- Associated Press - Saturday, January 31, 2015

SHREVEPORT, La. (AP) - A local historian and urban archaeologist thinks he’s solved a mystery: What happened to four Confederate submersibles known to be in Shreveport the last two years of the Civil War, but missing in action since then.

Marty Loschen, director of the Spring Street Museum in downtown Shreveport, thinks he’s found remnants of the hand-propelled craft in the banks of a branch of Cross Bayou about a half-mile west of where the Confederate Navy had a shipyard. At Cross Bayou’s mouth on Red River it was home to the leaky ironclad CSS Missouri and a fast packet, the Webb, whose presence overshadowed the humbler underwater vessels.

Several months ago, before recent rains raised water levels on Cross Bayou and its feeder streams, Loschen and his brother found decades-old rusted metal and some oddly formed tree roots whose shape suggested they had grown over something curved that had long rotted or rusted away. The site was on a bank revealed by low water on Bowman’s chute in Allendale.

“It’s breathtakingly beautiful out there,” says Loschen, who spends much of his time exploring the more remote, forgotten and forbidding parts of old Shreveport. He points to an 1864 map of Shreveport’s defenses, which shows several small buildings near where he found the artifacts.

“There’s your sub base. … There’s an island out there,” he said. “My theory is, if you’re going to have a clandestine sub base, you’re going to put it out there. Look, there are structures out there, near what I found out beached - it has to be.”

He’s waiting for another period of low water.

“It’s under at least 10 feet of water now,” he said. “I’m trying to wait for the water to go down to go see those subs.”

Famed diver Ralph Wilbanks, who found the wreck of the submarine CSS Hunley off Charleston Harbor in 1995, visited Shreveport twice in the last 15 years to search for the local submarines at the behest of best-selling author Clive Cussler, who also drove the search for the Hunley.

A team of well-known diver-researchers performed sonar and magnetometer searches of Red River and parts of Cross Bayou and Cross Lake, finding traces of old trucks from the flapper era, a dock that once served as a ferry link between Shreveport and Bossier City before bridges were built across the Red, and the remains of a Civil War gunboat, the Iron Duke.

Loschen’s site is just west of where Wilbanks’ surveys stopped.

Loschen is a former student and protege of LSU Shreveport history professor and author Gary Joiner, who worked with Wilbanks and whose research over the last three decades revealed official records of the submarines’ existence. Joiner thinks Loschen may have stumbled onto something, but not the lost subs.

“He’s wrong,” Joiner says, noting that metal straps aren’t stiffening ribs. He pointed to the Hunley, predecessor to the Shreveport subs, built by the same engineers but incorporating improvements.

The local subs “had the same everything except they had one hatch instead of two on the Hunley,” Joiner said. “They didn’t have ribs. They were done in the fashion of a boiler.”

There’s evidence the Shreveport subs existed. Reports from both Confederates and Union spies in Shreveport detail the subs’ appearance and dimensions as well as operations to put mines in Red River for a Union invasion that never came.

Five submarines were built, with one lost in transit to the Houston/Galveston area in Texas. The late historians and authors Eric Brock and Katherine Brash Jeter did considerable research on the subs and the Confederate Navy Yard, finding documentation that a number of machinists and engineers who had built the Hunley and other submarines for the South were in Shreveport the last year of the war.

There have been similar significant archaeological discoveries in area waters.

Several decades ago, a fisherman on Red River in north Caddo Parish noticed something sticking out of a crumbling bluff. It was a dugout canoe many centuries old, and one of the area’s richest historical finds.

Known wrecks of Civil War-era vessels include the transport Kentucky, just south of the LSU-Shreveport campus, and the Union ironclad USS Eastport, sunk during the Red River Campaign of early 1864 near Montgomery, in Grant Parish.

That Civil War artifacts wound up in Cross Bayou also is a matter of historical record. Just over a century ago, a newsletter of the SWEPCO’s predecessor related a first-hand account from a retiree who had been a youth at the war’s end. He had been part of a human chain tossing rifles, saddles, swords and other war contraband into the bayou before victorious Union units occupied Shreveport, to keep them from being confiscated. Those have never been found.

Joiner thinks the lost subs are still under land or mud, probably in good condition, much like a Union ironclad that was in the Yazoo River for eight decades and was salvaged in pretty good condition.

“If the subs are still around they’ll be closer to J.S. Clark (School) or they’re under Margaritaville, take your pick,” he said. “And they would be in perfect condition if they have not been interfered with. Sandy mud is one of the best preservatives. Go over to Vicksburg and look at the USS Cairo.”

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Information from: The Times, https://www.shreveporttimes.com


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