Saturday, June 17, 2017

CSS Georgia recovery: Crews back on river will try to lift 2 casemate sections intact

(All photos USACE)

Julie Morgan
Two years after the recovery of much of the jumbled remains of the CSS Georgia in Savannah, Ga., divers and crews will be back on the Savannah River starting next week (June 19) to go after two prize casemate sections and more artifacts. The ironclad, which served as a floating battery, was scuttled in December 1864 before Federal forces took the city. Julie Morgan, an archaeologist with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which is overseeing the removal of the CSS Georgia as part of a harbor deepening project, spoke this week about what’s new this time around. Update! Casemate section lifted

Will this be as interesting as the 2015 effort?

“It is another chapter. The possibility of seeing these large sections of casemate is pretty exciting. It is the casemate that makes the Georgia pretty unique,” said Morgan. “To bring up something this size intact is an amazing engineering feat.” She cautions officials may have to go to a Plan B of separating sections if the casemate doesn’t have the integrity to be brought up in a single lift. Much of the wood backing has deteriorated. Officials said their hope is to bring up a “corner” of the casemate to demonstrate how the sloped pieces of wood-backed armor were designed and fastened.

What’s the importance of the casemate?

It was the protective armor that covered both sides of the Confederate vessel and housed the artillery pieces. What’s unusual about the Georgia was instead of rolled plate, the casemate was composed of railroad iron (above) attached to multiple layers of supporting wood. The recovery will be no easy task, and crews did not have the proper equipment (and big enough cranes) to lift the two sections in 2015, Morgan said. The west section, about 68 feet by 24 feet, weighs about 120 tons. The largest piece of the east casemate, at 40 tons, is about 27 feet by 24 feet. 

Frame that will be used on east casemate (USACE photo)

What’s the approach this summer?

“We are approaching this as an intact recovery,” said Morgan. The team will go first after the east casemate and will strap a prefabricated frame beneath to serve as support. For the much larger and heavier west casemate, beams will be used and two cranes will make the lift to a barge.

A 5,000-pound casemate after recovery in 2013.

What else may be recovered?

The project will be done in two phases, with the casemates first. In 2015, the east section was moved and many artifacts beneath were scooped or brought up. But crews couldn’t get to the other section, lending a bit of mystery as to what may still be there. “There is no telling. What is under that west casemate won’t be discovered until we get it up,” said Morgan. The mechanized phase follows. Crews will use a large clamshell device to bring up items from the river floor. All manner of artifacts were brought up that way in 2015.

What has been learned about the gunboat in the past couple years?

“Even from the artifacts we recovered in 2015 it really did verify a lot of the archival accounts of the inadequacies of power and components,” said the archaeologist. Conservators have found maker’s marks on cannon and gun sights. “She was built underpowered and the rationale for why is an interesting question.”

Artist's rendering of the CSS Georgia

What’s going to happen to the casemate?

They’ll be placed back into the river by the end of this summer’s work, in a “secure location” away from the shipping lane. As Morgan explains, there needs to be a spot and plan for conservation before they are taken from the water and exposed to the air, which would hasten corrosion. The CSS Georgia conservation has been going on at Texas A&M University, but it still has many items from 2015.

What is the long-term prospects for displaying CSS Georgia items?

As the Picket has previously reported, the U.S. Navy, which owns the vessel, wants to see artifacts on display somewhere rather than in a conservation lab or warehouse. It is in touch with museums and other venues on the prospects. “A larger collection gives a better story, but I think there’s also the possibility of some traveling exhibits to get more exposure, especially throughout the state of Georgia,” said Morgan. She understands why it may be difficult to show an entire section of the west casemate. “We are talking about something so large you would almost have to design a building around it.”


  1. This post is receiving a lot of views, I believe from a specific Facebook page. What page might that be?

  2. Best wishes for the recoveries! I'll be watching!