Thursday, November 26, 2015

Ball busters: Experts render safe ordnance recovered from CSS Georgia

A Dahlgren round is rendered inert (Photos by Jeremy Buddemeir, USACE)

While the Confederate ironclad CSS Georgia didn’t get to fire upon the enemy during the Civil War, her underwater graveyard was packed with potential peril for 150 years. That’s been remedied, thanks to a crew of technicians and engineers who rendered more than 100 artillery projectiles harmless after they were brought up by Navy divers.

Brooke shell will undergo conservation (USACE)

The 9-inch Dahlgren and 6.4-inch Brooke rifle rounds were recovered -- along with much of the scuttled ship’s wreckage -- from the Savannah River in Savannah, Ga.

The MuniRem Environmental crew used an array of technology and equipment to drill holes into each round and extract black powder, all the while ensuring they’d be safe during the “breaching” process. It used a chemical solution to flush black powder.
View from barrier with drill mechanism in background

The company said on its website: “Contrary to some expectations, less than 1% of the munitions had seawater seepage; the black powder main and primary charges were essentially dry and of high energetic hazard.”

By drilling a hole in the side of the munition, the crew was able to not disturb the fuze, the most hazardous part of the entire shell. “With the removal of the main charge the threat of a detonation and fragmentation of the munitions case was avoided,” the Georgia-based Muni Rem said. “The amount of explosives remaining within the projectile was contained within the fuze. Subsequently, the fuze was rendered safe by drilling directly though the fuze body to access and neutralize the explosives.”

A Dahlgren round resembles a bowling ball (USACE)
A fuze after removal from Brooke shell

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers district in Savannah has overseen the CSS Georgia recovery. The shells were sent to Texas A&M University’s Conservation Research Laboratory for conservation.

• More details of the delicate operation

A Dahlgren round is readied for breaching (USACE)

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Tickets on sale for Pulaski candlelight tours

Hot cider, cookies and holiday caroling await visitors to Fort Pulaski near Savannah, Ga., during the annual evening tours by candlelight and lamps. The commemoration of the Confederate nog party takes places on Friday, Dec. 18, and Saturday, Dec. 19. The original party, held during Christmas 1861, gave the Confederate garrison at Fort Pulaski a respite from the tension of impending battle. Tickets are on sale now. • Details

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Live blog: Garrison Keillor gives keynote at Gettysburg Address anniversary

The Civil War Picket today watched a live stream of Dedication Day events marking the 152nd anniversary of President Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. Garrison Keillor (left) of “A Prairie Home Companion” gave the keynote address. The ceremony, which included the naturalization of 16 new American citizens, is usually held at Soldiers’ National Cemetery. It was moved to Gettysburg College because of weather concerns. (NOTE: The Picket was not in Gettysburg).

11 a.m.: Dedication Day event concludes. The colors are retired.

10:55 a.m.: Following the benediction, Taps is played.

10:51 a.m.: Recording of President Barack Obama welcoming new citizens is played, followed by the Pledge of Allegiance and "God Bless America."

10:48 a.m.: Sixteen people from 12 countries -- including Ghana, Iraq, China, Vietnam and Russia -- take part in a naturalization ceremony making them U.S. citizens. A video image captures the array of diversity among the new citizens. The crowd gives a standing ovation after they take the oath of allegiance. 

10:41 a.m.: Soloist Wayne Hill sings the "Battle Hymn of the Republic."

George Buss recites the Gettysburg Address (USCIS)

10:37 a.m.: Lincoln portrayer George Buss, who is about the same height and weight of the 16th president, recites the Gettysburg Address (full text is at the bottom of this post)

10:34 a.m.: Officials give Keillor the flag that was to have flown at the cemetery during the ceremony. 

10:32 a.m.: The radio variety show host says people are "awestruck" about what happened at Gettysburg and those who gave the ultimate sacrifice. "God bless their memory."

10:27 a.m. Keillor, in a dark suit with a red tie and socks, recites a riveting "mashup" of letters that 12 soldiers, two from the South, wrote to loved ones back home about marching and camp life, including details of food, scenery and being homesick. Among the letters he quotes: "The boys are enthusiastic in their admiration of Pennsylvania and the nice girls in particular." Another young man wrote, "We marched a distance of 30 miles and I was pretty much used up ... I slept all unconscious until the first streak of daylight and reveille." One asked his mother to remember him in her prayers. "I hope and pray that I might be spared to see you." All the letter writers died at Gettysburg.

10:20 a.m.: Steven Herr, president of the Lincoln Fellowship of Pennsylvania, introduces Garrison Keillor.

10:16 a.m.: Joanne M. Hanley, president of the Gettysburg Foundation, describes the group's role in supporting the park and mentions a Lincoln statue. "It is our duty ... that the powerful stories of Gettysburg .... are told and retold for generations."

10:13 a.m.: Ed Clark, superintendent of Gettysburg National Military Park describes the role of volunteers in preserving the battlefield and establishing Soldiers’ National Cemetery. He said President Lincoln challenged America to remember what the soldiers did there. Americans today should be committed to service, he said.

