This should be interesting:

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KiddPurging the Seas: Government Reaction to Piracy, 1600-2015

Governments have had a conflicting and complicated relationship with piracy through the centuries.  When pirates attacked a rival nation’s merchant or naval fleets, governments turned a blind eye.  Diminution of an enemy state’s commerce or navy could only be a positive affair – increased trade opportunities, markets for stolen goods, and a militarily weakened adversary. Yet, when pirates gazed away from enemy states and directed their attentions to the commerce or navy of their own nation, governments cast pirates as “enemies of all mankind” and engaged in naval and legal anti-piracy campaigns.  Join Dr. Kim Todt and Dr. Elizabeth Nyman, from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, as they explore government responses to piracy from the Golden Age through today’s arresting headlines.

Tuesday, March 10 at 7 p.m. Houston Maritime Museum, 2204 Dorrington, Houston, Texas 77030 (near the Texas Medical Center)

Kim Todt is an assistant professor in the Department of History at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette whose work focuses on the history of Early America.  She is currently working on a book on the trading networks of Early America.

Elizabeth Nyman is the Anthony Moroux/BoRSF Endowed Professor of Political Science I at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. She is currently working on a book on international maritime conflict.

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It’s always been interesting to me, the idea that modern pirates (e.g., off the Horn of Africa) are considered among the worst sort of criminals, but their counterparts from 300 years ago were suitable subjects for Disney. I’m as afflicted by that particular cognitive dissonance as anyone, I’m afraid.

Texas Navy Exhibit Opens with a Bang — Several, in Fact

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On Saturday I had the privilege of speaking at the opening of the revamped Texas Navy exhibit at the Texas Seaport Museum in Galveston. We had decent (though cloudy) weather for the event, with a good turnout of folks. The highlight of the event, naturally, was a salute fired by the Texas Navy reenactors (yes, there are such!) from Brazoria County, who brought up three small field pieces. The smallest of these, oddly, was by far the loudest. (The guns, I mean, not the reenactors.) The gun crews are mostly composed of Scouts, so it’s good to see young people get involved in history in a hands-on way. I understand the carriage of the largest piece, with red wheels, was built by the kids themselves. Good job, y’all!

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And finally, exhibit Guest Curator Jim Bevill (pointing), author of The Paper Republic, guides visitors through the display. The gun in the foreground is an 18-pounder pivot gun believed to have used aboard the Texas Schooner Brutus in 1836-37:

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Deep Wreck Presentation, Houston, October 14

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On Tuesday, October 14 at 7 p.m., Amy Borgens and Fritz Hanselmann will discuss the recent deep-water shipwrecks expedition to investigate the wrecks of three sailing vessels, believed to have been overtaken by a catastrophic event with a presumed loss of all on board. These vessels were lost to history until 2011, when they were detected as three unknown sonar targets during a Shell Oil seafloor hazard and archaeological survey. A deep-water remotely operated vehicle investigation by NOAA’s Office of Ocean Exploration and Research unveiled a copperclad shipwreck with collections of small arms and six cannon lying at a depth of approximately 4300 ft. A team of underwater archaeologists from several federal and state organizations returned to the site in July 2013 and recovered a small collection of artifacts to help identify the shipwreck. An investigation of the two nearby Shell Oil targets confirmed these were indeed shipwrecks – one a merchant vessel transporting hides among its cargo and a third vessel of unknown purpose believed to be a three-masted ship. The archaeological team continues to research the video and photographic documentation of the sites and learn more about the artifact assemblage as conservation continues.

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Deep-Water Discoveries: The Monterrey Shipwrecks in the Gulf of Mexico
Tuesday, October 14
7:00-8:00 PM
Houston Maritime Museum, 2204 Dorrington
Houston, Texas 77030

Free to the Public

 

 

Talkin’ Blockade Runners and Wicked Ol’ Charles Morgan

In three weeks, I’ll be giving a couple of talks, one in Arlington, that I’ve mentioned before, and one in Houston, that I haven’t.

On Friday evening, October 10 at 7:30, I’ll be speaking on “Civil War Blockade Running on the Texas Coast” at the University of Texas at Arlington Central Library, Sixth Floor. There will be a reception and a book-signing after. This event is open to the public and everyone’s invited. To RSVP, please call 817-272-1413 or email LibraryFriends@uta.edu. This will be my second trip to North Texas in the last few months, and it should be great fun.

