The deepening of the shipping channel in Savannah, Georgia, won’t be dredging up just mud and sand.
For about the next nine months, divers will be working to bring up the CSS Georgia, piece by rusted piece, from nearly 40 feet down in the Savannah River.
CSS Georgia, also known as State of Georgia and Ladies’ Ram, was built in Savannah, Georgia in 1862 and was originally designed to be an ironclad warship. Funding in the amount of $115,000 for her construction was provided by the Ladies’ Gunboat Association.
The removal of the CSS Georgia is necessary for the state and federal project, which will see the channel go from 42 to 47 feet so massive cargo container ships can use the port without relying on the tide.
After settling to the bottom of Savannah River, the wreck lay unknown for more than 100 years; it was during a dredging operation in 1968 that the wreck site was discovered. As dredging continued over the years, the site was avoided; however, possible accidental impacts from dredging equipment and anchors intended to mark site location may have damaged the ironclad.Today, all that remains of Georgia are portions of her forward and aft case mate and remnants of her engines, including boilers, shafts, propellers, and condensers. Several cannon were found near the wreck as well, along with assorted ordinances.
“She is really in large sections scattered throughout the bottom down there,” Julie Morgan, archaeologist with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Savannah said.
The CSS Georgia didn’t have enough power to maneuver and effectively trade artillery rounds with any enemy vessels that might approach from the Atlantic Ocean. Instead, the vessel became a stationary floating battery, bristling with artillery pieces.
Placed under command of Lieutenant Washington Gwathmey, CSN, she was employed in defending the river channels below Savannah, training her cannons against the Union advance. It is believed she lacked effective locomotive power for offensive engagement and was subsequently anchored in the Savannah River, protecting both Savannah and Fort Jackson as a floating battery rather than her intended design as an ironclad warship. CSS Georgia had only been in operation for 20 months when Sherman’s March to the Sea ended in Savannah on December 21, 1864; on that day the Confederates chose to scuttle her rather than abandon the ship to the Union. During her service history Georgia never fired a shot in combat.
The Yankees refused to take on the CSS Georgia or other nearby defense obstructions.
The CSS Georgia won the battle, but lost the war: The vessel was scuttled in December 1864 shortly before Union forces took Savannah and presented the city to President Abraham Lincoln as a Christmas present. The shipwreck has rested in the river since, rarely disturbed and having weathered the indignity of being hit during dredging a couple of times over the years.
Recovery of the ironclad will cost between $14 million and $15 million, Corps officials said.
Contract divers have been at the site and are first mapping, tagging and putting a recovery grid in place. A network of ropes connects wreck site artifacts and helps divers navigate the river floor.”For every person we have on the bottom, there’s four more people up on the surface that are tending him, talking to him and being sure that whatever he is doing is safe,” said Watts.
While officials have made no determination of where CSS Georgia artifacts may eventually reside, Kingston believes they should stay in Savannah, perhaps at Old Fort Jackson.
“We need it to stay here. It will help Savannah in terms of tourism. It will help tell our story. It will enhance our reputation from an historical viewpoint. We need to make sure it does stay local,” he said