Tuesday, May 17, 2005


Historians, archaeologists set course for Savannah


Savannah Now
By Chuck Mobley
May 14, 2005

Coastal Georgia Center will host an in-depth look at "North American Maritime History: Southern Connections," with special attention on the CSS Georgia.

It's got a highfalutin' international title - The Joint Meeting of the North American Society for Oceanic History, The National Maritime Historical Society and the Society for Nautical Research, UK - but the focus of this three-day conference will be Southern sailors and Southern waters.

"There are a lot of Georgians coming home to speak here," said Savannah archaeologist Judy Wood, one of the conference's organizers. "We wanted to show the connection to local history and local events."

About 100 people have registered for the meeting, she said. The public can attend any of the lectures or presentations.

"They can just walk up and pay $5 to enter," she said before adding a light-hearted word of caution. "They may not get any coffee and doughnuts. Those were pre-ordered according to the number of people who had pre-registered."
Five dollars will give you an opportunity to listen to some of the field's top experts.

Virginia Steele Wood from the St. Simons area speaks Thursday on a Revolutionary War battle in which American gunboat galleys defeated several Royal Navy ships. A naval specialist at the Library of Congress, she's author of "Live Oaking: Southern Timber for Tall Ships."

"A lot of the timber for Old Ironsides (the USS Constitution) came from Georgia," said Judy Wood.

Another St. Simons native, Charles Pearson, speaks Friday on the rice trade that flourished along the Georgia coast during the antebellum era. "He found out that one of his ancestors was a captain of a rice schooner," said Judy Wood, "and he's done an incredible amount of research on this trade."

Two speakers will concentrate on the CSS Georgia, a Confederate ironclad that lies in the Savannah River just a short distance from where the conference is taking place.

Stephen James will talk on "Archaeological Evaluation of the CSS Georgia, Savannah Harbor," while Gordon P. Watts will take a different tack on the somewhat mysterious ship in his adress called, "The CSS Georgia: Its Reconstruction Based on Historical, Photographic and Archaeological Evidence."

James will also speak at the Savannah History Museum Theater on Wednesday to Coastal Heritage Society members and their guests.

The conference is co-sponsored by the Coastal Heritage Society, the Georgia Ports Authority and the Historic Preservation Division of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources. -->


The Civil War

In March, 1862, the first naval battle between two ironclad warships occurred as the USS Monitor and the CSS Virginia fought to a draw at Hampton Roads, Va.

After that battle, Ladies Gunboat Associations sprung up across the South. Several Georgia cities - Savannah, Augusta, Macon, Milledgeville and Rome - collected $75,000. The state pitched in an additional $50,000 and construction began on the CSS Georgia.

When launched in mid-1862, the Georgia exhibited a frightful shortcoming - her engines would not propel her against the tide. She thus became a floating battery and was moored adjacent to Fort Jackson. Although she couldn't steam, the specter of facing the Georgia was so daunting Union naval forces never challenged her.

In December of 1864, as Confederate forces evacuated the city, the decision was made to scuttle the Georgia. She sank quickly, dragged down by her guns and armor - approximately 500 tons of railroad iron.

Deconstruction during Reconstruction

In 1866, dynamite was dropped on the Georgia. Federal officials hoped to clear the harbor of the wreckage and salvage some of the railroad iron. The salvage efforts, however, were largely unsuccessful.

In 1871, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers considered removing the Georgia from her resting place in the river channel, but the proposal was deemed too expensive. She sat at the bottom, surrounded by silt and silence, for decades.
Renewed interest

A 1968 dredging operation in the Savannah River turned up something unexpected - rusted iron rails wrapped around some machinery. It was the Georgia, rediscovered and the immediate subject of renewed interest.

A 1984 dive on the wreck brought up many artifacts, including two of its cannons. They are now on display at Old Fort Jackson.

In 1987, the Georgia was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.

In 2003, a $375,000 archaeology study - required as part of the harbor deepening proposal - sent divers back to the Georgia. They found one of the ironclad's propellers and three guns: a 9-inch Dahlgren, a 32-pound rifle and a 24-pound howitzer. Divers also came across large sections of the Georgia's railroad-iron casemate and pieces of its engine and boiler.

In 2004, the Coastal Heritage Society took over Battlefield Park downtown and announced plans to revitalize the area. One of the buildings at the adjacent Roundhouse Railroad Museum has 88,000 square feet and is big enough to house the Georgia, if efforts to raise the ship ever prove successful.