10:10 a.m.: Gettysburg College's president talks about the battle's impact on the campus. Janet Morgan Riggs says students and faculty went to hear President Lincoln at the new cemetery for the fallen. "We are very proud to have played a part in these historic events."

10:06 a.m.: The Rev. Maria Erling of Gettysburg Seminary gives the invocation, asking people to be inspired by those who gave their lives. 

10:02 a.m.: After a welcome, the National Anthem is played as a color guard in Civil War-era uniforms stands in front of the stage.

9:58 a.m.: Program is about to begin.

9:43 a.m.: A small band of school-age musicians in Union uniforms is performing music at the Gettysburg College Union Ballroom.

The Gettysburg Address (delivered on Nov. 19, 1863)

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth, on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived, and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting-place for those who here gave their lives, that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate, we can not consecrate – we can not hallow – this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us – that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they here gave the last full measure of devotion - that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain – that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Museum for black soldiers at Stone Mountain?

An official says a plan to build a museum focused on black Civil War soldiers at Georgia’s Stone Mountain, which honors Confederate history, has taken priority over a proposed monument to the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. The Stone Mountain Memorial Association voted to explore the museum proposal, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports. • Article

Monday, November 16, 2015

Enfield rifles recovered in shipwreck stay on display, await long-term conservation

Recent photo of the rifle crate. Water will be changed soon.
(Georgia State Parks)

An unusual display greets campers, hikers, boaters and Civil War aficionados who venture into the visitor center at Georgia’s Sweetwater Creek State Park west of Atlanta.

The curious skim through the text of wall panels to learn more about the jumble of wood and corroded metal resting in the middle of a large freshwater tank.

The carefully constructed box of British-made rifles was intended for the hands of Confederate soldiers. But they never made it ashore in Charleston, S.C. The CSS Stono, a blockade runner laden with precious arms, munitions and goods from Europe, in 1863 ran aground on a submerged sandbar off Fort Moultrie while trying to evade Federal ships.

This rare crate of 20 Enfield rifles remains in “suspension” until funding is procured for their permanent conservation so that they can be displayed outside a water environment at Fort McAllister State Park near Savannah.

(Georgia State Parks)

The Picket first spoke about the Pattern 1853 Enfield rifle-muskets with Josh Headlee, senior preservation technician with the state’s Historic Preservation Division, in December 2013. That post ranks in the top five of the most-popular articles on this blog.

One of the challenges that we face now is coming up with a way to support the crate without causing further damage to it,” Headlee recently said. “The lining of the crate … is made up of a tin composite material.  This tin is quite malleable now, given that it has rested in saltwater and now freshwater for over 150 years.  In essence the weight of the stack of rifles is wanting to fall down and burst open what is left of the crate.”

The technician said he plans in the next six months to install a brace to disrupt further degradation of the metal lining.

Over time, the freshwater tank environment has helped draw out salt and other contaminants.

“Most of the sodium chlorides are out of the water,” said Headlee. “Most of the metal parts of the rifles are gone. What is left we don’t want to corrode. We have fragments of barrels and locks.”

Rifles are placed in tank in 2013

Water was changed about once a week when the salt levels were especially high. But, over time, the interval has changed to about every six months.

Headlee says he and others are surprised at how intact the walnut stocks appear to be. Weapons found in other saltwater environments haven’t fared so well. “I wondered if the rifles weren’t wrapped in oil cloth before they were crated up, and that helped preserve them.”

Brass components, including butt plates, trigger guards and the nose cap at the end of the barrels better withstood the ravages of longtime submersion. Researchers also found a bullet mold, tools and tampions, or cork and brass plugs inserted into the muzzle to ward off moisture.

Three of the tampions found with rifles (Ga. DNR)

The CSS Stono was previously known as the USS Isaac Smith, a steamer that saw Federal service before its capture by Confederate land forces.

Some of the CSS Stono’s contents were retrieved by the South, but others, including the crate of Enfields, could not be salvaged, apparently because they were below the water line. In 1865, the “stuck” ship was burned to prevent it from falling into the hands of Federal troops.

An archaeological diver pulled up the crate from the shipwreck in the late 1980s. The Georgia Department of Natural Resources acquired the guns from South Carolina. 

Headlee said he expects conservation of the rifles could run into the tens of thousands of dollars. An outside contractor could guide the department in an appropriate technique, perhaps by freeze-drying the material to remove moisture without causing further damage.

Typical Pattern 1853 Enfield (NPS)

“They are on the radar screen and (officials) are well aware of the fact that as long as they are in the water and monitored and are being taken care of, the status quo is OK for now. And they are available to the public.”

There is no timetable for the conservation.

Fort McAllister is a suitable permanent home, Headlee says, because of its focus on Southern blockade runners. The site has a display on the CSS Nashville, a vessel that was destroyed nearby by Union forces in early 1863.

The rifles have been on display for two years. Visitors to Sweetwater Creek State Park often walk down to the ruins of the New Manchester mill, which produced textiles for the Confederacy before it was burned by Union troops in 1864.