What remains of a five-year siege for control of Charleston Harbor during the Civil War now lay in watery graves amid the harbor's channels and under the beaches of bordering sea islands.
Thanks to a team of archaeologists at the University of South Carolina, the Charleston Harbor naval battlefield has been mapped for the first time, providing historical and archaeological detail on the drawn-out struggle that spanned 1861-1865.
The survey shows where military actions took place, where underwater obstructions were created to thwart enemy forces and the spots where Union ironclads and Confederate blockade runners sunk.
The National Park Service, which funded the project through an American Battlefield Protection grant with matching funds from USC, will use the survey to preserve the battlefield.
Information gathered about the wrecks and obstructions also will be valuable to harbor managers, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and to USC archaeologists to ensure that underwater relics aren't damaged.
Their work will also be considered in decisions involving beach renourishment and the deepening of the harbor.
"The archives of South Carolina's maritime history are under water.
For years we have had these great resources that we should hold in as much respect as historical documents," said James Spirek, a USC underwater archaeologist.
"They are the physical representations of the state's maritime legacies."