About the National Archives

Welcome Remarks for The Fate of the Submarine H.L. Hunley

Good afternoon. I’m David Ferriero, Archivist of the United States, and I’m pleased to welcome you to the William G. McGowan Theater at the National Archives to hear Rachel Lance tell us about “The Fate of the Submarine H. L. Hunley.” Welcome also to those of you joining us through YouTube.

I would like to give a special welcome and thanks to Mark Mollan, an archivist in our Old Navy/Maritime Reference section, for his help and guidance, and the Washington Area Maritime Archivists Curators and Historians Group for co-sponsoring this program.

But before we get started, I’d like to tell you about two other programs coming up this week.

On Wednesday, December 13, at noon, author Molly Burton will be here to discuss and sign her new book, Finally, A Parade for You: A Gift of Gratitude for Military Men and Women Who Served During the Vietnam War. This program is presented in conjunction with our recently opened exhibit, “Remembering Vietnam,” in the Lawrence F. O’Brien Gallery.

Then, that evening, December 13 at 7 p.m., we will be treated to a concert by the U.S. Navy Band Brass Quintet. Since 1971, the Navy Band Brass Quintet has performed at ceremonies and events throughout the Washington area, including performances at the White House, Pentagon, State Department, and Washington Navy Yard.

To learn more about these and all of our public programs and exhibits, consult our monthly Calendar of Events online at Archives.gov. Check our website or sign up to get email updates. You’ll also find information about other National Archives programs and activities.

Another way to get more involved with the National Archives is to become a member of the National Archives Foundation. The Foundation supports the work of the agency, especially its education and outreach programs. Pick up your application for membership in the lobby or become a member online at archivesfoundation.org.

On February 17, 1864, in the last year of the Civil War, the Confederate submarine H. L. Hunley pressed a black powder explosive against the side of the Union ship USS Housatonic and sank it. Shortly after the Hunley became the first submarine ever to be successful in combat, it mysteriously sank.

Even though the submarine was raised in the year 2000, efforts to conserve her only deepened the mystery of why she sank, as the remains of the crew were all found seated peacefully at their battle stations with no signs of trauma or attempts to escape the doomed vessel. Rachel Lance, a biomedical engineer specializing in trauma patterns from underwater explosions, investigated the various theories to explain the sinking of the Hunley as part of her Ph.D. dissertation studies at Duke University. Her documentary research led her to NARA holdings for the U.S. Naval Courts of Inquiry’s 1864 investigation of the sinking of the USS Housatonic. Today, we are pleased to welcome her to the National Archives to present the results of her investigation.

Rachel Lance holds BS and MS degrees in biomedical engineering from the University of Michigan and, despite remaining a Wolverine at heart, she received her Ph.D. in the same field from Duke University in 2016. For the past nine years, Dr. Lance worked as a proud civil servant for the U.S. Navy, building underwater breathing systems and investigating underwater blast trauma. Recently, she left the civil service and currently performs collaborative research in the field of respiratory physiology with Duke University while working on a book about the Hunley and the science required to solve the mystery.

Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome Rachel Lance.