Thursday, December 30, 2010

Gunboat Discovery Comes After Years of Sightings, Botched Efforts

Archaeologists Hope To Raise 145-Year-Old Confederate Ship


As South Carolina’s deputy state archaeologist for underwater, USC’s Chris Amer has helped discover, map and excavate more than a few shipwrecks over the years, including the Civil War submarine H.L. Hunley and a slew of other vessels along the East Coast and elsewhere. Now, Amer and his colleagues are in the news again following the recent discovery of a Civil War vessel in the muddy waters of the Pee Dee River.
The Confederate gunboat CSS Pee Dee, which Amer and State Archeologist Jonathan Leader discovered near Marion in November — 18 months after discovering two of the boat’s three enormous cannons at the bottom of the river — was one of 22 similar gunboats built at inland naval yards across the South.

Since discovering the Pee Dee’s cannons, Amer and his colleagues have brought up seven artillery shells and plan to bring up several more. They are also making plans to raise the two cannons they’ve already found — a 9-inch Dahlgren and a 6.4-inch Brooke Rifled Cannon — sometime next summer. If they can find the third gun, also a Brooke cannon, they will raise that as well. All of the artifacts will be housed in the Florence County Museum.

“They’re building a huge new facility there,” Amer says. “There will be a whole exhibition about the Civil War, and specifically about the Mars Bluff Naval Yard and the shipwreck.”

As warships go, the CSS Pee Dee had a fairly humble military career — in fact, it never reached the open sea, as by the time of its completion the Union army had already captured Georgetown. It has nonetheless enjoyed a storied afterlife, marked by sightings, disruptions and attempts to salvage pieces of it for posterity and/or profit.

Launched at Mars Bluff in January of 1865, the 150-foot gunboat participated in exactly one skirmish three months later, about 40 miles upstream, near Cheraw. There, it provided cover for the Confederate troops of General William Hardee as they retreated from the advancing troops of General William T. Sherman. Subsequently, the gunboat was returned to Mars Bluff, where it was torched, possibly blown up and irretrievably sunk by its own crew so it would not be captured.

In the ensuing century-and-a-half, the river level periodically changed and the CSS Pee Dee reappeared several times. Amer says that an ensign in the U.S. Navy spotted the boat shortly after the Civil War, and in 1906 the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers pushed its wreckage onto a sandbar while dredging the river. Nearly two decades after that, the United Sons of the Confederacy managed to remove the boat’s propellers, which wound up on display at the Florence County Museum.

In 1954, however, much of what remained of the CSS Pee Dee was lost to history after a group of local businessmen also spotted the wreckage. Amer says the men brought in a bulldozer to make a road to the riverside then attempted to drag the boat ashore for display at a roadside attraction called Confederateland.

“Of course, this vessel had been burned and pushed ashore by the Corps of Engineers and possibly blown up, so it wasn’t very integral, and when they tried to pull it up it just broke into pieces,” Amer explains.

“So what they did is grab whatever they could — a 30-foot piece of the stern that was intact, a boiler and the two engines, the propeller shafts, anything else they could put their hands on. Then they put them on display across the highway and charged two bits for people to see them. Over time, things disintegrated, and that was that. I suspect the wood just dried up into powder. It was pretty much the end for those pieces.”

Somehow, the boiler did wind up for a time on display at South of the Border, but like everything else salvaged by the amateur archeologists, that, too, eventually disappeared.

“Who knows what happened to it,” Amer says, “but I suspect that the metal parts got sold for scrap.”

For all the folly, however, the 1954 salvage attempt was not a total bust, as it was witnessed by a 12-year-old boy named Michael Hartley — a boy who would eventually go on to become an archeologist himself. At the time, Hartley drew a sketch map, which he showed to Amer decades later. Amer credits that map with leading him to the site. Now, it’s just a matter of waiting for the river to subside this summer and finding the right contractor to hoist the 9,000-pound cannons from the water.

