CSS Georgia Archaeological Investigation

Previous Investigations

In 2003, an investigation of the CSS Georgia generated considerable insight into the nature and scope of the surviving vessel structure and the archaeological record associated with those remains. The most significant issue addressed was determining the amount and condition of the surviving vessel structure at the wreck site. Based on previous investigations at the wreck site it was assumed that a significant portion of the hull of the vessel survived underneath the sections of extant and exposed armored casemate, or was in fact buried in bottom sediments. The 2003 investigation clearly established that the surviving remains of the Civil War ironclad were limited, and that the lower hull of the vessel no longer existed. Two large sections of iron casemate and a third smaller section were present along with the vessel's propulsion machinery including steam cylinders and at least one propeller and shaft, three cannon, a possible boiler, and miscellaneous, small (as of yet unidentified) components and artifacts.

The absence of lower hull and the impacts to the existing components were found to be a direct result of 1870s salvage attempts and to a much greater degree operation and maintenance dredging operations associated with the Savannah Harbor Navigation Project. With respect to dredging impacts, the previous dredging activities have had an extreme and ongoing adverse effect on the property. Besides cutting or "chewing" into the wreck, dredging impacts destabilized the site by removing protective sediments and resulted in the continuous and ongoing degradation of the wreck through exposure. Because of the limited amount of structural remains and the level of disturbance to the archaeological record, it was recommended that data and material recovery be designed as a systematic archaeological recovery including systematic site testing, and partial and full excavation and data recovery.The 2003 investigation demonstrated that the site could be throroughly and effectively investigated by experienced archaeological divers working the tidal windows, in addition to assessing site distribution and state of preservation. 

Recovering the Casemates

Initial profile cut of the small section of rail required for subsequent testing. This cut took six hours. Note that the rails look to be in excellent condition, with only minimal metal loss due to corrosion.Wood fragment recovered from beneath the casemate section showing extensive Teredo navalis damage.Archaeological data from the CSS Georgia Site could provide new insight into the design and construction of one of the most significant features of the vessel - the casemate. Among the Confederate ironclads, the casemate of the CSS Georgia appears to be unique. A detailed examination of the surviving elements of the casemate might support the hypothesis that it was designed to accommodate standard lengths of available railroad iron. Documentation of the rails employed in armoring the structure could provide evidence that would identify different types of rail used and provide insight into the companies that supplied that material. A detailed examination of the casemate structure would also identify methods of fastening the layers of pine and oak that supported the railroad armor.

Southeast Casemate
  • This section of casemate is the smallest measuring 18 feet 5 inches by 11 feet 6 inches. As such, it is the section most likely to be recovered intact. Unlike the other sections, it appears to lie with the railroad armor on the bottom. None of the wood structure that supported the armor appears to survive.
East Casemate
  • The east section of casemate consists of at least four elements. The largest section measures 24 by 27 feet and lies with the wood structure underneath the iron railroad armor. Immediately north of that element, an 11 by 6 foot triangular section lies railroad iron down. That fragment represents the triangular extremity of the casemate. It broke away from the largest surviving section when the clump associated with a buoy marking the wreck was drug through the site. On the southwestern corner of the largest section of the East Casemate, another element measuring approximately 2 by 8 feet extends southeast to rest on the fourth element of the eastern structure. That element measures roughly 7 by 9 feet and likely was located underneath one of the gunports. It is possible that each of these elements of the East Casemate section can be recovered intact.

West Casemate

  • The western section of casemate is 68 feet in length and 24 feet in width except where disjointed railroad iron extends as much as an additional 10 feet to the south. The wood structure lies underneath the railroad iron armor. A 7-foot 6-inch by 8-foot 2-inch disjointed element of the West Casemate section was recovered in 2014 for structural analysis and testing. That section likely represents the side at and below one of the gunports. A small triangular fragment representing the end of the casemate lies adjacent to the western end of the casemate. Disjointed railroad rails lie scattered on the bottom to the east and to a greater degree to the southwest of the West Casemate.
                       3D wrecksite image.
                                                                3-D Wrecksite Image                          

Project Personnel

Listed are the key project personnel and their respective positions. Experienced marine archaeologists, all have qualifications that meet the Secretary of Interior's Standards and Guidelines for Archaeology and Historic preservation, as well as meet the minimum standards of the Uniform Regulations for the Protections of Archaeological and Historic Preservation.


