Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Conservators, students working to unlock mysteries of the Rebel ironclad CSS Georgia

Large piece of CSS Georgia casemate (USACE Savannah)

It’s been about three months since cranes, barges, divers and support crew pulled away from a spot on the Savannah River where they had removed the last of the jumbled remains of the Confederate ironclad CSS Georgia.

With the final recovery of the vessel complete (there was another operation in 2015), those involved had a brief moment to catch their breaths.

“I think we are all really relieved it is over. It is bittersweet -- we have worked so many years,” said Julie Morgan-Ryan, archaeologist with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which worked with contractors to recover the CSS Georgia as part of a harbor deepening project in Savannah, Ga.

Now the real work of solving the mysteries of the ironclad is underway – through student research, ongoing conservation of thousands of artifacts, and the study of those items and historical records to answer some of the nagging questions about the CSS Georgia.

For decades, archaeologists have speculated on the size and weight of the vessel, why it was so underpowered and where its components were made.

Artifacts that were not left in the river (namely the casemate) for possible future removal are undergoing conservation and analysis at the Conservation Research Laboratory at Texas A&M University in College Station.

Morgan-Ryan surveys casemate (USACE)
“We found that some pieces from a cannon or a gun carriage were made from different metals. Was it because of the blockade?” the archaeologist recently told the Picket. “I think we are going to find what restrictions the South was under.”

The conservation of three cannons, a propeller and four crates of artifacts has been completed.

“We still have two cannon that are in conservation vats right now,” said Morgan-Ryan. “We are finding ordnance shoved down them.” Officials at the lab are trying to figure out how to safely dislodge them.

It’s likely the crew of the CSS Georgia sabotaged the barrels when they were forced to scuttle the ironclad off Old Fort Jackson as Federal forces neared Savannah in December 1864.

As is customary with such projects, the Army Corps will write a report on the recovery, completing it in late 2018 or in 2019.

“We have always known Georgia was underpowered. … now we’ll be able to do some estimates on how underpowered she was, whether artifacts were manufactured strictly for the Georgia, or taken from other vessels. We are trying to figure why they used the components that they do,” Morgan-Ryan said.

Buckle recovered in 2015 (USACE Savannah)

It’s known that the CSS Georgia was salvaged by a private contractor shortly after the war’s end. Archaeologists may never answer all their questions, because they don’t know how many recovered items were melted down or reused or were dumped haphazardly back on the site in a tiff over salvage payment.

Morgan-Ryan said she and others want to know more about these previous salvage attempts.

She is excited about research that students at Texas A&M are doing, including a master’s thesis on the ironclad’s gun sights, appropriate artifact conservation technology and conservation of waterlogged textiles.

“What I am looking forward to is how much new information from beyond the vessel will we learn from this project?” Morgan-Ryan said. “What technological advantages or disadvantages did the South have?”

The Corps is continuing its outreach to the public as the U.S. Navy engages with a half dozen museums about a possible permanent home for CSS Georgia artifacts. A documentary by Michael Jordan about the vessel’s history, its use as a floating battery to defend Savannah, and dives and recovery of the CSS Georgia over the decades should be released to schools and libraries by the end of the year.

No comments:

Post a Comment