Search for the Navy Zeppelin Akron that crashed during a storm 27 miles off Beach Haven, New Jersey, April of 1933. July, 1986.
The story of the Akron and her naval sister rigid airships the Macon and forerunner the Shenandoah grip the imagination. Once I began researching the early airships and their often tragic endings, I became hooked.
The Shenandoah’s crash site in Noble County, Ohio, is well known and marked by a memorial. The Macon went down in deep water off Point Sur, California, in 1937. And so the Akron became NUMA’s prime target, especially since she crashed in only 105 feet of water and took 78 men with her, including Admiral William Moffett, considered the father of Naval aviation.
My NUMA crew consisted of A1 and Laura Ecke, owners of our search boat; Dr. Ken Kamler, team physician and diver; and Mike Duffy, diver and oceanographer; and old dependable Bill Shea.
We gathered at a motel in Beach Haven on July 27., 1986. I flew in while some drove. The Ecke’s came down from Long Island on their boat. We were knocked out three days by bad weather and fog, but managed to get in 29 hours of solid search time. I used the position from the log book of the navy salvage ship Falcon as a the basis for a search grid. Unfortunately, a woman who was to do a report of the expedition for us departed to parts unknown with most of my research material. However, I do have the Loran coordinates that run on an east to west line at the southern end of the debris field. If you should decide to check out the Falcon’s log over the wreck site, be advised that the description of another salvage ship’s buoy (I can’t recall her name) 400 yards to the northeast is pretty much on the money.
We did, contrary to one newspaper report, get a dive down on one target, which proved to be the base of one tail fin. I was not on board that day to direct the operations so the Loran reading is off by about a hundred yards due to the crew’s late reaction to the cry of “Target!” and the fact they never got the hang of allowing for the distance between the sonar recording unit the sensor trailing nearly 150 feet behind.
Be that as it may, Loran coordinates 43076.7 by 26724.9 and 43076.0 by 26726.7 should put you in the southern end of the ballpark.
There is an excellent story on the expedition in the August 8th issue of the New York Times.
AKRON Built: 1931 Sunk: April 4, 1933 Previous names: ZR-4 Depth: 105 feet Grass Tonnage: 200 Dimensions: 785′ Type of vessel: Rigid dirigible Power: 8 Gasoline engines Builder: Goodyear-Zeppelin Company, Akron, OH Owner: United States Navy Port of Registry: Lakehurst, NJ Cause of sinking: Crashed in a storm Location:
The Akron is a ship, a ship of the air.
Because of the proximity of the Lakehurst Naval Air Station, and the sheer amount of traffic originating there, quite a few dirigibles have dived into the sea over the years. During W W 2 they were a common sight in the sky as the lighter-than-air craft patrolled coastal shipping lanes for German submarines, lost seamen, and downed pilots.
Two Akrons have been lost off the Jersey shore. The first one was a private venture operating out of Atlantic City. On July 2, 1912, the 258 foot semi-rigid airship began an attempt try cross the Atlantic. Melvin Vaniman, designer and engineer, steered the ship over Absecon Beach and headed north toward Brigantine. The trip barely began when, in front of the eyes of thousands of horrified sunbathers, 400,000 cubic feet of hydrogen burst into flames. The Akron crashed into the water, killing all five aboard.
The Z R-4 was built in 1931 in the largest hangar in the world, in Akron, Ohio, under U.S. Navy contract. The giant rigid dirigible was 785 feet long, and boasted 6,500,000 cubic feet of nonflammable helium in 11 gas cells. Instead of external engine pods, the 8 gasoline engines were set inside the hull with the propellers mounted on variable pitched outriggers.
On August 8 the Z R-4 was christened Akron, but within weeks became more popularly known as the “Queen of the Skies.” During the next 2 years she made 58 successful. flights, crossing the country many times. People were awed by her size, beauty, and streamlined profile. The Navy was proud too have such a ship, and made no pretense of showing her off.
Her reputation was somewhat tarnished on May 11, 1932, during a landing at San Diego. A combination of events caused the airship to bob back up in the sky with three ground crew men clinging to the ropes. Two fell off and were killed, one was reeled up to safety. Her final demise came during a short protocol hop. When a bong flight along the New England coast was cancelled due too weather, some of the Navy brass decided to take a quick tour of the skies. Among the 76 crew and passengers were Admiral William A. Moffett, Chief of the Bureau of Aeronautics, and 6 survivors from the Shenandoah crash.
The Akron took off at 7:30 p.m., in a pea soup ground fog. By the time she reached 300 feet she was out of sight. The round trip was planned to take them to Philadelphia, the Delaware Capes, and up along the coast. She soared over the City of Brotherly Love in crystal clarity. By midnight, nearing the end of the flight, a storm caught up with her off the coast of Atlantic City.
Surrounded by thunder and lighting, she was pummeled by fierce winds. Girders cracked, and gas cells burst. The airship plummeted down, and struck the ocean stern fist. Men fought their way out of the sinking framework as the dirigible sealed to the bottom.
The Akron did not burn, but her navigation lights were by the Phoebus, a German tanker. Captain Karl Dalldorf, master, watched the lights near the water. He thought a plane must be crashing, so he altered course to investigate. In 45 knot winds and heavy seas, he found 5 men clinging to a 120 gallon fuel tank.
He veered his ship in sideways. Two men swam toward the tanker, caught life rings, and were hauled aboard. A lifeboat was lowered and 2 others were plucked off the makeshift raft. But during the hour and a half wait one man had been unable to hang on, and had drowned. Then, one of those rescued succumbed to his exertions; he slipped into unconsciousness and quietly passed away.
Commander Frank McCord, skipper of the Akron, and Admiral Moffett, went down with the airship. The 3 survivors were transferred to the Coast Guard destroyer Tucker and taken do the Naval Hospital at Brooklyn. Moffet’s body eventually washed ashore.
The death troll was compounded later that day when the 2 engine blimp, the J-3, set out to look for survivors. She cruised the coastline between Barnegat and Atlantic City, fighting vicious winds all the way. As she was backtracking the route the port engine shifted off its mounts and had to be shut down. The airship lost altitude, and came into Beach Haven for an emergency landing. The seven man crew dropped hang lines and released helium, but a gust of wind slammed the blimp into the dunes. She rebounded, was carried a thousand feet offshore, and crashed into the surf. The gondola was torn off and the men dropped into the waves. A New York City amphibious police plane saw the accident, landed in the water, and rescued 5 men. The other 2, including the blimp’s skipper, Lieutenant Commander David Cummins, drowned.
The famous salvage vessel Falcon, that had among other things raised the submarine S-51 under the leadership of Commander Edward Ellsburg in 1925, was called in. She located the wreckage and recovered enough material to make a positive identification.
In 1986, the National Underwater and Marine Agency, headed by author Clive Cussler, located by side scan sonar what he believes to the wreckage of the Akron. Although no divers were sent down to explore the wreckage, electronic equipment was able try record a 700 foot debris field consisting of beams and metal frames.
Locations of the Shipwrecks Found During the Mississippi River Expedition
Her suspected hulk (It was not dug up to be absolutely certain) lies a half a mile above the Boothville High School on the southwest bank of the river. Note: a mag survey done later by Texas A & M University shows her to be almost completely under the levee. It’s best to look during low water. There is a flat reef-like barrier edged with a small rock breakwater that extends into the river from the base of the levee about fifteen feet. If you walk this area, you can easily detect her iron mass. From a boat you can only pick her up by running parallel to the breakwater. She is buried nine feet under the silt and is probably very well preserved.
She lies deep under the shoreline mud a hundred yards in front of the southeastern embankment of Fort St. Phillip. You can easily walk the area during low tide.
This durable little gunboat rests against and under the northeast shore about a mile above Ostrica Canal.
After a courageous fight she ran aground and burned a few hundred yards above the VARUNA. Kids used to swim off both wrecks as late as the nineteen forties. They can be easily located, and as of the time of the expedition, bits and pieces of them still protrude from the shoreline.
