Thursday, November 14, 2013

Portion of CSS Georgia retrieved from Savannah River

When Savannah, Georgia fell to Federal forces in December 1864, the CSS Georgia was among the warships scuttled by the retreating Confederates.  The ironclad, really little more than a floating battery due to propulsion problems, has remained in the Savannah River ever since.  Over the years salvage operations, channel dredging, and other activities have disturbed the ironclad's site.  Some of the ship's guns and other artifacts were recovered as part of archeological investigations starting in 1979.  But with plans to enlarge the river channel, the remains were at risk.  The Army Corps of Engineers, Savannah District, which is responsible for maintaining the ship channel, has long looked for ways to preserve the remains of the Georgia.  On Tuesday, November 12, 2013, those efforts brought a 2 1/2 ton portion of the ironclad to the surface.  From the US Army website:

Army Corps, U.S. Navy retrieve piece of Civil War ironclad from Savannah River 

Savannah, Ga. (Nov. 13, 2013) -- Archeologists working for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Savannah District, aided by divers and salvage operations teams from the U.S. Navy, retrieved a 64-square-foot section of a Civil War ironclad warship from the bottom of the Savannah River here, the evening of Nov. 12.

The divers worked in strong currents with near-zero visibility during the past week to assess the possibility of lifting a small piece of the Confederate ship's casemate for archeological testing.

A crane lifted it onto a barge anchored near historic Old Fort Jackson on the eastern edge of Savannah. Experts estimate the piece weighs more than 5,000 pounds.

The Confederate navy scuttled the CSS Georgia in 1864, as Union troops approached Savannah. The iron-covered ship remained on the river bottom until 1969, when a dredge removing sediment from the shipping channel struck a portion of the ship, according to Julie Morgan, staff archeologist for the Corps' Savannah District. A brief recovery effort in the late 1980s removed two cannons, various types of munitions and other artifacts.

"This retrieval will play a major role in creating a research design to effectively remove the CSS Georgia before expanding the shipping channel along this stretch of the Savannah River," said Morgan. "It took a dedicated team working in some very tough conditions to bring this piece to the surface."

Over time, the ship's casemate, the iron-covered upper portion of the warship, came apart. The small portion removed Nov. 12 will give archeologists the ability to assess the condition of the remainder of the ship, according to Morgan, and ensure the team follows protocols from the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966.

The Savannah Harbor Expansion Project, or SHEP, includes removal and preservation of CSS Georgia, which sits immediately adjacent to the shipping channel. The SHEP will deepen Savannah's harbor from its current 42-foot depth to 47 feet, greatly expanding its capability to handle larger cargo vessels. (Original article.)

The Savannah District Flickr page has a few photographs from the recovery operation already posted.  The first shows the barge and rig used to recover the armored casemate section:

Corps retrieves piece of Civil War ironclad from Savannah River

The next shows recovery well under way: Corps retrieves piece of Civil War ironclad from Savannah River

Lastly, the section is shown on the barge: Corps retrieves piece of Civil War ironclad from Savannah River

Hopefully, more of the ship will come to the surface before long and go through the conservation process for eventual display. The "science" behind recovery of Civil War ironclads has come a long way since the USS Cairo and CSS Neuse were brought up.