Civil War Ship Wreckage Found Off South Carolina Coast

Robert Smalls

The wreckage of a Civil War ship that is believed to have been commandeered by a slave has been found off the South Carolina coast. The Confederate ship, which was full of ammunition, was taken by Robert Smalls, and steamed out of Charleston. Smalls ultimately surrendered the ship to the Union Navy.

National Marine Sanctuary Program archeologists found what is believed to be the Civil War ship full of Confederate ammunition under just 15 feet of sand near Cape Romain. The researchers released their report about the wreckage of the ship on the anniversary of the day when Robert Smalls took the ship in 1862.

Just one year after taking the Confederate ship, Smalls returned to the Charleston area to captain a Union ironclad ship during the attack on Fort Sumter. After the Civil War ended, the former slave served in the South Carolina General Assembly, the United States Congress, and went on to become a federal customs inspector.

The Planter Civil War Ship

Smalls was born in the area of Beaufort and was a river pilot in Charleston during the 1850s. He was ultimately conscripted by Confederate forces to serve as the Planter pilot. He took the ship one evening after Confederate officers had gone on land to enjoy a night on the town. After going upriver to gather some friends and relatives, her turned the Civil War ship around and managed to slip past Confederate batteries on the Charleston Harbor and went out to sea.

National Marine Sanctuary Program historian and archeologist Bruce Terell said he and his peer used old newspaper accounts and maps to locate the general area where the Planter Civil War ship was believed to have wrecked during a storm in 1876.

The Planter was built in 1860. The ship wrecked as it was attempting to tow a grounded schooner back out to sea as the storm rolled in. During the days following the ship wreck, multiple items from the ship stolen by Smalls were found in the area.

The archeologists used a magnetometer to detect metal beneath the ground to locate the Planter. They found numerous objects which appeared to match up with the possible wreckage. More studies are currently planned to positively determine whether or not the wreckage found near Cape Romain in South Carolina is indeed the Civil War ship commandeered by Robert Smalls.

Terrell had this to say about the Civil War ship discovery:

“We’re not sure how much was left of the Planter because contemporary accounts indicate it was pretty well stripped down, all the way to the cushions and blankets and doors. It looks like the engines and the paddle wheels were taken out.”

[Featured Image Via: Naval Historical Center]

[Secondary Image Via: CBN]