Confederate Commerce Raider CSS Alabama 2002
Gordon P. Watts, Jr., Ph.D.
During June and July 2002, the American CSS Alabama Association and the French Association CSS Alabama carried out an archaeological investigation of the remains of the Confederate commerce raider CSS Alabama. Under the direction of Dr. Gordon P. Watts Jr., American and French archaeologists, French volunteer divers and French Navy personnel cooperated in an examination of the wreck that took place between 29 May and 27 July 2002. Underwater archaeological investigation of the wreck site was carried out between 30 May and 21 June 2002. Objectives for the investigation included video and 35mm photographic documentation of both the wreck and underwater research activities. Continued test excavation in a previously tested area aft in the officers' quarters and limited excavation within the hull forward in the crews' quarters was the focus of archaeological investigation. In addition to small "at risk" artifacts, a number of large items including the aft pivot gun, the aft fire suppression pump and the galley stove were identified for possible recovery.
At the conclusion of the diving operations, the focus of on-site activity shifted to video and 35mm documentation of the wreck site to generate data for the production of a site mosaic and computer model of the surviving wreck structure. Between 5 and 21 July, a remote operated vehicle (ROV) was employed to conduct that documentation. For the CSS Alabama project the ROV was equipped with an acoustic positioning system, a high-resolution digital still camera and an underwater video system. Because funding for the 2002 investigation was not released in time to make sufficient preparations or to obtain and test equipment, a number of the research objectives were compromised. Excavation was frustrated by equipment problems. Artifact recovery, although highlighted by the CSS Alabama's bell, was limited to salvage of a random collection of material. Diver and ROV documentation of the exposed vessel remains generated more than 2,000 images.
The 2002 investigation of CSS Alabama was an extension of 18 years of research on the vessel that began with discovery of the wreck site in 1984. Because the wreck of the CSS Alabama is jointly managed by the United States and France, the 2002 investigation was authorized by the U. S. Naval Historical Center in Washington, D. C., representing the United States government and the French Ministry of Culture, Paris, representing France. Research objectives were reviewed and approved by both those agencies and the joint American-French Scientific Committee, formed to make management and research recommendations for the CSS Alabama. The project was organized and conducted by the Institute for International Maritime Research, Inc., in Washington, North Carolina for the CSS Alabama Association, Mobile, Alabama and the French Association CSS Alabama, Paris, France.
Project Background and Previous Research
Personnel aboard the French Navy mine hunter La Circe discovered the wreck of the Confederate commerce raider CSS Alabama in 1984. At the request of the French Navy, Captain Max Guerout examined the data and material collected by La Circe and began to collect historical documentation regarding the CSS Alabama. His research confirmed that the wreck located by La Circe was indeed the Confederate commerce raider. Announcement of the location of the CSS Alabama led to diplomatic negotiation between France and the United States that subsequently resulted in an executive agreement concerning ownership and management of the wreck. The Executive Agreement of 3 October 1989 also established the framework for authorization and supervision of scientific investigation of the Confederate vessel. Guerout's research and identification of the wreck as the CSS Alabama also led to the creation of the French non-profit Association CSS Alabama. As a consequence of requests to continue on-site research, France as the territorial power of the wreck site and the United States of America as the owner of the wreck and its associated artifacts, jointly authorized the Association CSS Alabama to undertake additional investigations at the wreck site in 1988 (Guerout 1994).
The 1988 investigation of the CSS Alabama was organized around a cadre of volunteer divers, archaeologists and historians working in conjunction with Captain Guerout. Location of Alabama's wheel, with the ship's motto "Aide-toi et Dieu t'aidera" provided absolute identification of the wreck (Figure 1). Data from the 1988 expedition facilitated the development of plans for volunteer diver supported research projects conducted by the Association CSS Alabama in 1989, 1990, 1991, 1992, 1993, 1994, 1995 and 1996. Captain Guerout served as Principal Investigator and each investigation was authorized according to the terms of the 1989 Executive Agreement. Funding for the research carried out between 1988 and 1996 was raised almost entirely in France. Those investigations resulted in a complex plan of the wreck (Figure 2) and the recovery of an important collection of approximately 200 objects, including: the wheel, several flushing toilets with transfer-printed ceramic bowls, and a variety of plates, glasses, salt cellars, and other galley and tableware, deck tracks for the vessel's ordnance trucks, a pivot carriage and a heavy Blakely rifled cannon (Guerout 1994).
In 1999, after a two-year hiatus in field research, investigation of the wreck resumed under the joint sponsorship of the French Association CSS Alabama and a newly formed American organization, the American Association of the Friends of CSS Alabama. Principal funding for the project was provided by grants from the U. S. Department of Defense Legacy Resource Management Program. Those funds were channeled through the American Association of the Friends of CSS Alabama. The Alabama Power Foundation, the City and County of Mobile, Alabama, members of the Association of the Friends of CSS Alabama and the City of Cherbourg, France, provided additional funding. Gordon Watts served as project principal investigator.
Objectives for the 1999 reconnaissance investigation focused on determining if significant changes in the surviving wreck structure, machinery or associated archaeological record had occurred since the last on-site investigation in 1995. In addition to making those observations, the research team employed underwater video and 35mm photography to document elements of the vessel's structure, machinery, fittings, ordnance and artifacts exposed on the seabed. During the 1999 investigation, a small diver propulsion vehicle was employed to remove the highly mobile layer of shell hash that covers more stable sediments containing the undisturbed archaeological record. Three specific locations were selected for testing. The first was in the stern at the base of the screw and lifting frame to determine if the frame was still attached to the hull. The second was in the bow aft of the stem to
determine how much of the hull structure survives forward and determine if material associated with the forecastle was exposed. The third area chosen for removal of shell hash was the location of the second pivot gun to determine if the truck structure survived in association with the tube. Although the 1999 investigation was limited to two days of on-site activity, observations confirmed that no dramatic changes occurred in the condition of the aft section of the wreck. Exposed features appeared to have been relatively stable with a nominal amount of upper level bottom material migration. The investigation reinforced the conclusion that additional resources would be essential if research on the wreck site was to be intensified (Watts 1999).
