Recovery of CSS Georgia Begins; CSS Hunley Hull Cleaned Off; Confederate Arms in Congaree River: Civil War in the News Winter 2015

The CSS Georgia was a Confederate ironclad built to defend Savannah, Georgia, but the vessel never went anywhere. The heavy ship had underpowered engines and was turned into a floating artillery battery. Even so, when General William T. Sherman’s March to the Sea reached Savannah in December 1864, the ship was scuttled by the Confederates to prevent it from falling into Union hands. The vessel never fired a shot in combat.

Since that time, the ship has rested at the bottom of the Savannah River with a buoy marking its location so ship traffic steers clear of the site. But the Port of Savannah is a very busy one, and the river channel is in need of dredging to accommodate today’s large ships. A $703 million project by the Army Corps of Engineers is underway to deepen the river channel. Part of the project includes the recovery of the Georgia. The ship is not intact so it will be brought up in pieces along with artifacts salvaged from the vessel. The Navy will be standing by to handle any unexploded ordnance recovered. Here’s a look at the project:

In Charleston, South Carolina, restoration of the Confederate submarine CSS Hunley continues. Researchers have been clearing encrusted sand, shells, and debris from the submarine’s hull, and much of it is now visible.

The Hunley was the first submarine to sink an enemy warship. Using a spar mounted explosive, the Hunley sank the USS Housatonic in Charleston harbor On February 17, 1864. However, the sub never made it back to port. Exactly why the Hunley sank is still a mystery, and one that the researches are working to solve.

Exactly one year after the Hunley sank, and about 115 miles to the northwest of Charleston, Sherman’s army captured Columbia, South Carolina’s capital. Sherman’s men destroyed anything of military value in the city–along with a large portion of the city due to fires that both sides blamed the other for. They also confiscated a large amount of ammunition, swords, cannon balls, and other armaments from an armory in the city. The Federals took some of the confiscated material with them, but there was more than they could carry and a substantial amount was dumped into the Congaree River. Over the years, small amounts of the dumped arms were recovered, but it’s believed that a lot more is in the river, waiting to be recovered.

That day may be in the not too distant future. In 2010, a two foot thick layer of toxic coal tar that came from a gas processing plant that closed in the 1950s was discovered in the area of the river where the Confederate arms were believed to have been dumped. The area will soon undergo a three year $18.5 million environmental cleanup that includes damming the river and removing the tar covered sediment from the river bottom. If old Rebel armaments are indeed in the river bottom, they’ll finally be recovered.

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