Then, on Saturday the 11th, I’ll be participating in the Fourth Annual Houston History Conference. The conference will be held at the the Julia Ideson Building of the Houston Public Library, 550 McKinney.The theme this year, in recognition of the centennial of the official opening of the Port of Houston. My presentation is “Charles Morgan and the Genesis of the Houston Ship Channel,” a wonderful little story of economic boosterism and Gilded-Age avarice. Space is limited so advance reservations are recommended, but not required. The cost of the conference is $50 per person before October 3; $40 for seniors, presenters and exhibitors; and $25 for teachers not covered by scholarships from their respected school systems. If space allows, on-site registration will be available. All tickets include lunch and admission for a full day of activities. For more information or to enroll in the conference, visit www.houstonhistoryassociation.org or email info@houstonhistoryassociation.org.

The full listing for the Houston History Conference follows below the jump. Hope to see y’all there!

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Fourth Annual Houston History Conference

“Houston: Born on the Bayou, Built on the Port”

Conference set for Saturday, October 11, 2014

WHAT: Entitled “Houston: Born on the Bayou, Built on the Port,” the fourth annual Houston History Conference will coincide with the citywide Centennial of the Ship Channel in Houston. Produced by the Houston History Association (HHA), the conference will be held on Saturday, October 11, 2014 from 8 a.m. – 3:45 p.m. in the Julia Ideson Building – Houston Public Library, 550 McKinney. The conference will provide information to create discussions and awareness among Houston leaders, scholars, academics and the public about the history, important assets and challenges of the port.

Throughout its history, whenever the Port of Houston has grown, Houston has grown, proving it to be a fiscal engine that produces jobs and monetary prosperity for the local and state economy. In 2012, ship-channel related businesses provided over one million jobs throughout Texas, generating $178.5 billion and $4.5 billion in state and local taxes. “Arguably, the Port of Houston ranks as one of Houston’s greatest historical and vital resources, and merits this in-depth examination and attention by HHA,” says Diana DuCroz, president of HHA.

Port of Houston Commissioners Theldon Branch and Dean Corgey and Houston Mayor Annise D. Parker will open the daylong event, followed by the morning presentation from (Ms.) Pat Jasper, director of the Folklife and Traditional Arts Program for the Houston Arts Alliance.

After a preview of the “100: Ship Channel History 1914 – 2014” documentary, attendees can then tour the library’s exhibit on “Stories of a Workforce: Celebrating the Centennial of the Houston Ship Channel.”

The Houston History Association also will present the “Betty Trapp Chapman Awards” to (Ms.) Miki Lusk Norton and Pam Young in recognition of and appreciation for their tireless work for HHA and Houston’s history community.

After lunch, a variety of speakers will give presentations on a wide range of topics in two breakout sessions, including:

  • David Falloure and Tom Tellepsen on outtakes from their book The Town that Built the Port that Built the City; and Mike Mitchell on The New Deal, Federal Writers’ Project & The Port of Houston
  • Mikaela Selley of the Houston Metropolitan Research Center (HMRC) on the Behind the Scenes Research and Making of the Centennial Documentary and Curriculum Guide; and Kim Lykins and Jim Bailey, co-founders of the Texas Foundation for the Arts, on their documentary 100: Ship Channel History 1914-2014.
  • Frances Trimble on The Houston Pilots: Silent Servants of Progress: Houston Ship Channel Pilots; Andy Hall on Charles Morgan and the Genesis of the Houston Ship Channel; and Ms. Sam Akkerman and Ginny Garret on Sport and the Port – An Historical Review of Recreational Boating and Commercial Shipping on Houston’s Shared Waterways
  • Tanya Debose moderating discussion with long-time residents of Pleasantville, Magnolia and Clinton Park neighborhoods about living in the shadow of the Ship Channel

Over 65 community history and preservation partners of HHA have been invited to present exhibits about their organizations and current work. Ample time will be allowed within the conference for attendees to network and learn about Houston History through the work of these organizations.

Space is limited so advance reservations are recommended, but not required. The cost of the conference is $50 per person before October 3; $40 for seniors, presenters and exhibitors; and $25 for teachers not covered by scholarships from their respected school systems. If space allows, on-site registration will be available. All tickets include lunch and admission for a full day of activities.

Houston ISD will offer CEUs and scholarships for its teachers.

The Lancaster Hotel is the official hotel partner for HHA; for special rates, visit http://thelancaster.com or call 800-231-0336.  Limited availability.

For more information or to enroll in the conference, visit www.houstonhistoryassociation.org or email info@houstonhistoryassociation.org.

WHEN:           Saturday, October 11, 2014, 8 a.m. – 3:45 p.m.

WHERE:        Julia Ideson Building – Houston Public Library, 550 McKinney

WHO:            The Houston History Association is an independent 501(c)(3) organization dedicated to promoting Houston area history and serving as a resource for existing historical, preservation and educational organizations and institutions.

