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Lucky' coin found in sub wreck

Jan 1, 2003

The legend that Lt. George Dixon, captain of H. L. Hunley always carried his lucky gold coin has been proven by archeologists excavating the Confederate submarine that sank in Charleston harbor in 1864 after carrying out the first successful submarine attack.

Senior archeologist Maria Jacobson, at left, made the discovery while working with the team that is carefully excavating Hunley. She found the coin near Dixon's remains and in the middle of some textiles, leading to speculation that he kept the coin in his pants pocket. "The presence of the coin absolutely confirms the identity of Lt. George E. Dixon. It removes all doubt and also speaks of his character and faith," said Warren Lasch, chairman of Friends of the Hunley Inc.

The coin is bent, true to the story that a bullet hit the coin and saved Dixon's leg and life during the Battle of Shiloh on April 6, 1862. The legend goes that Dixon's sweetheart, Queenie Bennett, gave him the $20 U.S. gold piece for luck. At Shiloh, Dixon was shot in the leg, but the bullet hit the gold piece in his pocket and he was not injured. It was said that Dixon always kept that lucky coin with him and it now appears that he truly did. "Some people may think this is a stroke of luck, but perhaps it's something else," Jacobsen said. "They tell me that Lt. Dixon was a lady's man. Perhaps he winked at us yesterday to remind us that he still is."

The coin was minted in 1860 and has Lady Liberty on one side and the federal shield and eagle symbol on the other. The bullet hit the Lady Liberty side. The eagle side appears to have been sanded and has a cursive inscription that reads in four lines:

Shiloh

April 6, 1862

My life Preserver

G. E. D. (Dixon's initials)

The coin has been removed from the Warren Lasch Conservation Center in Charleston, S.C., and is now in a secured location. "Part of the Hunley's excavation was to separate fact from fable. The discovery of the coin and its inscription is like discovering Cinderella's glass slipper," said Sen. Glenn McConnell, chairman of the Hunley Commission.

The archeological team has also discovered the remains of the other eight Hunley crewmembers and artifacts including a lantern that may have been used to signal Confederate forces on Sullivan's Island that the submarine had sunk USS Housatonic on Feb. 17, 1864.

Hunley emerged 136 years after it sank, following the submarine's successful mission against Housatonic. The Civil War-era submarine was raised on Aug. 8, 2000, from its resting place in 30 feet of water approximately four miles off Sullivan's Island, near Charleston. Raising Hunley was the culmination of a 15-year effort by the National Underwater Marine Agency (NUMA), founded by writer and wreck hunter Clive Cussler in the late 1970s. After the discovery, it took five years of careful planning and consideration to raise Hunley. NUMA, along with Friends of the Hunley Inc., the Department of the Navy, the National Park Service, Oceaneering International Inc., and others, teamed up to facilitate the intensive planning and engineering needed to bring Hunley to the surface. The Hunley project has also received generous support from the National Geographic Society. Archeological operations were suspended in early June and began again in early September. Weekend tours of Hunley began on June 16, 2001. For more information about Hunley, the recovery, excavation and tours through December 2001, visit the Friends of the Hunley Inc. website at www.hunley.org.

Meanwhile, just offshore Cape Hatteras, operations to recover the engines of the ironclad warship Monitor were carried out this past summer. The 30-ton engine was delivered into the care of the Mariners' Museum of Newport News, Va., on August 7. Monitor's hull lies upside down in 240 feet of water 16 miles off the Cape. The ironclad sank in a gale in December 1862 with the loss of 16 crew. The vessel's propeller was raised in 1998 and is on display at the Mariners' Museum. Once cleaned up and preserved, the engines will join the museum's Monitor Center. Follow progress online: www.monitorcenter.org.