  • Mr. Stephen James, Jr - Principal Investigator, M.A., RPA


  • Dr. Gordon Watts - Co-Principal Investigator, Ph. D.
  • Dr. John Broadwater - Underwater Archaeologist, Ph. D.

  • Mr. James Jobling - Conservation Specialist, M.A., RPA

Additional personnel will be identified and added to the project as required. Consisting of diving and non-diving personnel (i.e., archaeological divers, GIS specialists, conservation technicians, etc.), all additional project personnel will be working under the direct on-site supervision of the key members identified above. Additionally, most will have qualifications that meet the Secretary of Interior's Standards and Guidelines for Archaeology and Historic preservation, as well as meet the minimum standards of the Uniform Regulations for the Protections of Archaeological and Historic Preservation.

Project Recovery

Data Recovery
The first stage of the data recovery project will be the archaeological phase which will entail mapping, tagging artifacts, excavation of test units and recovery of small artifacts. This will involve only the archaeologists and last about 5 months. Once the US Navy Supervisor of Salvage and Diving (SUPSALV) has come on-site, we will move to the second phase: unexploded ordnance, large artifact and remaining casemate recovery. This phase will also include on-board advisors from the US Naval History and Heritage Command (NHHC) as the US Navy has responsibility for the wreck site.

Reburial or Redeposition of Selected Artifacts and Casemate Sections
Artifact and vessel component conservation or reburial will be dictated by priorities and options for display and long-term curation. It is the intention to redeposit and bury the majority of larger recovered casemate sections along with wood fragments, disarticulated railroad iron, and miscellaneous redundant artifacts (i.e., fastener and metal fragments, concretions, etc.). The final decision on the disposition of the casemate sections and other materials will be validated by NHHC personnel. All artifacts and vessel remains will be documented prior to reburial. 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.

Selected artifacts and casemate sections will be conserved by Conservation Research Laboratory (CRL) located at Texas A&M University. CRL specializes in conservation of underwater artifacts. The conservation process may take up to 2 years for the larger artifacts.

Curation and Exhibits
The US Navy is the federal agency with responsibility for the CSS Georgia wreck site and remains. Therefore conserved artifacts and casemate remains will be curated at one of NHHC’s repositories. At present there are no museums that have agreements with NHHC for planned exhibits of the artifacts, but several groups have been approached and expressed interest.

Overview of Archaeological Phases

Archaeological investigation of the CSS Georgia and recovery of all artifacts, ordnance, machinery, and vessel structure are broken down into five main phases.

Phase I the Archaeological Phase
Includes continued archaeological investigation designed to locate, map, and tag artifacts and site components; clear the entire site of observable small artifacts; and locate ordnance associated with the wreck.

Phase II the heavy lift recovery of site components
Begins with recovery of ordnance followed by recovery of disjointed vessel structure and machinery. Once the site is cleared of those elements, the three surviving sections of casemate will be recovered.

Phase III the mechanized recovery of any remaining materials employing both a crane-operated magnet and a clamshell.

Phase IV the archaeological clearance of the sight through remote sensing and diver survey.

Phase V the final phase will involve redeposition and burial of selected artifacts and vessel components.

*Excerpts retrieved from U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Savannah District Final Research Design Pre-Fieldwork Coordination and Planning For Recovery of the CSS Georgia, Savannah Harbor Expansion Project, Chatham County, Georgia and Jasper County, South Carolina submitted by Panamerican Consultants, Inc. of Memphis, Tennessee (November 2014) and In Situ Archaeological Evaluation of the CSS Georgia Savannah Harbor, Georgia prepared by Panamerican Consultants, Inc. of Memphis, Tennessee and Tidewater Atlantic Research of Washington, North Carolina (December 2004).