|The wheel hub recovered from the Congaree River (Courtesy of Sean Norris, TRC Companies)|
After all, some 2.5 tons of debris – including trash, tires and scrap metal – were carted off during the removal of toxic, century-old coal tar along the shoreline, Dominion Energy announced last month.
Crews decided to dig out the object by hand, expecting an item made well past the Civil War-era.
“Once it was exposed, we knew we had something much more interesting than that,” said Sean Norris, program archaeologist for TRC Companies, a subcontractor for Dominion Energy.
The item was the shattered hub of a wagon wheel, and it’s possible it was damaged in an explosion when Union troops who took the city in February 1865 dumped tons of captured Confederate ordnance into the Congaree. (Photo below, courtesy of South Carolina Confederate Relic Room and Military Museum)
The artifact was found an area where numerous rounds of Civil War ammunition were recovered.
“We had a few folks from the (South Carolina Confederate Relic Room and Military Museum) take a preliminary look and our consensus was that this wheel fit the time frame for a Civil War-era wagon. The location in association with other artifacts of that time period lead us to believe that this wheel was deposited around the same time the other ordnance was dumped in the river,” Norris said in an email.
“The official records mention the explosion and the destruction of a wagon and a team of mules in a couple correspondences. It seems possible that what was left of the wagon after it was destroyed was thrown in the river along with everything else that was being dumped. There would be no specific reason for the wagon parts to be discarded elsewhere.”
Wartime reports indicated three Federal soldiers, including Capt. Williamson M. Davis, died in the explosion. Another 20 or so troops were injured.
The wheel, which shows signs of charring, currently rests in a plastic vat at the Relic Room in Columbia as it awaits conservation.
The museum typically has it covered with a wet towel and plastic bag to keep in moisture. Exposed wood -- if left to dry before conservation -- can disintegrate, experts said.
Archaeologists recovered about 500 Civil War artifacts during the project. Most of those will go to the Relic Room after treatment, which could take up to 18 months, said Chelsea Sigourney, curator of exhibits and collections.
|Exhibit on burning of Columbia (Courtesy South Carolina Confederate Relic Room and Military Museum)|
“I’d like to be able to have a small exhibit about what is collected from the dig, but that is a project for the future. I wouldn’t even attempt to set a date for that until we hear conservation is complete,” the curator said.
The Relic Room has exhibits that mention Sherman’s occupation and the burning of the capital.
“I think I currently have about 200 Civil War artifacts and an assortment of other metal artifacts. This is essentially what the EOD (explosive ordnance disposal) teams recovered during excavation, and it was convenient to bring it on over here to SCIAA in anticipation of the TRC contract,” Legg told the Picket.
“TRC still has a collection of similar or somewhat smaller size that was recovered during the off-site screening process. They may conserve some or all of that group,” he said.
The Civil War-related artifacts found during the project include some
6-pounder, 12-pounder and 10-inch projectiles, a large number of canister and
grape shot balls, canister plates, small arms ammunition and a Confederate
sword blade. Only the lead bullets will not require conservation
Numerous cannonballs were recovered (James Legg, SCIAA)
“The entire collection (or the half or more that I do) will take about a year to complete, once we begin. I will use electrolytic reduction, manual cleaning and other neutralization techniques before sealing each piece,” Legg wrote in an email.
He said it was unclear who would do the work on the wagon wheel.
Allen Roberson, executive director of the Relic Room, said he has submitted a proposal for funding of an exhibit room on the discoveries.
|Details of Sherman's campaign (Courtesy South Carolina Confederate Relic Room and Military Museum)|
He told the news outlet that the exhibit may open in a year and a half to two years.
Norris said most of the river artifacts are at a TRC Companies laboratory, awaiting conservation and curation. He expects analysis of the wheel to begin in the new year.
Archaeologists did not find any other wheels, metal hubs or large pieces of wood near the wheel.