Sponsored by: This program is made possible in part by a grant from Humanities Texas, the state affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities. In addition, generous sponsorship has been received from the Port of Houston Authority and Texas Historical Foundation. Other partners include the University of Houston Center for Public History, The Strake Foundation, Miki and Ralph Norton, The Lancaster Hotel, Houston Academy of Medicine – Texas Medical Center Library (HAM-TMC), Texas State Historical Association, Houston Public Library, the City of Houston and Houston Independent School District.

Grant Comes to Galveston

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In the spring of 1880, former President and Union General Ulysses S. Grant made a visit to Texas. Fanned by unprecedented press speculation and coverage, huge crowds and celebrities turned out to greet Grant everywhere he went. This was particularly true of the general’s visit to Galveston, at that time the largest and most prosperous city in Texas. Where did Grant go and what did he do? What did he say? And most importantly, what did he eat? Respected historian Ed Cotham answers these questions and more as he chronicles the extensive newspaper coverage of Grant’s historic visit to the island city in his newest presentation for the Menard Summer Lecture Series.

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Sunday, June 9 at 2 p.m.
Menard Campus, 3302 Avenue O
Galveston, Texas

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Admission is $10 for Galveston Historical Foundation members, $12 for non-members.

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Image: Morgan Line steamship Harlan, that carried the Grants from Clinton, Texas to Galveston and on to New Orleans in 1880. Museum of Fines Arts Houston/Bayou Bend Collection.

Aye Candy: Japanese Miniature Submarine

Render of a Japanese Navy Type A Ko-hyoteki-class “midget” submarine, c. December 1941. The Type A was the first of four classes of miniature submarines developed by the Japanese Navy during the war.

This model is based loosely on the Type A boats that were used as part of the attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawai’i on December 7, 1941. All five were lost, and only one of their ten crew members survived to become a prisoner of war. His boat, HA. 19, is now displayed at the National Museum of the Pacific War in Fredericksburg, Texas.

This model is based on a variety of sources, and may not be accurate in all details. Particularly useful were the large number of photos of HA. 19 available through the U.S. Naval Historical Center, NavSource.org, and the Library of Congress.

Modeled in Rhino and rendered in Flamingo. More images on Flickr.

2013 Menard Summer Lecture Series

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The Galveston Historical Foundation has announced its lineup for the 2013 Menard Summer Lecture Series:

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June 9 – Grant Comes To Galveston
Presented by Edward T. Cotham, Jr.
In the spring of 1880, former President and Union General Ulysses S. Grant made a visit to Texas. Fanned by unprecedented press speculation and coverage, huge crowds and celebrities turned out to greet Grant everywhere he went. This was particularly true of the general’s visit to Galveston, at that time the largest and most prosperous city in Texas. Where did Grant go and what did he do? What did he say? And most importantly, what did he eat? Respected historian Ed Cotham answers these questions and more as he chronicles the extensive newspaper coverage of Grant’s historic visit to the island city in his newest presentation for the Menard Summer Lecture Series.
 
June 23 – The Galveston-Houston Packet; Steamships on Buffalo Bayou
Presented by Andrew W. Hall
Before the railroad, before the Interurban, before the scourge of construction detours on the Gulf Freeway, Galveston and Houston were first linked by steamboat. The water link between the two cities helped establish both towns as the fastest-growing, booming communities in the state of Texas during the 19th century. The tale, largely overlooked until now, is one of cut-throat competition, horrific accidents, hard-fought battles and more. Join Galveston author Andy Hall, to explore some of this forgotten history.
 
July 14 – Historic Tales of the Texas Republic, A Glimpse of Texas Past
Presented by Jeffery Robenalt
Though the Republic of Texas existed as a sovereign nation for just nine years, the legacy lives on in the names that distinguish the landscape of the Lone Star State. Austin, Houston, Travis, Lamar, Seguin, Burnet, Bowie, Zavala and Crockett- these historical giants, often at odds, fought through their differences to achieve independence from Mexico and established a republic destined to become the twenty-eighth state in the Union. Author Jeffrey Robenalt chronicles the fight to define and defend the Republic of Texas, from revolutionary beginnings to annexation.
 
August 4 – The First Texas Navy, 1835-1837
Presented by James P. Bevill
This powerful presentation takes place in the throes of the Texas Revolution, as the provisional government of Texas scrambled to put together a naval force to wreak havoc upon the Mexican supply lines. Having first resorted to the use of privateers (state sponsored pirates), Texas was able to borrow money in New Orleans in early 1836, to secure the warships Liberty, Invincible, Independence and the Brutus. Author and historian James Bevill tells the story of those four ships and the significant contributions of men made on the high seas in the fight for Texas independence. This remarkable story is triumphant and tragic, and an entertaining finale to the 2013 Menard Summer Lecture Series.

