New artifacts reveal more about Civil War life

Leg irons covered in concretion, X-rayed, and the replica made from a mold after the concretions were removed. Artifacts like these continue to reveal facts about Civil War-era life long after they have been recovered.

From left: Leg irons covered in concretions, X-rayed, and the replica made from a mold after the concretions were removed. Archaeologists are learning more about Civil War life by piecing together information from CSS Georgia artifacts.

As archaeologists recover more CSS Georgia artifacts from the murky waters of the Savannah River, the day-to-day hardships of serving as a Confederate sailor are becoming clearer.

Confederate forces were hamstrung by deficiencies in production capacity and resources compared to their Union counterparts. The CSS Georgia’s armor was comprised of makeshift alternating railroad rails, and its engines lacked the power to propel it against the Savannah River’s current.

Duty on the leaky ironclad was so undesirable that archaeologists like Jim Jobling, a project manager with Texas A&M University’s Conservation Research Laboratory, speculate that leg irons, two sets of which have been found at the site, were used to restrict the mobility of sailors who might desert.

Most recently, archaeologists recovered a bayonet handle, which came from a P.S. Justice rifle bayonet, model 1861, type II. Products made by this company had a reputation for lackluster performance.

One inspector wrote that the bayonets were “of such frail texture that they bend like lead, and many of them break off when going through the bayonet exercise,” according to College Hill Arsenal, a website specializing in Civil War relics. Imagine going to war with a weapon that couldn’t harm a practice dummy.

In addition to the bayonet handle, divers discovered a sabot and rear gun sight for a 32-pound rifle cannon, a grapeshot round or stand, an eye hook for gun tackle and a wooden cleat.

A sabot is a metal disk placed behind the shell to impart spin on the shell as it is fired from the cannon, whereas grapeshot is a collection of smaller-sized ammunition (golf ball to baseball size, depending on the cannon), that dispersed after firing.

Eye hooks allowed sailors to position the cannon into place before and after firing, and wooden cleats guided lines on the topside of the ship for mooring.

Jim Jobling, a project manager with Texas A&M University’s Conservation Research Laboratory, positions two separate eyes for tackle from a pivot gun carriage. At left, a brass eye compared to an iron version of the same. USACE photo by Jeremy S. Buddemeier

Jim Jobling, a project manager with Texas A&M University’s Conservation Research Laboratory, positions two separate eyes for tackle from a pivot gun carriage. At left, a brass eye compared to an iron version of the same. USACE photo by Jeremy S. Buddemeier

To date, the divers have recovered more than 1,000 artifacts, most of which are being preserved and catalogued at Texas A&M University’s Conservation Research Laboratory. Archaeologists are continuing to unravel the story about how Confederate forces used these items well after they are brought to the surface.

In an interview last week in Savannah, Parker Brooks, a graduate student at Texas A&M University’s Conservation Research Laboratory, excitedly conveyed how researchers recently changed their perspective on how the eyes for tackle from a pivot gun carriage, which were recovered several months ago, were used.

According to Brooks, this elongated, cross-shaped piece allowed Confederate sailors to fire cannon in different directions without having to change the ship’s course, which significantly improved its ability to fight Union ironclads that were already using turret-style technology.

Archaeologists will continue recovering small artifacts from the CSS Georgia through June, when the Navy is scheduled to begin raising large portions of the ironclad such as the casemate.

Photos of these artifacts and more can be viewed at Savannah Corps’ Flickr page, and the album is continuously updated.

~ Jeremy S. Buddemeier, public affairs specialist

About US Army Corps of Engineers Savannah District

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Savannah District oversees a multi-million dollar military construction program at 11 Army and Air Force installations in Georgia and North Carolina. We also manage water resources across the Coastal Georgia region, including maintenance dredging of the Savannah and Brunswick harbors; operation of three hydroelectric dams and reservoirs along the upper Savannah River; and administration of an extensive stream and wetland permitting and mitigation program within the state of Georgia. Follow us on Twitter @SavannahCorps and on Facebook.com/SavannahCorps
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