A Round Up of Civil War Era Ships in the News in the Spring of 2014
USS Monitor Restoration Resumes
Ever since portions of the Union ironclad USS Monitor were recovered from the waters off North Carolina in the late 1990s and early 2000s, restoration of the historic artifacts has been taking place at the USS Monitor conservation lab at the Mariners Museum in Newport News, Virginia. These artifacts include the first of its kind gun turret, the two Dahlgren 11 inch guns that were inside the turret, the engine, propeller, and smaller artifacts and crew members items from inside the ship. It’s a painstakingly slow process, as many of these things are very large and very heavy, and the process of removing salt from the metal in such a way as to not have these objects crumble into rusty dust is very time consuming–and very expensive.
Complete restoration is still years away, and it slowed down even more when most restoration work came to a halt on January 9th, 2014 when funding ran out. Funding had been provided by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) but with the way the politics of the Federal Budget have gone in recent years, NOAA no longer had money to continue the project.
This spring, a deal was reached for a another year of funding through NOAA, and it looks like the agency will try to continue funding the project after that, although the agency cannot guarantee that money will be available. The project also receives money through fees for tours and donations, but that’s not enough to keep things going. Officials are now looking at diversifying the sources of funding for the restoration, including money from other government entities, like the U.S. Navy.
Anytime research or a project like this that is funded primarily through soft money, there is always the danger that the funding will come to an end, sometimes abruptly. It’s always a good idea to have other funding options available if at all possible, and it’s unfortunate that things reached a crisis stage. In light of the historical significance of the U.S.S. Monitor, I hope that more diverse, and hence more stable, sources of funding are found and the work will continue. Meanwhile in South Carolina…
Conservation of the CSS H.L. Hunley Enters Next Step
The conservation and restoration process of the Confederate submarine CSS H.L. Hunley is continuing. Shortly after using a spar mounted explosive to sink the USS Housatonic on February 17th, 1864, the Hunley sank in Charleston Harbor. The vessel was recovered in August of 2000 and scientists have been working on conserving the sub inside and out since then. The outside hull is still encrusted with a combination of sand and shells called concretion, and scientists will now place the sub in a bath of sodium hydroxide solution to begin the process of removing the concretion. After the concretion is removed, the sub will continue to sit in sodium hydroxide to remove salts that are embedded in the iron hull from its 137 years underwater. The whole process could take five years. Here’s a look at the next step in the Hunley’s restoration:
NOAA Announces Probable Location of Steamer Planter
NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries announced in May that the agency has found the probable location of the side wheel steamer Planter. Planter was built in Charleston, S.C. in 1860 and served as an armed Confederate transport until May 12th, 1862. That day, pilot Robert Smalls, who was a slave, commandeered the vessel along with some other slaves and steamed past the Charleston defenses. Smalls turned the ship over to the Union Navy.
Smalls continued to pilot Planter after it entered Union service, first with the Navy and then later with the Army Quartermaster Corps. He also piloted the ironclad USS Keokuk during operations against Fort Sumter. Planter survived the war, but was damaged beyond repair after spring a leak and grounding off Cape Romaine, northeast of Charleston. The location was found by magnetometer readings indicating a large mass of metal under 10-15 feet of sand. While it’s likely this is what’s left of Plantar, additional work will need to be done to confirm the identity of the wreck.