In 2000, the American Association of the Friends of CSS Alabama and the Naval Historical Center entered into a Memorandum of Agreement with the Institute for International Maritime Research, Inc. (IIMR), a Washington, North Carolina based 501 (c) (3) corporation to plan, organize and conduct the field research. Under the terms of that agreement, IIMR planned, organized and supervised research at the wreck site during the summers of 2000, 2001 and 2002. Dr. Gordon P. Watts, Jr., served as the Principal Investigator for those operations. Funding for the 2000, 2001 and 2002 projects was provided by additional grants from the U. S. Department of Defense Legacy Resource Management Project. Those funds were appropriated by Congress and channeled through the Naval Historical Center to the American Association of the Friends of CSS Alabama. The Alabama Power Foundation, the City and County of Mobile, Alabama, members of the Association of the Friends of CSS Alabama and the City of Cherbourg, France, provided additional funding for the projects. Dive equipment used by American archaeologists was generously donated to IIMR by Scubapro, Inc. (Watts 2000).
Based on the 1999 reconnaissance, a more complex investigation of the CSS Alabama was organized for the summer of 2000. Objectives for the 2000 investigation ultimately focused on documentation of the wreck site using underwater video, continuation of test excavation previously carried out within the surviving hull in the stern and recovery of selected artifacts. The video data generated was used to test new electronic methods of digital mosaic construction (Figure 3). Limited test excavations were also undertaken within the hull aft, at the base of the propeller and at the location of the stern pivot gun. Excavation was also to be undertaken at the site of the aft fire pump and the starboard Trotman patent anchor. In addition to recovering artifacts and data that would shed light on life aboard the CSS Alabama, the test excavation was designed to generate information on the nature and scope of the archaeological record within the surviving hull structure. Although weather and equipment problems complicated on-site research activity, the investigation generated new information about the wreck and additional insight into conducting work on the site (Watts 2000).
Investigation of the CSS Alabama, during the summer of 2001, was a continuation of previous research and management priorities. On-site operations focused on documentation of the exposed wreck structure, test excavation in the hull aft and recovery of selected and "at risk" artifacts. Documentation of the wreck structure was to have been based on use of the U. S. Navy research submarine NR-1 and a U. S. Navy ROV. Unfortunately, authorization for use of the NR-1 and ROV could not be obtained from the French government and the primary research objective had to be abandoned. Without data from the proposed NR-1 and ROV surveys, the focus of on-site activity was shifted to excavation and artifact recovery. A test excavation in the stern produced a number of interesting artifacts and new information concerning the nature, scope and degree of preservation of the archaeological record within the CSS Alabama's surviving hull structure. Efforts to recover the aft pump were again suspended until a better understanding of the methods of attachment could be determined (Watts 2001). With assistance from the French Navy, one of the CSS Alabama's two Blakely patent British Royal Navy pattern 32-pounders was recovered (Figure 4).
Location and Description of the CSS AlabamaWreck Site
Wreckage of the CSS Alabama lies in La Manche off the Normandy Peninsula (Figure 5). The site is approximately 5.5 miles (8.9 km) offshore of Nacqueville and 6 miles (9.7 km) north-northeast of Fort de L'Ouest on the Cherbourg outer breakwater. Geographical coordinates for the wreck location are 01 west longitude and 49 north latitude.
The remains of the Alabama lie in approximately 61 meters (200 feet) of water. That depth makes work at the site both complex and hazardous. Water temperatures rise to approximately 50 degrees Fahrenheit (10(C) in the summer. Visibility at the site ranges from virtually zero to approximately 100 feet (30 m).
During the tidal cycle, currents flowing over the wreck site can exceed four knots. In addition to restricting on-site research activity, currents have had an important effect on the wreck. The Alabama lies on a hard bottom consisting of rocks, pebbles, shell hash and sand (Figure 6). That environment limited scour settling of the hull. With the exception of sand and shell deposited within and around the wreck, most of the vessel structure remained exposed to the water column elements. That highly dynamic water column environment contributed to the deterioration of virtually all exposed structural remains. During the life of the project, more than a meter of bottom surface sediments, mostly shell hash, have been observed to migrate rapidly away from the wreck and return. In this highly abrasive environment, the Alabama's exposed hull remains, already weakened by biological activity, have deteriorated to the approximate level of the stable bottom surface below the shell hash.
Only the unexposed lower hull and amidships portions of the starboard side of the Alabama survive intact. The hull lists approximately 30 degrees to starboard and is oriented perpendicular to the prevailing current pattern. Depth measurements taken by the divers using a submersible, precision depth recorder confirm that sediment consisting of shell hash, pebbles and sand has accumulated within and around the Alabama to a depth of almost three meters (Figure 7). The major accumulation of material is amidships and is probably a result of the Alabama's machinery and boilers. Amidships, the port side of the hull is exposed to the approximate position of the turn of the bilge while the starboard side could survive to the approximate location of the lower deck clamp. Toward the stern, the depth of sediment rapidly decreases to the approximate level of the propeller shaft. At the stern, a little less than half of the propeller is exposed along with the top of the brass frame that lifted it clear of the water. No evidence of the stem was observed, which made it difficult to determine the amount of sediment accumulation forward. It is also possible that the hull may not lie on an even keel fore and aft and the amount of surviving structure is considerably less (Figure 8). Very little of the surviving hull structure is exposed at the site.
The exposed remains of the CSS Alabama are characterized by a combination of features associated with the vessel structure, machinery, fittings and ordnance. Elements of the hull and machinery remain in much the same condition as they were found, when on-site examination of the wreck was begun in 1984. However, over 300 artifacts have been recovered. While most are small, several pieces of ordnance and a riding bitt represented significant features on the site. Their positions on the wreck have been included in the narrative description of the site and the site plan developed by Max Guerout.
