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Author Talk: In the Waves: My quest to solve the mystery of a Civil War Sub

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Hagley Soda House

298 Buck Road

Wilmington, DE 19807

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Rachel Lance will speak about her detective work uncovering the story behind the sinking of the Confederate submarine the HL Hunley.

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Rachel Lance will speak about her successful detective work uncovering the story behind the sinking of the Confederate submarine the HL Hunley. Deployed in the 1864 battle of Charleston harbor, the HL Hunley sank the USS Housaton before it disappeared as well, killing its crew and leaving no visible wreckage. The mystery of the submarine’s demise remained a source of speculation for over 100 years, and only deepened in 1975 when it was finally raised from the harbor’s floor. The craft’s metal hull showed no indication that it had been breached. Additionally, all eight men were still seated at their stations—frozen in time after more than a century. Why did it sink? Why did the men die without any sign they had sought to exit?

Encountering this puzzle while in graduate school at Duke University, Lance became obsessed with understanding what happened. Her interest and training led her to the Hagley archives to learn more about black powder, the explosive used by the U.S. Navy during the Civil War. Drawing on Hagley’s holdings on black powder, and studies from the Civil War era on its blast properties, allowed Hundley to unravel the mystery of why the submarine sank and why its sailors died in their chairs.

Rachel Lance is a biomedical engineer and blast-injury specialist who works as a scientific researcher on military diving projects at Duke University. Before returning to graduate school to earn her PhD, Dr. Lance spent several years as an engineer for the United States Navy, working to build specialized underwater equipment for use by navy divers, SEALs, and Marine Force Reconnaissance personnel.

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Hagley Soda House

298 Buck Road

Wilmington, DE 19807

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