She rests deep under the levee on a north/south heading about a mile and four tenths south from the auto/railroad bridge just below Free Negro Point. 230 yards below river mile 233.
All the above wrecks are easily accessible and would lend themselves to a core or casemate method of excavation. NUMA would especially like to see work done on the Manassas and the Arkansas. Clive has, in the past, offered to fund an exploratory dig on the Manassas, but no one has yet stepped forth from Louisiana.
Search for the famous navy ship, Mississippi. Blown up on Mississippi River during the Civil War somewhere above Baton Rouge. May, 1989.
The Mississippi was the navy’s first ocean sailing steam ship. She served with distinction for twenty-three years and established an incredible history, which is described in the listing from the Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships on a later page.
Her end came when she tried to pass the guns of Port Hudson along with Farragut’s fleet that had successfully taken New Orleans. She ran aground and was abandoned by her crew, whose executive officer was Thomas Dewey, later of Manila fame. Set on fire and blazing from bow to stern, she slid off the sand bar and began drifting down the Mississippi, ultimately blowing to pieces when the 24 tons of gun powder in her hull exploded. She then sank out of sight in deep water.
There was no recorded attempt to salvage her and descriptions of her resting place were incredibly skimpy.
She was known to have drifted for 2 to three hours under a current recorded by Farragut himself at 4 miles an hour. These figures would put her roughly somewhere between 10 and 12 miles down river from Port Hudson and well below the tip of Prophet Island. Some reports put the site of her explosion close to the Arkansas, but this has to be an exaggeration. The Arkansas was destroyed by her crew a good sixteen miles below Port Hudson just at the bend of the reach dropping toward Baton Rouge.
In May of ’89, Craig Dirgo and Clive Cussler ran search lines beginning two miles below Prophet Island and ending one mile north of the bottom tip. Using the EG&G sonar and Schonstedt gradiometer, nothing resembling a shipwreck was discovered and no targets of any consequence worth investigating.
We weren’t overly optimistic of finding the Mississippi because the stretch of river where she most likely sank is now a giant swamp. As you can see by a copy of the included chart, the new course of the river is considerably to the east of the old. Three wrecks are noted on an old chart in the general area. The one to the north that appears to be grounded on a bar just below Prophet Island was dredged away many years ago, and our instruments no longer picked her out. The two that are farther south are already marked on the encroaching swamp ground and by now must be a good half mile from the river.
The Mississippi would be a fascinating wreck to survey. Not being salvaged, much of her must still be intact. She might possibly be located with a mag trailed behind a helicopter, but even if her final resting place is found, the remoteness and bog conditions would make any excavation extremely difficult if not next to impossible.
The North Sea and English Channel hunt for the WWI battle of Jutland shipwrecks, the U-20, which sank the Lusitania; the WWII troopship, Leopoldville; and the CSS Alabama. May/June, 1984.
This was NUMA’s most ambitious project yet. With Bob Fleming’s able help on the research along with the cooperative people at the British Admiralty and Danish Fisheries, I put together an expedition to search for nearly thirty ships. Talk about a ‘cockeyed optimist’.
I charted our faithful boat and crew from the ’79 Bonhomme Richard expedition. Good old Jimmy Flett returned as skipper, along with quiet John the first mate, and Colin Robb the cook. Good Scotsmen tried and true. No shipwreck search operation ever had a better crew.
We rounded off the team with Bill Shea, my good friend from Brandeis University, who ran the side scan sonar. Bill is a great asset to any project. A genuine nice guy, his wit is second to none.
After five days of waiting for equipment to arrive and a force 8 gale to blow itself out, we finally left the port of Aberdeen, Scotland and headed south to search for the HMS Pathfinder, the second ship to be torpedoed by a submarine (the USS Housatonic was the first) and the first by a German U-boat. In this case the U-21 skippered by WWI’s most famous submarine commander, Lieutenant Commander Otto Hersing, who later took the U-21 into the Mediterranean and sank a score of ships including two battleships.
The Pathfinder plunged into the North Sea in September of 1914, taking nearly 260 of her men with her. Since we had discovered the Housatonic we thought it would be nice to make a one/two hit on the unlucky but historic ships.
On the way, however, we spent a successful three hours looking for the U-12, which had been rammed by the HMS Ariel in October of 1915. Though a British sonar sweep in 1977 had failed to find her, we had an excellent recording of her two miles from the Admiralty position.
We then moved further south to sweep for the Pathfinder. We recorded indications of her wreck on the first pass. We ran over her several times and found her badly broken up at 150 feet. Made an excellent sonar reading that was lost and a echo sounder recording that pins down her site within a hundred feet.
We were then going to try for another U-boat, but the weather kicked up, and we plodded through the increasing swells back to Aberdeen.
While we were at sea, our underwater camera, backup EG&G sonar, and the Schonstedt gradiometer finally showed up, and we were ready to shove off across the sea to the Jutland peninsula of Denmark.
Just before we departed, the British customs officials came aboard. They considered us a highly suspicious group, as did every other country we visited. They couldn’t figure out why we were using a yacht for an archaeological survey instead of a work boat. Shea’s guess was they thought we were smuggling drugs from Scotland to Denmark. Not a likely route for cocaine traffic. This was not the last time we got into trouble by appearing dumb.
On our way to Denmark we paused and searched for the British cruiser HMS Hawke, torpedoed by the U-9. We found her very close to the reported Admiralty position, one of the very few times this occurred. The wreck outline was distinguishable and the calculated dimensions were on the money. Her hull was intact, but the superstructure badly decayed. Also tried for the HMS Defence, HMS Warrior and German cruiser Wiesbaden. Struck out on the first two but found a large broken target on the Wiesbaden site.
Docked in the fishing port of Thyboron. Weather turned bad so we spent the next few days conferring with Danish fishermen and local archaeologists.
Finally went out in heavy fog combined with rain squalls, lightening and thunder. Next day everything clicked despite a rising sea, and we struck the British battle cruiser Invincible on the third pass. A huge target, she was broken in two, a reading confirmed by the fact that she had blown up and sank in two sections.
Next we found the German destroyers S-35 and V-48. Both readings were confirmed by Danish fishermen and are known to be the only wrecks in a ten square mile area. We topped off the voyage with finding a British destroyer, the HMS Shark. Winds at gale force so we beat it back to Thyboron.
Headed out again and found the HMS Defence, an immense battleship. The wreck appears to be partially silted over, confirming Danish fisherman recordings. Once again, bad weather beat us back to port.
A year after sinking the Lusitania, the U-20 grounded in heavy fog on the west coast of Jutland. She was abandoned by her crew without loss of life and later blown up by the Danes in 1925 on or near Vielby Beach.
We met with Danish diver and marine archaeologist Gert Normann Anderson, who searched for the U-20 in ’79. He and another diver had zeroed in on the sub’s location at that time. Working with Gert, we positioned it in ’84. Its remains were almost entirely exposed. She lies a good two miles north or her former recorded site. A photo of the dive in my files shows landmarks on the shore.
We then made a side scan survey of the coast for the Danes who had ballpark locations for a number of shipwrecks, but no equipment other than a grapple for looking for them. We swept back and forth with our sonar and found a number of targets, four of which Gert later identified as the Odin, a Royal Swedish steamship that ran aground in 1836; the Alexander Neuski, a Russian steam frigate which stranded while carrying the crown prince in 1868; the Kirkwall, a British steamship that ran aground in 1874; and the Arctic, a British steamship that stranded in 1868 with the loss of all hands.
Weather turned terrible once more. Decided to leave Denmark and head for Bridlington, England. Time has run out for the Jutland wrecks and we have other sites to check out before he must make our way south to Cherbourg and the Alabama.
Headed west straight into a Force 8 gale. Our indomitable Scots crew and the bonny Arvor II saw as through while listening to MAYDAY distress messages all around us.
