Archaeologists Pluck 3 Civil War Cannons From River Site

COLUMBIA, SC (AP) — Archaeologists have pulled three heavy cast iron Civil War cannons from the waters of a South Carolina river where they were hidden for 150 years.

         Using a front loader's mechanical arm, the three weapons were plucked from the muck of the Pee Dee River on Tuesday morning.

         South Carolina state archaeologist Johnathan Leader says the cannons are in pristine condition because they were in fresh river water, not salt water. Confederate forces pushed the cannons into the river from a gunboat to keep Union forces from seizing them in 1865.

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         Researchers from the University of South Carolina's Institute of Archaeology and Anthropology have been working since 2009 at the site of the Confederate Mars Bluff Navy Yard, located east of Florence along the Pee Dee River.

         Researchers from the University of South Carolina's Institute of Archaeology and Anthropology have been working since 2009 at the site of the Confederate Mars Bluff Navy Yard, located along the Pee Dee River where the cannons were found.

         Confederate forces dumped the cannons in the river and set the gunboat CSS Pee Dee on fire in 1865 so it wouldn't fall into the hands of advancing Union forces under Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman.

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         The weapons will be taken to the same center in North Charleston where the Confederate submarine H.L Hunley is undergoing refurbishment. Once that two-year process is complete, the cannons will be displayed in the Florence area.

         The three cannons range in weight from 9,000 to 15,000 pounds and measure from 9 to 12 feet in length, Spirek said.

         The fact the weapons were in fresh river water, rather than salty seawater, helped them retain markings such as serial numbers, the years they were cast and other bits of information that helped flesh out their history, he added.

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         One of the cannons, known as a smoothbore Dahlgren, was forged in Pennsylvania. It had been aboard the Union ship USS Southfield, but the cannon was captured following a ramming by a Confederate vessel, Spirek said.

         The other two weapons are known as Brooke rifled cannons and they were forged in Selma, Alabama, he said.

         Professor Jonathan Leader, the state archaeologist who is also working on the recovery, said Mars Bluff was one of about a dozen Confederate shipyards. They were built on inland waterways so they could construct gunboats, yet be protected from the forces of the Union blockade.

         "Remember, the Confederacy had no navy, so these sites are pretty rare," Leader said.

         The Confederates wanted to build vessels to try to break the Union's blockade or build barges to fire on Union forces with artillery.

         The CSS Pee Dee saw limited action and it isn't entirely clear whether its cannon ever fired on the Union forces, he said.

         The professor said the yearslong archaeology effort has been funded in part with a $200,000 private grant from the Drs. Bruce and Lee Foundation in Florence.

         – by AP Reporter Susanne M. Schafer

 

 

 

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