[Updated Jan. 27] Months after an arson fire tore through an outside storage area at National Civil War Naval Museum in Columbus, Ga, engine components of the gunboat CSS Chattahoochee that survived the inferno have been conserved and moved inside, where they are exhibited near the vessel’s remains.
Curator Jeff Seymour, in a video posted last month to YouTube, gave a brief description of an ongoing conservation project involving the hybrid Confederate gunboat and the large ironclad CSS Jackson.
“This is a rare example of a steam engine … that still survives from the time period,” Seymour said of the Chattahoochee’s power system, which was built in Columbus and shipped downstream to Saffold, about 10 miles north of the Florida border, where the wooden boat was built.
Remains of the Jackson and the twin-screw Chattahoochee are the star exhibits of the museum and are inside the main building. Both were lost in April 1865 at war’s end -- the Jackson set afire by Federal captors and the Chattahoochee scuttled by its own crew. Neither vessel fired upon the enemy in their relatively short history. They were recovered from the Chattahoochee River in the 1960s.
For 20 years, the Chattahoochee piston heads and the locally made Jackson’s fantail were kept in a padlocked and fenced pole barn about 100 yards from the museum, awaiting funds that would make it possible to conserve and display them. A June 1, 2020, fire destroyed modern vessels and damaged the fantail’s wood.
The Chattahoochee’s wrought iron and cast iron engines, the iron plates from the Jackson’s armor and the iron plating to the fantail survived, though they were exposed to the thermal heat.
|CSS Muscogee, later dubbed Jackson (Wikipedia)|
|The Jackson's fantail in 2019 (Picket photo)|
A $10,000 reward was offered and federal agents were brought in to assist local authorities in the investigation.
Columbus Fire Marshal Ricky Shores recently told the Picket that the investigation is closed.
“However, if new information becomes available we will evaluate the status of the case,” he wrote in an email. “In short, we just don’t have anything to (pursue) at this point …No one has been charged as of yet.”
|A view of the pole barn remains in January 2021 (Picket photo)|
The venue has a web page that has kept the public up on the conservation of the engines and fantail.
Museum Executive Director Holly Waits said in email, "The iron plating (and the wood) of the fantail were cleaned and conserved and are now inside the Museum. However, because of the fire the fantail was dismantled piece by piece. We await more grant funding to build crates for the wood and recreate the iron fantail."
The most-recent web update says Terra Mare Conservators and others began their formal work in early September, documenting, cleaning and treating the engines and fantail.
|CSS Chattahoochee engines in early 2019 before fire (Picket photo)|
Each plate of the fantail weighs nearly 400 pounds. They and Chattahoochee machinery underwent a blast cleaning using dry ice.
|Remnants of the shed after the fire (Columbus Fire and EMS)|
The Picket was allowed inside the padlocked and fenced shed in early 2019, with Seymour detailing the artifacts and their importance when it comes to understanding design and construction.
"Visitors were understandably upset about the arson but delighted that the conservation project went ahead and that the pieces are inside," she wrote. "We await more funding to complete the larger exhibition that ties all this together."