The ghostly image of an object recently found on the floor of the Gulf of Mexico just off Galveston Island is little more than a shadow.
But experts believe the sonar scan could be that of a well-known but never before discovered ship that sank nearly 150 years ago as it tried to break through the federal blockade of Galveston during the Civil War.
The Carolina, also known as the Caroline, was a merchant ship that left Galveston in July 1864 with a load of cotton.
Federal gunships followed the ship for hours until its crew ran it aground in shallow water between Galveston and San Luis Pass, then set it ablaze rather than let the enemy capture it.
Experts know little more about the ship except that it was privately owned and sank in the area where workers took the sonar image, said Steven Hoyt, state marine archeologist with the Texas Historical Commission.
Hoyt said he will research the ship’s size, style and other characteristics so that he and other divers can determine whether the object is the ship or part of it. It could be a more modern shipwreck or other debris. But experts said the shape of the image suggests it is a ship.
Hoyt said he expects divers to investigate the site in the spring or summer when the Gulf’s waters are calm. Even then, the cloudy water makes visibility near zero, and divers may have to identify the object by touch.
“It’s certainly significant if it turns out to be a historic wreck, as we think it is,” Hoyt said. “That’s really exciting.”
State officials won’t disclose the site’s location to prevent the public from plundering what could be a historically important discovery.