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Thursday, January 29, 2015 - 9:31pm

CSS Georgia Recovery First Step To Savannah Harbor Expansion

Work is about to begin to deepen the Savannah Harbor. But first, crews have to remove a piece of Civil War history from the bottom of the Savannah River.

A lot is unknown about the CSS Georgia. It was an ironclad ship, abandoned by Confederates as Sherman’s Union Army invaded in 1864.

Gordon Watts, an archaeologist and diver working on the project, says documents with details are hard to come by.

"The records - if they were kept by the constructors, the designers of it - are up to now, nonexistent," Watts says.

Watch the Recovery Footage Captured by Drones. Courtesy: US Army Corps of Engineers:

At that moment, a horn from a massive cargo ship, passing just a stone’s throw away from where we’re standing at Savannah’s Fort Jackson, interrupts the conversation.

"This will give you a good idea of why they need to widen the channel and deepen it," Watts says with a laugh.

Ships have to steer clear of where the wreckage lies, he says.

Jason Okane is the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' project manager for the $706 million Savannah Harbor Expansion Project. He says because of where the ship is positioned in the river, ships can get through now. But to add five feet of depth to the shipping channel, the CSS Georgia has to go.

"When we deepen the channel to 47 feet, we have to dredge through there," Okane says. "So we have to get it out of the way before we can do that."

If you’re imagining a majestic battleship coming to the surface, think again.

"She’s not pretty. I have to say that," says the Corps' Julie Morgan, the lead archaeologist on the project. She says the ship is in pieces at the bottom of the river, where it's been for 150 years. "A lot of the railroad iron is encrusted; it just looks like rusty metal. There are some mussels that have taken over parts of the vessel so it’s not going to look like a nice shiny ship."

The CSS Georgia should be on dry land in about nine months. Experts will analyze the artifacts and display them for the public. That process could take two to three years.


Chadd Jones