After thirty hours of being bashed around the sea the winds decreased, enabling us to search for the U-21 and German battle cruiser Blucher. Though we were exhausted, Bill had one foot in the grave from mal de mer, the stabilizer was gone and the autopilot dead, we dropped the sonar fish and began our grid lanes. Got a vague picture of the Blucher in correct Admiralty position. No great feat since the ship has been salvaged over the years. A wonder the sonar recorded anything, the sea was so awful.
Thankfully it calmed considerably by the time we reached the U-21 area. Found one other wreck in nearby but too large for submarine. Four hours into search sonar produced nice little reading of sub with correct dimensions. Admiralty and Danish records off by about one mile. A nice find, the first German Uboat to sink a warship. If only we had found the Hunley.
Reached Bridlington under a bright blue sky on calm seas. Provisioned and rested up for a few days and then made a two day try for the Bonhomme Richard. We searched about 27 miles out. No particular site in mind except an area marked by psychics. Why I never give up on this gig is a mystery. Sonar gave us trouble so other than wiping out a five square mile area we accomplished very little.
NUMA’s illustrious attorney and secretary, Wayne Gronquist, arrived from Texas, so we bid a fond farewell to Bridlington and sailed for Cherbourg and the sunny beaches of Normandy. If Only I had known the mess we were about to encounter, I’d have ordered Jimmy to keep right on going and steer a course for the Riviera.
It seemed both the Alabama and Leopoldville rested in the middle of the French navy’s submarine exercise ground, and they were about to test their latest nuclear sub. For over a month, half the intelligence agencies around the world had been in Cherbourg, setting up their cover to monitor the tests. The CIA; KGB; the British, Israeli, German and Italian secret services, all were represented and covertly stationed around Cherbourg harbor.
Naturally, with my incredible talent for timing, who should show up with all flags flying but jolly old Clive Cussler along with his merry band of pirates and a boat load of underwater detection gear.
To say the excretion struck the oscillator is putting it mildly.
After we moored in the yacht basin, a squad of French customs officials tore the boat apart, helicopters hovered overhead while photographers shot pictures of us making obscene gestures back, navy frogmen sneaked around under the hull, several spotters around the area observed us through binoculars, and the bastards even planted bugs all over the boat.
In our ignorance we marshaled all our forces and went over to the attack. Susan Wynne and Admiral Bill Thompson struck in Washington at the French embassy and friends in the navy. Wayne Gronquist took the train to Paris and worked through the U.S. embassy on our end. Meanwhile I struggled to no avail with the French Commander of Civilian Maritime Affairs.
A week passed, and though we failed to get permission to search for the shipwrecks, I was told later we became a cause celebre and the darlings of the French news media.
My son, Dirk, and Derek Goodwin, old friend and correspondent for the New York Times, arrived and added to the uproar by their antics and routines in town.
Knowing it was useless to search for the Alabama (the French would be on our stern in less than ten minutes because of their underwater sensors picking up our sonar pulses), I made the decision to make a stab at the Leopoldville with our echo sounder since it wouldn’t be overly obvious. It was a long shot, but I figured the troopship was large and we might get lucky and pass over it.
We sneaked out of the harbor early. Actually every intelligence agency in the world observed our departure. We then cruised around as if we were fishing, fooling nobody. After two hours, I was ready to throw in the towel, but as with the Keokuk in Charleston. We passed over the Leopoldville at the end of the final run.
We tried to throw in the sensor for a fast sonar reading, but it wasn’t tuned up and the target was very vague. The French, of course, radioed for us to return to Cherbourg immediately. I looked at Skipper Jimmy Flett, who’d been torpedoed twice in WWII and had little love for the ‘frogs’. He smiled, reached up and nonchalantly flicked off the radio.
Then we beat it across the channel to the English port of Weymouth.
A wise decision. I found out later that if we’d returned to Cherbourg, we’d still be locked up. It seems the French were so shook, so sure we were spies, they postponed their nuclear sub trials for six months. And don’t think the other intelligence agents weren’t pissed off too. Their month long preparations to establish a cover went down the dumper.
Oh well, knowing the French, their submarine was probably made out of cardboard anyway. Our only satisfaction was pelting a French naval frigate moored outside of Weymouth with Irish potatoes every time we passed in and out of the harbor.
We found two more wrecks off Weymouth, but were unable to identify them. Locals thought one might be a lost treasure ship, but I’ve never been into that end of the shipwreck business.
We had traveled the North Sea and Channel for six weeks and found, surveyed and positioned 17 wrecks with our old EG&G sonar and Schonstedt gradiometer and positioned them.
We bid our good Scots’ crew goodbye and took the train to London where we rested up for a couple of days before heading for home.
Word later came to me through devious channels from the CIA, requesting that I notify them when I launch another expedition so their people can be on the other side of the world.
British scout cruiser. Second ship in history to be sunk by a submarine, first by a German U-boat. Badly broken up. Her remains lie at 56 07′ 21 by 02 09′ 15″ in 160 feet.
First German U-boat in history to sink a warship. Only second submarine to do so. Had a long and illustrious career under Lt. Commander Otto Hersing, sinking several warships including two battleships and many merchantmen. Hersing and the U-21 survived the war. He scuttled her when on her way to England in 1919 to be impounded and scrapped, defiant to the end. We located this historic ship at 54 14′ 30″ x 04 02′ 50″ in 150 feet of water. We also struck a target to the west, but it was much larger and had the appearance of a freighter.
Read the full Story of the U-21 >>
Infamous submarine that sank the luxury liner Lusitania, off Kinshead, Ireland, in 1915. The sub was under the command of Lt. Commander Walter Schwieger. He was a very successful undersea raider, sinking a score of ships before he was lost in 1917 while captain of the U-88. The U-20 ran aground on the Jutland coast in fog during 1916. It was abandoned by the crew and oddly blown up by the Danes in 1925. Her scattered debris and lower hull and engines lie at 56 35′ 00″ x 08 07′ 50″ about 400 yards from the beach.
Belgian troop transport that was torpedoed five miles west of Cherbourg on Christmas eve of 1944. She went down with two hundred men of the 66th Panther Division. A further 600 died from drowning and exposure. A great tragedy that has been swept under the rug. We found her massive target at 49 45′ 57″ x 01 36′ 20″.
A first class British cruiser. 360 x 60 feet. Sunk by the German submarine U-9 in October of 1914. Only 49 men saved out of 500. She lies at 57 47′ 05″ x 00 11′ 50″. There was some doubt about her position as there was thought to be a substantial wreck nearby. We determined that the second target was actually two ships, the largest only 120′ in length. Their position is 57 48′ 45″ x 00 10′ 48″.
One of Germany’s earliest U-boats, the U-12 was rammed and sunk by HMS. Ariel in October of 1915. She lies in 180 feet of water at 56 04′ 30″ by 02 18′ 00″.
British battle cruiser sunk at the Battle of Jutland in May of 1916. A lucky shot blew up her magazines. We found her mass on the bottom at 57 03 00″ x 06 04′ 45″.
German destroyer sunk during battle of Jutland. Wreck located at 57 02′ 00″ x 06 01′ 00″.
German destroyer sunk during battle of Jutland. Wreck located at 56 54′ 22″ x 06 06′ 28″
British destroyer sunk during battle of Jutland. Found at 56 58′ 30″ x 06 03′ 00″
German light cruiser, sunk off Jutland. Wreck shows at 57 00′ 05″ x 05 53′ 37″
British battle cruiser blown up during battle of Jutland. Massive partially silted over wreck found at 56 58′ 02″ x 05 49′ 50″.
German heavy cruiser sunk during battle of Dogger Bank in 1915. Located at 54 33′ 30″ x 05 27′ 50″.
A Royal Swedish steamship built in 1832 ran aground off Thyboron, Jutland, with the Swedish prime minister aboard in 1836. Suspected vessel lies at 56 42′ 60″ x 08 09′ 20″.