Of course, recovering the gunboat’s guns does not close the book on this particular excavation. Amer and Leader still want to locate the Mars Bluff Naval Yard, which at one time boasted at least 12 structures, plus a forge, slipways and a dry dock. Amer is certain they’re closing in on the site, even though efforts last summer by archeology students from East Carolina University failed to turn up any evidence.

“The students dug test holes all over the property where we thought [Mars Bluff] was, and they didn’t find one artifact related to the shipyard,” Amer says. “They found lots of Native American artifacts —there was a continuous occupation there for about 4,000 years — but nothing related to the shipyard. But we figure it’s got to be somewhere nearby.”

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

CALL FOR PAPERS: Archaeology of the Pee Dee Region


Annual Conference on South Carolina Archaeology

Archaeological Society of South Carolina

Schedule of Events:

Friday April 8th

Colloquium: Portable XRF Lecture and Workshop.

Dr. Carolyn Dillian, Coastal Carolina University.
3:30- 5: 00 PM Room 153 Gambrell Hall

Sponsored by USC Department of Anthropology and ASSC

Informal Gathering: Hunter Gatherer South Main Street immediately following

Saturday April 9, 2011

THEME: Archaeology of the Pee Dee Region.

Conference: USC Columbia -Gambrell Hall Room 153 9:00 am -4:00 pm

Session One: General Open Session

Coffee Break

Session Two: Pee Dee River Archaeology

Lunch, Business Meeting, and Award Ceremony

Keynote Address: Fifteen Years of Archaeology at the Johannes Kolb Site. by Chris Judge, Carl Steen and Sean Taylor.

Session Three: Johannes Kolb Site Archaeology.

Send Titles and 100 word Abstracts to Chris Judge at

Room is equipped with computer, data projector, document camera (Elmo), dvd/vcr combo, lectern, and network connection

DEADLINE: FEB. 1, 2011

December 18: Catawba Indian Pottery Sale

Catawba Indian Pottery Sale




Featuring works by established and emerging potters from the Catawba Nation in Rock Hill, SC.

December 18th, 2010

10:00 am until 3:00 pm
Bradley Arts and Sciences Building on the USCL campus

The event is free and open to the public.

For more information, contact Dr. Stephen Criswell,
Director of Native American Studies, at 803-313-7108 or
by email at

Archaeological Field School on Edgefield, SC Pottery Communities

Archaeological Field School on Edgefield, South Carolina Pottery Communities

University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign

Anth. 454-CF and 455-CF (6 credits; 6 weeks), May 23, 2011 to July 1, 2011

This field school will provide training in the techniques of excavation, mapping, controlled surface surveys, artifact classification and contextual interpretation. Students will work in supervised teams, learning to function as members of a field crew, with all of the skills necessary for becoming professional archaeologists. Many students from past University of Illinois field schools have gone on to graduate study and professional field-archaeology positions. Laboratory processing and analysis will be ongoing during the field season. Evening lectures by project staff, visiting archaeologists, and historians will focus on providing background on how field data are used to answer archaeological and historical research questions.

Learn more on our web site.

** Historical Significance and Project Background

The first innovation and development of alkaline-glazed stoneware pottery in America occurred in the Edgefield District of South Carolina in the early 1800s.

It remains an enduring mystery as to how these new ceramic methods were developed in that place and time, and how the techniques of clay choice, temper, and glaze developed over the following century. These potteries employed enslaved and free African-American laborers in the 19th century, and the stoneware forms also show evidence of likely African cultural influence on stylistic designs. Edgefield potteries thus present fascinating research questions of understanding technological innovations and investigating the impacts of African cultural knowledge and racial ideologies on a craft specialization during the historic period in America. This project entails an interdisciplinary, collaborative, and archaeological study of the first development in America of alkaline-glazed stoneware pottery forms, the development of the South Carolina industry over time, and the impacts of racism and African cultural influences on those processes.