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Each talk takes place on Sunday afternoon at 2 pm, at Menard Hall, 33rd Street and Avenue O in Galveston. Tickets are $12 for each talk, or $40 for the series. Hope to see you there.

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Pearl Harbor Talk at Houston Maritime Museum, Thursday

From the release:

As President Roosevelt stated, December 7, 1941, is “a date which will live in infamy” for us all. This is especially true for Thomas Gillette whose father, Capt. Claude Gillette (USNA-1909), served as the Manager of the Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard from 1939-1942.

Living with his family in “Quarters E” inside the shipyard, Thomas’s childhood was unique to say the least. Don’t miss this rare opportunity to hear Thomas recant his first hand experiences which include fond memories of watching Saturday night movies aboard the USS Arizona and hosting listening parties for the Army-Navy game at his home with senior naval officers. He will also share his somber memories of witnessing the Japanese planes that flew 30 feet above his home, the tragic events that followed and how life was turned upside for his family and friends as they changed their lifestyles in an attempt to ward off future attacks.

In addition, Thomas’s uncle was on the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee which has given him unique insight into why the attack happened and why it was a surprise!

Join the Houston Maritime Museum as Thomas shares this infamous piece of history from a different perspective. Admission is free and includes access to the museum’s exhibits.

Thursday, March 14th at 7pm
2204 Dorrington, Houston

 Bonus: A 1945 interview with Rear Admiral Gillette, on the attack on Pearl Harbor and its consequences.

Talkin’ Buffalo Bayou Steamboats

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I’ve recently scheduled a couple of more public talks for the spring. These have proved to be a lot of fun, and (I hope) informative, too. Maybe I’ll see you there!

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Buffalo Bayou Steamboats
Book Talk and Signing
Jean Laffite Society
April 9, 2013 (Time TBA)
Meridian Towers Retirement Center
23rd Street and Seawall Boulevard
Galveston, Texas
 
Cotton by Rail to the Sea
Book Talk and Signing, Burton Cotton Gin Museum
24th Annual Cotton Gin Festival
April 20, 2013 (Time TBA)
307 North Main
Burton, Texas
 
Buffalo Bayou Steamboats
Book Talk and Signing
Galveston Historical Foundation Menard Summer Lecture Series
Sunday, June 23, 2013 at 2 p.m. Tickets required.
Menard Hall, 33rd and Avenue
Galveston, Texas 77550
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Image: Volunteers from the Southwest Underwater Archaeological Society examine the remains of the former Buffalo Bayou steamboat A. S. Ruthven, near Parker’s Bluff on the Trinity River, 1997.
 

The Fate of the Confederate Submersible H. L. Hunley

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Big news came out Monday in the investigation of the remains of the Confederate submersible Hunley, arguably the most important scientific finding of the project to date. Archaeologists revealed that the cleaned an conserved remains of the iron spar that carried the boat’s 135 lb. (61kg) torpedo still had attached remnants of the explosive device’s copper casing, peeled back by the force of the explosion (above). This is a tremendously important finding, because it shows that the little “fish boat” was close, very close, the blast that sank her opponent, U.S.S. Housatonic. How close?

Twenty feet, maybe.

Here’s why. Hunley was originally intended to tow a floating mine (then called a “torpedo”) behind her, and run under the target ship. If all went according to plan, the mine would be pulled into the side of the enemy vessel and detonate — on the opposite side from where Hunley was.

Unfortunately, this worked better in theory than in practice. In testing, they found that the towing line was prone to getting fouled in the boat’s propeller and rudder mechanism. Hunley’s ability to dive and run completely submerged — in order to pass underneath the target vessel — was problematic, as well, as shown by two prior, fatal sinking of the boat. (Not for nothing was it known as the “peripatetic coffin.”) Clearly, they had to find a method to deliver the mine to its target that gave them precise control, which in turn meant planting the mine against the target ahead of the boat, not towing it along behind.

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Hunley Project Chief Archaeologist Maria Jacobsen. Charleston Post & Courier.

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For years, it’s been generally accepted that Hunley‘s mine was detachable and fitted with a spike or barb, that would be rammed into the target’s hull. Once that was fixed in place, the submersible would back off for a safe distance, and detonate the mine using a lanyard, in the same way that period artillery pieces were fired. Up to today, this was the accepted scenario of how the attack was supposed to have been carried out. The physical evidence revealed in Charleston on Monday, however, suggests that experience gained in another attack on a blockading warship caused a critical change in those plans:

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After the towline got fouled in the Hunley’s rudder and propeller during a test run in Charleston Harbor, engineers decided to refit the sub with a spar similar to the ones used by ironclads, picket boats and Davids, which were low-profile stealth boats.
 
