The Navy is preparing to send one of its premier diving teams down to Georgia, with hopes of helping to salvage a Confederate warship from the depths of the Savannah River.
The ship, the 1200 ton ironclad CSS Georgia, never saw battle, before it was scuttled by its crew to prevent capture by Gen. William Sherman when the Union army took Savannah in December 1864. Today, it’s considered a captured enemy vessel and is property of the U.S. Navy.
The shipwreck is now being raised as part of a $703 million project to deepen the channel so larger ships can reach the Port of Savannah, but before they can deepen the channel, the ship must be raised.
Years of planning by archaeologists have gone into the salvage project, as they began their final inventory of tagged and recorded locations of thousands of pieces of the wreck, back in January. Over the last few years they have been able to bring up smaller pieces, but the Navy’s been called in to do the heavy lifting, to get the 120 foot-long section and weapons safely to the surface. Divers from the USN are scheduled to arrive at the site, near downtown Savannah, on June 1st.
The Navy has assigned divers to the project that are from the same unit that has had some of the military’s highest profile operations, including the Civil War ironclad USS Monitor, TWA Flight 800, Swiss Air Flight 111, and both the Challenger and Columbia space shuttles.
The Virginia Beach based Mobile Diving Salvage Unit 2 also provided assessment and repairs on the USS Cole following the terrorist attack in Yemen, back in 2000, and also pulled up wreckage from an F-16 that crashed of the east coast in 2013.
In the Georgia salvage attempt, the divers will be pulling up parts of the ship’s armor systems, steam engine components as well as small pieces of its structure, which will be sent to one of the U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command’s repositories and Conservation Research Labs at Texas A&M University in College Station, Texas.
“The desire to maintain the ship in somewhat of a conservable state is one of the primary concerns. That’s a little bit different from typical salvage. Often times, aside from human remains or things like a flight data recorder, it’s simply object recovery. It’s bringing it up safely and disposing of it. Whereas these artifacts will be preserved for future generations,” said Chief Warrant Officer Jason Potts, the on-scene commander for the CSS Georgia operation.
The ship’s weapons, which consist of four cannons and roughly 50 projectiles, of either rifle shells or cannon balls, will be handled by the underwater explosive ordnance disposal technicians from Kings Bay, Georgia.
CWO Jason Potts stated that the weapons systems will be removed first, then divers will focus on the propeller and main shaft, portions of the steam machinery and large portions of the ship’s armor. The armor for the ship, which was anchored off Fort Jackson as a floating gun battery, was made out of railroad iron.
Archaeologists will be standing by to make certain there are no human remnants remaining after the Navy divers leave at the end of July. The work involved in preserving and cataloging all of the individual artifacts is anticipated to take at least another year.