The Alabama's stern is identified by the lifting frame and propeller, which mark the northern extremity of the site. Immediately aft of the lifting frame, the head of the rudder is exposed above the sediment. Wood structure identified during the 2002 investigation suggests that some portion of the Alabama's fantail are also preserved below the sediment accumulated aft of the hull structure.
Forward of the lifting frame and propeller, the port side of the hull is defined by exposed frames, planking and ceiling (Figure 9). Although sporadically covered by migrating sediment, the lower port side of the hull extends from the sternpost to a point aft of the bow near the present location of the capstan. In the stern aft of the steam machinery a section of the port side lies buried outside the hull. Heavy iron knees extend up through the sediment to mark its position (Figure 10). On the starboard side accumulated sediment has covered most of the hull. From a point immediately forward of the steam machinery to a point adjacent to the forward Downton pump, the hull is exposed from one to three feet above the bottom surface. At the base of the starboard Trotman anchor, additional structure is exposed and confirms that the surviving hull remains extend well beyond the boilers but is completely buried. A rabbeted timber, identified as the stem, was exposed in 1992 but has not been observed more recently. During the 2001 and 2002 investigations, a small section of ceiling planking and frames was exposed on the starboard side of the hull immediately outboard and aft of the test excavation location. That section of the structure contained two valves associated with through-hull fittings.
Steam Propulsion Machinery
Much of the Alabama's steam machinery is accessible. The two steam cylinders lie athwartships, just inside the lower hull aft of the boilers. Both cylinder heads, their beds and associated valve chests are exposed (Figure 11). A large steam pipe from the aft face of the aft boilers extends aft across the outboard ends of the cylinders (Figure 12). Debris and sediment cover the center of the engines and both of the condensers located to starboard.
Forward of the steam engines, the outboard sides of two of the Alabama's four boilers are exposed. Each of the port boilers is rectangular with a longitudinally rounded upper and lower shell. The lower outboard forward face of the forward boiler is exposed to the point that one of the firebox doors is periodically visible (Figure 13). The top of the port boilers are obscured by collapsed iron deck structure but the flues that connected them to the single smoke pipe are partially exposed (Figure 14). The starboard boilers are covered by sediment and debris from the iron decks above them. The base of the retractable smoke pipe that was centered between the four boilers extends approximately six feet into the water column (Figure 15). Forward of the smoke pipe an 8-inch copper steam blow off pipe that served the forward boilers remains standing. Aft of the smoke pipe a section of the 8-inch copper steam blow off pipe that served the aft boilers lies on the bottom athwartships. Although the shaft tunnel and propeller shaft are covered by sediment, the propeller and the frame that lifted it out of the water are partially exposed at the stern (Figure 16).
Machinery and Fittings
A number of pieces of the Alabama's machinery and fittings associated with operation of the vessel are also exposed. Two Downton pumps were installed to dewater the bilges and fight fires. Along the centerline of the hull and forward
of the location where the remains of the ship's wheel were found in 1988, the aft Downton pump survives intact (Figure 17). The base of the pump remains plumbed to a valve chest that provided several options for source water. A fire nozzle with intact leather hose was recovered from the base of the pump in 2001. The second Downton was mounted forward of the boilers. Although the pump was intact as late as 1995, it appears to have been damaged by trawling or anchoring and the wheel was found broken in 2002 (Figure 18). The base of the pump appears to remain connected to its valve chest.
Frontward of the forward coal bunkers, an iron capstan is exposed on the bottom (Figure 19). Anchor chain stretches forward toward one of the large cast iron riding bitts, that was mounted on deck near the foremast (Figure 20). Just aft of the riding bitt, two knights from the foremast fife rail were found. Both knights were fitted with brass knightheads and fairleads for three internal sheaves (Figure 21). A third knight with similar fairleads and sheaves was found near the base of the mainmast between the aft boilers and the engines. Smaller, less obvious port lights with lead
sheathing were scattered along both sides of the hull, fore and aft of the engineering space. Just forward of the foremast fife rail pillars and to port of the cast iron riding bitt, the galley stove lay on the bottom almost entirely exposed (Figure 22). Because the Alabama's main mast was stepped between the aft boilers, the base of the mast was fitted into an iron basket forged atop a long iron pillar. The ironwork at the base of the mast was resistant to the often, intense heat in the engineering space between the boilers. The basket that fit atop the pillar lies between the aft boilers and the engines (Figure 23).
The Alabama's ground tackle was comprised of Trotman patent anchors. The starboard Trotman was apparently catted when the commerce raider sank. It now protrudes upside down from the bottom immediately outboard of the surviving hull structure. The crown juts approximately five feet into the water column and the arms are perpendicular to the hull (Figure 24). Only one arm and fluke of the port Trotman is exposed on the opposite side of the hull (Figure 25). Lying adjacent to
the galley stove are the nested arms of two additional Trotman anchors (Figure 26). The shanks and stocks were apparently stowed separately to conserve space. As needed, they could be quickly brought on deck and assembled.
The CSS Alabama was to be fitted with eight pieces of ordnance in the Azores. Six of those pieces were 32-pounder smooth bores. Seven cannon have been identified at the wreck site. Two of the cannon were cast from a British Royal Navy pattern (Figure 27) and three were of a more modern pattern (Figures 28 and 29) produced by Fawcett, Preston and Company in Liverpool. A Blakely Patent 7-inch 100-pounder rifle was mounted on a pivot carriage forward (Figure 29) and a 68-pounder smoothbore was similarly mounted aft (Figure 28). One of the Blakely Patent 32-pounders was found lying across the starboard side of the hull forward of the boilers. A second Blakely Patent 32-pounder was identified outside the hull structure, immediately forward of the propeller and lifting frame. The forward Blakely Patent 32-pounder was recovered in 2000. Both of the British Royal Navy pattern 32-pounders have also been identified. One lies inside the hull starboard and forward of the boilers and adjacent to the forward Downton pump. A second was identified on the iron deck structure immediately aft of the smoke pipe. The
Royal Navy Pattern 32-pounder aft of the smoke pipe was recovered in 2001. The remaining 32-pounder has not been positively identified, but could be underneath hull debris forward of the starboard Trotman anchor.
