“I’ve got the coin.”

stories by Frank Stephenson

In March 2001, researchers probing the muddy interior of the Hunley found the first bones.

Lucky coin: This warped 1860 twenty-dollar gold piece, re­covered from the remains of Lt. Dixon, sits on display at the Lasch Center. Thought to have saved Dixon’s life in battle, the coin adds poignancy to the Hunley legacy. Image courtesy of Ray Stanyard.

 

From the start, all knew that this was inevitable, yet the moment was no less poignant. From then on, the work at the Lasch Center proceeded with a solemn new appreciation.

Kneeling in the sub’s forward compartment, the evening of May 23, Maria Jacobsen was carefully working her way through a mound of mud that contained the upper torso of a crew member thought to be the Hunley’s skipper.

Suddenly, she touched something inexplicably familiar. Withdrawing her hand from the muck, she stared at something shiny.

Jacobsen turned to her colleagues and said simply, “I’ve got the coin.”

It was a Liberty Head 1860 twenty-dollar gold piece, showing obvious damage. The coin was caved in from the front. Flipping it to tails, Jacobsen read an inscription, written in cursive:

Shiloh April 6, 1862
My life Preserver
G.E.D.

Nothing could identify the jumble of bones before Jacobsen any better than this. She had found Lt. George E. Dixon’s good-luck charm, the heavy coin that had saved him from the hell of Shiloh, Tennessee. Legend had it that as Dixon headed off to war he carried the coin given to him by a sweetheart, one Queenie Bennett of Mobile, Alabama, whom he planned to marry as soon as the war ended.

Scant evidence has turned up to support the story, or to refute it. But it nonetheless makes for a romantic tale irresistible to Hollywood, which has made it part of the Hunley drama in several films and TV specials.

 
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A submarine that made history delivers another potent payload, this time for science.

Go to learning from the Hunley.

Much of what people believed about the Hunley turned out to be flat wrong. And here’s what the team has discovered so far.

Read more.

 

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