A Russian steam frigate that stranded off Thyboron in 1868 while carrying the crown prince. The wreck is only 300 yards from shore in 60 feet of water. Location is 56 41′ 00″ x 08 08′ 30″.
August, 1978 – First Attempt
I became hooked on this one after reading a paragraph out of Peter Throckmorton’s book, “Diving for Treasure.” He wrote that a Sidney Wignall of Wales, Britain, ‘found what is almost certainly the wreck of the Bonhomme Richard.’ This was news to me, so I contacted my publisher in London who tracked down Wignall.
We began corresponding. His side scan survey off Flamborough Head, where it was supposed the Richard sank after her epic battle with the British frigate Serapis, showed three shipwrecks which he swore had to include Jones’ ship.
We then began planning a salvage dive. Talk about putting a 427 AC Cobra engine in the trunk. For two rain-filled weeks I stood like a dummy and watched Wignall make every mistake in the book. No wreck had even been identified yet and we had two tons of dive equipment, including a decompression tank. Our expedition ship was a real winner too. A decrepit old minesweeper that went down with all hands in the North Sea a few months after we chartered her. She was called the Keltic Lord, but certainly didn’t look like one.
The British crew were decent guys, but operated in slow motion. My renowned speech occurred when one of the ship’s crew helped the shore crew on board one morning from a dingy in a four foot sea. They gave an assist to everyone but me. I was left in the boat struggling with briefcase, camera equipment and an armload of nautical charts. Properly ignored, I somehow flopped over the railing with assorted bruises and a barrage of four letter words. It wasn’t the first time. I generally received less respect than Rodney Dangerfield.
I assembled the entire team in the galley and held up my right hand, telling them that no matter the calamity, typhoon, tidal wave, underwater volcanic eruption or fire, their first duty was to protect that hand. The sea of blank, uncomprehending faces was invigorating. The bait was thrown out and one of them had to ask.
“What’s so special about your hand?”
With my finest fox-like look I replied. “Because that’s the hand that writes the checks.”
The point was made, and I received the proper respect due my wallet thereafter.
Marty Klein and Gary Kosak showed up with their Klein side scan and we commenced to search. Of the three wrecks, one looked vaguely promising from the recorder readings. Gary and two Brits dove on the wreck and reported it as an iron ship that we later identified as the Charing Cross, a freighter that was torpedoed in World War I. The other two ships from Wignall’s first survey were the Commonwealth and the Chicago, both freighters sunk by WWI U boats.
So much for NUMA’s first shipwreck expedition. I think I can honestly say it was an unqualified disaster.
One of the divers brought up and presented me with a copper faucet from a sink inside one of the wrecks.
It is the only artifact I’ve ever kept. And why not? That has to be the most expensive faucet in the world. If you doubt me, I can still show you the bills from the expedition.
That damned faucet is all I have to show for $80,000.
June, 1979 – Second Attempt
Undaunted or either crazy, I returned again to search for Jones’ ship in June of 1979. This time, profiting from the previous year’s gullibility, I worked with Eric Berryman who had a score of connections and put together a terrific team of people.
Colonel Walter Schob and Wayne Gronquist handled the day-to-day logistics. Peter Throckmorton was on hand as our in-house marine archaeology expert. Bill Shea from Brandeis University operated the magnetometer. All the above became good friends and trustees of NUMA.
Manny and Margaret Thompson of Bridlington gave enormously of their time and support. Elaine Friedman stood in as chef. Ed LaCoursiere from Klein & Associates ably watched over the side scan sonar while Willie Williams ran the mini-ranger navigation unit.
The big prize, though, was Jimmy Flett our Scot skipper. A man couldn’t ask for a finer friend. Along with Jimmy came the Arvor II, a bonny boat built in Buckie, Scotland.
Karen Getsla-Auman was our resident psychic. The journalists who accompanied the expedition were Timothy Foote, Jan Golab and Jean Jordan, all warm, fascinating people.
The research on the Richard came from Mr. Norman Rubin and Mr. Peter Reavely, leading experts on the battle and the ship. Rubin projected the rate of sinking and estimated the condition of the ship after two hundred years on the sea bottom. Reavely supplied valuable historic data gathered in England and spent a few days with us during the expedition.
Armed with proper research and a solid crew, we conducted a far more efficient operation than the previous year. This was also the first year we carried the NUMA Eureka flag. We also flew the Explorers Club flag.
The big problem we faced on the hunt was that the Richard did not sink immediately after the battle that ended at approximately 11:00 P.M., Thursday evening, on the 23rd of September, 1779. She went down 36 hours later around 11:00 A.M., on Saturday, September 25th.
Jones, with all his writings on the battle never suggested a direction nor a vague location of the sinking. Descriptions by him and two crew members merely described how she slipped under the waves with no hint of an approximate distance from shore.
It was supposed Jones’ small fleet along with his prizes, the British Countess of Scarborough and the battered Serapis, whose mainmast and mizzen were shot away, drifted for a day and half while the crews made repairs and the Americans desperately tried to save the Richard. This, of course, was a logical assumption.
Sometime in the nineteen fifties a fisherman pulled up the remains of a French musket thought to have been used by a French marine on board the Richard. This occurred six miles from shore. He also stated a wreck was in the general area. Reavely was convinced this had to be our lost ship.
Our best data, which gave us an excellent insight on the drift of the Richard was a matching drift of the Arvor II. Knowing the weather and exact changes in the tide during September of 1779, courtesy of Admiralty records, the Arvor II began drifting from the estimated battle area on comparable tides for thirty-six hours. Incredibly, weather and wind condition very nearly matched those Jones encountered. The experiment showed that the ships should have wound up at least thirteen miles northeast of Flamborough Head at the end of thirty-six hours.
We then laid our search grid accordingly, which is depicted along with the drift pattern in the accompanying diagram.
Almost 116 square miles were covered. Nearly sixteen ships were discovered, but most all were post nineteen hundred wrecks. Karen, our psychic, put us on a target which did not prove to be the Richard, but did turn out to be a sunken Russian spy trawler that had, unknown to our intelligence services, gone down in a storm. Our anchor brought up part of her rigging which was stamped with Cyrillic markings. We turned over the position to the Royal Navy, who clamped a classified lid on it. We, of course, never heard another word.
When the search was nearly over, Peter Reavely found evidence in the Hull city archives that turned my thinking to a new search area.
Report from Bridlington, September 24, 1779
‘At 9 A.M. the French (Jones) ships were seen from Flamborough Head at the ESE with the Serapis and another ship supposed the Countess of Scarborough. The Serapis has lost her mainmast, bowspirit end and mizzen topmast and otherwise shattered. At 10:00 A.M. the fleet was laying ESE from the Head distance 2 leagues.’
The 10:00 A.M. sighting is the only firm position given after the battle. The tidal flow bears it out. A British league was about three miles.
York Chronicle, September 24th, 1779
‘All Friday they were seen off Scarborough at a great distance repairing their damages, which were thought to be very considerable, and at SE by S with our two ships in tow.’
The reference to our “ships in tow” is important.
Bridlington Saturday Morning, September 25th, 1779
‘…the ships were seen hovering off Flamborough Head all yesterday. Towards evening seemed to bear away to sea. They were thought to steer about ESE but as their distance was much increased could not be exactly ascertained. It is generally thought the American ships are withdrawing to the Texel…9’oclock, an express just got in from Flamborough. The fleet collectively has disappeared. As the wind has been but to the SSE the ships tis probable, they steered about ENE.’
Jones did indeed head for the Texel despite the SSE winds. This report says the fleet bore away to sea and their distance was much increased just before sunset.
Letter Published in London by an Observer
‘He (Jones) was seen most of Friday with his fleet and the two ships taken, but in the evening stood off to sea, but as the Serapis and his own vessel were so much crippled, the other ships would be obliged to take them in tow.’
