Last week marine archaeologists diving on the CSS Georgia entered their fifth and final month of the small artifact recovery phase. And though the number of artifacts they have been discovering has slowed to a trickle, the nuance each new item adds to the growing narrative cannot be understated.
In their most recent haul, archaeologists recovered cannon accessories like a roller hand spike and firing mechanism, along with more delicate, personal items including a polished glass top to a condiment bottle, a wooden handle from a tool, wine bottles and pieces of china.
The firing mechanism held the cannon’s wick, while the roller hand spike, with its flat, steamroller-like wheel, was used to leverage the cannon and move it back into place after firing a round.
The significance of the personal items, however, was not lost on Parker Brooks, a conservator and graduate student from Texas A&M University’s Conservation Research Laboratory.
“Somebody drank out of this bottle,” Brooks said, pointing to one of two bottles he had recently tagged and catalogued.
He speculated about another item, a polished glass piece that could have topped a decanter or condiment bottle. The person who owned this object, he said, was someone with a little bit of money.
“This is the fine china you bring out for the good meal,” Brooks said, gingerly holding the piece in his hand.
In addition to these more fragile pieces, archaeologists recovered a solid “bolt” projectile and a section from the thrust block, which surrounded and protected the propeller shaft. Each of these items weighs between 80 to 100 pounds.
“It was not fun bringing this up in the basket,” Brooks said, referring to the thrust block.
According to Brooks, the bolt is a solid, gunpowder-less projectile from a 6.4 inch Brooke rifle and was used to puncture fortifications and ironclad armor.
“With this they didn’t want boom, they wanted a hole,” Brooks said.
The bolt adds to the panoply of rounds Confederate sailors had at their disposal, including grapeshot, which dispersed after being fired much like a shotgun, and an assortment of cannonballs with timed fuses for different purposes.
This week, U.S. Marine Corps and Navy divers began removing and inerting the nearly 70 pieces of ordnance that lie scattered around the remains of the CSS Georgia. Once complete, they’ll raise larger, heavier portions of the ironclad including the cannons, engine cylinders and sections of the casemate.
Until then, Brooks and fellow marine archaeologists will provide support for Navy and Marine Corps divers on the barge across from Old Fort Jackson, floating above the wreck site.
Officials are planning a “Raise the Wreck” event, July 25, at Old Fort Jackson that will include booths and interactive displays on the CSS Georgia and Civil War-era items. Stay tuned for more information.
In the meantime, perhaps amid the ordnance and chunks of railway iron divers will uncover more of what Brooks called, “little shards of life.”
For photos of these and other artifacts, visit our Flickr page.
~ Jeremy S. Buddemeier, Corporate Communications Office