Lifelong Learning Institute, Manassas

LLI: “Blue Light” – the Story of the CSS Hunley

Hylton Performing Arts Center, Jacquemin Family Foundation Rehearsal Hall


The Confederate Submarine that Sank a Ship and Sparked an Enduring Civil War Mystery

Speaker/Host: Mike Ahern

On the murky night of February 17, 1864, outside the harbor of Charleston, South Carolina, the Union warship Housatonic exploded and sank within minutes. The ship had been rammed with a torpedo carried by the Confederate submarine H. L. Hunley, marking the first time that a warship had been sunk by a submarine. But shortly after its stunning success, the iron fish-boat vanished without a trace, sparking one of the greatest mysteries of the Civil War.

After more than a century, in August 2000, an expedition led by novelist Clive Cussler found and raised the Hunley intact from the ocean floor and towed her back to Charleston Harbor. For the next 15 years, in a specially-built conservation and research center, the Hunley was opened and painstakingly dismantled and examined by a team of historians, naval engineers, and forensic scientists. Their findings and analyses revealed remarkable details of the submarine’s construction and technology and the probable fate of her crew, whose remains were found still at their duty stations in the wreck.

In this class, Mike Ahern will relate the fascinating history of this remarkable naval encounter, the examination and conservation of the boat, and whether the mystery of the CSS Hunley has been truly solved.

Mike Ahern holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in chemistry and served 26 years in the U.S. Army. He has taught at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, 12 years with Prince William County Schools, and as an adjunct for George Mason University’s College of Education. He is a former Washington Post Teacher of the Year for Prince William County Schools. He is also a former president of LLI-Manassas and has taught many classes for LLI. He has visited the CSS Hunley’s Conservation Center in Charleston and looks forward to telling this amazing story.

This event is open to the public. For more information about the Lifelong Learning Institute, Manassas, visit