In the Waves

My Quest to Solve the Mystery of a Civil War Submarine

Forthcoming from Dutton Books in April 2020

The diminutive, hand-powered HL Hunley was the first submarine ever to sink an enemy ship in combat, and it did so in 1864 during the heated final years of America’s bloodiest war. The little Confederate submarine disappeared immediately after its historic victory, leaving behind only a few muddled eyewitness reports and not a single physical clue to the cause of its own demise. It was recovered from beneath the ocean floor centuries later, in the year 2000, but the puzzle of its disappearance only deepened when the hull was opened to reveal that the remains of the crew were still seated peacefully at their battle stations, and seemed to be unharmed.

While a PhD student at Duke University, blast and ballistic trauma researcher Rachel Lance read about the mysterious crew deaths and decided to investigate. To her, the most likely suspect was the massive black powder bomb that the men set off only a few feet from their own bow.

This book tells the story of the science behind the explosions, gunshots, asphyxiation, and myriad other physiological insults that could have affected the crew of the Hunley that cold night in February 1864, all connected by the tale of the submarine and now-Doctor Lance’s mission to complete the experiments. And most importantly, it finally answers one of American history’s most haunting questions: What sank the HL Hunley?