New Historian

River Clean Up Could Reveal American Civil War Hardware

William Tecumseh Sherman

<![CDATA[A project to remove over 40,000 tons of tar from the Congaree River, close to Columbia in South Carolina, could allow the excavation of a host of munitions from the American Civil War. Huge amounts of tar have been deposited in the Congaree River from a local power plant which has been closed for over sixty years. The SCANA Corporation, a large energy conglomerate, announced in 2010 that it would head the project to remove the 40,000 tons of waste. As well as having huge environmental benefits, the clean up could finally allow a hoard of Confederate weapons to be recovered and studied. Columbia was captured by Union General William Sherman on February 17th 1865. As the Civil War was coming to a close, the capture of the city was particularly pertinent - Columbia had been the first state to secede from the Union. Sherman's forces burnt and destroyed a third of the city, in retaliation for the secession years earlier. As the troops withdrew they looted the Confederate Army's supplies, dumping whatever they could not carry in the Congaree River. The cleanup of the river has historians excited, as they could finally get the chance to analyse these weapons almost 150 years after they had been dumped. It is unclear exactly how much Confederate weaponry could be found on the river bed, but an inventory taken of the Confederate Armory before the attack recorded: "1.2 million ball cartridges, 100,000 percussion caps, 26,000 pounds of gun powder, 4,000 bayonet scabbards, more than 3,000 sabers, more than 1,000 soldiers’ knapsacks and nearly 60 tents", according to the Washington Post. Sonar tests have already confirmed that at least some of the items dumped by the Union troops remain on the river bed. Exactly what remains there however, will not be determined until the tar has been cleared. The clean up project has become a huge undertaking, one which requires the construction of a 171 feet tall damn to facilitate the removal of the tar. Once the river has been damned, 15 acres of river bed will be exposed, which can then be cleaned up and explored by archaeologists. According to The State newspaper, a draft report by Tidewater Atlantic Research made in September 2014 claimed that a host of locations possibly containing unexploded Confederate ordinance had been found. Out of 400 samples labelled as potential ordinance, 60 were confirmed to be explosives. Historians are desperate to ensure that any artefacts found are preserved for future study. The items buried under the tar could present vital new insights on a fascinating point in South Carolina's Civil War history. Joe Long, curator of the Confederate Relic Room and Military Museum told the State, "It's really going to help us interpret what was a defining point for Columbia's history and, really, South Carolina's history". Image courtesy of Wikimedia commons.]]>

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