Recovering the CSS Georgia ironclad scuttled on the Savannah River floor marks the beginning of the construction phase of the Savannah Harbor Expansion Project.
Col. Thomas Tickner, Savannah District commander, will host a kick-off event Jan. 29 at Old Fort Jackson in Savannah to commemorate the launch of SHEP’s construction phase.
“This marks a major milestone toward making this harbor more efficient,” Tickner said. “It is the key to unlocking so much of the infrastructure already built or planned for the next generation.”
Since Confederate forces sunk the vessel to prevent Union capture in 1864, the Georgia lay imbedded in the Savannah River floor, only occasionally being disturbed by harbor operations over the years.
Following the kick-off event, archaeologists will employ archaeological field methods to recover and preserve the remains of the Georgia. The work encompasses artifact analysis, conservation and a final technical report upon the completion of analysis, said Corps’ archaeologist Julie Morgan.
Five phases of the recovery project will include an archaeological phase, large artifact and casemate recovery, mechanized recovery, archaeological clearance of the wreck site, and reburial of select artifacts and casemate sections. The full data recovery project will span several years, Morgan said.
The approximately five-month archaeological phase entails mapping, tagging artifacts, excavating test units and recovering small artifacts. The second phase involves the U.S. Navy Supervisor of Salvage and Diving (SUPSALV) to recover unexploded ordnance, large artifacts and any remaining casemate recovery, she said.
Artifact and vessel component conservation will be dictated by priorities and options for display and long-term curation. The Naval History and Heritage command (NHHC) will validate the redeposit and burial of the majority of larger recovered casemate sections along with wood fragments, disarticulated railroad iron, and miscellaneous redundant artifacts. All artifacts and vessel remains will be documented prior to reburial, she said.
“Care will be taken during the reburial process to ensure the surviving remains of CSS Georgia’s casemate are preserved, protected, and accessible in the event that future priorities and available funding make removal, conservation, reconstruction and display possible,” Morgan said.
Undertaking the SHEP requires data recovery of the Georgia before harbor expansion construction activities begin at the wreck site. The Corps 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.
The Corps also partners with the Conservation Research Laboratory at Texas A&M University to conserve selected artifacts and casemate sections. The U.S. Navy owns the designated “captured enemy vessel” and is the federal agency responsible for the wreck site remains.
The Savannah District awarded the initial contract for recovery of the CSS Georgia to Dial Cordy and Associates of Jacksonville, Florida. Panamerican Consultants of Memphis, Tennessee will conduct field work.
Previous recovery work occurred in November 2013 when archaeologists working for the Corps, aided by divers and salvage operations teams from the U.S. Navy, retrieved a 64-square foot section of the Georgia from the bottom of the Savannah River.
The small portion removed in November 2013 allowed archeologists to assess the condition of the remainder of the ship, according to Morgan, and ensure the team follows protocols from the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966.