Again, ‘stood off to sea Friday evening, and ships under tow.’
There is much more information, some it conflicting, that can be gained from my original files. At this writing Peter Reavely and I do not agree. He believes the wreck lies only six miles from Filey Bay. I am convinced she’s farther out.
My theory is that Jones did not drift around until the Richard sank. I believe that around 10:00 on Friday morning after the battle, he took the ships in tow and tried to get the hell out of there before he was attacked by a larger and undamaged British fleet. This seems the logical thing to do.
If he was six miles ESE of the Head by 10 o’clock, he could easily have sailed another six or more miles by 7 o’clock in the evening, making a total of twelve miles from the Head.
(Note: We must assume land sightings were guessed in statute miles while sailing distances were measured in knots.)
Now, if Jones sailed at only one knot for the next fifteen hours, he could have been as at least twenty-five miles from shore at the time of the sinking. We know from the log of the Serapis in an entry immediately after the Richard’s sinking that the fleet was on an ESE heading, speed about one and a half knots.
The debris and ballast mound of the Bonhomme Richard lie somewhere between twenty-five and thirty-five miles out to sea from Flamborough Head. I’ve marked the search area in a diagram. Unfortunately, if I’m right, we’re looking at a search grid of nearly 500 square miles since I can’t say with any degree of accuracy whether Jones’ ships were north or south of the head when the Richard sank. He should have been to the south of the head, but the winds might have kept him to the north. He was forced to beat and tack against unfriendly winds before arriving at the Texel in Holland. At least Norman Rubin agrees. He has always felt the Richard rests far off shore.
This reasoning could also be one of the reasons she hasn’t been dragged up by a fisherman’s net. The main fishing beds are closer in shore. I do have a piece of oak beam a fishing boat caught up in with her nets at thirty-two miles out, slightly north of the Head. But I’ve been unsuccessful at having the wood rings dated by experts with any accuracy.
Unless there is an expedition that can run twenty-four hours a day off and on for at least six weeks with decent weather, the only hope of the famous old ship being discovered is by a fisherman. And then, there is the danger of a Danish fish meal trawler dragging its monstrous scoop over the ballast mound, spreading and mashing it into the bottom sand.
I have advertised a reward of $20,000 to any fisherman who can lay NUMA on the wreck, but with little success. Most fishermen, if they dredge up any debris from wrecks, are not interested and simply look upon any find as a nuisance
We gave it a good shot in ’79. Everyone worked hard, and it showed at the end. I made a short, two day stab at finding the Richard again during our North Sea Expedition of ’84, using plots by two respected psychics. But we came up dry.
I would die a happy man if the Bonhomme Richard and the ship described in the next section were found by NUMA while I still breathe. But, the odds are long against me. My only small satisfaction is that we cleared the fog a bit for the next team to launch another search attempt.
The expedition to find the Confederate Ironclads Manassas, Louisiana, and Arkansas. November 1981.
For a shoestring operation this proved to be one of our most successful operations. Walt Schob and I flew down to New Orleans, picked up Erick Schonstedt’s faithful gradiometer, rented a car and drove down to Plaquemines Parish. There, at the town of Venice, we chartered a small fifteen foot skiff from a local Cajun fisherman and began searching for several of the ships that sank in the Mississippi River during the battle for Forts Jackson and St. Phillip. I sat in the bow in a lawn chair with the cast on a broken ankle propped on the gunwale.
The battle occurred in April of 1862 when Admiral David Farragut ran the forts and captured New Orleans, obliterating the small but courageous makeshift Confederate fleet that blocked his course.
We were most interested in locating the site of the Manassas, a Confederate ironclad ram. She was constructed from the Boston tug, Enoch Train, having railroad iron with heavy oak backing laid over her upper works so that she resembled a turtle. She was the first armored ship built in this country to see combat, predating both the Merrimack and Monitor. After being battered by Union naval guns, she was abandoned and allowed to drift down river while on fire. Admiral Porter tried to put a hawser on her as a curiosity, but she rumbled and sank beside the bank of the river.
The Louisiana was a monstrous ironclad 264′ long with a beam of 62′. She was armed with sixteen guns. Unfinished at the time of the battle, she had been towed downriver and moored under Fort St. Phillip where she was used as a floating battery.
We also searched and found two ships that fought a famous running duel up the river; the Confederate gunboat, Governor Moore and the Union gunboat Varuna.
The Louisiana was found the first hour, no great feat as the famed Civil war artist Alfred Waud drew a sketch of the huge ironclad blowing up in front of the fort. She lies quite deep, mostly under the present shoreline in a swampy area off the river. Her massive wreck no doubt contributed to the build up of the silt at the bend where she sank.
Two days later, dragging the gradiometer up and down the river from the forts to a point three and a half miles down river, somewhat above the present day Boothville high school, we hit the Manassas. The following year Tom Ryan and Bill Mueller of the Army Corp of Engineers contracted with Texas A & M to do a magnetometer survey. Their records reveal an anomaly in the precise shape and mass of the Manassas. They also found a large iron mass a hundred yards down river and forty feet from shore. A marine archaeologist stupidly checked out this site instead of the primary target and found a load of pipe. Then he went on TV and declared the Manassas wasn’t there. He couldn’t find any other ships from the battle either. It never occurred to him they are no longer under water but covered by land.
Spare me from marine archaeologists.
Schob and I then moved up the river and found the Governor Moore and the Varuna where they grounded a few hundred yards apart on the east bank.
This was our final day as we had to move up to Baton Rouge and look for the Arkansas. Unfortunately the weather kicked up and we didn’t get a chance to search any further. I would have liked to have found the Confederate gunboat Stonewall Jackson (no relation to the blockade runner in Charleston) and one or two others, but it was not meant to be, at least not this trip.
Arriving at Baton Rouge, we went directly to the Sheriff’s Office of West Baton Rouge Parish. I believe his name was Bergeron. He graciously loaned us the Sheriff’s Office boat, a fine little aluminum affair designed and built by a prison trustee. The only problem was we always gathered a crowd on the river. Everyone living in the area was used to seeing the boat dragging the river for bodies, and here we were dragging the gradiometer cable out over the stern. No one believed us when we claimed our search was for an old ironclad.
The Arkansas for some strange reason has been sidetracked from the historical limelight given her sisters the Virginia, Albemarle, Tennessee and Manassas.
She was hurriedly, crudely constructed up the Yazoo River in May of 1862. She was armored with railroad iron and boilerplate and mounted ten heavy guns. When she was still incomplete, her commander, Lieutenant Isaac Brown, took her down the river to the besieged city of Vicksburg. The incredible battle that followed was a classic case of an underdog pit bull charging a large pack of wolves.
While still on the Yazoo River, the Arkansas, ran into the Union ironclads Carondelet, Tyler, and Queen of the West. Hull to hull the Arkansas and the Carondelet, pounded away at each other until the guns of the Confederate devastated the Union ship and drove her aground. The Tyler also suffered heavy damage from the Arkansas while the Queen of the West took off to warn the Union ships moored above Vicksburg.
The Arkansas burst onto the Mississippi and tore through the combined fleets of Flag Officers Farragut and Davis, thirty in all, like a hawk through a chicken coop, firing every gun in all four directions. Cruising right down between the line of ships, exchanging broadsides, it took the Arkansas a half an hour to pass from the entire line of Union warships.
She was bashed and trashed, but she gave far better than she got. Shattered, blood soaked and triumphant she limped to the dock at Vicksburg. Her crew suffered ten killed and fifteen wounded. The Union fleets lost forty-two killed and sixty-nine wounded.
Over the next month the Arkansas was attacked at her mooring several times, but in each instant the Union ships failed with heavy losses.
In August the battle weary ironclad was ordered to Baton Rouge to support an attack by General Breckinridge on the city. Almost within sight of the city, just above the reach and before the upper bend, the Arkansas’ engines broke down and she was run aground and burned by her crew.
