Wednesday, February 26, 2020

USS Monitor Center cleans the inside of one of two Dahlgren guns undergoing conservation; no cat remains found so far

The guns as seen after the turret recovery in 2002 (Mariners' Museum and Park)
USS Monitor conservators on Tuesday used a custom-built boring machine to remove encrusted marine line and sediment from inside the barrel of an XI-inch Dahlgren gun.

The Mariners’ Museum and Park in Newport News, Va., provided social media updates about what has been found in all the gunk: “So far, lots of coal, some pieces of crab and some seashells.”

But, the museum hastened, no remains of Lt. Whiskers, a black cat said to be a mascot on the innovative Union ironclad.


Francis B. Butts, a Monitor sailor who survived its sinking during a storm on Dec. 31, 1862, gave this account: “A black cat was sitting on the breech of one of the guns, howling one of those hoarse and solemn tunes which no one can appreciate who is not filled with the superstitions which I had been taught by the sailors, who are always afraid to kill a cat. I would almost as soon have touched a ghost, but I caught her, and placing her in another gun, replaced the wad and tampion; but I could still hear that distressing yowl.”

Conservators are drilling the ironclad’s two Dahlgren guns, which were housed in the turret and made famous in the USS Monitor's clash with the CSS Virginia.

“We accomplished our goals for yesterday, it went very well and are now busy with preparations for the next one," Tina Gutshall, conservation administrator for USS Monitor, told the Picket in an email Wednesday.

The cleaning of the second gun is tentatively scheduled for March 3.

“Once the guns are bored, the next step is going to determine now that we've exposed that area, how much the marine salts are going to come out," Will Hoffman, the museum’s director of conservation, told TV station WVEC:  “So once we go put it back in the solution, we'll let the chemistry treat it."

The museum wants the artillery pieces eventually to go on display with thousands of other artifacts.

The Monitor’s turret was raised off Cape Hatteras, N.C., in 2002. Numerous artifacts have been found in the years since as it, too, is being stripped of harmful concretion with electrochemical treatments and hand-held tools.

This project is focusing on getting rid of concretion inside the Dahlgrens.

“Originally, that hollow cavity was filled with loose sand, sediment, coal and other debris from the sea floor,” conservator Erik Farrell told the Picket. Most of that was previously removed.

The barrels have had between 1" and 3" thickness of concretion covering them all the way down the bore and forward to the muzzle -- hence the need to clean the inside of the 11-foot-long guns. 

Saturday, February 15, 2020

'Turning back the clock': Gettysburg web page details restoration of James and Eliza Warfield home to how it looked during battle

The home before and after demolition of modern features (NPS photos)

Staffers at Gettysburg National Military Park are chronicling the return of the James and Eliza Warfield farmhouse to its 1863 appearance through an online page featuring video, photos and an overview of the restoration project.

Those visiting the page are getting a behind-the-scenes look at the work, which includes the removal of postwar additions, including aluminum siding and side buildings. The home’s height has essentially been chopped in half to 1.5 floors, while retaining the original stone walls.

James Warfield, one of many free African-Americans in Adams County, and his family fled as Confederates neared Gettysburg. They were afraid they could be sent south and enslaved. The blacksmith’s home overlooked much of the July 2-3, 1863, battlefield and was in the thick of action.

The park recently posted a video giving an overview of the work and showing original features, such as window frames that were covered after the war or made into a doorway.

In the video, Chris Gwinn, chief of interpretation and education, talks with park exhibition specialist Jonathan Holdsworth about how crews are taking the home back to its original two-room footprint. Before demolition of modern aspects began, the home was barely recognizable due to changes and additions made by subsequent owners. Holdsworth explains the sections of the house that are masonry are original, and he points to old beams and plaster walls.

“The biggest challenge we are facing was the method of construction used at the time,” he says in the video. Because there was little or no lime in the mortar, the packed soil “didn’t have a lot of structural stability.” Crews are putting in stronger bonding material and are filling in any wall gaps with infill stones from the park’s stockpile.