The 7-inch 100-pounder rifle lay on top of the forward starboard boiler beside its pivot carriage. The 100-pounder rifle was the first cannon recovered from the CSS Alabama. It, and the pivot carriage were brought up in 1994. The 68-pounder smoothbore carried aft on a pivot carriage was located immediately outside the starboard hull structure in the stern. It is possible that the remains of the truck and pivot carriage lie underneath the gun tube.
In addition to the seven cannon, the site contained shot, gun truck wheels and brass tracks for the gun carriages. Many of the brass tracks have been recovered. Two shot have been recovered. One conical projectile was inside the barrel of the 7-inch rifle. A shell for a 32-pounder was recovered from the stern forward of the propeller. That shot was attached to a wood sabot and had been packed in a wood box for storage. Additional round shot have been observed forward of the boilers and in the vicinity of the aft pivot gun, one possibly from USS Kearsarge (Figure 30).
Ultimately, the 2002 investigation of the CSS Alabama was divided into two distinct operations. In June, the focus of research was on diver documentation, excavation and artifact recovery. That activity was carried out by a team of American archaeologists, French archaeologists and volunteer divers and divers from the French Navy. In July, operations shifted to photographic data collection based on use of an ROV from the Carderock Division of the Naval Surface Warfare Center. Using their Phantom ROV, personnel from the Naval Historical Center, the Naval Surface Warfare Center and IIMR collected digital videotape and photographic images of the wreck site to support production of a comprehensive scaled mosaic of exposed vessel remains and artifacts of the bottom surface.
Archaeological Diving Operations
Dive operations were ultimately scheduled during two periods of lower tidal coefficients in May and June. The first period of work at the site was scheduled between 30 May and 9 June. In spite of generally bad weather, diving operations were carried out on 9 of 11 days. The second period of on-site research was scheduled between 15 and 21 June. Weather during the second period was much improved and diving operations were carried out every day.
On-site operations began by relocating the wreck and placing mooring buoys on the wreck. As there were three groups diving at the same time, moorings were set on the 32-pounder cannon nearest the lifting frame and screw, the starboard Trotman anchor and on the starboard side of the steam machinery. To facilitate navigation on the wreck site, a baseline was deployed from the lifting frame to the smoke pipe and forward to the starboard Trotman anchor. Divers from the GPD and French volunteer group accomplished that work between 30 May and 1 June. French Navy personnel operated from the lift vessel Vulcain (Figure 31) and one of several 60-foot (18 m) vedettes (Figure 32). With the exception of several days when the vessel was unavailable, French volunteers dove from the CNP vessel Little Pocket (Figure 33).
Following resolution of logistical problems that delayed arrival of the American flag dive support vessel Enrica and all project equipment shipped from the United States (Figure 34), project archaeologists began to deploy equipment at the site. Hoses to power airlifts were attached to the 32-pounder mooring in the stern and two 6-inch airlifts were secured on the wreck site. To control excavation and documentation during excavation, two-meter-square grids were set up in the stern between the lifting frame and the fire pump (Figure 35).
With the grids assembled and positioned, the first attempt at excavation was made on 4 June. Excavation was to be carried out using airlifts powered by a rotary compressor aboard the American research vessel Enrica (Figure 36). The compressor was powered by a hydraulic system attached to the Enrica's diesel engine. That design eliminated the more dangerous gasoline engine that took up most of the space on the Enrica's aft deck. Unfortunately, virtually every component of the new and untested compressor system failed during the project. Due to the lack of time to assemble and test the compressor prior to the initiation of fieldwork those failures ultimately eliminated any possibility of conducting the proposed excavation in the stern. Archaeologists spent much of every day during the first dive period attempting to repair and redesign the system and invaluable research time was lost.
While an inordinate amount of time was spent attempting to rectify problems with the compressor system, the French volunteers and French Navy divers were able to relocate the aft pivot gun and the galley stove (Figure 37). In addition, their attempts to locate artifacts exposed on the bottom surface proved successful. As work on the site progressed, a variety artifacts were identified for recovery. After video documentation and triangulation, those that were exposed and "at risk" were brought to the surface. While divers recovered larger artifacts individually, small items were brought to the surface using plastic crates with partitions that isolated and protected each artifact. Aboard the Little Pocket, fragile material was transported back to Cherbourg in containers filled with seawater. A number of small fittings, fasteners, glass vessels and tableware were retrieved before rising tidal coefficients brought an end to the first period of diving.
During the first period of on-site activity, a digital video camera in an underwater housing was used to record the exposed wreck structure and underwater activity. Video was used to document the on-site activity and provide illustrations for reports and publications. Video documentation of the wreck structure was designed to provide images of diagnostic features, material being cleared for recovery and image data to experiment with mosaic construction software. Documentation of the underwater work provided a graphic record of research and in situ images of artifacts before recovery.
In the interim between diving periods, work on the compressor system continued on a daily basis. Plans for the second period of diving were revised to compensate for the complications associated with equipment problems. Artifacts recovered during the first phase were cleaned, photographed and catalogued at the CNP facilities (Figure 38). That aspect of the project was carried out under the direction of French conservator Elise Blouet. As time permitted, several trips were made to Grandcamp Maisey to meet with NHC and NSWC personnel to plan for the ROV operations scheduled for July.
The second period of on-site research was scheduled between 15 and 21 June. Weather during the second period was much improved and diving operations were carried out every day. The revised plan of operations focused on continued efforts to conduct excavations in the stern and to attempt to clear sediment away from the base of the galley stove near the bow. In the stern airlifts powered by the rebuilt compressor would be used for excavation. In the bow French Navy divers would use large compressed air cylinders to power their airlift.
On the first dive, conditions on the bottom were found to have changed dramatically. During the period while tidal coefficients were too high for on-site operations almost a meter of additional shell hash had been deposited inside the hull in the stern. The excavation grids were completely covered and both airlifts had to be dug out by hand. Hose for the airlifts was fouled and partially buried. Once those problems had been solved, attempts to excavate resumed.
