Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Getting on board with exhibits? Museums to get first-hand look at CSS Georgia recovery

So-called west casemate is brought to surface (USACE-Savannah)

Officials from a half dozen museums in the South have been invited to board a barge in Savannah, Ga., this week and explore ways to breathe new life into the story of an ironclad that guarded the city during the Civil War.

The invitees who have expressed interest in potential exhibits are the Coastal Heritage Society (which operates museums in Savannah, including Old Fort Jackson, near the wreck site); the Friends of the Hunley in North Charleston, S.C.; the Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta; the Hampton Roads Naval Museum in Norfolk, Va.; the National Civil War Naval Museum in Columbus, Ga.; and the South Carolina Confederate Relic Room and Military Museum in Columbia.

The U.S. Navy and the Army Corps of Engineers on Thursday will show off recent artifacts and two pieces of armor casemate from the CSS Georgia that have been raised this summer before the deepening of a crucial shipping channel.

They also will detail a 2015 recovery operation on the Savannah River in which several cannons, a propeller and thousands of artifacts were brought up for conservation.

This propeller has since been conserved (USACE)

The goal is for museums “to obtain a vision of what will be available for exhibit and the historical and scientific aspects of the Georgia,” said Robert Neyland, head of the underwater archaeology branch of the U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command.

The presentation is among the first steps for officials who are mulling whether to include the Confederate vessel’s story at their museums. There are all kinds of considerations -- from construction and maintenance costs, to whether such an exhibit would fit their mission and draw visitors.

Corps and Navy officials are hopeful some of them will get on board. They’ve touted different angles about the Georgia, which served as a floating battery off Fort Jackson. It never fired a shot on the enemy and was scuttled by its crew in December 1864 when Savannah was on the verge of capture. Previous salvage attempts and dredging left the boat in pieces on the river floor.

Belt buckle recovered from ironclad (USACE)

Potential exhibits could cover the unusual armor (railroad iron) of the CSS Georgia, mysteries of its design and construction, how and why it was underpowered, particular artifacts (including gun sights), its history, and what life might have been life for the crew (hint: long stretches of boredom in the summer heat punctuated by occasional drills).

“We are going to visit the CSS Georgia site for an update on their efforts,” said Kellen Correia, president and executive director of the Friends of the Hunley. “Our museum planning is at early stages so it would be premature to say what artifacts will or will not be on display.  Either way, we are excited to see their progress and learn more about this impressive project.

The National Civil War Naval Museum’s executive director, Holly Wait, and Jeff Seymour, director of history and education, will attend.

Leg irons likely used to discipline crew members

We're excited for the opportunity and hope that at least a few artifacts will find a new home here in Columbus,” Seymour said.

The Confederate Relic Room, which is sending a representative, touts its large collection of South Carolina battle flags and items associated with the state’s military history.

Joe Wade, curator of education, tells the Picket that the venue also has extensive records on blockade runners and the financial papers of Confederate purchasing agent Colin J. McRae. It has worked with the Friends of the Hunley on South Carolina’s Southern Maritime Collection, he said.

Surprise Dahlgren was lifted in 2015 (USACE)

Joseph Judge, curator for the Hampton Roads Naval Museum (one of nine operating under the Naval History and Heritage Command), said while the venue wouldn’t be sending a representative, “We have followed the activity surrounding CSS Georgia with interest and are examining the possibility of exhibiting some of the artifacts as instances of Confederate ironclad technology. The CSS Virginia was constructed across the river from our museum.”

“As with all museum projects, we have to address the questions of funding, exhibit space, etc. We are at the beginning of that process,” Judge wrote in an email.

The Coastal Heritage Society and the Georgia Aquarium did not respond to requests for comment. The society earlier this year said it might consider a permanent CSS Georgia exhibit, but had to weigh other factors, including funding, space and theme. Several Georgia-related artifacts are on display at Old Fort Jackson.

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