The Washington Times - June 6, 2009, 10:48AM

University of South Carolina archaeologists locate Confederate cannons, 
naval yard
 
Archaeologists from the University of South Carolina and East Carolina 
University have located two large cannon from a sunken Confederate gunboat 
in the Pee Dee River and have identified where the Mars Bluff Naval Yard 
once stood on the east side of the river in Marion County.
 
State underwater archaeologist Christopher Amer and state archaeologist 
and research associate professor Dr. Jon Leader began work April 30. The 
project called for locating and, eventually, raising three cannon, each 
weighing upwards of five tons, that were once aboard C.S.S. Pee Dee, as 
well as determining the location of the naval yard where the gunboat had 
been built.
 
Amer said the underwater research has been very successful, despite rising 
waters that have created a higher or more swift-moving current and lower 
visibility.
 
“Our underwater work hasn’t been easy,” Amer said. “In spite of high, near-
flood water in the river, we have located two of the three cannon and have 
raised two 7-inch Brooke artillery shells and four 6.4-inch Brooke shells. 
Water operations also have located pilings from the dock where vessels 
were outfitted and evidence of post-war logging operations.”
 
Leader, with the help of eight university students, conducted terrestrial 
operations using ground-penetrating radar and other remote-sensing 
technologies to identify where the buildings of the naval yard once stood. 
The data was used to create a 3-D map for excavation work.
 
Archaeologists and graduate students are digging pits, measuring 50 
centimeters wide down to the Pleistocene layer, so that artifacts can be 
dated in the soil layers where they lay before they are excavated. A 
variety of objects, including ceramics, glass and nails, provide clues to 
the location of specific buildings and activity areas at the naval yard, 
which operated as a Confederate States of America (CSA) stronghold from 
1862 –1865.

 “A smoking pipe bowl fragment recovered by the excavation team bears the 
initials ‘WG,’” Leader said. “WG pipes are known from American 
Revolutionary War and others sites to ca. 1830. It gave us quite a start, 
as one of the original owner’s initials was also WG, a remarkable 
coincidence.”
 
Among the resources Amer has used in the project is a letterbook kept by 
Confederate Lt. Edward Means from Aug. 3, 1864, to March 15, 1865 (among 
holdings at Louisiana State University), which provides valuable 
information about operations at the Mars Bluff Naval Yard.
 
Amer says the university’s research findings and the artifacts recovered 
will help tell the story of the people who worked at the Mars Bluff Naval 
Yard and how they constructed the Confederate warships.
 
“The artifacts recovered to date provide us with a tantalizing glimpse 
into past lifeways at the site,” Amer said, “and remind us of a time in 
this nation’s history when, in the face of advancing overwhelming odds, 
the Confederate officers, sailors and workmen at the only inland 
Confederate naval shipyard in South Carolina, along with the local 
community, gave it their best shot.”
 
The Mars Bluff Naval Yard was one of a score of Confederate naval yards 
that were located inland in Southern states so gunboats and support 
vessels for the war could be built and protected from Union forces. Mars 
Bluff was chosen for its inland location, proximity to the railroad, water 
communication with Charleston via Georgetown and the abundance of ash, oak 
and pine lumber.
 
C.S.S. Pee Dee was a 150-foot Macon class gunboat that was built at Mars 
Bluff and outfitted with two Brooke rifled cannon and a Union Dahlgren 
cannon and launched in January 1865. The Pee Dee’s career was short-lived. 
Fearing that the gunboat might fall into enemy hands as Gen. William T. 
Sherman’s Union troops moved from Columbia northward to advance on North 
Carolina, commanders ordered the cannons thrown overboard into the Pee Dee 
River before the ship was scuttled on March 15, set ablaze and blown up.
 
The project of the S.C. Institute for Archaeology and Anthropology at the 
University of South Carolina is funded in part by a $200,000 grant from 
the Drs. Bruce and Lee Foundation in Florence. Plans call for the cannon 
and artifacts recovered from the Mars Bluff Naval Yard and associated with 
the C.S.S. Pee Dee to be preserved at conservation laboratories at Francis 
Marion University under the supervision of Leader. They will then be 
exhibited at the Florence County Museum.
 
The project includes collaboration with East Carolina University and 
Francis Marion University. ECU’s Program in Maritime Studies is conducting 
a field school on the site through June 19, providing support to the SCIAA 
team’s research and excavation work.
 
Amer said researchers have been aided greatly by the Pee Dee Research and 
Recovery Team, which conducted an underwater survey of the site in the 
1990s under an intensive survey license from SCIAA, and by the owners of 
the property on which the site is located. The owners have allowed the 
university and ECU archaeologists to stage the underwater operations on 
their property and conduct terrestrial archaeology.
 
SCIAA, part of the College of the Arts and Sciences, was established in 
1963 as a University of South Carolina research institute and a cultural 
resource management agency for the state of South Carolina. To learn more 
about SCIAA, its research projects and outreach programs, visit the Web 
site – www.cas.sc.edu/sciaa/ -- or call 803-777-8170.

Peggy Binette or Margaret Lamb
                                                                     
Phone: 803-777-5400 ; E-mail: peggy@mailbox.sc.edu