She drifted from the shore and floated downriver for an hour, burning fiercely, her loaded guns discharging, until she finally blew up.
Forgive me for lacking scientific credentials and not spotting the positions with transits, but by simply marking the wreck sites on maps anyone who follows our trail should have little problem locating the targets.
Her suspected hulk lies about half a mile above the Boothville high school on the southwest bank of the river. Note; the mag survey by Texas A & M shows her to be almost completely under the levee. It’s best to look during low water. There is a flat reef-like barrier edged with a small rock breakwater that extends into the river from the base of the levee for about fifteen feet. If you can walk this area, you can easily detect her iron mass, but can only pick up a piece of her from a boat running parallel to the breakwater. She is buried nine feet under the mud and could be very well preserved. (see Figure 1)
She lies deep under the shoreline mud a hundred yards in front of the southeastern embankment of Fort St. Phillip. You can easily walk the area during low water.(see Figure 1)
This durable Union gunboat rests against and under the northeast shore about a mile above Ostrica Canal.
After a courageous fight she ran aground and burned a few hundred yards above the VARUNA. Kids used to swim off both wrecks as late as the nineteen forties. They can be easily located and as of this writing bits and pieces of them still protruded from the shoreline.
She rests deep under the levee on a north/south heading about a mile and four tenths south from the auto and railroad bridge just below Free Negro Point, 230 yards below Mile 233. There was a newspaper report that a sand and gravel company pumped up skeletons and shells from the Union warship, Mississippi, whose executive officer was George Dewey. old inhabitants pointed out the general area of our find as the same as the Thompson Sand & Gravel Company. I can’t comment on the skeletons, but I’ve researched out the Mississippi, and she blew up and sank a good ten miles up the river. The gravel outfit most likely struck on the Arkansas as the shells were identified as coming from known Confederate ordnance, which strikes me as flimsy, knowing most of the guns used by the south were of northern manufacture. The other and very likely possibility is that the sand and gravel company were dredging farther up the river and indeed struck the Mississippi.
All the above mention shipwrecks are accessible to reach by core or a casemate method of excavating. I would especially like to see something done someday on the Manassas and the Arkansas. I’ve even offered to pay for an exploratory dig on the Manassas site but can’t get anyone interested in Louisiana to help in arranging the operation.
This is indeed a frustrating pastime. (see Figure 2)
Our search for the Republic of Texas Navy ships Zavala and Brutus. Both lost in Galveston Harbor, Texas. November, 1986
In April of 1984 Barbara and I visited Wayne Gronquist in Austin, Texas. During our stay, Wayne led me over to the capitol building and the Governor’s office where I was presented with a certificate signed by Governor White proclaiming me an Admiral in the Texas Navy (if they numbered them I’d probably be 4,932).
With a slip of the lip I announced that since becoming an Admiral the least I could do was to find myself a ship.
Masochistically hooked once again and compelled to uphold my blowhard image, I called old pal Bob Fleming in Washington and set out to locate a shipwreck from the Republic of Texas Navy. Yes folks, Texas really had a navy, two as a matter of fact. The first navy was made up of four warships that were destroyed between 1835 and 1837. The second navy, under the brilliant leadership of Commodore Edwin Moore and consisting of nine ships, lasted from 1838 until 1843.
The combined Texas Navies left a remarkable historical legacy. The early ships, including the Brutus, harassed Santa Ana’s supply ships, capturing several and thereby contributing to Sam Houston’s victory at San Jacinto.
Actually, quite a bit was written about the Texas fleet around the turn of the century, the prime example by Jim Dan Hill in his book “The Texas Navy”, and yet the story seems to have been veiled and forgotten. Most Texans don’t even know their short-lived republic even had a navy.
Many nice people in Galveston became swept up in the project and helped immeasurably. Without Kay Taylor-Hughes’ outstanding research efforts, we might never have found the Zavala. And the site of the Brutus was pretty well pinpointed by Mike Davis. Other people who proved so helpful were Sylvia Jackson, Senator Chet Brooks, Stan Weber, and my good friend and business partner, Bob Esbenson. And, lest we forget Wayne Gronquist, who put the project together and Bartol Arnold of the Texas State Antiquities Commission who was most helpful and cooperative.
Research showed most of the ships to be gone without any hope of discovery. One was captured by the Mexicans and lost in the past. One was lost at sea, another on Las Arcas island in the Gulf. Most were sold off or broken up when transferred to the U.S. Navy during annexation.
There were only three possibilities, perhaps four. These were ships wrecked in and around Galveston. References to two were too vague to pursue at the time. Our best odds were to concentrate on the Texas Navy steamship Zavala and the schooner Brutus. Both grounded during storms in the harbor and became derelict hulks in areas we hoped were still accessible.
The Brutus was a schooner armed and commissioned in February 1836. She was 180 feet in length with a 22 foot beam and carried a “long 18-pounder swivel and nine short guns”. She sailed on a cruise that caused havoc along the Gulf shore and Yucatan coast, taking the conflict into Mexican waters while capturing several prize ships. In her short career the Brutus did her share to help the Republic of Texas through its stormy infancy.
In October of 1837 a tremendous gale swept the Texas coast, destroying a number of structures and wrecking a score of ships. The Brutus was mentioned as being “considerably injured”. Contemporary reports stated that she was left grounded near Williams Wharf.
In 1884 the harbor near William’s Wharf was being deepened when the dredges uncovered two of the Brutus’ guns and a section of her frame. They were mounted in the yard of John Stoddart Brown, a prominent Galveston businessman but disappeared during the great 1900 storm that leveled much of the city. In 1963 the 18-pounder was discovered during the construction of a service station. As of this date it exhibited at the Hendley Building on the Strand.
Davis’ survey places the Brutus at the end of 24th street and Pier 23 under the Salvage Wharf Company warehouse 22-23. The survey and brief are included in the next section.
I have to say at this point that although the 1911 newspaper report says the ship was sunk and later dredged at the foot of 27th street, Davis’ research shows the Zavala was the only wreck from 29th street to 25th and 24th. So his claim to the Brutus being closer to 24th street is mostly likely correct.
The Zavala was a project that was fun and intriguing proved to be a great source of satisfaction.
She was originally a fast steam packet that ran between New York and her namesake city in South Carolina. She was remembered as a “sweet handling ship” and for her survival of a heavy storm that sank other ships around her.
The Zavala was purchased by the Republic of Texas and refitted as a warship. She was a sidewheel steamer measuring 201 feet in length with a 24 foot beam and propelled by two walking-beam engines. Her armament consisted of four 12-pounder medium guns and one long 9-pounder.
During her service, the Zavala patrolled the waters off Yucatan and on one expedition towed the San Bernard and Austin up the Tabasco River ninety miles to the provincial capital and seized it. Later, on a voyage back to Galveston, she encountered a terrible storm that caused her crew to burn bulkheads and supplies after her coal supplies ran out so she could make port.
After her one and only cruise as a warship, the Zavala was laid up and allowed to deteriorate. She began to leak so badly that she was run aground to keep from sinking. The ship then was stripped and became a deserted, rotting hulk at the upper end of the harbor’s mud flats. In time she settled deeper into the marsh until only her boilers and one funnel remained to view.
Eventually, land filling covered her completely and she was totally forgotten.
That is, until NUMA and its team came along in 1986. The key that both Taylor-Hughes and Fleming turned up was a drawing of the capture of the Harriet Lane, a Union warship during the battle of Galveston in the Civil War. To the left of the sketch, beside Bean’s Wharf, there is a smokestack sticking out of the water labeled “Zavala”.
From this clue the Texans to a man thought the Zavala sank beside the channel and all remains were dredged out of existence many years ago. I, however, couldn’t bring myself to write her off. I poured over charts of the waterfront showing the location of wharfs and made overlays from surveys in 1856, 1862, 1927, and 1982, carefully measuring where the old streets once ran as compared to modern thoroughfares.
