Sunday, October 02, 2005


Plaque found to remember sunken ship

September 30, 2005

Sons of Confederate Veterans plant it along Riverwalk.
The plaque and historic marker stand like lone sentinels on the banks of the St. Johns River next to the Times-Union Center for the Performing Arts in downtown Jacksonville, almost as if they are gazing upriver toward Mandarin and a ship that never came back.

The smaller burnished plaque was intended for a downtown display site 11 years ago, but ended up forgotten in a city office, while the marker lay stacked in a Springfield warehouse on Confederate Street.

But thanks to a local Sons of Confederate Veterans group, the two can finally tell Northbank Riverwalk users the story of the Union steamship Maple Leaf, sunk by Confederate torpedoes 15 miles south in 1864. The Kirby-Smith Camp of the Sons of Confederate Veterans planted the pole in the concrete Labor Day weekend, after the city gave permission to do what was planned years ago, said chapter adjutant Calvin Hart.

"It took us two days, one to put it in and the next day to install the sign," said the Mandarin man. "It looks really good."

Amateur archaeologist and Westside dentist Keith Holland, who led the expedition that discovered the ship, said he is proud the group took the initiative 11 years after he arranged for the historic plaque's delivery.

"I can't wait to see it," he said. "It is a great location and it is about time. Thank goodness for the Sons of Confederate Veterans for their effort in seeing it to completion."

The 181-foot-long Maple Leaf hit a torpedo mine laid in the river near Mandarin Point by Confederate soldiers early on April 1, 1864, sinking with 400 tons of supplies and personal items from three Union regiments on board and killing four crew members. It was discovered in 1984 under 27 feet of water and mud. Holland and the St. Johns Archaeological Expeditions team recovered thousands of artifacts between 1988 and 1994, when the National Park Service presented the city with a plaque declaring the wreck a National Historic Landmark. Holland paid for another plaque now on display at the Mandarin Historical Museum.

The first plaque was supposed to be planted on a stone base near The Jacksonville Landing. But the cost of installation and other problems sank that. The plaque and the historic marker purchased by the city in 2002 were found by city historic planner Joel McEachin in April. Hart read a Times-Union story on the discovery. After replacing the word "pounds" with "tons" to correct the quantity of supplies lost, the plaque was repaired and installed.


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