The USS Housatonic was one of the Civil War’s fabled war ships that sailed the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico.
The ship was built at the Boston Navy Yard in Massachusetts in 1861. The ship was massive, measuring over 200 feet in length and was 40 feet wide. It was steamed by two main boilers and had one backup auxiliary-boiler.
The ship easily had enough power to spare and it would need that as it fought off the rag-tag Confederate boats that made up the Rebel navy.
The first action in the Civil War that the Housatonic saw was in April 1863, playing a supporting role to Admiral DuPont’s attempt to take Fort Sumter, the Housatonic fired volley after volley at the forts walls causing significant damage.
On the night of February 17, 1864 the crew of the U.S.S. Housatonic had sighted something floating in the water about 300 yards away from the stern of the ship. Wondering if it was a log, a porpoise or other harmless object allowed the Confederate submarine to close the gap and slip under the radar so to speak of the Union’s vessels heavy guns.
The problem with the U.S.S. Housatonic was that as a submarine came closer and closer the guns of the big Federal war ship could not be lowered low enough to be effective against the submarine.
The Housatonic’s crew did all they could to try to avert the attack but it was no use; the Hunley rammed an explosive charge into the ship’s starboard side. Five minutes is a long time when a ships on fire and your life’s at stake, but the U.S.S. Housatonic was then underwater after 10 minutes.
As the Union blockader’s slipped beneath the waves, five of its valiant crewmen died either from the blast by the H.L. Hunley or by drowning. The remaining surviving crewmembers scrambled to any floating devices they could find in the water and were later picked up by a Federal Rescue Ship.
The USS Housatonic is most famous for becoming the first victim in history to be sunk by a submarine. The Hunley faired no better however; it too sank shortly after the sinking of the Union ship. All hands lost.