Saturday, March 11, 2017

CSS Georgia update: Divers, crews this summer will lift large casemate sections

Sections of CSS Georgia casemate (USACE, Savannah)

Divers this summer will be back on the wreckage of the CSS Georgia, working to remove 160 tons of the ironclad’s protective casemate from the Savannah River.

Julie Morgan, an archaeologist with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineer’s Savannah office, said she expects this second recovery operation to begin in mid- to late June. It will last about 45 days.

“There will a smaller crew this time because the work site is smaller,” she told the Picket. In summer 2015, U.S. Navy divers spent weeks on the site near downtown Savannah, bringing up heavy pieces of the vessel, including several pieces of artillery.

They won’t be on site this year. Commercial divers, working with the Corps and Panamerican Consultants, will attempt to lift the remainder of the east and west casemates – with an eye on keeping the large pieces as intact as possible.

It will be no easy task. The west section, about 60 feet by 24 feet, weighs about 120 tons. The east casemate, at 40 tons, is about 20 feet by 24 feet. Divers will again work in near-zero visibility and swift currents on a vessel that’s in many pieces.

Crews in 2015 wash off railroad iron used as armor (USACE)

Nearly 30,000 artifacts – including portions of the casemate -- already been recovered from the Confederate ironclad, with thousands undergoing conservation in Texas.

The vessel, which served as a floating battery to defend entrance to the city, was set afire and scuttled in December 1864 to keep it out of the hands of Union troops closing in on Savannah.

The CSS Georgia must be moved as part of a project benefiting the Port of Savannah. With the expansion of the Panama Canal, even larger ships are traveling to and from U.S. cities. That requires deeper channels.

While the CSS Georgia is not directly in the shipping lane, it must be raised so that vessels will have more room to maneuver as they make their way to and from the Atlantic Ocean.

Divers and archaeologists had hoped to remove all of the casemate in 2015, but the weight and size of the still-intact sections provided challenges that need to be addressed with tweaked rigging and lifting techniques.

A sliced section of casemate shows railroad iron, USACE)

Officials said their hope is to bring up a “corner” of the casemate to demonstrate how the sloped pieces of wood-backed armor (in the Georgia’s case, railroad iron) were designed and fastened.

“The west casemate has a lot of potential,” said Morgan.

Following the casemate work, a clamshell device will bring up remaining smaller pieces of the CSS Georgia and artifacts. With that, you never know what you might find. So far, the river has yielded prehistoric Native American pottery and post-Civil War debris.

Officials said inner-harbor dredging is at least a year away.

Coming soon: Update on artifacts conservation

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