The second attempt to excavate proved as unsuccessful as the first. Each attempt was frustrated by the successive failure of components of the compressor system. Every failure caused the loss of a day of on-site activity. Ultimately, every available opportunity to carry out the proposed excavation was lost. In the bow, compressed air cylinders provided nominal dredge performance. Diver propulsion vehicles were used to help move shell hash away from the base of the galley stove. In the stern they provided the power to wash shell hash away from the pivot gun.
During the second period of operations, French volunteers and French Navy divers recovered additional artifacts from the wreck. While most were exposed on the seabed, some were uncovered during efforts to clear shell hash away from the galley stove. Material recovered during the second period included a large iron riding bitt, additional fittings, gun truck tackle, parts of small arms, glass and tableware and the ship's bell. The bell and its ornate mounting bracket, the riding bitt, Enfield rifle fragments and parts of a shoe were recovered near the galley stove. During the last two days of work at the site, excavation and mapping equipment was recovered and the baseline and moorings were removed.
Following the second period of on-site investigation, the Enrica was loaded for shipping and equipment was broken down, cleaned and packed for shipment back to the United States. Artifacts were cleaned, photographed and catalogued. All recovered material was packaged in a watertight container for shipment to the Warren Lasch conservation facilities in Charleston, South Carolina (Figure 39).
Although ROV operations were scheduled to begin on 28 June, weather prevented the research vessel Genesis from making the passage from Grandcamp-Maisy to Cherbourg until 5 July (Figure 40). On the following day, ideal weather permitted the first on-site operations (Appendix E). The wreck site was relocated using DGPS and a fathometer and the position was marked on a bridge display. When the current dropped sufficiently, the ROV was launched upstream of the wreck (Figure 41). Scanning sonar on the ROV was used to drive the underwater vehicle to the wreck site (Figure 42). Although the navigation system failed to function, about 45 minutes of video and photographic documentation were recorded before currents became too strong for the ROV to maintain position (Figure 43 ). On the following day, similar operations generated another hour of video and photographic records without positioning data. On 8 July, the weather deteriorated and launch and recovery of the ROV was determined to be too hazardous to attempt. Similar conditions eliminated operations on 9 July, and the Genesis returned to Grandcamp-Maisy that afternoon.
During the period from 10 through 15 July, the Genesis remained at Grandcamp-Maisy. That permitted review and duplication of the first two days of data. Review of the data confirmed that problems associated with the lack of positioning were compounded by difficulties with the 35mm digital camera. Because funding for the project was delayed, the camera had been obtained at the last minute. The lens proved to be unsuitable for the operation making focusing a factor of the ROV elevation above the bottom. Camera recovery time after each shot was slow compounding the difficulty in achieving sufficient overlap. Those problems were additionally complicated by a delay between triggering each shot and the camera firing. Due to problems with the positioning system and complications associated with focusing and firing the digital camera, priorities for the second phase of ROV operations were shifted from systematic documentation of the wreck site to feature specific documentation. Specific wreck features were prioritized for documentation, but current and visibility dictated some reorganization of objectives.
ROV operations resumed on 16 July and continued through 21 July. With the exception of two days lost to weather, feature documentation operations were carried out every day. The majority of that activity was focused on forward sections of the wreck due to the difficulties associated with coordinated station keeping of the Genesis and navigation of the ROV. While most of the documentation focused on selected elements of the wreck structure, features of opportunity were also recorded. In all, approximately 2,000 images and 15 hours of videotape were generated by the investigation. While positioning was never functional and many images are out of focus, the data provides new and useful information about the wreck.
Following completion of all fieldwork, artifacts recovered during the 2002 campaign were packaged for shipment to conservation facilities in Charleston, South Carolina. A special iron container with a watertight liner constructed for shipping one of the
Alabama's 32-pounders to Charleston, South Carolina in 2001 was used for the artifacts. Using a local crane service the riding bitt was lifted from Cherbourg harbor and placed in the shipping container (Figure 44). Conservator Elise Blouet packed the small artifacts, and they were also placed inside the water-filled shipping crate. That crate and the diving and excavation equipment were loaded in a 20-foot metal shipping container for transport to the United States.
After the shipping container arrived in Norfolk, Virginia and was released by United States Customs, it was delivered to the Institute for International Maritime Research, Inc., in Washington, North Carolina. There, the equipment was unloaded for cleaning and storage. The artifacts were also unpacked and documented. A three- dimensional AutoCAD image of the Alabama's bell was developed and additional photographs were taken of every item except the riding bitt. Once that work was completed, the artifacts were repackaged and delivered to the Warren Lasch Conservation Center in Charleston, South Carolina. There they were evaluated and a portion of the collection was shipped to the Texas A&M conservation laboratory in College Station, Texas for conservation.
Description of Recovered Artifacts
Material recovered during the 2002 investigation of the CSS Alabama consisted almost entirely of artifacts exposed on the bottom surface and a few artifacts exposed by test excavation in the vicinity of the galley stove. Due to the dynamic environment at the wreck site, artifacts exposed on the bottom surface are considered to be at risk and their provenience is questionable. Damage to the forward Downton pump and nets fouled on the wreck structure provide an indication that some of the damage has been caused by trawling (Figure 45). Recovery has been accepted as the most appropriate method of ensuring the preservation of exposed material. During the 2002 campaign, a total of 19 artifacts were recovered. They included the bell, small arms, ceramics, glass, ship fittings, gun carriage tackle, fragments of the vessel's hull and one of the Alabama's two cast iron riding bitts.
Artifact ALS-300 is a fill pipe, deck plate and cap from the deck of the CSS Alabama. Although it is impossible to determine its exact location on deck, the design suggests that the fitting was installed to facilitate filling a fresh water tank located in the hull. The design remains common today, and modern deck fittings have identical holes in the lid for a spanner. The multi-component artifact is made up of five different pieces. The lid is screwed into the deck plate and the deck plate is screwed onto a short pipe nipple. The pipe nipple is connected to a broken section of pipe by a compression collar. All of the components appear to be fashioned from brass. More detailed information will be available after cleaning.
