Leather boots, the hilts of swords — even a stray earring — were among the nearly 30,000 artifacts recovered this fall from the wreckage of the sunken ironclad Confederate gunship CSS Georgia.
More than half of the haul retrieved during the $14 million government project, however, was of a much more mundane nature: nuts, bolts, washers, bent iron rails and other material that did not shed any new light on the lives of sailors serving aboard the vessel.
Altogether, 16,697 artifacts weighing a total of 135 tons were returned to a watery grave at the bottom of the Savannah River, said Jim Jobling, project manager for the Conservation Research Laboratory at Texas A&M University, which is tasked with cataloging, cleaning and preserving artifacts from the Civil War shipwreck.
“Anything I considered to be unique, I would say, ‘I want this, I want this,’” Jobling said. “I picked through everything. No unique stuff went back in the river.”
The CSS Georgia was scuttled by its own crew to prevent Gen. William T. Sherman from capturing the massive gunship when his Union troops took Savannah in December 1864. Remains from the Confederate ironclad were salvaged during the summer and fall as part of a $703 million deepening of the Savannah harbor for cargo ships.
Based on sonar images of the murky riverbed, researchers knew they would fine big chunks of the ship’s armor, several cannons and large pieces of its engine.
What they hadn’t expected were the loads of small artifacts their cranes scooped up: Small buttons, hilts of knives and swords, an intact glass bottle, leather boots and an earring among them.