Bean’s Wharf was well marked. But my breakthrough came when I noted the difference in wharf’s size and layout between the 1856 shore chart and drawing showing the docks and city circa 1871. My reasoning was that Bean would have never built his wharf where the Zavala’s wreck would have hampered ships unloading at the dock. It only seemed logical that the ship was both under and alongside the wharf.
Then, while the team was assembling, Esbenson and I checked out my site. Incredibly it was open. Warehouses, grain elevators and huge concrete dock facilities run almost two miles along the channel, but this particular spot was free of structures because of a grain elevator explosion that killed nearly 30 people and destroyed the warehouse over what I determined was the former location of Bean’s Wharf. The debris of the warehouse had been removed right down to the dirt, and it was now a parking lot for the elevator workers.
While I stood on top of the nearby grain elevator and lined up the streets, Esbenson stood in the parking lot and moved about according to my signals. Finally, when I was satisfied he was standing where I thought the Zavala’s remains rested, he marked the spot.
Next we did a mag survey with the Schonstedt gradiometer and recorded some very heavy targets. Then we hired a well digger and began drilling for cores.
It was cold and rainy, but everyone kept at it through the first afternoon and evening. On the first attempts the drill bit struck something hard and refused to penetrate. It was hoped we had struck the boilers, but there was no way of knowing for certain. We moved out and cored in three foot grids, bringing up bits of wood which could have been a ship or pieces of a dock; small lumps of coal that indicated a steamship but might have been thrown off an old dock; plus bits and pieces of other debris too vague to identify with a ship. Then, on the 36th hole the core disgorged 17 inches of wood capped on the bottom by a copper plate.
We had drilled through the keel of a ship and exited through the copper hull sheathing.
But was it truly the Zavala?
Esbenson rented a backhoe and we began to dig. At 12 feet the scoop hit the boilers. The Zavala had truly been found. After taking some pictures, Arnold declared it an historic site, and the grave was covered.
NUMA’s desire is that the first ship ever discovered of the Republic of Texas Navy be someday uncovered and surveyed and perhaps preserved as she lies, or maybe even rebuilt as she once was when she was the pride of the Texas fleet.
Siege of Charleston expedition to find Hunley and survey for other Civil Warships. June, 1981.
We came back with a more extensive search program in ’81, concentrating on covering a sixteen square mile grid between the remains of the Housatonic and Breech Inlet. During this project, Alan Albright, chief state archaeologist with the U. of South Carolina, generously loaned an outboard boat, equipment and the services of two damned fine men, Ralph Wilbanks and Rodney Warren, who proved indispensable.
The research had gone on nonstop during the year. I was determined to locate as many Civil War shipwrecks as possible. The plan was to conduct two ongoing projects; the search for the Hunley and a survey for nearly ten other ships that sank in Charleston during the Civil War.
While the small boat mowed the lawn over the Hunley grid, our large boat, skippered by Harold Stauber, carried the divers and dredging equipment and used its free time looking for other sites. (The list of ships and their locations, if found, are included at the end of this section along with the paper presented to the 13th Conference on Underwater Archaeology by Bob Browning and Wilson West, who worked tirelessly during the project.)
Nearly everybody associated with NUMA showed up for this search, including our President, Admiral Bill Thompson. Schob, Gronquist, Shea, the Goodwins, Dirk and Barbara, the mini-ranger people from Motorola, Bill Hatcher and Dave Graham and Bill O’Donnell, all returned. Erick Schonstedt came and set up his fine gradiometer. Everyone stayed at a house we rented on Sullivan’s Island.
After studying our data from the previous year, we came up with a few new tactics. For one, we put the mini-ranger transponder on the boat and left the operators on shore. They sat in a comfortable van on the beach and simply directed the helmsman of the University’s boat by radio. This proved very efficient and a hell of a lot more comfortable.
Another revelation I discovered when we hit on the Keokuk and Weehawken was the longitude meridians on pre-nineteen century nautical charts run 400 yards west of present day charts. A difference probably due to today’s more accurate timekeeping. This becomes apparent if you compare 52 degrees north. It used to pass through Cummings Point. Now, even allowing for decades of erosion, it passes to the east in the channel waters.
No doubt the reason many of the wrecks around Charleston had not been found was because of this quarter mile discrepancy.
Relying on the mini-ranger, we painstaking blocked off a grid over the Keokuk’s position and found nothing. This failure to find any sign of the ironclad seemed unacceptable. I had overlaid and traced the eastern shore of Morris Island, measuring the erosion over 140 years. The light house that once stood on land now rose out of the water 400 yards from shore. And yet, judging the distance of our search area from the lighthouse by eye, it struck me that the beach seemed too far away from where Boutelle marked the Keokuk.
I instructed the mini-ranger operators on shore to take us directly over the supposed site on a course due west toward the island. Then, when I gave the word, we would turn and begin another grid search.
One hundred yards, two hundred. The guys in the van kept asking me when we were going to turn. Three hundred. The lighthouse loomed nearer. Finally, at three hundred and sixty yards I gave the order to swing around on a reverse course. Then the Schonstedt gradiometer sang.
We struck the Keokuk in the turn.
We then moved to the Weehawken’s marked position and applied the same maneuver and found her three hundred and twenty yards to the west of where Boutelle said she rested.
Applying the same data, we also homed in on the Stonewall Jackson, Norseman, Ruby, and the Raccoon, which Boutelle mislabeled the Georgiana.
If you should find yourself in Charleston and wish to research the naval actions and later disposition of sunken ships, be sure to read Benjamin Maillefert’s diaries in the Charleston city archive in the Fireproof Building. He salvaged most all the wrecks in the area and provides fascinating insight on the operations. It was one his references that showed me the wreck marked as the Georgiana was actually the blockade runner Raccoon.
Though we failed to find the Hunley again, we hardly left Charleston empty handed. A good time was had by all and we made a number of interesting discoveries.
Finds are recorded below in nautical positions in case later expeditions do not use mini-ranger coordinates.
About three quarters of a mile east and slightly north of the old lighthouse. Four feet under silt, lying north and south.
32 41′ 44″
79 51′ 54″
Famous monitor, only one to fight and capture another ironclad: the CSS Atlanta. Seems quite broken up at least eight feet under silt. Lying on slight angle north and south.
32 43′ 02″
79 51′ 11″
Sunk by Confederate mine between Forts Sumter and Moultrie. Sitting upright in scoured channel at forty feet. Easily dived.
32 45′ 12″
79 51′ 58″
Heavy mag readings over site were British frigate was burned and sunk in 1776.Short distance from Patapsco.
32 44′ 48″
79 51′ 44
Confederate blockade runner run aground off Folly Island.
32 40′ 57″
79 53′ 03″
Confederate blockade runner, sunk west of present day jetty. Mislabeled on old charts as Georgiana.
32 44′ 35″
79 50′ 10″
Confederate blockade runner destroyed few hundred yards southeast of Breech Inlet.
32 46′ 25″
79 48′ 13″
Confederate blockade runner run aground and burned. Now eighteen feet under the beach on Isle of Palms just south of the dunes at the end of either 24th, 25th, or 26th streets. Sorry about that. I marked the position but not the street. My hope is that someday the city or state will excavate her. One of the luckiest finds I ever made. By extreme luck I set the gradiometer right on top of the wreck in the first five minutes as I tried to adjust the instrument.
32 46′ 42″
79 48′ 03″
Blockade runner run high and dry in 1865. Now about a hundred yards from the beach.
