Pristine Civil War Cannons Removed From South Carolina's Pee Dee River

Gene H via Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Gene H via Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 / Gene H via Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

In 1865, the Confederate crew of the CSS Pee Dee set their gunboat on fire in order to keep it from falling into Yankee hands. Before doing so, they pushed the boat's three cast iron cannons overboard into the South Carolina river where no one would find them.

The cannons remained underwater until this past Tuesday, when archaeologists from the University of South Carolina raised them from the Pee Dee River. One of the cannons was first discovered in 1995, when amateur diver Bob Butler was searching the river bed for the cannons he suspected had been jettisoned from the CSS Pee Dee. He located the second one in 2006, and was present when the Pee Dee Research and Recovery Team found the third in 2013. It wasn’t until this week that he was able to witness all 35,000 pounds of Civil War history being raised by a front loader from the river’s murky depths.

The artifacts include a nine-inch Dahlgren cannon and two Brooke rifled cannons, which University of South Carolina archaeologist James Spirek described as “premier naval weapons of the Civil War.” The cannons would have been mounted on carriages that could rotate 180 degrees; all three weapons were loaded with ammunition when they were discovered.

What impressed archaeologists the most was the pristine condition they were found in. The sand and muck where they laid buried for 150 years had kept the cannons perfectly preserved, while the river's fresh water spared them from the corrosive effects of salt. The cannons' foundry marks and the stamps that had been made by inspectors can still be easily deciphered.

Now that they’ve been recovered, the cannons will remain in a lab for a few years of conservation before they're eventually put on display at the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs building in Florence, South Carolina.

[h/t: Fox Carolina]