Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Updates on H.L. Hunley, USS Monitor, CSS Georgia conservation ahead of symposium

Dahlgren gun recovered in 2015 from CSS Georgia (USACE)

Being involved in underwater archaeology and the conservation of artifacts isn’t for the faint of heart, or without its setbacks – but the rewards can be amazing.

Conservators working on three famous vessels – the H.L. Hunley, USS Monitor and the CSS Georgia, will give talks and take part in a panel discussion on July 30 at the “Wrecks, Recovery and Conservation” symposium open to the public at the National Civil War Naval Museum in Columbus, Ga.

The symposium comes as conservators continue to make remarkable finds and ensure the long-term survival of artifacts and components of vessels that were lost during the Civil War:

CSS Georgia: Conservation of artifacts at Texas A&M University’s Conservation Research Laboratory continues. As of early June, nearly 100% of the 15,500 artifacts recovered thus far had been inventoried. Recovery of the remaining casemate sections of the Confederate ironclad is scheduled for summer 2017.  

(Friends of the Hunley)
H.L. Hunley: The Confederate submarine that went down in February 1864 after it sank a Union vessel in Charleston Harbor, continues to yield fascinating material. Features such as the crank, flywheel and bulkheads are currently being uncovered. Rope (right) and dozens of gaskets are being conserved. Researchers still do not know why the Hunley was lost after it set off a mine and sank the USS Housatonic.

USS Monitor: By the end of this week, conservators will finish the draining of the ironclad’s signature gun turret. They have been removing layers of marine concretion loosened from the turret’s surface. Some 110 items found in the turret have been added to the collection of artifacts from the Monitor, famous for its famous battle against the CSS Virginia in March 1862. It sank in a storm on Dec. 31, 1862, off North Carolina. Its wreckage was discovered in 1973.

Concretion removal on Hunley a couple years ago (Friends of the Hunley)

At the symposium, the experts will detail the planning, logistics, teamwork and funding needs on projects that take decades to complete, said Jeff Seymour, director of history and education at the Columbus museum.

“It is a better understanding of what it takes to preserve something like this for the future,” he said. “With the (CSS) Georgia, it is the beginning part of a major project … the other two, what are things like going toward the middle or end of the project, or a lot closer to it.”

Presenters are:

-- Michael Jordan, a filmmaker who has researched the CSS Georgia’s history and early archaeology.

-- Jim Jobling, chief conservator on the CSS Georgia and research associate at Texas A&M University’s Conservation Research Laboratory.

Will Hoffman
-- Will Hoffman, conservation project manager and senior conservator with the USS Monitor Collection, based at Mariners’ Museum and Park in Newport News, Va.

-- Paul Mardikian, chief conservator for the H.L. Hunley Project, working at Clemson University’s Warren Lasch Conservation Center in North Charleston, S.C.

 “Through a series of informative lectures, symposium attendees will be briefed on the challenging, complex and costly aspect of locating shipwrecks, as well as the amount of time and effort required to actually recover them properly and record and stabilize the items found on them,” the Columbus museum says.

Here are a few more details gleaned this week by the Picket during inquiries on the status of the conservation efforts:

CSS Georgia

Russell Wicke, spokesman for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Savannah district, said Jobling “will be discussing the challenges the artifacts presented and field methods developed to overcome them.”

Most of the recovered artifacts came up in 2015 during the recovery of the CSS Georgia during the current river deepening project in the Savannah River. Contract and Navy divers brought up thousands of large and small items, including artillery, from the scuttled vessel. But they had to leave a lot more down on the river bottom.

Jim Jobling with rear gun sight for cannon (USACE)

“Recovery of the remaining casemate sections is scheduled for summer 2017, Wicke said. “The team will utilize methods that will result in an intact-as-possible recovery of the sections. The plan is still being worked out, but methods will be similar to those used in 2015.”

There’s been no determination on where the signature artifacts from the CSS Georgia will be displayed, but Savannah is probably the best bet.

Seymour, of the National Civil War Naval Museum, said the venue would be interested in showcasing some items from the CSS Georgia.

