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Intelligent Whale: A Historical and Archaeological Analysis of an American Civil War Submersible 

Peter Winston Hitchcock

Thesis: May 2002

Chair: Dr. Donny L. Hamilton

Nautical Archaeology Program

The topic of this thesis is an American Civil War submersible known as the Intelligent Whale. Construction of the vessel began in 1863, but due to several obstacles it was not completed until 1869. Failing an open water test conducted at the Brooklyn Navy Yard (New York Navy Yard) in 1872, the vessel was removed from the water. It remained at the yard until 1965, when it was moved to the Washington Navy Yard. In 1999 it moved to its current location at the National Guard Militia Museum of New Jersey in Sea Girt. Relatively unknown by historians, the Intelligent Whale is the oldest existing submersible in the U.S. Navy.


On the rare occasions when scholars of submersible history provide information about the Intelligent Whale, it is generally limited and in some cases wrong. This thesis will clarify the historical facts and provide a detailed chronology not found in previous histories. Furthermore, a reconstruction of the submersible on paper using measurements taken directly from the vessel will aid the analysis of its hull design, method of construction and configuration of its internal and external features. To date this has not been done, resulting in a lack of knowledge concerning the operation and construction of the submersible. New information will make it possible to discuss the vessel's relation to other Civil War era submersibles, such as the Louisiana State Museum Vessel and H.L. Hunley, and consequently its role in the U.S. Navy and submersible warfare.


In February of 1996, a preliminary survey of the submersible was conducted at the Washington Navy Yard, the objectives of which were to become acquainted with the vessel and determine the extent of previous research. The following summer an extensive survey documented the vessel's interior and exterior features and compiled a photographic record. During the summer of 1998, additional information concerning the vessel's history was obtained from the National Archives and the Naval Historical Center in Washington, D.C. Final documentation of the hull was conducted in March of 2002.

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