In the Waves (Hardcover)

My Quest to Solve the Mystery of a Civil War Submarine

By Rachel Lance

Dutton, 9781524744151, 368pp.

Publication Date: April 7, 2020

List Price: 28.00*
* Individual store prices may vary.


How a determined scientist cracked the case of the first successful—and disastrous—submarine attack
On the night of February 17, 1864, the tiny Confederate submarine HL Hunley made its way toward the USS Housatonic just outside Charleston harbor. Within a matter of hours, the Union ship’s stern was blown open in a spray of wood planks. The explosion sank the ship, killing many of its crew. And the submarine, the first ever to be successful in combat, disappeared without a trace.
For 131 years the eight-man crew of the HL Hunley lay in their watery graves, undiscovered. When finally raised, the narrow metal vessel revealed a puzzling sight. There was no indication the blast had breached the hull, and all eight men were still seated at their stations—frozen in time after more than a century. Why did it sink? Why did the men die? Archaeologists and conservationists have been studying the boat and the remains for years, and now one woman has the answers.
In the Waves is much more than just a military perspective or a technical account. It’s also the story of Rachel Lance’s single-minded obsession spanning three years, the story of the extreme highs and lows in her quest to find all the puzzle pieces of the Hunley. Balancing a gripping historical tale and original research with a personal story of professional and private obstacles, In the Waves is an enthralling look at a unique part of the Civil War and the lengths one scientist will go to uncover its secrets.

About the Author

In addition to writing, Rachel Lance is a biomedical engineer who specializes in patterns of injury and trauma, and she is especially fascinated by blast and ballistic events. She works as an Assistant Consulting Professor at Duke University, where she conducts research at the Center for Hyperbaric Medicine and Environmental Physiology. Before returning to graduate school to earn her Ph.D., Rachel spent several years as an engineer for the United States Navy, working to build and test specialized underwater equipment for use by navy personnel. Her doctoral work presented the first equations to predict the risk of injury and fatality from underwater explosions and has already received numerous international citations. A native of suburban Detroit, Rachel lives with her husband in Durham, North Carolina. In the Waves is her first book.

Praise For In the Waves: My Quest to Solve the Mystery of a Civil War Submarine

“Ever since the Confederate submarine H L Hunley was brought up from the ocean floor in 2000 with the skeletons of its eight crewmen still at their posts inside the intact hull, conservators and historians have speculated about their fate.  Were they drowned by water pouring in from damage by the torpedo explosion that sank their target the USS Housatonic?  Were they asphyxiated by lack of oxygen and carbon dioxide poisoning?  Or did they die from some other cause?  In this enthralling account based on extensive research and testing, the US Navy blast-injury specialist Rachel Lance solves the mystery in convincing fashion and offers an important contribution to Civil War literature.”
James M. McPherson, Princeton University, author of the Pulitzer Prize winning Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era

“Anyone who enjoys reading outstanding narrative nonfiction will absolutely love Rachel Lance’s In the Waves. Reading it is like watching Sherlock Holmes investigate a murder mystery—if “Sherlock” were a woman, had to solve the mystery while battling petty academic jealousies, and was an exquisite writer. The “crime” occurs during the Civil War, outside Charleston Harbor, inside the Hunley, the first submarine ever to blow a hole in an enemy ship, a blast that simultaneously left all eight submariners dead but in situ, fully intact, with no trauma and no signs of attempted escape. Why did the little submarine sit on the bottom undiscovered for nearly 150 years? And how did the submariners die? As Lance writes, “Something killed these men. Something that left no trace on the boat or the bones." A “blast-trauma researcher,” Lance weaves the stories and unravels the science and medical hypotheses with engaging observations, venturing from Kurt Vonnegut and the allied bombing of Dresden to the iconic southern senator, Strom Thurmond. Anyone who can make science and senators not only interesting but also thrilling has a gift, and this storytelling “Sherlock” also packs a genuine sense of humor.”
—Gary Kinder, author of Ship of Gold in the Deep Blue Sea
In The Waves—a perfect title for Rachel Lance’s captivating tale documenting her obsession with solving the Civil War mystery about a tiny Confederate submarine that successfully blasted apart a Union ship in the Charleston harbor and then disappeared without a trace for 131 years. With determination and  a knack for story-telling, Dr. Lance recreates the daring mission of the HL Hunley and her demise, using precision-based, bio-medical expertise to solve the mystery of how her eight-man crew died.”
—Ann Blackman, author of Wild Rose, Civil War Spy
“When we brought the Hunley up in 2000, we were shattered with exhaustion and had put everything we had into prying the Hunley from the mud of Charleston Harbor, but the recovery team assumed that the scientists and researchers who came after us would bring the same passion to the science and the story of Hunley as we had. We were not wrong. Dr. Lance brings a razor sharp mind and an equally sharp wit to the greatest remaining mystery of the Civil War—how and why did Hunley sink? Her rigorous and highly accessible science, leavened with more than a few lovingly described characters and wry observations of graduate student life makes In The Waves a compelling explanation and a rollicking good read!”
—David L. Conlin Ph.D., Hunley Recovery Team Field Director, Chief Archeologist , National Park Service
In the Waves is a thrilling expedition into one of the great unsolved mysteries of the Civil War. Harnessing the revelatory wonders of the digital age and her own undersea expertise--along with gritty determination and persuasive powers--Rachel Lance has delivered a mesmerizing tale of science, history, tragedy and adventure!”
—Liza Mundy, author of Code Girls

“They were the first crew of a submarine to sink an enemy ship, but did they ever have a hope of coming home? To find out, Rachel Lance brings together an unlikely mix of old style weaponry, modern science and people who love to make things go bang. This is her determined search to uncover the truth about an impossible mission. It is a great read!"
—Sherry Sontag, co-author of Blind Man's Bluff