“First and foremost, crew material. What is the day-to-day existence of the sailor? Second-tier stuff would be construction. How is this thing built?”

Experts are trying to learn more about construction, power train and design of the CSS Georgia, which was built in Savannah. There are no surviving blueprints.

USS Monitor

Senior conservator Will Hoffman wrote this update, which has been edited:

Starting in the first week of May, Monitor Center staff began a major documentation and conservation treatment regime on the turret. Work began with the removal of the electrolytic reduction (ER) system. An assessment of the condition of the artifact was conducted to identify how effective the electrochemical process has been in loosing corrosion products and freeing concreted artifacts. After the assessment, the staff conducted a widespread cleaning campaign on the interior and exterior of the turret. This work culminated in the removal of all remaining nut guards and associated fasteners on the interior of the turret along with several other artifacts.

Cannonball dents are evident in turret (Library of Congress)

“Since the cleaning work began, 110 new objects have been accessioned into the collection. Contemporaneously with the treatment work, Monitor Center staff coordinated gallery, lab, and turret tours to cultivate donor support and generate interest in the project. Additionally, the turret was photographed from multiple angles to create updated panoramic photos of the interior and exterior of the artifact. This information along with the other photos will be used to create a 3-D model of the turret using photogrammetry software. In addition, a company named Automated Precision completed a laser scan of the turret to also create a 3-D model. Both models will be used to aid in the structural condition assessment of the artifact as well as to be a resource to conduct an archaeological investigation of the cannonball dents in the turret's surface. 

“This week, we are installing a new electrolytic reduction system to optimize the corrosion and chloride removal process. We will get back into the tank next summer.     

“Both the Mariners' Museum and NOAA are committed to the conservation effort. In the fall, we will be conducting a major cleaning effort on the engine room bulkhead components as well as a large assortment of copper piping.

“We have at the museum almost 1/5 of the Monitor, consisting of the majority of the engine room and turret. For the engine room, we have five of the vessel's engines, including the main engine, ventilation engines and two direct-acting Worthington pumps. We also have cast diamond plate flooring, steps, railings, engine room bulkheads, gauges, the main steam line from the boilers, condenser, propeller shaft, propeller and support skeg. To our knowledge, we have one of the oldest mid-19th century engine rooms in existence.”

Most of the Monitor remains on ocean floor (NOAA)

Hoffman said at this point there are no plans to recover additional artifacts from the wreck site off Cape Hatteras, N.C. NOAA does continue to monitor its condition.

H.L. Hunley

This summary is from conservator Johanna Rivera-Diaz:

“Hunley tank: The interior deconcretion of the submarine began early this year. Features such as the crank, flywheel and bulkheads are currently being uncovered.

“This year, several rope artifacts have been conserved. The biggest rope artifact from the submarine was found in the aft compartment surrounded by sediment and around the aft section of the crank. The rope was removed in 12 sections, each of them ranging from 30 to 90 cm long. The rope has gone through and extensive cleaning to remove sediment, concretion as well chemical cleaning to remove iron corrosion products. They have also gone through consolidation in preparation for the drying process.

Paul Mardikian at work (Friends of the Hunley)

“Dozens of gaskets are currently being conserved and dry. Gaskets were found in the viewing ports, pumps and machinery from the submarine. The gaskets are made of vulcanized rubber lined with cotton. They have also gone through chemical and mechanical cleaning as well as controlled air drying in a humidity chamber.

Forward ballast pump (Friends of the Hunley)

“Recently, conservators also completed the deconcretion and disassembly of H.L. Hunley’s forward ballast tank pump. The disassembled parts include the pump body, the lower inflow housing, the outflow valve and pipe, copper alloy valves, cast iron valve lids, rubber gaskets, a cotton sealing ring from the piston, along with bolts, nuts, and washers. All parts of this artifact are currently under conservation treatment.”

“The “Wrecks, Recovery and Conservation" symposium is scheduled for Saturday, July 30, at the National Civil War Naval Museum at Port Columbus, 1002 Victory Drive, Columbus, Ga. It lasts from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Cost, including lunch, is $50 for the public, $40 for members and $25 for students. Click here for more information or call 706-327-9798. 

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