Captain Hunley’s pocket watch is on display: ‘It brings more personal effect’ | New

NORTH CHARLESTON — Captain George Dixon wore a cashmere suit and suede boots along with jewelry and an 18-karat gold pocket watch the night he died at the controls of the submarine HL Hunley.

Now experts are hoping research into his watch can help solve the mystery of why the first successful submarine to sink an enemy vessel later abruptly disappeared off Sullivan’s Island for more than 100 years. ‘a century.

The watch tells experts when, overnight, things got terrible for the Hunley and her crew, either after being hit by some sort of strike or being inundated with sea water on February 17, 1864. It stopped filming at 8:23 p.m. local time.

Several of Dixon’s gold coins – 22 years after they were hoisted out of the ocean – are on display from the weekend of June 4 as part of the Friends of the Hunley “Treasures of the Past” exhibit.

“Watching a display like this is amazing because you don’t often get this kind of information about any shipwreck,” said Clemson University curator Kim Roche, who works on the Hunley at inside his conservation laboratory on the grounds of the former naval base. and shipyard in North Charleston.

“And the fact that it all came from one person – it’s a ‘blingy’ display,” she added.

Before finding the watch, experts believed the Hunley sank between 8:45 and 9 p.m. Because this was before the period when train travel required observance of Universal Time, Union Standard Time was approximately 20 minutes ahead of local Charleston, or Confederate, time. observed, time – both match.

Finally, we know when the Hunleys’ mission went sour. But experts still don’t know why.

350 years in Charleston's military history

“Everything about the Hunley is unique,” ​​added Clemson archaeologist Nicholas DeLong.

Although experts are convinced Dixon’s watch stopped at 8:23 a.m., they still can’t say why.

What they do know is that it was working earlier that night, DeLong says. Not only was the watch in pristine condition, but the mainspring of the watch was intact and its wind key was later found aboard the ship.

Hunley Watch One Dollar Coin.JPG

A $20 coin believed to have stopped a bullet and saved the life of Captain Hunley George Dixon is on display as part of a new exhibit along with jewelry found in the submarine at the Warren Lasch Conservation Center in North Charleston on June 2, 2022 Henry Taylor/Staff

“From a nautical navigation perspective, time is extremely important,” DeLong said. “To sail you have to have a watch, you have to have some kind of clock, some kind of timekeeper.”

The watch, which is made of high-grade gold, silver and copper and has crystal, a ceramic dial and iron hands inside, was preserved in mud along with other artifacts in the Hunley, Roche said.

Experts believe that the internal mechanism of the watch was made by SI Tobias and Co. in England and was built in the 1830s or 1840s.

They believe the case was built in the USA well into the 1860s. While the “flashy” Dixon engraved most of his stuff, the watch was not engraved, so one theory is that he l got it shortly before the final mission and didn’t have time to do it – like he did with the fob at the end of the watch chain, DeLong said.

Other artifacts on display include a coin that saved Dixon’s life when he was shot during the Battle of Shiloh (stopping the bullet), his gold ring and a brooch, as well as binoculars and suspenders made of silver.

“Artifacts like these are so fascinating because they tell so many layers of stories,” Roche said. “You have the Dixon story, the story of a missing submarine, you even have evidence of timing practices.”

Hunley Watch Exhibit Archeologist Signs.JPG (copy)

Nicholas DeLong, an archaeologist at Clemson University, explains the significance of some of the items found with the remains of Captain George Dixon in the wreck of the HL Hunley which are now on display at the Warren Lasch Conservation Center in North Charleston, June 2, 2022. Henry Taylor/staff

The private vessel that was sanctioned by the Confederacy sank twice before Dixon took command, convinced he could crack the code to make the submarine a military success. It happened that night in February when his team successfully sank the Union blockade vessel Housatonic.

Although the artifacts have yet to explain why the submarine later sank, taking its crew of eight, DeLong hopes the soon-to-be-released research will help shed more light on the story of that fateful night.

“For a very long time it was just the sub, you couldn’t find anything else,” Butler said. “Now we have artifacts. They had them in their hands. It brings a more personal effect.”

For now, the public can visit the Warren Lasch Conservation Center, 1250 Supply St., North Charleston, on weekends to view the Hunley and its artifacts. For more information, visit

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