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Misadventures of a Civil War SubmarineMisadventures of a Civil War Submarine

Iron, Guns, and Pearls

James P. Delgado


Book published by Texas A&M University Press


In 2001, while vacationing on Panama’s Pacific coast, maritime archaeologist James P. Delgado came upon the hulk of a mysterious iron vessel, revealed by the ebbing tides in a small cove at Isla San Telmo. Local inquiries proved inconclusive: the wreck was described as everything from a sunken Japanese "suicide" submarine from World War II to a poison-laden "craft of death" that was responsible for the ruin of the pearl beds, decades before.

His professional interest fully aroused, Delgado would go on to learn that the wreck was the remains of one of the first successful deep-diving submersibles, built in 1864 by Julius H. Kroehl, an innovator and entrepreneur who initially sought to develop his invention for military use during the Civil War. The craft’s completion coming too late for that conflict, Kroehl subsequently convinced investors that it could be used to harvest pearls from the Pacific beds off Panama, in waters too deep for native pearl divers to reach.

In Misadventures of a Civil War Submarine, Delgado chronicles the confluence of technological advancement, entrepreneurial aspiration, American capitalist ambition, and ignorance of the physiological effects of deep diving. As he details the layers of knowledge uncovered by his work both in archival sources and in the field excavation of Kroehl’s ill-fated vessel, Delgado weaves the tangled threads of history into a compelling narrative. This finely crafted saga will fascinate and inform professional archaeologists and researchers, naval historians, students and aficionados of maritime exploration, and interested general readers.

James P. Delgado is a fellow of the Royal Geographical Society and the Explorers Club and director of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Maritime Heritage Program. He is the author or editor of more than thirty books on maritime archaeology.

REVIEWS:

“In Misadventures of a Civil War Submarine: Iron, Guns, and Pearls Jim Delgado puts together a wonderfully entertaining and wide ranging foray into the past. From the timber merchants of East Prussia in the late 18th century, to mass media television in the fishing villages of the Archipiélago de las Perlas in the early 21st century, Jimsteps lightly from World Systems Theory to “How in the world did that happen?!”in a manner that is both engaging and informative. The incredible story of Julius Kroehl and the submarine that he built is both a story of people striving to do amazing things and a parable of technology exceeding our ability to understand its effects—highly recommended for anyone interested in the transitions of the industrial revolution, and the unintended consequences of change in modernity.”

—David L. Conlin, Archaeologist/Chief, National Park Service Submerged Resources Center

“James Delgado has produced another excellent book, a well-researched and clear account of a virtually unknown underwater craft, the Marine Explorer, a key link between the diving bell and the submarine. Based on evidence drawn from traditional archival and nautical archeological source, the study places the Marine Explorer in the context of mid-nineteenth-century technological innovation showing it to have been as important at the better-known H.L. Hunley and the Intelligent Whale in advancing the development of submersible vessels. Delgado also supplies an excellent analysis of an attempt to apply new technology to capitalizing on a natural resource—in this case the harvesting of pearls—that invites comparison to the mining industry of the same era.”

—James Bradford, professor at Texas A&M University

“A fascinating story of engineering, pioneering undersea exploration and America at the start of the Gilded Age. Delgado restores a forgoteen chapter in submarine development to history.”

—The Daily News

“...admirably researched...a fascinating story of engineering, pioneering undersea exploration, and America at the start of the Gilded Age...”

—Mark Lardas, Ships in Scale

“...truly an original work...Delgado's study is highly recommended for Civil War scholars and enthusiasts, as well as more general nautical history and technology students.”

Civil War Books and Authors

“Delgado's new book will help ensure that this fascinating bit of maritime history does not disappear...Misadventures of a Civil War Submarine is a very good read.”

—Andrew Jampoler, United States Naval Institute

“This is the story of a submarine that was built at the close of the American Civil War...The author took some photos so that will be what remains as the sea will claim the submarine wreckage in the next few years.”

The Lone Star Book Review





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