HL Hunley


The Secret Hope Of The Confederacy

On the evening of February 17, 1864, the Confederacy’s H. L. Hunley sank the Union’s formidable sloop of war the USS Housatonic and became the first submarine in world history to sink an enemy ship. But after accomplishing such a feat, the Hunley and her crew of eight also vanished beneath the cold Atlantic waters off Charleston, South Carolina. For generations, the legend of the Hunley grew as searchers prowled the harbor, looking for remains. Even after the submarine was definitively located in 1995 and recovered five years later, those legends have continued to flourish. In a tour de force of document-sleuthing and insights gleaned from the excavation of this remarkable vessel, the distinguished Civil War–era historian Tom Chaffin presents the most thorough telling of the Hunley’s story possible. Of panoramic breadth, this saga begins long before the submarine was even assembled and follows the tale into the boat’s final hours and through its recovery in 2000. Engaging and groundbreaking, The H. L. Hunley provides the definitive account of a fabled craft.


“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
“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

“The best book on the role of the submarine is Tom Chaffin’s The H.L Hunley: The Secret Hope of the Confederacy
—Craig L. Symonds, Naval History Magazine

“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

“Chaffin’s research is impeccable…the author has clearly spent long hours in multiple archives around the country tracking down any relevant materials…All readers benefit from his lucid and engaging prose, which makes this a tough volume to put down.”
—Kurt Hackemer, South Carolina Historical Magazine

“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

“[The author has conducted] exhaustive research in manuscript collections, archival holdings, and secondary sources. He skillfully directs the reader with novel-like prose from the submarine’s origins to its cryptic final hours. Doubtless this monograph will be the seminal work on the Confederacy’s legendary submersible that historians, students, and Civil War enthusiasts can equally enjoy.”
—R. Blake Dunnavent, Journal of Southern History

“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

“To Chaffin’s credit, he tells his tale with great gusto, using a highly readable narrative style . . . exceptionally well researched.”
—John T. Kuhen, Naval History Magazine
“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: The Secret Hope of the Confederacy is narrative history at its most readable and remarkable.”
—Leonard Gill, Memphis Flyer
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

“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
 “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.”
—Valdosta Daily Times
 “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 Magazine (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
“[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
“A definitive reading of the submarine’s forensic evidence.”
Garden & Gun magazine
“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