University of South Carolina archaeologists locate Confederate cannons,
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
Amer said the underwater research has been very successful, despite rising
waters that have created a higher or more swift-moving current and lower
“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
“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
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: email@example.com