Friday, January 21, 2011

USC archaeologists find Civil War boat

Almost 150 years after the C.S.S. Peedee was blown to smithereens, USC professors and students recently uncovered the Confederate boat near Charleston.

Found in its namesake river, the C.S.S. Peedee was blown to pieces by Confederate troops in 1865 to keep Union troops from capturing the boat.

“We knew the ship was there when we found a tree growing in the middle of the river. There had to be a structure underneath the tree in order for it to grow,” state underwater archaeologist Christopher Amer said.

The project originally started in 2009 in hopes of discovering the Mars Bluff Navy Yard, the missing shipyard where the Peedee was constructed. Two cannons and the iron propellers — as well as remains of bricks and iron­ — have been found, along with other artifacts.

The shipyard remains undiscovered.

“We are still searching,” Amer said. “We have found parts to a dock, and this should help us find the location of the shipyard.”

Also, the third cannon, the largest and heaviest at 15,000 pounds, remains lost. Jon Leader, a archaeologist and head of the State Archaeologist Office, said it is unlikely to be far from where the team is searching. The contents of the surroundings are key in finding the missing parts.

“The context also helps us understand the boat better. The environment it was in definitely had an impact on the boat’s design,” said Helena Ferguson, a graduate student from USC’s Department of Anthropology.

Simply finding the C.S.S. Peedee and recovering the materials is just the beginning, Leader said.

“Most non-archaeologists are drawn to the Indiana Jones concept of field work but miss the reality of the logistics and analysis that actually makes everything work,” Leader said.

For every week in the field, archaeologists normally have two to three weeks in the lab. Many discoveries start in the field and are actually discovered or confirmed later.

“The preservation and analysis is the reality of archaeology,” Leader said. “That benefits the public and profession and is the rest of the story.”

As for the ship, it will stay in its namesake river.

“What’s left are pieces,” Amer said. “We have no plans to raise the structure.”

However, with technology and the use of special equipment, the researchers hope to paint a picture of what parts of the ship remain in the Pee Dee River. Archaeologists will study the boat and environment in the weeks to come.

Hardinge, Hunter and Legette, Derek. 2011. "USC archaeologists find Civil War boat". Daily Gamecock. Posted: January 18, 2011. Available online:

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