So the presumably terrified crew members climbed on board for its first test run. It plunged below the surface of the water ... then the skipper accidentally stepped on the hatch lever. Water came gushing in. Three members of the frantic crew were able to escape, including the skipper. The other five drowned.
Well, accidents happen. They brought the sub back to the surface, dragged the dead bodies out, and decided to try it again. Once more, imagine you're a volunteer. You could probably rationalize it; after all, they'll surely make sure nothing goes wrong this time, and the sub's inventor, Hunley himself, will be taking part!
It sank again. No one survived, including Hunley.
Even his sideburns drowned.
What else was there to do but drag it up to the surface a second time and declare the ship ready for battle? Any volunteers?
On February 17, 1864, a crew, presumably having said their goodbyes to their loved ones and having made out last wills, crawled into the Hunley for a third trip, and this was no test run. The craft was mounted with a torpedo (it would tow the explosive behind it, then drag it into an overhead ship)and sent five miles out to sea in the hopes of sinking the USS Housatonic.
You could probably handle that with a really big lighter.
Surprisingly, it did. The 1,240 ton boat sank, along with the five crew members who didn't secure spots on the lifeboats. Success! You can only imagine the relief the Hunley's crew must have felt at finally surviving a mission in a submarine in a world clearly not ready for submarines.
Well, they would have been relieved, had they survived. Unfortunately, for reasons that we'll probably never know, the Hunley sank as well, for a third time, along with all eight of its crew. And this time it took a whole 136 years for anyone to bring it back to the surface. Come on, let's give it another shot, gang!
The South shall rise again!