Was Lieutenant Dixon Destined to Command the H.L. Hunley Submarine? | History In A Nutshell Shorts


Was it coincidence or destiny that Lieutenant George E. Dixon commanded the Confederate submarine H.L. Hunley on its fateful run? During the American Civil War at the Battle of Shiloh, Dixon suffered a bullet wound to his left leg, but a gold $20 coin given to him by his sweetheart Queenie Bennett absorbed the brunt of the damage, miraculously saving both his leg and his life.

Following that battle, Dixon's regiment returned to Mobile, Alabama. While stationed in Mobile, Dixon developed a curiosity for the “fish boat” being built by engineers Horace Lawson Hunley, James McClintock and Baxter Watson. The Confederacy did not have the money or resources to challenge the Union blockade head-on, so Confederate think-tanks had to devise alternative means of combatting Union warships—the H.L. Hunley "torpedo boat" submarine being one of these.  After several unfortunate training accidents in Charleston Harbor (the second of which claimed Hunley's life), Dixon assumed command of the submarine. Confederate General P.G.T. Beauregard remarked that the Hunley was "more dangerous to those who use it than to the enemy", but Dixon believed in this machine, and was able to convince the reluctant Gen. Beauregard to put the Hunley back into active duty. 

On that cold moonlit night of February 17, 1864, Dixon and his crew successfully carried out the historic attack on the Union's heavily armed sloop-of-war U.S.S. Housatonic. The Hunley made history, being the first submarine to ever sink an enemy vessel in combat but vanished under mysterious circumstances, never returning to its port on Sullivan's Island.

For well over a century, the story of Lt. Dixon's gold coin was considered a legend. To the astonishment of many, legend became fact when a bent $20 piece was found buried in the sediment alongside Dixon's remains by Clemson University chief archaeologist Maria Jacobsen. Inscribed on the coin reads as follows: 

April 6th 1862
My life Preserver
G. E. D."

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