Solidifying the legacy of the CSS Georgia

Archaeologists and crews finished CSS Georgia recovery operations Aug. 2. USACE photo by Billy Birdwell.

SAVANNAH, Ga. – After more than a quarter century of diving and painstaking research, archaeologists who worked to recover the CSS Georgia wrapped up their operations, Aug. 2, with a public presentation at the Coastal Georgia Center in downtown Savannah, Georgia.

Their faces noticeably more tan from a month of 10-hour days in the Savannah sun, archaeologists beamed as they discussed their work. Most seemed relieved the heavy lifting was over.

“I’ll miss Savannah,” said Stephen James, principal investigator with Panamerican Consultants, Inc. He said the crew, which had previously worked long hours together during the 2015 recovery, was like family.

James, along with Dr. Gordon Watts, also an archaeologist with Panamerican Consultants, Inc., presented the history of the CSS Georgia’s recovery and important recent discoveries to more than 200 audience members.

Michael Jordan, founder and president of Cosmos Mariner Productions, screened an excerpt from a soon-to-be produced documentary on the ironclad.

Watts highlighted the recovery of two steam cylinders, which had an interesting backstory.

The cylinders were documented 35 feet apart in 2003. However, in 2015 they couldn’t be located.

This summer they were recovered next to each other, which Watts said could have been a result of tidal flow, interference from a nearby buoy chain, or both.

Watts said the steam cylinders along with a large section of the engine frame could help researchers deduce why the ironclad was so famously underpowered.

“It may not have been as effective as a steam ship,” Watts said, “but it was certainly effective as a floating battery.”

Another interesting discovery centered around the ironclad’s casemate.

Watts pointed to 6 or 7 different shapes of alternating railroad iron that comprised the casemate’s armor. Some of the rails could date as early as the 1830s, he said.

This spoke to scarcity of resources in the South during the war and the types of concessions that had to be made to construct the vessel as quickly as possible.

The ironclad was also infamous for leaking – from its hull to its machinery and even through the holes in the casemate. Watts used photos to demonstrate how CSS Georgia sailors used tar and cement to fill in gaps between the rails to stop leaks.

In addition, archaeologists recovered a small chunk of cement that had two fingerprint-size indentions in it.

“It’s one of the things you find that connects archaeological material with the people,” Watts said.

Following the presentation, a panel including Watts, James, Jordan and Jim Jobling, project manager with Texas A&M University’s Conservation Research Laboratory, took questions from the audience.

One audience member asked the panel about the disposition of the ironclad’s hull and why no traces had been found.

Jobling and James discussed the first salvage attempt in 1871, which hinted at a possible conflict with political overtones between the City of Savannah and the salvage company. They speculated that much of what had been recovered could have been dumped back into the river or even sold.

Other than a sternpost, no section of the hull was found.

“We do know where it’s not,” interjected Watts, which drew chuckles from the audience.

Another audience member asked about potential homes for the ironclad’s artifacts.

Jobling said negotiations are ongoing between the Navy, which owns the vessel, and several museums. He said the challenge was pairing a museum with the sufficient facilities and enough financial support.

“Discussions are underway but everything is pending,” he said.

Jobling also mentioned the team recovered nearly 4,000 artifacts that predated European explorers’ arrival in North America. Archaeologists are discussing possibilities of displaying those artifacts, which are not considered part of the CSS Georgia, in South Carolina.

The casemates and redundant artifacts were catalogued and reburied in the Back River. If future archaeologists want to learn more about the ironclad, they’ll know where to look.

Near the end of his presentation Watts said that when recovery operations wrapped up, Old Fort Jackson fired a salute with its largest cannon to honor the CSS Georgia.

The journey for these archaeologists and the CSS Georgia was finally over.

~ Jeremy S. Buddemeier, Corporate Communications Office

About U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Savannah District

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Savannah District oversees a multimillion 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
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