Archive for the 'Civil War' Category

Apr 29

CSS Alabama Britten Shell and Box

Monday, April 29, 2013 3:09 PM

CSS Alabama, a screw sloop-of-war, was commissioned by the Confederate States of America during the Civil War. It was built in Liverpool, England and launched on 24 August 1862. Alabama served the Confederate Navy as a commerce raider and captured more than 60 vessels during her two year storied career.

On 19 June 1864, Alabama left port in Cherbourg, France to engage the USS Kearsarge. Approximately an hour after the first shot of the battle had been fired Alabama began to sink. The commander of Alabama, Raphael Semmes, then surrendered and the ship’s survivors were rescued by Kearsarge and the British yacht Deerhound.

Semmes on Alabama

The wreck site of Alabama was discovered in 1984 by the French Navy mine hunter Circe, and an agreement was created between the French and United States governments to form a committee that would oversee any archaeological work on the site.

Several artifacts were recovered from the wreck site of Alabama, including a wooden box housing a shell which has been of particular interest. This is in part due to the unique nature of this set of artifacts. While it is not unusual to find shells, discovering a box built to house a single shell is not common. The box and shell are both currently being housed and studied at the Naval History and Heritage Command’s (NHHC) Archaeology & Conservation Laboratory.

The box and shell were found in excellent condition and received prompt conservation treatment at the Conservation Research Laboratory at Texas A&M University. A lack of oxygen and cold temperatures both contributed to the exceptional state of preservation of the artifacts.

Alabama 021

The 7-inch Britten pattern shell and wooden box recovered from the CSS Alabama.

Research revealed that the shell is a 7-inch Britten pattern shell. Britten projectiles were patented in Great Britain in 1855 by Sir Bashley Britten. Britten’s patent for a new shell also introduced an innovative method for attaching sabots to shells in an attempt to increase the accuracy of the weapon. Both the Union and Confederate forces used Britten shells, however only the Confederate States purchased the shells in large calibers.

Information regarding the box, however, has proven more difficult to uncover. General references to boxes for shell and other ordnance storage have been found in multiple sources. These resources include the ordnance manuals for the Confederate and United States Navies as well as the writings of the chief foreign agent for the Confederate States, James D. Bulloch. However, research about the exact origins and purpose of the Alabama box is ongoing.

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Another view of the shell and box displaying the damaged portion of the box.

Specific information about the cargo and equipment aboard Confederate ships is frequently difficult or nearly impossible to find with the current sources available. Precise data was often not recorded for wartime security or has been destroyed over the years. For example, Confederate leaders were careful to not provide specific information regarding the sources of their supplies. In a letter discussing the purchasing of supplies and ships for the Confederate Navy, Bulloch wrote to a colleague, “The fear that this letter may fall into wrong hands induces me to withhold the names of the contractors.”

While the box and shell remain a bit of a mystery, conservation will be the key to uncovering more of their secrets. Only through proper conservation can we continue to research, study, and analyze vital artifacts.

 
Mar 25

The Conservation of Enfield Rifle Barrels from USS Tulip

Monday, March 25, 2013 9:32 AM

The Naval History and Heritage Command’s (NHHC) Underwater Archaeology Branch (UAB) manages the Archaeology & Conservation Laboratory which is primarily tasked with the documentation, treatment, preservation, and curation of artifacts from US Navy sunken military craft. Artifact conservation is an integral part of any archaeological investigation and allows for the long-term study, interpretation, and preservation of irreplaceable submerged cultural resources.

Recently, the Archaeology & Conservation Lab has been treating a group of Enfield rifle barrels from the wreck site of USS Tulip. Purchased by the Union Navy during the Civil War, Tulip, a steam-screw gunboat, joined the Potomac River Flotilla in 1863. Tulip was tasked with towing, transporting and landing soldiers, supporting Union communication, and maintaining the Union blockade of Confederate ports. The vessel later sank off of Ragged Point, Virginia on 11 November 1864 after her defective starboard boiler exploded. The sinking claimed the lives of 49 of the 57 sailors on board.

USS Tulip Rifle Barrel Before Conservation Treatment

USS Tulip Rifle Barrel Before Conservation Treatment

USS Tulip and her associated contents, like all US Navy sunken military craft, remain property of the US government regardless of the passage of time or location, and are further protected from unauthorized disturbance or artifact removal by the Sunken Military Craft Act (SMCA). Many of the artifacts from Tulip are a painful reminder of the importance of protecting and preserving these archaeological sites. The Tulip artifacts were removed without permission in an unmethodical manner and did not receive conservation treatment after recovery. Because of this, many artifacts which were likely very well preserved at the time of recovery became seriously deteriorated due to unmitigated corrosion and dry storage in a non-climate controlled environment. Archaeologists have also lost the valuable information that is conveyed by documented artifact provenance on an underwater site.

