CSS Georgia Q & A

Published Jan. 7, 2015
When was the CSS Georgia constructed?

Locally built in 1862 and originally designed as an ironclad gunboat, the CSS Georgia served as an integral element of the Confederate defenses that protected Savannah, Georgia until General W.T. Sherman's Union Army captured the city.

Why was it scuttled?
On December 1864, the CSS Georgia was scuttled by the Confederate forces to prevent it from falling into Union hands during the final days of the American Civil War on the Savannah River near what is now referred to as Old Fort Jackson.

Why does the CSS Georgia need to be removed?

It has been determined that the National Register of Historic Places listed shipwreck site is located in the Savannah River in an area that will be impacted by proposed channel modifications for the Savannah Harbor Expansion Project. The expansion project will consist of deeping the existing navigation channel including Kings Island Turning Basin, eight berths at Garden City Terminal, two proposed meeting areas, and three proposed bend wideners. Located within one of the two proposed meeting areas, consultation with the Georgia and South Carolina State Historic Preservation Offices (SHPOs) has determined that the proposed undertaking will adversely impact the CSS Georgia shipwreck site.

Why is the Corps' involved in its recovery?

The Savannah District Corps of Engineers is undertaking the SHEP, and thereby is required under Section 106 of the NHPA to mitigate adverse effects on historic properties, in this instance through conducting the data recovery of the CSS Georgia prior to harbor expansion construction activities at the wreck site. The USACE Savannah District will provide for inventory of the collection, conservation of the artifacts, and transport of the conserved artifacts to the curation repository chosen by the U.S. Navy.

What was the size of the vessel?

There are conflicting accounts of the size of the vessel. Estimates on the vessel's length range from 150 to 250 feet and are based on contemporary accounts. A Confederate soldier stationed at Savannah wrote that the vessel was 150 feet long and 50 feet wide, while a Unionist South Carolina newspaper reported the vessel's dimensions as 250 feet in length, with a 60-foot beam and a 12-foot high casemate. An 1872 survey conducted by the USACE of the wreck site, then a navigation hazard, indicated the vessel's length was 150-x-60 feet. Archaeological data gleaned from the 2003 investigation revealed that the casemate walls were 24 feet in length (high). Assuming a 45-degree slope for the casemate walls with a 24-foot long casemate side, a minimum beam of 30 feet is obtained. This would imply a weather deck or roof width of 20 feet (between the tops of the casemate sides) if the vessel had a maximum beam of 50 feet, and a weather or spar deck width of 30 feet if the vessel had a maximum beam of 60 feet.

How much of the original vessel is in tact?

Three sections of casemate, disarticulated railroad rail armor, elements of steam machinery, and ordnance comprise the major surviving elements of the vessel. Small artifacts, vessel hardware, and fastenings may also be present in association with those elements. The surviving remains and any associated material lie on the Miocene clay bottom of the Savannah River.

How will the artifacts be recovered?

The systematic recovery and preservation of the archaeological record and surviving physical evidence consists of several phases of on-site activity.The initial phase will be focused on the systematic identification, mapping and recovery of all small artifacts, vessel hardware, and fastenings and the construction of an on-site web to facilitate subsequent relocation and recovery of large artifacts and vessel components including ordnance, machinery, and casemate structure. The second phase will be will be recovery of disarticulated railroad armor, elements of steam machinery, ordnance, and other heavy objects to finish clearing the site for the final phase. The final phase of on­ site activity will be the preparation and recovery of segments of all three sections of casemate. 

Where will you store the recovered artifacts?

The USACE, Savannah District provides the project access to the USACE Engineer Depot facilities on the Savannah River. This facility is a short distance upstream from the wreck-site and is in a good central location. The plan is to use an approximately 50 ft x 23 ft area known as "Survey Shack" as the field office and artifact accessioning lab. This space is ideal for the project's needs, in that it is located in a secure building on facility grounds with 24-hour security patrols, has adequate space with heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC), electricity, running hot and cold water, and secure lockable storage lockers. Space is also available in the adjacent nearby adjacent nearby 80 ft x 40 ft warehouse building for wet artifact storage. There is no electricity in the warehouse, but that is not an issue, as it will be used for secure storage. Space has also been made available at either end of the Depot's concrete dock on the Savannah River. The large 25-yard roll-off containers can be placed here, and this will not impact large vehicle access to the USACE Depot. The concrete dock was built to handle heavy lift cranes, which will be necessary to lift the cannons off the barge and into the roll-off containers. The Survey Shack will be suitably outfitted and supplied as a field artifact processing facility. The main room will be utilized as the artifact work area: the back office, at the right-rear from the front door, will be used as office space; and the back-left room will be for secure storage (supplied with heavy-duty shelving), along with the wooden lockers in the main room.

In what condition will the artifacts be stored?

Generally speaking, all of the artifacts will be stored in a wet environment, specifically fresh water. The artifacts that are deemed fragile and in need of sequestering to prevent further corrosion will be stored in a 5% solution of sodium sesquicarbonate. Fragile artifacts will receive their own storage containers, with suitable packing material, so that they are not damaged by other artifacts jostling against them. All artifacts will be accessed on an individual basis, and there may be a few that need more attention than others.

Who will be handling and identifying artifacts?

The personnel that will be undertaking this part of the operation in the field are all trained in Nautical Archaeology and Conservation in the graduate program at Texas A&M University. They have prior experience in handling and identifying artifacts, and understand the requirements for suitable field storage. The material culture of these Civil War artifacts is well known to them, as they have previously worked on the USS Westfield artifacts. Once the artifacts and the digital copy of the field database arrive at the field lab, they will be accessioned into the master CSS Georgia Artifact Database.

What agency is responsible for conserving the artifacts?

Both the artifact field stabilization and ultimate conservation will be conducted by The Conservation Research Lab, with conservation handled under a separate contract with the Savannah District. The Conservation Research Lab (CRL) is part of the Center for Maritime Archaeology & Conservation, at Texas A&M University.

How is the U.S. Navy involved?

Long-term curation of the CSS Georgia collection and associated costs will be the responsibility of the U.S. Navy, the agency accountable for the CSS Georgia. The U.S. Navy will be responsible for selecting the curation facility (or facilities) and will enter into long-term curation agreements with the facility (or facilities), if a repository managed by other than the U.S. Navy curates the collection. The U.S. Navy will be responsible for executing temporary loan agreements with other museums or facilities wishing to exhibit the artifacts.

What company is contracted to perform the work?

The Savannah District awarded the initial contract to Dial Cordy and Associates of Jacksonville, Florida. Panamerican Consultants of Memphis, Tennessee will conduct field work. Other phases will follow including recovery of major pieces of the ironclad by the U.S. Navy. The Navy owns the Georgia which is designated a "captured enemy vessel."