The Warfield property as it appeared more than 100 years ago (NPS photo)
Park spokesman Jason Martz told the Picket the first phase of restoration wrapped up near the end of 2019. That included stabilizing the original stone structure, filling in non-historic doorway and window openings and re-creating historic windows where appropriate.

Once this was accomplished, an outside contractor began to strategically deconstruct the non-historic sections of the house. This included removing the breezeway between the house and the garage, the second and third stories of the house, and multiple add-on sections on the west side of the house. Park preservation staff then added a temporary roof to protect the inside of the historic stone house over the winter months,” he said.

Phase two will begin later this spring. Contractors will remove the front porch, modern structure foundations and the garage. “Park preservation staff will then build the historic second floor and front porch. The driveway will also be removed once all construction work has concluded. Landscaping will then consist of leveling the soil around the house and driveway areas and grass seed will be planted.”

Masons rebuilt this historic window opening (NPS photo)
The park says the Warfield house web page will be continuously updated, with additional photos and a time-lapse video of the project.

Confederate troops occupied the Warfield property on the afternoon of July 2, 1863, and launched attacks against Union troops occupying Sherfy peach orchard.

“The Warfield farm was very close to the fighting on July 2 and 3. Kershaw’s South Carolinians formed there for the attack, and artillery was posted just to the east of the house, drawing Federal counterbattery fire,” reads an article on the website Battle of Gettysburg Stone Sentinels. “Longstreet’s staff may have used the house as his headquarters for a time. Although some wounded were treated there, the buildings were never formally designated as a hospital, possibly because they were so close to the fighting.”

(NPS map)

Thursday, February 13, 2020

They were digging a swimming pool in Charleston and thought they may have found a cannonball. It didn't turn out that way

A softball-sized object was found in yard. (Charleston Police)

It's not unusual for police in Charleston, S.C., to get a call about an artillery round discovered during construction or in the recesses of a building. After all, the Civil War began here, and there was plenty of ammunition stored, fired or lost during the conflict.

Case in point: On Wednesday, workers digging a swimming pool in the backyard of a residence on Ashley Avenue came across a round object they believed to possibly be a cannonball.

Instead, it was a wooden buoy, said police spokesman Charles Francis.

According to a police report, one of the workers described the item as being the size of a softball, possibly made of wood and "shaped like a small cannonball." He moved the object to ground level and contacted authorities. 

The police Explosive Devices Team determined the item was not lethal and deemed it harmless.

Just last week, an artillery shell was found in downtown Charleston in the basement of a building undergoing work. While first reports indicated it was likely a Parrott rifle shell, experts later said it was from around World War I.

In that incident, city police called an Air Force explosive ordnance disposal team to take it away. That wasn’t necessary on Wednesday, Francis told the Picket.

While he doesn’t keep track of such calls, the spokesman said the department does get calls from time to time about potentially dangerous wartime artifacts. They’ve been found on beaches and during construction.

Francis has simple advice for anyone who finds such an item: “Just call the police.”

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Cleaning the USS Monitor's big guns: Special coring drill will soon remove harmful salts, sediment inside Dahlgrens

One of the guns that will be bored. Below, a barrel view. (The Mariners' Museum and Park)

Research on another famous Union vessel is aiding USS Monitor conservators who will soon clean the insides of two Dahlgren guns that pounded the CSS Virginia during the Battle of Hampton Roads.

Later this month and in early March, a custom-made machine and a spade bit will remove concretion from inside the guns, which were housed in the vessel’s revolving turret during the March 1862 clash.

The drilling project is considered an important step in preserving them.

(Civil War Picket photo)
For nearly two decades, the 16,000-pound Dahlgrens have sat in treatment tanks (right) at The Mariners’ Museum and Park in Newport News, Va. Harmful sediments on the outside have been removed, making engraved inscriptions quite visible.