Artifact ALS-301 is the lead sheathing for one of the conical port light apertures cut through the CSS Alabama's hull. The sheathing prevented water from entering the hull between the planking and ceiling and provided a more finished appearance. The brass frame and glass lens fitted inside the smaller outboard end of the sheathing is missing, and the outboard end of the artifact is heavily damaged.
Artifact ALS-303 is a copper fastener. One end of the fastener has been peened over a rove and the opposite end has a round head. The overall length is 18.1 inches suggesting that it was used to fasten the upper hull structure. The CSS Alabama's contract called for 3/4-inch copper bolts to fasten much of the hull.
Artifact ALS-302 is a bronze sleeve. The flared end of the sleeve appears to have been a bearing surface. The configuration suggests that it could have been used as a bearing for a gun carriage truck.
Artifact ALS-304 appears to be a small brass valve handle or knob and an associated concretion. Cleaning will be necessary before identification is possible. However, it appears that the object is a 2.6- inch long handle attached to a shaft by a screw. The shaft appears to be fitted through a small escutcheon and is attached to a round plate with opposing lugs for locking. More detailed information will be available after cleaning.
Artifact ALS-305 is a spike in a fragment of wood. The spike is fashioned from machine-forged iron. The length suggests that it might have been used to fasten the deck. The wood appears to be teak or mahogany. More detailed information will be available after cleaning.
Artifact ALS-306 is composed of fragments of deck planks, a fastener and a gun carriage pivot fitting with fasteners. The fragments of deck plank appear to be teak. The fastener is copper and was driven horizontally through the deck planks. Four copper fasteners secure the gun carriage pivot pin socket to the deck beams. The top of the pin socket is 6.6 inches square and the length is 9.2 inches. The interior diameter varies from 2.9 inches at the top to 2.7 inches at the bottom. The inside the pin socket is fitted with a collar 5.9 inches below the surface. Recesses in the collar appear to have been designed to accommodate lugs on the pin used to lock it in place. The base of the socket is recessed and has a small hole to drain water. More detailed information will be available after cleaning.
ALS-307 is the CSS Alabama's bell. The CSS Alabama's bell appears to be cast in bronze. The mounting lug on top of the head is broken off and remains attached to the mounting bracket (ALS-308). The head of the bell is virtually flat with one reinforce inside the shoulder. Below the shoulder the bell walls flare slightly to the waist approximately half the distance to the lip. Below that point the flare is more exaggerated. Three reinforces decorate the bell immediately above the sound bow and the lip has a flat facet on the exterior. The clapper is missing.
Artifact ALS-308 includes the bracket, mounting screws and remains of the bell flange. The base of the bracket is "T" shaped and vertically concave to fit the foremast of the CSS Alabama. Three pan-head lag bolts were employed to attach the bracket to the mast. The bracket arm is contoured, and the end is decorated with a concentric design centered on the hole for attaching the bell. A stud holds the broken bell head lug and two cap nuts secure the stud. All of the components appear to be bronze. More detailed information will be available after cleaning.
Artifact ALS-309 is a knighthead. The brass cap and remaining wood are 49 inches in length. The dimensions of the wood are 11.6 inches in width and 6.1 inches in thickness. However, the base of the brass cap measures 12.5 inches by 6.5 inches and suggests the original dimensions. The brass cap measures 6.8 inches in height and the top of each head measures 4.5 by 6.2 inches. One of the heads has a 1.8-inch long .7-inch diameter bolt extending from the center. Near the broken end of the beam, a brass three-sheave fairing 9.5 inches high and 8.1 inches wide remains attached. The remains of three wood sheaves are on their axle bolt. The sides of the knighthead were protected by angle brass drilled and countersunk for mounting screws. Two .7-inch diameter brass pins in the side of the knighthead possibly provide an indication of the location of the pin rail. A second brass fairing was mounted on the side of the knighthead opposite the three-sheave fairing. That fairing measured 6.1 inches in length 3.0 inches in width and was attached by four screws. More detailed information will be available after cleaning.
Artifact ALS-310 is a cast iron riding bitt. Because of the size and difficulty handling this artifact no measurements were available at the time of report preparation. The base of the bitt is rectangular with rounded corners. A section in the center of the base is recessed approximately .1 inch and two holes for mounting bolts are located near each corner. With the exception of the center area adjacent to the bottom of the bitt cylinder, the base has a lip approximately .1 inch in height. The base is approximately .4 inches thick with rounded sides. The bitt cylinder is approximately 1.8 feet in exterior diameter and 2.5 feet in height. The interior is approximately 1.2 feet in diameter and that opening extends through the base. The forward side of the bitt cylinder was cast with a hollow protrusion approximately .8 feet in height that extends almost to the forward end of the base. The aft side of the bitt cylinder was cast with a second protrusion resembling one end of a cleat. More detailed information will be available after cleaning.
Artifact Dimensions: Unavailable at time of report preparation.
Artifact ALS-311 is a port light. Port lights were used to direct light into the lower deck of the ship and to serve as view ports for crewmembers. The glass lens is set in a tapered brass rim. The brass rim has recessed rings at either end. The lead sleeve is formed around the brass rim. The long tapered sleeve served as a through-hull fitting. Remains of both interior and exterior flanges are apparent and would have been secured with tacks. A soldered seam extends down the lead fairing. Additional similar port lights were also recovered during previous campaigns. More detailed information will be available after cleaning.
Artifact ALS-312 is a fragment of a rifled musket. The stock behind the handgrip and trigger housing is missing, and the fore stock and barrel were broken off during recovery. The configuration of the lock, hammer and trigger guard indicate that the weapon is an Enfield Pattern 1853. Measurements and more detailed information will be available after cleaning.
Artifact ALS-313 is the remaining fragment of a leather shoe or boot. The sole appears to be intact, but only a portion of the heel and upper survives. More detailed information will be available after cleaning.
