“The Hunley” movie
Having moved back from New York City, I discovered that my familiar public library in northwest Chicagoland got a facelift. The wall between the children and adult sections has been torn down, creating a pleasant sense of open space. While browsing there last week, I chanced upon a movie I had never heard about before: “The Hunley.”
A TNT movie from 1999, it didn’t win any awards for acting (though it did win an Emmy for sound editing). I enjoyed watching “The Hunley” because it recreates what it may have been like to serve aboard the first effective combat submarine in history. Starring Armand Assante, it has a bit of an action movie feel to it. For a film taking place inside of a weapons platform propelled by the underwhelming power of half a dozen men cranking away at the propeller shaft by hand, the high-intensity aesthetic is a bit of a mismatch.
Nevertheless, for a long time I’ve wondered what may have been going through the heads of the servicemen that volunteered to serve aboard that ship. A WWII fleet boat, with its air conditioning, wardroom, and sleeping quarters is one thing (not to even mention the downright livable accommodations on board modern nuclear submarines). But the CSS Hunley was a bare tube lit by candlelight without a wink of electronic equipment on board. Its surfaces were tinged with rust from the two times it had already been sunk with all hands lost. Both times the Hunley was raised to the surface and refurbished for service.
The third crew that took it to battle on February 17, 1864 against the USS Housatonic willingly went to war in what essentially had served as a coffin two times already. It would be one a third time: after sinking that Union sloop, the Hunley went to the bottom again. It would resurface only in the year 2000 when it was raised by archaeologists. “The Hunley” is worth watching if you’re interested in this aspect of early submarine history but, like me, have had a hard time imagining what being part of the crew may have been like.
Note: The painting pictured above is a close-up of Mort Künstler’s The Final Mission, showing the CSS Hunley about to depart to attack the USS Housatonic. Künstler is an excellent painter of Civil War scenes and this is his website.