Two major artifacts from the Civil War have been discovered in the Pee Dee River. Archaeologists from the University of South Carolina and East Carolina University have discovered two large cannons from the sunken Confederate gunboat the C.S.S. Pee Dee that was launched in January 1865. USC Underwater Archaeologist Christopher Amer says the guns were discovered in the area near to where the Mars Bluff Naval Yard once stood. Amer says Mars Bluff was one of about 20 Confederate naval yards that were located inland so that gunboats and other vessels could be built and protected from the much larger Union naval forces. Amer says the search for a third gun continues.”We have a number of magnetic anomalies in the water from our magnetometer survey which suggests a couple of places that third gun can be. The we’re missing is 15,000 pounds, that’s a lot of iron. The other two are around 9,000 pounds.”
Amer says two 7-inch and four 6.4 inch Brooke artillery shells were also discovered along with the guns. Amer says there were no worries that the shells were actually live. “When they dumped the guns off the Pee Dee they also dumped the shells off. The protocol was if they were going to battle they would fill the shells with powder and put the fuses in, but when they were carrying them in the magazine they didn’t have them all fused and powdered so they (the ones recently discovered) were empty.”
Amer says the gunboat the C.S.S. Pee Dee could be labeled an ill-fated vessel because it was launched in January of 1865, but by February General Sherman and his Union Army forces had taken Georgetown thus blocking the C.S.S Pee Dee’s entrance point to the Atlantic Ocean. Amer says the only thing the vessel could do was to move upriver about 45 miles in order to use their guns to help Confederate forces near Cheraw in one of the last battles of the war. The vessel was then ordered back to its point of origin to meet its ultimate fate.
“At that point they turned the vessel around which was no mean feat. This thing was a 150 feet long and 25 feet wide in a river that was barely wider than that at that point. They managed to turn it and get back down to the naval yard where they were informed that Sherman’s forces were very close, and they were ordered to scuttle the boat and get rid of the guns.”
Amer says the process of restoring the guns will take some time. “Albeit they’re in fresh water, so we don’t have the problem of chlorides and other things leaching in from the ocean it will take about three years to restore the guns. The timing right now looks like they go into the Florence County Museum in four or so years from now.”
Amer says this portion of the project will end in two weeks, but he hopes that with the help of more funds the area can be searched for more historical nautical artifacts.
The project is being funded in part by a $200,000 grant from the Drs. Bruce and Lee Foundation in Florence.