The engineering quickly evolved through trial and error. In October 1863, a David attacked the USS New Ironsides outside Charleston Harbor, ramming a torpedo into its flank. The blast didn’t sink the ship, but did serious damage.
 
The explosion also threw a plume of water into the air, some of which extinguished the fire powering the David’s steam engine. Jacobsen said that attack prompted Confederate engineers to refine their method of attack. If the main thrust of the blast was up, the mines would have limited success hitting the side of a ship. They would do more damage if they were planted under the ships.
 
The Hunley was equipped with an adjustable spar that could be raised or lowered. The torpedo was fixed on the spar at an angle, so that when the spar was lowered for an attack, the torpedo was sitting dead horizontal.
 
Jacobsen knows this because of a detailed drawing of the “torpedo used to sink the Housatonic” that survives in the papers of Confederate officials in Charleston during the war. But until Hunley scientists found the remains of that exact torpedo, they couldn’t be sure those drawings were accurate.
 
The torpedo, like the Hunley, had been upgraded through trial and error. Because triggers and detonators on these torpedoes were woefully unreliable, the Hunley’s torpedo had three triggers, any one of which would blow the charge.
 
And, because the David’s 65-pound torpedo did not sink the Ironsides, the Hunley’s torpedo was packed with more than double the gunpowder — 135 pounds.

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As a result, the scientists now believe, George Dixon and his crew set out on the evening of February 17, 1864, with the intention of placing the mine not in the enemy ship’s side, but under the hull, anticipating that most of the blast would be directed upward, ripping apart that part of the vessel. This interpretation in supported by witnesses aboard Housatonic, who first sighted Hunley a couple of hundred yards off their port bow, then watched as the submersible passed across their bow, then came around to strike their ship well aft on the starboard side, where the contour of the hull sweeps in and up toward the stern.

That sort of attack, if were planned that way as the researchers now believe, almost certainly doomed Hunley and her crew. Nonetheless, neither the project’s chief archaeologist, Maria Jacobsen, nor South Carolina Lieutenant Governor Glenn McConnell, who’s led the fund-raising for the project since its inception, believe Dixon and his crew expected theirs to be a suicide mission. “They were pressed for time, they were pressed for resources, but nothing indicates this was a suicide mission,” Jacobsen said. “They just had to get the job done.”

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Detail of a painting, “Charleston Bay and City,” by Conrad Wise Chapman, showing a Confederate ironclad with a spar torpedo (show in raised position) very similar to that used aboard Hunley. Museum of the Confederacy.

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Lots of questions about what happened that night remain, including ones underscored by Monday’s announcement about the spar torpedo. Though the crew probably had little idea of how the concussion from the detonation of the mine would have carried underwater, the force must have been tremendous. While the hull of the boat itself remains covered for now with cement-like concretions of sand and shell, when these are removed beginning next year, Jacobsen and her team will be looking closely for effects of the blast, in the form of popped rivets and opened seams between the iron plates. It would not take many of these to sink a boat like Hunley, that had precious little buoyancy to begin with, even under ideal conditions. If her crew were incapacitated as well,  Hunley could easily have drifted, slowly filling with water, until she settled on the bottom some distance away.

We likely never will know all the details of what happened that night in February 1864, but the work of Jacobsen and her team at the Warren Lasch Conservation Center, where Hunley is being studied and preserved, are getting us closer and giving us a better understanding of those events.

In the meantime, I’ve updated the spar on my old digital model of H. L. Hunley. There’s a spool on the starboard side of the boat, next to the forward hatch. Until it was assumed that this was for unspooling the lanyard used to detonate the mine; now I think it may have led through a block on the upper boom, to raise and lower the spar. That’s how I’ve depicted it here:

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Finally, a few good Hunley links for those interested in learning more:

Michael Crisafulli’s Hunley reconstruction:
http://www.vernianera.com/Hunley/
Michael likely knows more about the construction and operation of the Hunley than anyone not directly affiliated with the project. Great stuff for the technically-minded. (Michael also can give you a guided tour of Jules Verne’s Nautilus, as well.)
 
NPS Housatonic Site Assessment
http://www.cr.nps.gov/history/online_books/maritime/housatonic.pdf
 
NPS Hunley Site Assessment:
http://www.cr.nps.gov/history/online_books/maritime/hunley.pdf

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