Update to Spence’s article “History of Submarine Hunley Marred by Conflicting Claims of Discovery”

Sketch of the Hunley showing it on a dock in Charleston. According to a new book, the Hunley would have been buried and not visible for Spence to see in 1970. Spence says the scientific data relied on by the author was unreliable and should not have been used.

Sketch of the Hunley on a wharf in Charleston, South Carolina. According to a new book on the Hunley recovery, the wrecked sub would have been entirely buried and not visible for Spence to see in 1970. Spence says the scientific data relied on by the book’s editor was unreliable and should never have been used as though it was evidence against him.


Right after I posted my article on the Marred History of the Hunley, someone alerted me about a new book on the Hunley that just came out. It was published by the Naval History and Heritage Command and I must say, its very impressive. The primary editor of the book was Dr. Robert S. Neyland. Dr. Neyland was the archaeologist who was actually in charge of the raising of the Hunley. However, as he did during the raising of the Hunley, he credits Clive Cussler with the wreck’s discovery.

Dr. Neyland devotes less than one page to my discovery claim. He dismisses my claim by trying to make it appear that I mistook a nearby sunken buoy, which had once marked the shipwreck of the USS Housatonic, as the Hunley. By the time I found the Hunley I had already spent over a thousand hours diving Civil War era shipwrecks, and by  it greatly offends me that Dr. Neyland would think I could tell the difference between the Hunley and what eventually proved to be the Housatonic’s wreck buoy. What really bothers me is that I have repeatedly offered to meet with Dr. Neyland (and others he worked with) and show and explain to him (them) my proof that I found the Hunley in 1970 and the buoy in 1979. So far, no one has taken me up on that offer. My records clearly show that I did not confuse the buoy with the Hunley. I discovered them in different years and with the help of different people from entirely different boats. I had actually given all the evidence necessary to distinguish between the two discoveries to the South Carolina Institute of Archaeology & Anthropology and the Hunley Commission well prior to Cussler disclosing “his” location for the Hunley. (Note: As soon as I can, I will post a page showing and explaining the evidence that proves I did not confuse the Hunley with the sunken buoy.)

Dr. Neyland also says that “lead isotope analysis of sediment samples around Hunley’s hull shows that once it was buried it had not been uncovered after its initial burial until the 1995 discovery,” so it could not have been partially exposed as I say it was when I found the Hunley in 1970. The scientist at the University of South Carolina who actually conducted those tests and wrote up the report was Dr. Willard Moore, and even Dr. Moore correctly warns in his report of problems with the data. Moreover, the Hunley was completely uncovered in 1995 by the SCIAA/NUMA expedition. That was almost exactly a year before the coring samples (used by Dr. Moore) were taken in 1996 by divers working with SCIAA on the Hunley Project, so its not even reasonable to think the results from those coring samples could accurately reflect the timing of the submarine’s burial in the sediment. (Note: I will address the problems with the core samples and the isotope testing in more detail in a separate post.)

When its already known there are serious problems with scientific test results, and the scientist who used them writes in his report: “Therefore, these data cannot be used to determine sedimentation rates,” that data should not be used to prove a theory to support a largely political goal (i.e. credit Cussler with finding the Hunley not Spence). So why were they used by Dr. Neyland at all?

In case the reader isn’t aware of it, perhaps I should point out that prior to the Hunley Commission’s chairman, Senator Glenn McConnell, asking me to donate my rights to the Hunley to the State and prior to his asking that I lead a state team to the site, Cussler had offered to donate $100,000 to the Hunley Commission. After my donation and my agreement to lead a state team to the Hunley wreck site was written up in a local paper, a reporter asked Cussler what he thought of it. In reply to McConnell’s effectively having recognized me as the discoverer, Cussler threatened to instead write his check for $100,000 to Senator McConnell’s political opponent if the Hunley Commission didn’t do what was right. One might assume that to Cussler right meant credit him. Senator McConnell suddenly uninvited me from the very role that he had asked me to play. There had been no new diving at the wreck site so there was no new scientific evidence that could have caused Senator McConnell to change the plans. Since nothing material had changed, except for Cussler’s threat, it makes me believe that Cussler’s threat was the triggering factor.

I don’t know all of the ins-and-outs of how and exactly why Cussler was credited, but its my understanding that Senator McConnell was effectively although not technically Dr. Neyland’s boss, and perhaps Senator McConnell convinced Dr. Neyland (and/or others) what evidence was credible and thus who should be listened to and credited. It certainly didn’t help me that Cussler was added to the Friends of the Hunley’s Board with the hopes that Cussler would help raise money for the work, or that the Friends of the Hunley had been placed in overall charge of the project.

For whatever reasons, Dr. Neyland never agreed to meet with me to review my evidence. I am certainly not saying that Dr. Neyland credited Cussler for political reasons, but I am saying that Cussler’s threat put the issue of who to credit into the realm of politics and not just into the realm of historic or scientific inquiry.

I don’t feel a need to further address Dr. Neyland’s conclusion that the wreck of the Hunley was buried in 1970 and that I could not have found it, because that conclusion appears to have been reached solely on the basis of Dr. Moore’s test results, and I think most people would agree with me that those results should not have been used.

See also: The Discovery of the Hunley