After a two year effort by the Maryland Maritime Archaeology Program, over 1,500 artifacts, previously removed from the wreck site of USS Tulip in the late 1960s, were returned to the US Navy and sent to NHHC for conservation. The artifact collection includes military uniform components, navigation equipment, ceramics, personal items, medical items, ship’s hardware, tools, ordnance and artillery including the Enfield rifles. These particular rifles were manufactured by the Royal Small Arms Factory in Enfield (London), which was owned by the British government and produced weaponry such as rifles, muskets, and swords. The rifles were a popular weapon with both Confederate and Union soldiers during the Civil War for their accuracy and reliability. Both the Union and the Confederate armies purchased Enfield rifles from the British to outfit their troops.

USS Tulip Rifle Barrel and Ramrod After Conservation Treatment

USS Tulip Rifle Barrel and Ramrod After Conservation Treatment

The Archaeology & Conservation Lab has been able to conserve and preserve several of the USS Tulip Enfield rifle barrels. To prevent further corrosion on the barrels, conservators used a process called Electrolytic Reduction (ER) to remove the corrosion-causing compounds from the artifacts, effectively stabilizing them. The barrels were then carefully cleaned and coated with a solution which bonds to the iron and creates a protective film on the surface of the barrels. After all the barrels have received conservation treatment, they will be temporarily stored in the curation spaces in the Archaeology & Conservation Lab with the hope to eventually place them on exhibit.

 
Jan 11

H.L. Hunley Fully Visible for the First Time

Wednesday, January 11, 2012 11:06 AM

HL Hunley in its conservation tank at the Warren Lasch Conservation Center, Charleston.

On February 17, 1864, Confederate-built H.L. Hunley became the world’s first successful combat submarine when it attacked and sank the 1240-short ton screw sloop USS Housatonic at the entrance to the harbor of Charleston, South Carolina. H.L. Hunley surfaced briefly to signal a successful mission to comrades on shore with a blue magnesium light, after which it was never seen again. All eight of its crewmen were presumed lost and despite multiple search efforts, the submarine could not be relocated. 

Over 136 years later, on 8 August, 2000, H.L. Hunley was raised from the sea floor using a specially-designed support frame, or truss. A multi-disciplinary team, under Project Director and Head of the NHHC Underwater Archaeology Branch, Dr. Robert Neyland, coordinated Hunley‘s recovery. 

Post recovery, the 40-foot, 17,000 pound truss continued to support the sub in a custom built, 90,000-gallon conservation tank at Warren Lasch Conservation Center in Charleston, SC while it underwent archaeological investigation. During the careful, year long excavation of its interior, H.L. Hunley remained in the same tilted position in which it was found to ensure minimal disturbance of its contents. Conservation of the recovered artifacts is being conducted by professionals from the Warren Lasch Conservation Center and Clemson University. In 2011, after the interior of the hull had been completely excavated, Hunley was re-positioned so that it now sits upright and no longer requires the support of the truss, which will be removed tomorrow morning on 12 January, 2012.

Throughout its treatment, the submarine has been on display to the public, however, when the truss is removed, visitors finally will be able to have a fully-unobstructed view of the vessel in its conservation tank.

A 3-D animation of the recovery and rotation of H.L. Hunley may be viewed here: Hunley Submarine Rotation

For more information on the H.L. Hunley project, please visit the Friends of the Hunley website: http://www.hunley.org/ 

HL Hunley in its truss at the Warren Lasch Conservation Center, Charleston.

 
Nov 3

Port Royal Week on the CWN 150 Blog

Thursday, November 3, 2011 3:11 PM

This week, the Civil War Navy Sesquicentennial is celebration the commemoration of the Port Royal Expedition. The expedition, which entered the sound on 3 November 1861, was the largest assemblage of ships (77) by the U.S. Navy at that point. The battle was an overwhelming victory for the Union, as well as a testament to combined Army/Navy operations that would subsist for the remainder of the war. 

CWN 150 bloggers are focusing their attention on the battle this week HERE.

The blog will show the most up to date information. There are now several posts about the history of the event, anecdotes and profiles of pivital figures involved, and special programs offered for the sesquicentennial anniversary in South Carolina. Port Royal blog posts will appear until 7 November. 

The following is the list of current Port Royal Blog posts at the Civil War Navy 150 blog (in order of most recent): 

Brother Against Brother at Port Royal

Storms off the South Carolina Coast

Navy Leadership at Port Royal

Port Royal Week for CWN 150 Bloggers

The Port Royal Expedition and the NY Times

The 1861 “Expedition Hurricane” and Port Royal

 
Oct 17

Innovative Scientific Analysis Tool at Underwater Archaeology Conservation Lab

Monday, October 17, 2011 1:54 PM

Dr. Raymond Hayes (left) and Head Conservator George Schwarz examine p-XRF data taken from a Civil War-era Aston pistol recovered from USS HOUSATONIC at the Underwater Archaeology & Conservation Laboratory.

NHHC volunteer, Dr. Raymond Hayes, Professor Emeritus at Howard University, Washington DC, and Woods Hole Biological Laboratory, Woods Hole, MA, has partnered with the Underwater Archaeology & Conservation Laboratory (UACL) to analyze archaeological materials from historic naval shipwrecks.

