Last week, more artifacts from the Civil War era were recovered. Several cannons from a Confederate warship were brought up from the murky waters of the Pee Dee River in South Carolina. Amateur diver Bob Butler had been searching the river for 20 years in search of the cannons. In 1995, he found one, and in 2006, he discovered another. In 2013, he watched as the Pee Dee Research and Recovery Team located a third cannon. He also watched last Tuesday as a team from the University of South Carolina raised the cannons from the river bottom.
The cannons were dumped into the river in 1865 as a precautionary measure to avoid their capture by Union General William T. Sherman during his march through the Carolinas.
“We brought a little bit of South Carolina history to the surface today,” Butler said. “This closed the book on a lot of history. It’s really special.”
The USC team started its search for the 150-foot Confederate gunboat, the CSS Pee Dee, in 2009. The cannons attached to the gunboat are especially significant because their service has been well documented. The cannons are also special because they were a new invention at the time and could swivel 360 degrees. Prior to this, mounted cannons remained in a stationary position.
The cannons were recovered at the site of a former Confederate inland naval yard. The CSS Pee Dee had sails, a boiler and giant twin propellers. It was once referred to by the Confederate Navy Secretary as “the finest ship ever built by the South.” The gunboat’s career didn’t last long. Once it was built, it steamed up the river to head off Sherman and his troops, then returned to Mars Bluff and was burned.
“The war would have been over before it stuck its nose out of the inlet,” Leader said of the CSS Pee Dee’s future as an ocean-going commerce raider. “They basically finished it, ran it up the river, ran it back and that was it.”
The three cannons include two Confederate Brooke Rifle cannons and one captured Union Dahlgren cannon. They will be taken to the Warren Lasch Conservation Center in North Charleston for conservation. It is the same lab where the CSS Hunley is being restored. Once their restoration is complete, they will be on permanent display at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs building in Florence.