Clarksville, TN – Clarksville Foundry, one of Tennessee’s oldest manufacturing companies with pre-Civil War origins, is a participant in a National Geographic Channel project that explores the mystery of the sinking of the Confederate submarine H. L. Hunley.
National Geographic Channel’s two-hour special, “Secret Weapon of the Confederacy,” premiers Thursday, September 15th, at 8:00pm CT. The show includes footage filmed at Clarksville Foundry, and features onscreen appearances by foundry employees Larry Rye and Larry Hale.
According to the show’s synopsis, “It was the first submarine ever to sink an enemy ship, but after only one successful mission the H.L. Hunley vanished with its crew and lay hidden for more than a century. The circumstances surrounding the disappearance of the Confederacy’s secret weapon have remained an enduring mystery since the Civil War era, but now NGC has uncovered what may have brought it down.”
Clarksville Foundry’s contribution to the project brought a national film production crew to the company’s facilities in January 2010. The foundry’s role in the project was to recreate an iron section of one of the submarine’s two conning towers that was subsequently tested in an effort to determine what led to the catastrophic fate of the vessel and crew.
According to Clarksville Foundry president, Charles Foust Jr., “It was critical that the reproduction iron section virtually match the chemical composition of the Hunley’s original plating. To achieve this accuracy, we conducted a metallurgical analysis of a piece of period iron, similar to the Hunley’s iron plates. Then, based on measurements supplied by the NGC project team, we created molds and cast a reproduction section of the conning tower.”
The molding and casting processes were filmed on-site over a two-day period in Clarksville’s Foundry’s main manufacturing building. As is the case in the centuries-old casting process, the iron “recipe” is super heated to a molten consistency. The foundry’s 400 kilowatt inductotherm electric furnace creates the white hot glow of the molten material that leads to the pour – accompanied by its impressive splatters and sparks – into the mold where it cools over several hours into hardened iron.
The casting process and results of the testing will be revealed in the “Secret Weapon of the Confederacy” airing on NGC.
Clarksville Foundry’s Civil War Ties
Clarksville Foundry is one of the oldest operating foundries in America, with its roots traced to 1847. Organized by H.P. Dorris as the first foundry in Montgomery County, the company produced munitions for the Confederacy in 1861. While conducting research a few years ago at the National Archives in Washington, D.C., Civil War historian and author, Greg Biggs of Clarksville, located a requisition to the foundry dated December 9th, 1861, for the sale of “300 Rifle Cannon Ball” to the Confederate States of America.
For the past 100 years, Clarksville Foundry has been owned and operated by members of the same family. Current president Charles Foust Jr. is the third generation of the Foust family to head the operation, having followed in the footsteps of his grandfather, uncle and father.
As part of the current Civil War Sesquicentennial observance, Foust recently completed a three-year project to produce a replica of an 1841 six-pounder cannon. Starting with period drawings and diagrams, Foust and his foundry staff literally built the cannon from the ground up, by designing and constructing detailed wood patterns that were used to create molds for the casting process. A finished cannon was presented by Foust to the Clarksville community as a gift to commemorate the Sesquicentennial, and is installed at Fort Defiance Civil War Park.
The Historic H.L. Hunley
The submarine H. L. Hunley was built in Mobile, AL, and launched in July 1863. In August 1863, it was shipped by rail to Charleston, SC where it made history. The Hunley became the world’s first submarine to sink a ship in combat, when it attacked and sank the USS Housatonic in Charleston Harbor on February 17th, 1864. After its successful torpedo hit, the Hunley signaled the Confederate battery it was returning to base, but mysteriously disappeared before reaching its destination.
The wrecked submarine, with the remains of its crew still at their stations, was discovered in 1995 by a dive team financed by author Clive Cussler. In August 2000, the Hunley was raised from the wreck site in the open waters of the Atlantic Ocean, just over 3.5 nautical miles from Sullivan’s Island outside of the entrance to Charleston Harbor. It was transported by barge to the Warren Lasch Conservation Center at the former Charleston Navy Yard for extensive analysis and preservation.
On April 17th, 2004, the remains of Lieutenant George E. Dixon and the seven volunteer crewmembers of the Hunley were interred with full military honors in Charleston’s Magnolia Cemetery, a ceremony that has been called the “Last Confederate Funeral.”
In an attempt to unravel the mystery of what happened to the Hunley, a part of the submarine was reproduced, which included Clarksville Foundry’s iron casting, and fired upon using period weapons to determine if the shots could have caused the damage seen on the wreckage. For more information on “Secret Weapon of the Confederacy,” visit www.natgeotv.com.
National Geographic Channel is available from these Local Cable Providers:
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