|Possible configuration of ironclad, drawn from research over the years (USACE/Savannah|
War salvage operations, dredging damage in more recent times and a dearth of
historical records make it impossible to come up with firm conclusions on many
aspects of the CSS Georgia, a floating battery that defended the entrance to
Savannah’s port during the Civil War.
and historians pored over data that resulted from 2015 and 2017 recovery
operations in the Savannah River, and from earlier dives. While they learned much about the
underpowered ironclad, a report they issued earlier this year says the derisively
nicknamed “Mud Tub” will continue to hold mysteries because some vital parts
are missing or so disarticulated that it is impossible to come up with a
complete picture of the vessel’s design and operation.
however, some critical findings.
specific information concerns the dimensions and construction details of the
armored casemate with evidence indicating it was approximately 120 feet long by
44 feet wide,” Panamerican Consultants wrote in a report to the U.S. Army Corps
Three pieces of casemate were lifted during the recovery and they
were studied extensively. (Other portions of the armor were in a tangle on the
river bed or had been salvaged in the two decades after the war. The armored
roof likely was salvaged, experts say.)
|Propeller during 2015 recovery (Department of Defense)|
were stymied by the disappearance of the lower hull and the loss of much of the
original machinery. The two steam cylinders, one of two propellers and other
engine parts were found and have been or are being conserved by Texas A&M's Conservation Research Laboratory.
and supporters of the locally built ironclad had hoped it was would be able to
tangle with Union vessels should the need arise. But early trials proved the
CSS Georgia couldn’t generate enough power to deal with swift currents and
tides. Instead, it served as a floating battery off Fort Jackson, anchored at
an angle to deliver firepower downstream. It never fired a shot in anger and was scuttled by its crew as Union forces rushed to Savannah in late 1864.
includes this wry passage:
did, however, serve a functional purpose, as one writer in 1862 stated, ‘Our
iron floating battery is a splendid failure. She has been taken down between
the forts and they are obliged to keep her engines at work the whole time to
prevent her sinking, she leaks so badly’ (Swanson and Holcombe 2003:75). It is
thought that the vessel’s leaking was most likely a result of building her with
unseasoned wood, a common practice in Confederate vessel construction.”
|Railroad iron (bottom row) used as armor in casemate (Picket photo)|
report provides an inventory of recovered artifacts and states that
archaeologists garnered insight that does help with understanding of the CSS
lays out the challenge.
CSS Georgia played a critical role in the Confederate defenses of Savannah,
historical documentation associated with the ship is marginal at best. Design,
engineering, and construction data are virtually nonexistent. Life aboard the ‘floating
battery’ was apparently so mundane that most surviving correspondence from
those aboard ship relates to dispersions associated with the vessel’s speed and
handling or the miserable living conditions within the casemate and hull. Many
questions associated with the design, construction, and operation of the
Georgia may never be answered.”
years, the Picket has corresponded with underwater archaeologist Gordon P. Watts Jr. about the
project. We spent some time with him in summer 2017 at the recovery site. He has been involved in dozens of shipwreck investigations, including the USS Monitor.
has worked on the CSS Georgia site over several decades, recently answered some questions from the Picket. He was a
co-author of the final report on the project. His answers have been edited for
|Gordon Watts in 2017 during CSS Georgia recovery (Picket photo)|
What do you think should be the public’s chief takeaways on your findings
regarding the CSS Georgia?
design and construction CSS Georgia has always been a mystery due to the lack
of historical documentation. While the CSS Georgia site was a salvage site and not a wreck (site), our investigation generated considerable information about
the design and construction of the casemate and the steam machinery. In addition, the investigation produced an
extensive and valuable collection of artifacts associated with CSS Georgia's
ordnance and life aboard the "Mud Tub.” Our report is the most comprehensive
documentation of any archaeological record of vessel structure and life aboard
a Confederate ironclad to date. While no museums have apparently expressed
serious interest in exhibiting structural material or artifacts recovered from
the site, a massive collection has been conserved and is being stored so public
exhibit options will be available in the future.
Q. There has always been a lot of
mystery about the CSS Georgia: Its length, weight, propulsion system, design,
etc. Were you able to make firm conclusions on any of those?
to the fact that the site reflected the evidence of salvage activity and not a
wreck, firm conclusions about the CSS Georgia's design and construction were
limited. However, information about the casemate, the only structural evidence
at the site, and recovered elements of the steam machinery permitted the
casemate to be reliably computer reconstructed. Based on the configuration of the casemate and recovered steam machinery,
several possible hull design concepts were identified and computer-reconstructed.
Q. The report says the ironclad had
two engines and two propellers. Besides the vessel, being underpowered, do you
know enough yet to determine the efficacy of the propulsion system? Were there
any surprises, or signs of ingenuity?
to funding limitations and scheduling for analysis and reporting, no
comprehensive assessment of the machinery efficiency, or lack thereof, has been
carried out to date. Elements of the
steam machinery, engine cylinders, frames, flywheel, a propeller and shaft and
other parts provided the most comprehensive evidence of why CSS Georgia was, as
historical sources confirm, seriously underpowered.
Q. Your report describes the Georgia as
being unique. In what way?
|Casemate was out of water briefly in 2017 (Picket photo)|
in the fact that CSS Georgia was an ironclad "floating battery" and
never really functioned as a warship like other Confederate ironclads.
Q. It appears from the introduction
and conclusion that the profusion of the artifacts is among the most important
things about the project. The report says their discovery filled in some
knowledge gaps. How so?
machinery filled in one of the largest gaps in knowledge about CSS
Georgia. Evidence of small arms
confirmed much about the weapons, personal and military, that were in use
aboard the battery. Buttons provided insight into uniforms and clothing. Tools provided insight into the operation,
maintenance and repairs requiring the attention of engineers and mechanics.
Q. You have been on many wrecks. What
stands out about the CSS Georgia, when it comes to the nature of its artifacts?
from the CSS Georgia site reflect activities associated with the priorities of
a salvage operation likely terminated prematurely.
Q. Are there any artifacts still being conserved
or analyzed that could substantially add to the vessel’s story or to add
is still ongoing in the facility at TAMU. Many elements of the steam machinery remain to be cleaned, conserved and
documented. Those artifacts will likely
continue to enhance our knowledge of the battery and its operation.
|Watts' drawings of railroad iron used for armor (Picket photo)|
Q. The report says the Georgia likely
had a flat barge hull. Was that surprising?
are not at all sure about the configuration of the hull. A barge configuration would have been the
simplest to construct and would have certainly contributed to her poor
performance as a vessel. However, we
have no physical evidence to confirm historical suggestions to the nature of
the hull design. It is possible that
wreck remains near the South Carolina shore could be associated with CSS
Georgia. To date, no archaeological diver
investigation of the structure at that site have been undertaken.
Q. Anything else to add about the
project? Are there remaining mysteries?
investigation can resolve questions. However, it is frequently the case that archaeological investigation is
just as likely to identify many questions previously not even considered. With the "Mud Tub," I suspect that
there will always be unsolved mysteries. Our investigation certainly confirmed both to be the case.