Friday, October 31, 2014

Divers may hit the waters in November to begin CSS Georgia recovery in Savannah

Only known photo of CSS Georgia floating battery (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers)

With the deepening of Savannah's harbor officially green-lighted, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is preparing to award a contract for the long-awaited recovery of the Confederate ironclad CSS Georgia, with dives possibly to begin in late November.

"We are working with our contractors and the Navy to finalize the CSS Georgia recovery plan and obtain final permitting so on-site work on CSS Georgia can begin," said Russell Wicke a spokesman for the Savannah district. "The first phase will consist of mapping, tagging and recovery of small artifacts by archaeological divers. The recovery of the large artifacts and casemate sections is scheduled for initiation in spring 2015."

While dates have not been finalized, field work is expected to last about ninth months and cost about $15 million.

"This figure also includes conservation of the artifacts and casemate sections.  Deepening in the area of the wreck cannot begin until all artifacts and casemate sections have been recovered," Wicke told the Picket.

Lacking much power, the locally built CSS Georgia was destined to become a stationary floating battery and part of the city defensive system. It was scuttled on Dec. 21, 1864, to keep it out of the hands of Federal forces that took the city. It has rested in the Savannah River ever since, damaged by dredging many years ago.

Recovery last fall of CSS Georgia casemate section (USACE)

The CSS Georgia, resting on a slope about 40 feet deep below the surface of the Savannah River, must be removed so that an additional 5 feet of river bottom can be dredged. With the expansion of the Panama Canal, even larger ships will be able to travel to U.S. cities. That requires deeper channels.

Federal and Georgia officials earlier this month signed the Savannah Harbor Expansion Project (SHEP) agreement. Recovery of the CSS Georgia will be the first major project in the deepening of the Savannah River. Its wreckage is close to downtown Savannah, just off Old Fort Jackson.

Debris includes four of the CSS Georgia’s original 10 cannons, parts of the propeller and propulsion system, a boiler and the two casemates. The wooden hull is believed to have largely disintegrated over the years.

The signature pieces are the casemates -- the compartments where artillery pieces were housed.

Wicke said all conservation will be done at Texas A&M University and will take about two years to complete. Officials are working with the U.S. Navy, which owns the vessel's remains.

Details on when and where pieces of the CSS Georgia will be exhibited have not been determined.

The Georgia Historical Society will dedicate a CSS Georgia marker entitled "The 'Ladies' Gunboat" at Old Fort Jackson at 10:30 a.m. Dec. 12.

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