Saturday, June 13, 2020

Arson investigation continues as National Civil War Naval Museum in Columbus, Ga., details what was lost, survived

Drone view of destroyed pole barn  (Columbus Fire and EMS)
Investigators are pursuing leads in a suspected arson fire that damaged rare artifacts and destroyed modern vessels in a storage area at the National Civil War Naval Museum.

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 fantail was the precisely built curved rear deck of the Confederate warship, which was never fully operational. The section of armor and wood protected the vessel’s propellers and rudder and is a remarkable example of design and construction prowess. 

“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)
Also lost were a launch, two john boats, an old pontoon and two reproduction Fiberglass ships that the museum was taking apart.

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  or 706-225-4216. The hotline for Georgia Arson Control, which is offering the reward, is 1-800-282-5804.


  1. Was in OCS in 1967 and saw all the parts laying on the beach of the river not far from the old Front Gate. Very interesting to see but not as important to us as what we were soon to do overseas.

  2. The 17th Infantry Regiment Association had a great afternoon and evening at the museum years back when we rededicated our monument at the NIM. Was shocked to see the flag of the Ram Arkansas hanging on the wall. Bruce Smith told me about the capture of the flag a Vicksburg.

  3. These people have to stop trying to erase our history. History, good or bad, must be remembered so we don’t repeat it.

    1. i can remember your history just fine without the need of monuments to traitors that lost.

    2. “If you bring these leaders to trial it will condemn the North, for by the Constitution secession is not rebellion.”....”Lincoln wanted Jefferson Davis to escape, and he was right. His capture was a mistake. His trial will be a greater one. We cannot convict him of treason. Secession is settled. Let it stay settled.” --Chief Justice Salmon P. Chase

      “A congressional committee proposed a special court, to be headed by Judge Franz Lieber, to try Jefferson Davis for treason. After studying more than 270,000 Confederate documents, seeking evidence against Davis, this court discouraged the War Department: ‘Davis will be found not guilty,’ Lieber reported, ‘and we shall stand there completely beaten’.”

      Burke Davis. The Long Surrender. New York, NY: Random House, 1985, p. 214

  4. Deliberate arson of course........we will help you rebuild and thats a fact.....David Ringo

  5. I say if we take all veterans monuments down then take all monuments down. Mlk, Harriet Turman, and all because that's what you are doing is trying to erase history because the democratic agenda plain and simple. I just don't get how a war 200 years ago is effecting us today. Other than people screaming racism for no reason. If systematic racism existed you wouldn't have anyone of other colors in power positions and Barrack Obama wouldn't have been elected.

  6. John you are a real badass key board warrior. Bet you eont show that face cowsrd