Dr. Hayes has been awarded a Research & Discovery Grant from Olympus INNOV-X to examine archaeological components from shipwrecks using an innovative Delta portable X-Ray Fluorescence (pXRF) unit. This state-of-the-art technology uses an x-ray beam to identify the specific elements present within archaeological material. Dr. Hayes’ research endeavors to use this data to trace the elemental composition of a wood sample back to original construction materials, marine sediments, and sealing or fastening materials applied to wooden ships. Included in the study are data from USS Housatonic, USS Tulip, and CSS Alabama, as well as recently recovered artifacts from the 2011 USS Scorpion field project, the archaeological investigation of a Patuxent River shipwreck believed to be the flagship of the Chesapeake Bay Flotilla, which fought to defend Washington D.C. from the British during the War of 1812. As part of the Navy’s commemoration of the Flotilla’s important role in the War of 1812, a full excavation of the USS Scorpion site is anticipated.

Scientific technologies like pXRF provide archaeologists and conservators valuable chemical information that can be used to better conserve and interpret submerged cultural heritage. An innovative feature of pXRF devices is that they can be used in both the laboratory and the field to analyze artifacts recovered from wet environments. Artifacts from underwater sites can be difficult to initially identify as they may be encased within thick concretions or obscured by unidentifiable corrosion products, however, pXRF data can give archaeologists data which can signal the presence of an artifact. 

Detail of portable X-Ray Fluorescence machine collecting data from Civil War-era pistol.

Following recovery from underwater archaeological sites, artifacts are particularly susceptible to damage caused by soluble salts (e.g., chlorides) accumulated from the water or sediment that surrounded them for decades or even centuries. If allowed to crystallize, the salts expand and cause catastrophic damage which may result in complete destruction of the artifact. Data from pXRF can determine the concentration of chlorine within an artifact to help conservators understand the degree of salt contamination and mitigate it properly. During conservation, pXRF can help conservators develop the most optimal treatment plan for artifacts and reveal the presence of toxic components, such as lead, cadmium or arsenic. Comparative data may also reveal similarities or differences in artifact composition that could suggest age and geographic origins.

This is only one part of the extensive research that goes on at the Underwater Archaeology & Conservation Lab, where over 2300 artifacts recovered from US Navy shipwrecks and aircraft wrecks are curated, 140 of which are currently undergoing active conservation treatment. The Laboratory, located in BL 46 of WNYD, also hosts public tours showcasing important artifacts that span from the American Revolution to World War II and make the Navy’s history come alive! Please feel free to contact us anytime (202.433.9731) if you’d like to visit!

 For more information about the NHHC Underwater Archaeology Branch and the Underwater Archaeology & Conservation Laboratory, please visit http://www.history.navy.mil/underwater.

 
Jul 1

Civil War at Sea – Navy TV

Friday, July 1, 2011 5:48 AM

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Civil War at Sea

The Navy Memorial hosted an all-day symposium on April 23, 2011 called the “Civil War at Sea.” Historians, curators, Civil War reenactors, archaeologists and authors convened to discuss the Confederate and Union navies’ contributions to the War. Fascinating presentations! If you missed them, watch them here on NavyTV

 
May 26

Navy TV – Civil War at Sea

Thursday, May 26, 2011 2:34 PM

The Navy Memorial hosted an all-day symposium on April 23: the “Civil War at Sea.” Historians, curators, Civil War reenactors, archaeologists and authors convened to discuss the Confederate and Union navies’ contributions to the War. Watch the keynote address by Craig Symonds, renowned Civil War navies’ historian and author here on NavyTV.

 
Feb 17

Black History Month Spotlight: Civil War MOH Recipient Robert Blake

Thursday, February 17, 2011 9:01 AM
Contraband Robert Blake (Photo#: NH 103762)
 
Robert Blake was born into slavery in Virginia. After escaping, he enlisted in the US Navy from Port Royal, Virginia and served on USS Marblehead during the Civil War. While off Legareville, Stono River, South Carolina, on 25 December 1863, Blake bravely served the rifle gun as Marblehead engaged Confederates on John’s Island. The enemy eventually abandoned its position leaving munitions behind. For his bravery in this action, Blake was awarded the Medal of Honor.
USS Marblehead engages a Confederate Battery on John’s Island, Stono River, South Carolina, 25 December 1863 (Photo#: NH 79920)

 

LCDR Richard W. Meade, commanding the Marblehead, wrote in a report to Rear Admiral John Dahlgren off Legareville commending several individual sailors in the conflict. Among the four who would eventually win the Medal of Honor was Robert Blake. LCDR Meade had this to say in his report about Blake:

“Robert Blake, a contraband, excited my admiration by the cool and brave maner in which he served the rifle gun.” (Meade to Dahlgren, ORN, 15:190-191)

Richard W. Meade

He ends his report to Dahlgren by commending everybody, including Blake, onboard the Marblehead during the tense engagement:

“I have again to commend the good conduct of everyone on board. Their courage was so well displayed that the enemy, who had doubtless counted on disabling us, were forced to retire [. . .] in confusion and ignominy.” (Meade to Dahlgren, ORN, 15:191)
 
 
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