Dead Confederates, A Civil War Era Blog

C.S.S. Georgia to be Excavated

Posted in Memory, Technology by Andy Hall on May 14, 2012

Good news on the nautical archaeology front, in that the wreck of C.S.S. Georgia, and ironclad battery deployed to protect the city of Savannah, will be excavated and preserved as part of the $653M harbor improvement program. The cost of the excavation and conservation is estimated to be around $14M, or just over 2% of the total project cost.

Georgia was originally intended as an ironclad warship, but a lack of suitable powerplant — the bane of Confederate casemate ironclads from Virginia on — resulted in her being moored as a floating battery instead. In twenty months of service she never fired a shot in anger, but would have been a formidable opponent had the Union navy tried to force the port as they did at Charleston, Mobile, and elsewhere. The battery was scuttled by her crew just before Christmas 1864 just as Sherman was poised to seize the city at the end of his “March to the Sea.” You can read more about C.S.S. Georgia here.

Location of the wreck of C.S.S. Georgia (gold ring), opposite Old Fort Jackson.

Photo by Mike Stroud (via To the Sound of the Guns) of a 32-pound banded rifle recovered from the wreck of C.S.S. Georgia, displayed on a reproduction carriage at Fort Jackson.

I saw a comment about this story in which someone snarked, “the Confederate Navy still continues to hinder the US Navy.” Funny, but inaccurate, as the U.S. Navy (through the Naval Historical Center) generally provides a lot of encouragement and guidance when it comes to wrecks like this. (All former Confederate government property transferred to the United States at the end of the war, so former Confederate vessels like Georgia and the famous C.S.S. Alabama are now considered U.S. Navy property, and under their stewardship.) The problem is, the Navy doesn’t have the resources to undertake expensive work like this, and has to rely on other agencies that do have budgets for them, to get the actual work done.

It’s also worth noting that the reason this work is being undertaken at all is because of federal laws that require investigation, assessment, and (in some cases) archaeological recovery of significant historical/cultural material that lies on public land, that would be disturbed or destroyed by development or construction. Most states have similar laws. What will be done in this case is very much like the U.S.S. Westfield Project in Texas, although (I gather) with a bigger budget and the prospect of recovering significant parts of the ship’s structure intact. Without those preservation laws, wrecks like C.S.S. Georgia would’ve been reduced to soggy toothpicks by dredging many years since.

Image: (top) Naval Historical Center; (bottom) 32-pounder image by Mike Stroud, via To the Sound of the Guns

2 Responses

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  1. Craig Swain said, on May 14, 2012 at 11:51 am

    Oddly, while the CSS Georgia is Navy property (considered a captured warship), the Army’s Corps of Engineers has been the proponent for removal of the ironclad. And that dates back nearly 150 years at this point. Early post-war salvage ops recovered some of the iron rails, but not much. On several occasions the CoE let contracts to recover the remains, but for several reasons the task remained incomplete (or perhaps not started is the better way to put it). One might argue the CSS Georgia’s preservation is due in large part because the CoE felt there was something there worth recovering. You might find the archeological report from 2007 worth a read. I’ve linked it from my post on this last week (

    • Andy Hall said, on May 14, 2012 at 12:15 pm

      Thanks. The CofE was the lead agency in the Westfield recovery, too, with guidance from the Navy and consultation with the Texas Historical Commission. In that case, the wreck was widely assumed to have been lost long before, and when it was found, there were some contentious discussions about how intact it actually was, and therefore of what archaeological/historical value, with the CofE taking the position that the site could be either disregarded, or very minimally investigated. (It was the CofE whose time and $$$ would be spent otherwise, so there was a vested interest there.) The wooden parts of the wreck were almost entirely gone, so there was no ship’s structure to speak of, but later analysis of the site verified that the site was far more intact than otherwise assumed, with a clear spatial layout of the end of the ship away from the magazine that had exploded.

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