Artifact ALS-314 is a fragment of the stock of a musket. The shape of the stock and the design of the butt plate recess suggest that the weapon was an Enfield Pattern 1853 rifled musket. The butt plate, probably brass, was apparently lost during recovery. More detailed information will be available after cleaning.
Artifact ALS-315 is a brass deck plate. The rim is drilled for eight mounting screws/bolts and the interior is threaded for the cover. The cover is threaded to mate with the rim and recessed to accommodate a flush handle. More detailed information will be available after cleaning.
Artifact ALS-316 is a gun truck tackle block. It is likely that the block was used to move and secure one of Alabama's large pivot guns. One such block is visible in the photo of Raphael Semmes leaning against the aft pivot gun (Figure 9). This particular single-sheave block was hooked to a large eye bolt in the deck. This was coupled with a double-sheave block hooked to the cannon truck to provide mechanical advantage to pivot the cannon. One of the upper double-sheave blocks was recovered from the site in 1991 and a single-sheave block was recovered in 2000.
The block is made entirely of brass and both the hook and eye are designed to swivel.
Artifact ALS-317 is a copper fastener. One end of the fastener has been peened over a rove and the opposite end has a round head. The overall length is 12.1 inches suggesting that it was used in fastening the upper hull structure above the weather deck. The CSS Alabama's contract called for 3/4-inch copper bolts to fasten much of the hull.
Artifact ALS-318 is a white ironstone plate. The undecorated style does not match any of the other styles recovered from the CSS Alabama. The "Davenport" maker's mark on the bottom confirms its manufacturer. The anchor suggests one of Davenport's marine wares. It is possible that the plate was the personal property of one of the Alabama's officers, or was taken from a prize vessel by a crewmember.
Results of the 2002 Investigation
The 2002 investigation of the CSS Alabama shed some new light on the wreck and reconfirmed the complex nature of conducting research at the site. Accomplishing the objectives of the diving phase of on-site operations proved to be impossible due almost entirely to equipment problems. However, in spite of those difficulties some additional information about the wreck was generated and a limited number of artifacts were recovered. Equipment problems and environmental conditions also plagued the ROV operations. While the video and photographic data collected by the ROV contributes little to the production of a scaled geo-referenced mosaic of the wreck site, those data can be used to produce a more comprehensive plan of the site.
The means of excavation at the CSS Alabama wreck site remains an unresolved problem. In 2001, a 100-psi, 100 cfm compressor was carried on board the American research vessel Enrica. The low-pressure gas-powered compressor provided sufficient volume to adequately power a 4-inch airlift at the Alabama's depth. However, the compressor took up almost all of the available deck space and gasoline for the engine was determined to be a potential hazard at sea. Immediately prior to shipping the Enrica to France to support the 2002 investigation, a hydraulic system was fitted to the vessel's diesel engine. The pump attached to the diesel powered a hydraulic motor adapted to the compressor. That system was designed to provide additional room in an already overcrowded dive support platform and increase safety by eliminating the compressor's gas engine. Unfortunately, there was no time to test the system and it proved to be entirely ineffective. The lack of a source to power the airlifts eliminated any possibility of conducting any of the research or large artifact recovery associated with excavation.
While proposed test excavations and large artifact recovery in the bow and stern had to be abandoned due to compressor problems, time on site permitted some useful observations. A close inspection of the lifting frame and screw propeller confirmed that the upper sections of the frame can be removed and the lifting yoke employed to recover the propeller (Figure 65). Although the upper sections of the lifting frame are almost 30 degrees out of vertical, the propeller is now in an upright position. As the propeller was designed to be lifted out of the water in a vertical position, the shaft key is aligned to permit it to be lifted out of the wreck without damaging the shaft or lower frame.
An examination of the lower hull forward of the lifting frame confirmed that the level of sediment within the hull structure is approximately 2.5 feet above the tunnel for the propeller shaft. That indicates that almost 12 feet of the ship's hull lie beneath the sediment in the stern. Amidships around the boilers almost twelve feet of the hull survive on the starboard side while only four feet of the port side survives. Forward, there appears to be at least eight feet of hull remains beneath the bottom surface.
French volunteers were able to identify and recover a variety of artifacts exposed on the bottom surface. With the exception of an ironstone plate and a shoe or boot, the majority of that material was associated with the vessel structure. Most consisted of fittings and fasteners. The position of each artifact was established by triangulating measurements from several previously documented and permanent elements of the Alabama's structural remains. Underwater video was used to document each artifact prior to recovery.
In the bow, French Navy divers used makeshift airlifts and a diver propulsion vehicle to remove sediment from around the base of the galley stove. While equipment limited excavation, one side of the base of the stove was exposed. That confirmed that the stove was still attached to a section of collapsed deck. In the process of clearing sediment from the base of the stove, divers identified the CSS Alabama's bell and the bracket that attached it to the foremast. The bell and bracket were recovered along with several parts of Enfield rifled muskets and one of the large cast iron riding bitts that lay adjacent to the port side of the galley stove.
The most important objective of the 2002 CSS Alabama investigation was documentation of the wreck site. While ROV operations were also constrained by a variety of equipment and environmental complications, more than two thousand images and seven hours of videotape were recorded. Those images document many of the significant features of the wreck. Once cataloged, they will be used to generate a more detailed plan of the wreck site and a perspective image of the exposed remains. While not the scaled mosaic that was the planned objective, both an enhanced site plan and perspective image will contribute to research at the site.
The ROV operations also helped to identify artifacts exposed on the bottom surface. Material such as ceramics, glass and glassware, fasteners, fittings, small arms, gun tackle, shot and shells and personal effects could be recovered illegally with little effort. The ROV images provide documentation of the nature and extent of that material.
Recommendations for Future Research
Recommendations for additional research at the CSS Alabama Site remain much as they were prior to the 2002 investigation of the wreck. From a strictly historical and archaeological perspective priorities should include:
Plans for the conduct of any of those research activities should include identifying, testing and training with the equipment necessary to accomplish those objectives.