“By boring the guns, we will finally have the ability to remove trapped ocean salts from the interiors of these massive artifacts; which sets the stage for us to dry and put the guns on display,” said Will Hoffman, the museum’s director of conservation, in a statement. “Due to the size of the guns, no one has done this procedure at this scale, so we’ve had to develop new equipment to make it happen.”

The Monitor’s turret was raised off Cape Hatteras, N.C., in 2002. Numerous artifacts have been found in the years since as it, too, is stripped of concretion with electrochemical treatments and handheld tools.

Officials said there is a small chance some artifacts may be found during the drilling of the XI-inch (diameter) shell guns.

“Originally, that hollow cavity was filled with loose sand, sediment, coal and other debris from the sea floor,” conservator Erik Farrell told the Picket. Those have been removed, leaving stubborn concretion.

The turret after its 2002 recovery (The Mariners' Museum and Park)
The barrels have between 1" and 3" thickness of concretion covering them all the way down the bore and forward to the muzzle.

"So there is a hollow cavity down the middle of the bore all the way back, which is great, because we can tell they're not loaded as a result," said Farrell. "The axis of travel for the drill must exactly match the center line of the gun bore, so the gun (will be) mounted on a support system."

The Dahlgrens have been treated in their own tanks. “By 2018, the exterior of the guns had been cleaned of ocean deposits, but the bores of the gun are still full of marine materials which cannot be accessed by hand tools,” the museum says. The bores are 11 feet long.

Erik Farrell and Will Hoffman examine Kearsarge gun (U.S. Navy)
In 2018, Farrell and others traveled to a Naval History and Heritage Command facility to look at a similar Dahlgren -- one used by the USS Kearsarge, the sloop of war famous for sinking the Confederate raider CSS Alabama off Cherbourg, France in 1864.

They were able to measure the interior of the gun and learned both the Monitor and Kearsarge barrels -- which were made at the same foundry – were built to a specific Board of Ordnance pattern. The measurements will help crews know exactly how far down to drill without causing damage.

The guns will be drilled one at a time and it will take about a day per gun. The current timetable is February 25 and March 3, but those dates are subject to change.

An inscription on a USS Monitor Dahlgren (The Mariners' Museum and Park)

Thursday, February 6, 2020

Artillery shell found by electrical workers in downtown Charleston building likely not from the Civil War, experts say

Artillery round awaits removal in parking lot. (Charleston Police)
[Updated Feb. 6]

It appears an artillery shell found in the basement of a Charleston, S.C., building may not be from the Civil War after all.

Roads were closed for a few hours Wednesday after workers found the round at an empty building on Gillon Street, Charleston police tweeted. A U.S. Air Force explosive ordnance disposal team (EOD) took custody of it. In most such cases, a shell is then destroyed.

Initially, police tweeted the shell was postwar, but a second tweet in the afternoon indicated it was determined to be from the Civil War.

The facility manager at the nearby Old Exchange and Provost Dungeon told the Post and Courier that the ordnance looked like an 8-inch round for a Civil War Parrott gun.

But Tony Youmans told the Picket on Thursday he later asked a retired historian at Fort Sumter about it. In turn, an artillery expert in the area weighed in.

"It turns out that the round is definitely post- American Civil War, either Spanish-American, WWI or WWII," Youmans said. "They believe WWI most likely. For reference, we do have an 8-inch Union Parrott round on display."

Jack Melton, who publishes the Civil War News and the Artilleryman magazine, told the Picket that while he couldn't immediately identify it, he believes the round is from World War I or later.

The Charleston newspaper said electrical workers found the shell in the corner of the basement and one carried it out to the parking lot, where they decided to call police.

“To me, what’s really scary is the fuse is in place, Youmans told the Post and Courier. 

The Picket reached out to Charleston police for comment.