|Drone view of destroyed pole barn (Columbus Fire and EMS)|
Sgt. Charles Collins with the fire department in Columbus, Ga., said a reward of up to $10,000 is being offered in the June 1 fire at an open-air pole barn behind the museum. Agents from federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) have been on site, officials said.
Collins told the Picket this week that the case is receiving special attention because of its apparent targeting of historic pieces.
Museum officials said there is a silver lining in the devastating blaze, which followed a smaller arson attempt two days before. “While the fire was a total loss as far as anything wood goes, all the iron is still very much intact,” said museum executive director Holly Wait.
Among the items in the open air but padlocked area is the locally made ironclad CSS Jackson’s fantail.
|Fantail of the CSS Jackson before fire (Picket photo)|
“The wood to the fantail was burned, but we don't yet know how deep the burn went since the wood was layered. Everything ‘on top’ (or the actual underside) is ashes,” Wait wrote in an email.
The engines of the Confederate gunboat Chattahoochee, the iron plates from the Jackson’s armor and the iron plating to the fantail survived, though they were exposed to the thermal heat.
“The Virginia was a complete loss,” continued Wait. “That ship was a supposed blockade runner donated to the museum many years ago. There was no money in our budget to do any conservation on the ship and we had no real documentation as regards in provenance.”
|Jeff Seymour of museum staff with stored items in 2019 (Picket photo)|
Remains of the Jackson and 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.
“The big conservation project to restore the engines and fantail will continue,” said Wait. The museum has a web page on the fantail and information on how to support its conservation.
Collins, with the fire department, said he could not provide more details on the fire and investigation. The pole barn for years has been surrounded by a padlocked fence.
Fire investigator Charles Collins can be reached at email@example.com or 706-225-4216. The hotline for Georgia Arson Control, which is offering the reward, is 1-800-282-5804.