The recent discovery of design plans for the U.S. Navy's first submarine has boosted hopes for raising the USS Alligator from its resting place somewhere off Cape Hatteras, N.C., where it sank during the Civil War. NPR's Bob Edwards talks to a naval historian and the researcher who found the blueprints about the significance of the find.
Launched in 1862, the 47-foot-long Alligator was invented by Frenchman Brutus De Villeroi, whose designs were found recently in the French naval archives. The Civil War-era vessel was initially oar-powered, but a hand-cranked screw propeller was added. The sub was pressed into duty by the Union to help capture Charleston, S.C. But on April 2, 1863, while being towed by the USS Sumpter, the Alligator — unmanned at the time — was cut free during a storm and sank off the North Carolina coast.