What: North American Maritime History - Southern Connection

The organizations: The North American Society for Oceanic History, The National Maritime Historical Society and North American Members of the Society for Nautical Research, UK

Where: The Coastal Georgia Center for Continuing Education, 305 Fahm St.

When: Wednesday though Saturday

More info: (912) 598-3346 or go to the Web site www.chsgeorgia.org and click on NASOH Conference for a link to a page with full details.


8:45 a.m.: "Command of the Ocean, " by N.A.M. Rodger, author of "The Wooden World" and "Command of the Ocean: A Naval History of Britain, 1649-1815."

9:15 a.m.: "Beyond the SS Savannah: Southern Contributions to America's Maritime Heritage," by Rusty Fleetwood, author of "Tidecraft: The Boats of Lower South Carolina and Georgia" and "Charleston Merchants in the Eighteenth Century" by Carl Swanson of East Carolina University.

10:30 a.m.: "The Georgia Navy's Remarkable Victory, 19 April 1778," by Virginia Steele Wood, author of "Live Oaking: Southern Timber for Tall Ships;" "An English Rose for the Southern Coast: The Discovery, Restoration, and Operation of the 1877 Iron Barque Elissa," by Patricia Bellis Bixel of the Maine Maritime Museum and "Underwater Archaeology & Northeast Florida's Hidden Maritime Heritage," by Robin E. Moore of the Lighthouse Archaeological Maritime Program.

1 p.m.: "The Capture of the USS Water Witch in Ossabaw Sound, Georgia on June 3, 1864," by Maurice Melton of Albany State University; "The Archaeology of Civil War Naval Operations on the Ogeechee River, Georgia," by Jason Burns, underwater archaeologist for the Georgia Department of Natural Resources; "In Situ Archaeological Evaluation of the CSS Georgia, Savannah Harbor," by Stephen James of Panamerican Consultants and "The CSS Georgia: Its Reconstruction Based on Historical, Photographic, and Archaeological Evidence," by Gordon P. Watts Jr. of Tidewater Atlantic Research.

3:15 p.m.: "United States Lifesaving Service and the Outer Banks of North Carolina," by Brian T. Crumley, U.S. Army Center for Military History; "Failed to Surface: The Loss and Relocation of the USS 0-9," by Susan Langley, underwater archaeologist for the Maryland Historical Trust and "U.S. Light Station Keepers' Log as Maritime Primary Source," by Kimberly L. Eslinger, Registrar of the St. Augustine Lighthouse & Museum.


8:15 a.m.: "Sailors in the Holy Land: The 1848 American Expedition to the Dead Sea," by Andrew C.A. Jampoler of Leesburg, Va.; "We are Mere Scarecrows: A Southern Officer on Anti-Slave Trade Patrol, 1857-1859," by Joseph C. Mosier, archivist at Chrysler Museum in Norfolk, Va.; "Blue & Gray on Chesapeake Bay," by William S. Dudley, former director of the Naval Historical Center and "Success Is All that Was Expected: Military Operations Against Charleston in Civil War," by Robert M. Browning Jr., chief historian of the U.S. Coast Guard.

10:30 a.m.: "The Baltimore Incident & Impressment's Challenge to American Independence," by Mary Lynn Fehler of Texas Christian University; "Rough Rice & Sea Island Cotton: The Georgia Coasting Trade, 1800-1862," by Charles E. Pearson, senior archaeologist for Coastal Environments; "The Right of Search & the Suppression of the African Slave Trade," by Claire Phelan of Texas Christian University, and "And all the men knew the color of the sea: Archaeological and Historical Investigations of a Cuban Filibuster," by Annemarie Van Hemmen of the St. Augustine Lighthouse & Museum.


8:30 a.m.: "WAVES: Naval War College Oral History Program," by Evelyn M. Cherpak, Naval Historical Collection; Naval War College; "Anglo-American Sailor Clothing and Tools, 1750-1815," by Lawrence E. Babits of East Carolina University and Matthew Brenckle of the USS Constitution Museum and "Life & Death Aboard the Monitor USS Patapsco off Charleston, 1864-1865," by C. Herbert Gilliland of the Naval Academy.


What: Stephen James of Panamerican Consultants Inc. speaking on "In Situ Archaeological Evaluation of the CSS Georgia, Savannah Harbor."

When: 6:30 p.m. Wednesday.

Where: The Savannah History Museum Theater at Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and Liberty St.

Details: The lecture is free to CHS members and their guests. Light refreshments will be served at 6 p.m.
More info: Call (912) 651-3673 or e-mail admin@chsgeorgia.org


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