Mosaic and Modeling of the Wreck Site
Development of an accurate mosaic-based plan of the CSS Alabama remains as the most important priority for continued on-site research. Based on the 2002 experience, it is apparent that an ROV must be sufficiently powerful to maintain station and be equipped with a functional positioning system, the right combination of digital underwater television and still cameras and a powerful lighting system.
In the event that additional ROV operations are planned the proposed system should be tested to demonstrate:
Unless those criteria can be met, it would be worthwhile to consider developing a diver-operated system. The test mosaic constructed from dive-recorded images in 2000 indicates that this could be a viable option (Figure 2). However, the time and resources must be available for developing and testing a diver-operated system.
A third consideration might be the use of an autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV). Those vehicles are currently available. In addition, they are capable of carrying a variety of remote sensing and video or photographic equipment. Prior to any decision about the conduct of additional documentation, the use of an AUV should be seriously considered.
Regardless of the means of developing a mosaic of the wreck site, additional mapping of the exposed structure should be a priority for work on the wreck. Diver operated short baseline systems are available that would permit the major features of the site to be efficiently and accurately mapped. That would significantly enhance the accuracy of the site plan (Figure 8) and provide three-dimensional control for mosaic development.
To date, test excavation within the surviving hull structure has been limited. Development of an effective means of sediment removal, in 2001, permitted test excavation to reach levels within the CSS Alabama's surviving structure that have remained undisturbed since sediment filled the hull. That preliminary testing confirmed that the interior of the Alabama's hull contains an undisturbed and highly valuable archaeological record. Cultural material recovered from the 2001 test excavation confirmed that artifacts and structural remains within the hull are extremely well-preserved.
Efforts to continue that excavation in 2002 were entirely frustrated by a redesigned, but untested airlift system. To excavate effectively, a larger surface support vessel will be necessary. In addition, a higher capacity compressor will be required. Without the resources to ensure that level of support, additional attempts to excavate should be abandoned.
In the event that continued excavation is a priority, additional archaeological personnel will be required. All excavation within the undisturbed archaeological context must be carried out employing a methodology designed to recover not only surviving cultural material, but also the irreplaceable archaeological record associated with it. Continued test excavation can only be recommended, if both an experienced team and an acceptable methodology can be employed.
Personnel must be composed of archaeologists and archaeologically trained divers. One or more archaeologists must accompany and direct each team. Based on previous experience, at least three teams will be necessary to operate throughout the tidal window. Each team should be composed of at least three, and ideally four members. Within a two-meter-square investigation area, an archaeologist and an assistant could excavate, a second archaeologist could map exposed material and structural remains and the fourth member would video and photograph the work and document the excavation.
A team of sufficient size to support continuous investigation through the tidal window would require 12 diving personnel, a vessel captain, an equipment operator and a diving safety officer. Divers should be equipped with communication equipment to facilitate team and team-to-surface coordination of research activity. While the 29-foot vessel Enrica worked effectively during the 2001 investigation, the 2002 investigation made it apparent that there would not be sufficient space on board to support extra personnel and equipment to conduct a better-supported investigation. For the level of on-site activity to be increased, additional experienced archaeological personnel must be recruited and a larger American flag vessel must be employed for surface support. The size of that vessel must be balanced between what is necessary to carry the required personnel and equipment and what can effectively be anchored at the site. An ideal compromise appears to be a vessel between 35 feet to 38 feet.
If sufficient resources are available for extended excavations, the focus of that activity should continue to be testing in the stern, excavation at the base of the lifting screw and to conduct a test in the crew's quarters forward. Continued excavation at the test site in the stern should be designed to reach the bilge ceiling and expose both elements of the ship's structure preserved below the bottom surface and material within the hull. A second objective would be to test the forward area of the ship where the crew would have stowed their personal effects. Testing forward would generate data concerning both the condition of the wreck forward and the nature and scope of the archaeological record associated with the crew.
The recovery of artifacts from the CSS Alabama should not be a priority for additional research, unless the artifacts either contribute to a more detailed understanding of the vessel and life aboard the ship, or they are considered to be at risk because of their exposed position on the seabed. Artifacts generated by additional excavation or specifically identified for recovery because their study and analysis potential contribute to the body of historical or archaeological information associated with the CSS Alabama.
If the recovery of specific artifacts associated with the ship is determined to be a priority for future research, consideration should be given to several items that have been previously identified. Those artifacts include the aft pivot gun, the aft Downton pump and the galley stove. Recovery of the aft pivot gun would mean that an example of each type of ordnance carried by the CSS Alabama would be available to support a study of the ship's battery. It would also mean that one of each type of weapon in the battery was available for display and interpretation of the ship. Recovery of the aft Downton pump would ensure the preservation of one of the two manual fire and bilge pumps that were aboard the ship. While preservation would be complex because of the multi-metal construction of the pump, the exercise would provide insight into the problems associated with conservation of the ship's steam machinery. Like the guns of the ship's battery, the pump would also make an interesting exhibit, because it was fabricated from a very unique design. Finally, recovery of the galley stove could provide insight into the nature and preparation of meals aboard the Confederate commerce raider. The galley stove would also provide an immediately recognizable artifact for display and interpretation.
Recovery of "at risk" artifacts exposed on the seabed should always be a priority for additional on-site research. Each investigation of the wreck site reveals additional material that has been exposed by changes in the sediments covering the remains of the Alabama's hull. Although exposure does not necessarily threaten artifacts on the bottom surface, it does make them immediately accessible to divers that visit the site without permission from the United States or France. Although provenience might be difficult to establish, recovery of exposed artifacts can make a contribution to illustrations of life aboard the ship. As has been the case in the past, all recovered material must be photographed in situ and the position recorded using traditional triangulation or an acoustic positioning system.
Schmidt, Steve, Chris Malzone, Larry Mayer and Brian Calder
Watts, Gordon P.
2000 "Report on the 2000 Investigation of the CSS Alabama." Report produced by the Institute for International Maritime Research, Inc., Washington, North Carolina.
2001 "Investigation of the Commerce Raider CSS Alabama, 2001." Report produced by the Institute for International Maritime Research, Inc., Washington, North Carolina.