The technological innovation of alkaline-glazed stoneware pottery was introduced in North America by potteries operated by Abner and John Landrum in the Edgefield, South Carolina area in the first decades of the 19th century. These technological developments by entrepreneurs of Scots-Irish heritage played out in a landscape shaped by racial difference. Numerous African-American laborers, including "Dave the Potter" who added inscriptions to his vessels, worked at these production sites.

Advertisements in local newspapers in the early decades of the 1800s listed enslaved laborers with skills in pottery production. African
Americans most likely participated in all phases of the production process, such as: building and maintaining the kilns; digging and transporting clay; working and grinding raw clay in "pug" mills; chopping wood for fuel; preparing glaze mixtures, tempers, and clay pastes; turning the pottery wheels and shaping the vessels; and loading and unloading the kiln firings.

As local historians Holcombe and Holcombe (1989: 22) observed, the "District's ceramic entrepreneurs would never have been able to manufacture such large quantities of Edgefield wares without the slave participation." Indeed, in the period of 1800-1820, the recorded number of enslaved African Americans in the surrounding area had increased to comprise half of the Edgefield District's population. An illegal transport of enslaved laborers on the ship Wanderer delivered 170 newly-captive Africans to the Edgefield District in 1858. The production of remarkably shaped "face vessels" at local potteries have also been analyzed as presenting evidence of the influence of stylistic traditions from cultures of West Central Africa.

This project seeks to undertake detailed archaeological investigations of principal sites in Edgefield, conduct archival research, and start a multi-year community engagement and education program related to these subjects.

Archaeological field schools and research teams at such pottery sites can explore both the production facility remains and the residential sectors for the enslaved and free African-American laborers. Primary research questions include:

(1) examining the distribution of work areas and residential locations in each pottery site and analyze the degree of spatial segregation due to the impacts of slavery and racism;

(2) understanding differential uses and development of those work and residential spaces, as reflected in archaeological features and artifact distributions, and the degree to which variations correlate with different racial categories associated with the occupants;

(3) analyzing faunal and botanical remains to explore and contrast dietary and health patterns between residential sites and the degree to which variations correlate with different racial categories associated with the occupants; and

(4) understanding the development and changes over time in the technologies of pottery production at these three manufacturing sites.

** Field School Overview

This six-week archaeological field school will focus on the site of Pottersville, where Abner Landrum started the first stoneware production
facility in the Edgefield district in the early 1800s. We will excavate the kiln and related production areas and conduct surveys to locate the house sites of the craftspeople and laborers who created the Pottersville village surrounding that manufacturing facility. Instructors will include Prof. Fennell, U. Illinois doctoral student George Calfas, and archaeologist Carl Steen of Diachronic Research Inc., among others. The instructors and students will stay in local housing in the Edgefield area during this six week field school, and visit nearby archaeology sites and museums on weekend trips.

For additional information about this field school opportunity, please contact Chris Fennell by email at, by cell phone at 312-513-2683, or check his faculty web page for background information on the multi-year archaeology project in Edgefield, South Carolina. You can also contact George Calfas at

To apply for participation in this fieldschool, please download and complete a short application form and submit it to Chris Fennell by March 25, 2011. Students will be notified of acceptance no later than April 8, 2011. Accepted students should register for the related course numbers (listed above) for the summer session. Please note that all students must register for both courses (a total of 6 credit hours).

Students from colleges other than the University of Illinois can register through our exchange program and receive transfer credits.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

MONDAY: SCV meeting discusses Robert E. Lee

The next Sons of Confederate Veterans meeting will be held Monday, December 6th, at the Harmony Masonic Lodge located at 2710 Depot Road in Beaufort, starting promptly at 7:00 pm. Guest speaker will be Michael Givens, Beaufort resident and recently elected Commander-in-Chief of the Sons of Confederate Veterans. He will be discussing "Robert E. Lee, Master of War, Servant of the Lord"

The group will also be electing Camp Officers For 2011.

Please remember, all meeting dates, and planned speakers can be seen on the SCV web site.