appear in recent years, Tom Chaffin’s The H. L. Hunley: The Secret Hope of the Confederacy emerges as the best.” —Steven Ramold, Civil War Book Review
“A well-written and interesting volume.” —Kenneth D. Williams, Civil War News
“A satisfying read for Civil War buffs or naval buffs, for those who know much, or nothing, about the epic tale of the H. L. Hunley.” —The Valdosta Daily Times
The H. L. Hunley is an alternate selection of the Book-of-the-Month Club, History Book Club, and Military Book Club.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Hill and Wang; First Edition edition (September 30, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0809095122
  • ISBN-13: 978-0809095124
  • Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 1.2 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (32 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,156,558 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Brian Laslie on November 21, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Even though hundreds of books are published on the Civil War every year, it is rare that something truly new and original comes along. "The H.L. Hunley" by Tom Chaffin provides exactly that. Even though the story of the Hunley is well known to Civil War buffs and professional historians this is the first book to cover in depth the submarine boats creation, mission, destruction and recovery. It also offers insight into the development of submarine warfare as an accepted practice of war making.

Too often in the study of history one will come across a well-researched book devoid of a good narrative or, in return, a great story with little to no actual research. Chaffin deftly combines both and creates that rarest of Civil War books, a well-researched book that is also well written and will appeal to a broad audience of both layman and academics. There is something for everyone in this fine work. Combining history, myth and memory, as well as recent archeological work, Chaffin's book will be the starting point for study of the doomed ship.

It is a must-read for Civil War historians' ands adds invaluably to our knowledge of the defense of Charleston in the waning period of the war. This book will also please students and readers interested in maritime history and the study of unconventional warfare.
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Format: Hardcover
In biblical scholarship we speak of the search for the historical Jesus. We humans tend to create legends and myths around important people, places and events. Someone must have the keen scholarship, the healthy skepticism, and the painstaking research to carefully separate fact from fiction, legend from history. Dr. Tom Chaffin has marvelously demonstrated this ability in his new book on the Hunley. I feel indebted to Dr. Chaffin in helping me better understand Horace Hunley from a psychological perspective. This is very important to me as a blood relative of Horace. I am fascinated not only by the submarine but also by the man for whom the submarine is named. Not since the Ruth Duncan book, "The Captain and Submarine CSS H L Hunley" printed in 1965, has any author devoted as much research on Horace Hunley himself, including his sister Volumnia Hunley Barrow and her wealthy husband, Robert Ruffin Barrow. Their intimate connections with Horace Hunley are often overlooked in how they shaped him as a man. Dr. Chaffin's breadth of scholarship is applied like a sharp scalpel to every detail of the Hunley story, separating cherished myths from the raw facts. He does this not only with Horace Hunley, but also with George Dixon and Queenie Bennett, along with the story of the blue light said to have been seen from the shore. Having shared Hunley genealogy with Dr. Chaffin from my old Hunley family bible, I am grateful for the opportunity to get to know this historian on a personal level. I have deep respect for his intellect and self-discipline in overcoming a severe struggle with his health as he researched and wrote. As a Sherlock Holmes scrutinizing every detail of an investigation, Dr. Chaffin used a vast variety of resources in writing this fine book.Read more ›
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Format: Hardcover
The past few decades have seen an unprecedented flourishing of exploration and retrieval of sunken vessels and their cargo. There are richer wrecks than that of the _H. L. Hunley_, but few of such technological and historical interest. The _Hunley_ was a submarine serving the Confederate forces in the Civil War, and it was the first submarine to sink an enemy ship. It didn't last long thereafter, and it wasn't until World War I that submarines became practical machines of war, but the _Hunley_ was an important step in submarine evolution. After it was raised in 2000, it was available for examination by engineers and historians, and has begun to divulge some of its secrets. In _The H. L. Hunley: The Secret Hope of the Confederacy_ (Hill and Wang), historian Tom Chaffin has told about the raising of the vessel and its recent evaluation by experts, but has given a full history of its development, its creators, and its activity during the Civil War. Chaffin also wrote _Sea of Gray_, an exciting history of the Confederate raider Shenandoah, and has again presented a smoothly narrated and comprehensive story of a lost ship in a lost cause. This time, however, the ship represented the best inventiveness and high-tech accomplishment of its age, and Chaffin has placed the ship, its inventors, and the doomed men who sailed on it within a military, technological, and historical context.

There were submarines before; Leonardo da Vinci himself said he had designed one, but uncharacteristically did not show anyone else the design, he said, "because of the evil nature of men who would practice assassinations at the bottom of the sea..." Chaffin reviews the history of submarines, with the _Hunley_ being far more advanced than any that had gone before.
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I had a sinking feeling as I read Tom Chaffin's preface to his "The H.L. Hunley." He was explaining the lack of archival material that was available for his account of the first submarine in history to sink an enemy warship. From that I expected another fluffy history that would be full of conjecture, exaggeration, and writer-induced fantasy. It turns out that I was pleasantly surprised with a riveting and scholarly tale of enterprise and tragedy that didn't need embellishment.

The "H.L. Hunley" was actually the third submarine constructed by a group of Southern patriots who wanted to produce underwater boats that could effectively break the Federal blockade of southern ports. The first two failed, eventually sinking, before actual engagement was made with Union ships. Fortunately the crew members escaped with their lives, but the mishaps raised questions about the idea and slowed the flow of additional funds for future attempts.

The three developers of the "H.L. Hunley," and the two boats preceding her, were intrepid and strong-willed, never straying from their goal. Horace Hunley was probably the most tenacious and productive, continually pursuing financial backing and political support from a Confederate government that was always short of money. It was his single-mindedness that got his name attached to the last submarine boat manufactured by the group and the chance to command it during one of its trial voyages. It cost him his life.

The "Hunley" had its share of misfortunes during its development. Five of the eight crewmen perished when the "Hunley" sank during a trial run in August 1863, apparently from an open hatch. The boat was raised, only to sink again in October 1863 because of operational error.
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