A Confederate warship, the CSS Georgia, was found at the bottom of the Savannah River more than 150 years after the Civil War. The Confederate Civil War ship is being raised from the river one 5-ton piece at a time.
In late June, Navy divers began working on recovering artifacts, unexploded shells, and cannons from the CSS Georgia. An estimated 250,000 pounds of the iron sides of the Confederate warship have been raised so far.
The CSS Georgia will be classified as a “captured enemy vessel” by the United States Navy. The Confederate warship attempted to prevent General William Tecumseh Sherman from capturing a massive gunship as his troops took Savannah in 1864 — ending his notorious March to the Sea just a few days before Christmas. Sherman is often regarded one of the most hated men in the history of Georgia.
The CSS Georgia salvage is being conducted by Virginia Beach-based Mobile Diving Salvage Unit 2 members as part of a $703 million deepening of the Savannah harbor to provide better access for cargo ships.
“The historical significance is evident in everything we do,” Jason Potts, Chief Warrant Officer 3, said. “We don’t just simply want to bring it all back to the surface. We want to bring it back intact. So we go to the maximum effort to make sure we don’t rip these things apart on the way up.”
The Confederate warship at the bottom of the Savannah River is regarded as one of the first armored vessels built to withstands both artillery and cannon fire. The CSS Georgia boasted a 1,200-ton frame, and was constructed using three 24 strips of railroad iron on top of layers of timber. The engines of the Civil War vessel were not strong enough to propel the warship against the current of the Savannah River.
Confederate sailors anchored the ironclad warship off Old Fort Jackson and intended to use it as a floating gun battery. The CSS Georgia sunk before a single shot was fired from its cannons. Divers have recovered 231 unexploded cannonball and rifle shells.
“A lot of these ironclads are built by house carpenters, they’re not built by shipwrights,” National Civil War Naval Museum curator Jeff Seymour said. “So what are the construction techniques? They vary from ship-to-ship.”
CSS Georgia recovered Civil War artifacts include a pump, a flywheel, an intact propeller, and sections of the steamship’s boiler. The wooden hull of the Confederate warship has rotted away, and three large sections of the armored casemate had to be cut into smaller chunks in order to be moved to the surface.
Artifacts from the Confederate warship are being sent to the Conservation Research Laboratory at Texas A&M for recording and preservation. The Navy has not yet decided where the CSS Georgia artifacts will ultimately reside.
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