A 5,000-pound section of a Civil War-era ironclad ship surfaced Tuesday in the Savannah River.
It was the first time the CSS Georgia has been above the waterline since Confederates scuttled the bulky floating battery in 1864.
The ship was discovered in the 1970s by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers as it was dredging the river. Now, the river is undergoing expansion and the ship is in the way, according to U.S. Army Corps of Engineers spokesman Billy Birdwell.
The project will deepen Savannah’s harbor from its current 42-foot depth to 47 feet, expanding its capability to handle larger cargo vessels.
The wreckage of Georgia is still classified as a “captured enemy warship” by the U.S. Navy, and the Corps of Engineers had to secure permits in order to move the leviathan to allow dredging to continue.
The ship was built in Savannah, Ga., and never left the harbor. It was anchored in the harbor to protect Fort Jackson, but never saw combat since the Union Navy never sailed into the Savannah River, Birdwell said.
The entire 150 foot-long ship will have to be removed for expansion to continue, he said.
After discovering the artifact in the 1970s, a brief recovery effort was made in the 1980s. But the effort was hampered by difficult conditions.
“It’s a very difficult part of the river to dive in … The currents are unpredictable and the visibility in that part of the river is very limited,” Birdwell said, adding that sometimes visibility is measured in a few inches.
Due those conditions, the ironclad ship remains largely untouched — including cannons and cannonballs, he said.
The first piece brought up on Tuesday measures about 64-square-feet. The section is part of the vessel’s casement, or iron casing. The Confederates used explosives to sink the ship, and the century-and-a-half at the bottom of the river has also helped to render the CSS Georgia in pieces.
Birdwell said researchers at Texas A&M University will do an analysis of the piece to help the Corps of Engineers determine the best way to bring up the rest of the vessel and preserve it.
“We look at the lessons learned from the (CSS) Hunley. We’re being extremely careful with this and we know there will be many challenges to pulling this out the river, protecting it and curating it. So we’re taking our time,” Birdwell said. “We are being very careful. We’re following very strict protocols in preserving this historic artifact.”
It has not been determined what will happen to the rest of the ship once it surfaces.