Through coordinated efforts with the U.S. Navy, the U.S. Marine Corps, the U.S. Coast Guard and various state, federal and local agencies, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers accomplished one of the largest archaeological excavations of a maritime site that has ever taken place in the state of Georgia – recovery of the Civil War-era ironclad CSS Georgia. Decades in the making, the project, which was completed by the Corps in August 2017, is garnering recognition from the American Council of Engineering Companies of Georgia and the Georgia Department of Transportation.
The Corps’ Savannah Harbor Expansion Project (SHEP) Delivery Team, which led the CSS Georgia recovery efforts, won the Georgia Partnership for Transportation Quality’s (GPTQ) Preconstruction Design Award in the NEPA, Environmental Protection, Preservation, Restoration and/or Enhancement Category. The awards recognize engineering teams and firms for innovative transportation and infrastructure projects across the state of Georgia.
“Thanks to the meticulous design and planning by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Savannah Harbor Expansion Project Delivery Team, this…operation yielded one of the most thorough archeological and historic preservation recoveries ever undertaken in the state of Georgia, and was accomplished without a single accident,” stated Georgia Department of Transportation’s Intermodal Project Manager Claude R. Jackson in a nomination letter to the GPTQ Steering Committee. “The removal of the CSS Georgia from the channel will allow the continuation of this vitally important project,”
Two members of the Corps team – Spencer Davis and Julie Morgan accepted the honor on behalf of the team October 20 during the 2017 ACEC Georgia Transportation Summit. More than 1,000 leaders from different communities, industries and businesses attended the annual event, now in its 23rd year.
“A lot of hard work went into the project so it’s a great honor to be recognized for it,” said Morgan who served as the Corps’ Technical Project Manager and Lead Archaeologist responsible for organizing, coordinating and managing the CSS Georgia recovery efforts.
The Georgia was a Confederate Ironclad scuttled by the Confederate Army in 1864 as General William Sherman’s army marched toward the City of Savannah. The wreck remained at the bottom of the Savannah River for more than 150 years, off of Old Fort Jackson near the edge of the shipping channel. It is a historic landmark.
Close coordination ensured that the massive recovery effort was implemented and completed efficiently to meet federal historic preservation compliance requirements and to the satisfaction of all stakeholders, said Morgan.
Data recovery efforts began in January 2015 when archaeologists began mapping the wreck site and recovering small artifacts. The Corps recovered the vessel remains and associated artifacts to avoid impacting them during inner harbor dredging as part of the Savannah Harbor Expansion Project.
”For over 150 years, the CSS Georgia has resided in the Savannah River and the new channel design for SHEP required that we recover the vessel in order to complete the deepening in that reach of the harbor,” said Corps Savannah Harbor Expansion Project Manager Spencer Davis. “The recovery of the CSS Georgia is one of the unique features of SHEP and we continue to make progress on the project.”
Archeologists recovered more than 30,000 artifacts, including 241 pieces of ordnance, five cannons, and two large casemate sections, many of which have been transported to Texas A&M Conservation Research Laboratory for conservation efforts ultimately culminating with their intended display in museums. The two large casemate sections were documented and reburied in the Back River out of the way of the shipping channel.
“I’m most excited about the contributions that the project will make to maritime archaeology and to improving our understanding of the Civil war period in Savannah, said Morgan.
Before recovery efforts began, Morgan said that only contemporary engravings of the CSS Georgia were available to imagine how the vessel appeared.
“Archaeological data will provide new insight into the design and construction of the vessel and the casemate. We have already learned that there were at least seven different types of rail used in the construction of the casemate,” said Morgan. “Studying the machinery will provide insight into the problems associated with the vessel’s lack of speed and maneuverability.”
Recovery efforts were completed in August 2017, while conservation efforts continue.