32 47′ 23″
79 46′ 10″
The Union sloop-or-war sunk by the Hunley. Has the sad distinction of being the first warship ever sunk by a submarine. Her scattered debris lies in the vicinity of…
32 43′ 07″
79 48′ 17″
CHARLESTON & CHICORA
Confederate ironclads. Anchored side by side in the channel, they were blown and sunk when the city fell to Union troops. I pinpointed their final position, but a search turned up nothing. The site has been heavily dredged by the Army Corp of Engineers over the past century, and as with so many other historic ships they have been dredged out of existence. They were last recorded at…
32 47′ 29″
79 55′ 21″
Confederate ironclad blown and sunk the same time as the Charleston and the Chicora. We had a very heavy strike along side and under the docks between warehouse #8 and the warehouse next door to the south. This site should definitely be surveyed. Benjamin Maillefert states in his diaries that he didn’t salvage the Palmetto State as heavily as he did the other shipwrecks.
32 47′ 47″
79 56′ 22″
GREAT STONE FLEET
A fleet of whalers, some quite famous, one or two dating from the Revolutionary War, deliberately scuttled by Union Navy to block entrance to Charleston Harbor. The project failed due to worms attacking the exposed hulls and the weight of the stone ballast pushing the ships deep into the soft silt. We received many strikes in the area where they sank, but dives found nothing protruding.
32 39′ 55″
79 50′ 20″
Site of famous cannon that fired on Charleston before exploding is still discernable on Bass Creek due to vegetation.
32 43′ 10″
79 53′ 25″
WEEHAWKEN’S TORPEDO RAFT
During the battle of Charleston between Admiral Dahlgren’s monitor fleet and the Confederate forts, the Weehawken led the Union squadron into the harbor with a huge wooden anti-mine raft attached to its bow. The weight and drag made the monitor completely unmanageable and the raft was cast adrift. Although it’s been sitting in the reeds along the north bank of Bass Creek all these years, we were the first to identify it.
32 43′ 30″
79 53′ 25″
As of November, 1987, I or my NUMA crew have not returned to Charleston. But someday I may come back with our side scan sonar to survey the harbor. I’ve always suspected the Confederate’s floating battery, used against Fort Sumter in the opening shots of the war, is lying somewhere northwest of Fort Johnson. And, of course, there is still the Hunley. It would be a shame not to make another attempt to find her. Who knows? With any luck NUMA might be able to add a nice postscript to the story.
The hunt for the famous Union ironclad river gunboat, Carondelet in the Ohio River. May 1982.
The Carondelet’s history makes for fascinating reading. She had the distinction of fighting in more engagements than any navy ship until World War II. Except for her pounding by the Confederate ironclad Arkansas, she was a tough and winning ship.
After the war, the Carondelet, along with her sister ships, was sold at auction. Her fate for the next few years is hazy, but by 1870 she wound up as a wharfboat at Gallipolis, Ohio. Just before she was to be demolished for the iron in her hull, the Carondelet was swept from her moorings by a flood in the spring of 1873. Her now desolate hulk was carried 130 miles down river where she grounded at the head of Manchester Island, two miles from the town of Manchester. That was the last record of the Carondelet.
Walt Schob and I landed in Cincinnati, went through the familiar routine of renting a car and picking up the Schonstedt gradiometer from an air freight shipping company. We headed east along the Ohio River toward Manchester, admiring the beautiful wooded, rolling hills and marveling at actually watching a man paint a mail Pouch Tobacco sign on the side of a barn, a sight I thought had vanished at least forty years before.
At Manchester the fire chief kindly loaned us the use of a nice twenty-two foot, inboard fireboat. There was an intriguing hitch, though. In return, Walt and I had to search for a woman who disappeared along with her car. The sheriff thought she had suffered a heart attack and drove down the hill in front of her house, smashing a brick post beside her driveway, and ending up in the river.
We spent half a day dragging the gradiometer up and down the shoreline and channel. We found two heavy targets that suggested cars and marked the locations. We had already conducted our search for the shipwreck, however, and left before county divers could investigate our targets. We heard later the car and body were found at one of our sites.
We also found the Carondelet. Using overlays of old and new charts, I determined that Manchester Island had receded about two hundred yards down stream. With a solid ballpark location marked on my trusty chart, we set off on what Walt and I thought would be an easy discovery.
As it turned out, we were right on the money.
We were also two days too late.
As our boat rounded the eastern tip of the island, there sat the biggest god damned dredge boat we’d ever seen in our lives. The thing was four stories high-and she had recently dredged her way directly over the grave of the Carondelet.
We didn’t even bother dropping the gradiometer, but headed straight for the dredge where we tied up and talked to the superintendent. He showed us some old wood and rusty hardware his crew had retrieved out of the dredge buckets. They thought they had simply dug over an old barge. They were stunned when I told them they had demolished one of the most famous Civil war ships that ever sailed a river.
He pointed out the site where they struck the wreck, which matched out projections. Walt and I then checked the bottom, dragging the gradiometer sensor right across the mud of the riverbed, obtaining a large number of small readings.
Fortunately, the lower part of the ironclad hull was sunk about two feet deeper than the level the dredge was excavating. So, there are still some fragments of the old girl remaining at a depth of eighteen feet if anyone ever cares to bring them up.
God, can you imagine? After the Carondelet had rested undisturbed in the mud for a hundred and nine years, Cussler had to show up two days too late to save her.
What little remains of her lower hull lies about two hundred and fifty yards east and slightly north off the eastern tip of Manchester Island in the Ohio River. And a hundred and twenty yards off the Ohio shore.
HALIFAX, Nova Scotia, Sept 22 (Reuters) – A U.S. expedition confirmed on Friday it had located the wreck of RMS Carpathia, the ship that rescued 705 survivors from the Titanic and that was later torpedoed by a German U boat.
American author Clive Cussler and founder of the National Underwater & Marine Agency said the wreck that was found last spring was confirmed as the Carpathia last week.
The ship, sunk near the end of World War One in 1918, was found in 171 meters (514 feet) of water off the east coast of Ireland.
Cussler said he and his team were able to pinpoint the wreck using scan sonar and have surveyed the wreck with remote operating vehicles.
The Titanic, the wreck of which was found in 1985, sank off Newfoundland on its maiden voyage from Britain to New York in April 1912, after striking an iceberg. About 1,500 people were killed but 705 others were rescued by the Carpathia.
Interest in the Titanic soared after the 1997 movie which set box-office records and won the Academy Award for the best film of the year.
“Now we have footage of the RMS Carpathia,” Cussler said at a news conference at the Bedford Institute of Oceanography in Halifax.
Video released on Friday clearly show the ship’s stern a propeller and winches used to load cargo.
“My goal was to preserve maritime history. We have been succeeding beyond my wildest dreams. I did not think this would happen in my lifetime,” Cussler said.
He said his team and Nova Scotia television firm Eco-Nova were shooting a documentary on the story as part of a documentary to be shown on Canada’s History Channel.
A never before published four-page letter, hand-dated April 24, 1912, by Luke Hoyt — a passenger on the Carpathia describing what he called the “greatest tragedy of the seas” — was also released on Friday, telling how Titanic survivors were rescued from lifeboats in the dark by the Carpathia.
It describes how Carpathia passengers cared for Titanic survivors — giving away many of their clothes.
Hoyt wrote to a friend: “It was a tragedy. The horror of it all was appalling.”
“It took everyone two or three days to get over that,” he added. In his letter, Hoyt praised the courage of surviving women and wrote that he saw the iceberg “that did it.”
“It was immense, estimated by a civil engineer as 180 feet (60 meters) in height,” he wrote.
John Wesley Chisholm, a television documentary producer, said the letter gave new insight into the bravery of the Carpathia crew and passengers.
“The wreck discovery and the letter open a whole new chapter in the Titanic story,” he said.
The Carpathia was steaming in convoy from Liverpool to Boston on July 17, 1918, when it was hit by two torpedoes from the German U-boat. A third torpedo slammed into her hull as her lifeboats were being lowered, killing five of her crew.
The ship slipped beneath the surface the following day and the surviving crew and 157 passengers were picked up by a British warship, HMS Snowdrop, and safely returned to Liverpool.
Copyright 2000 Reuters Limited.
James River search for Virginia Navy fleet sunk by Benedict Arnold during Revolutionary war, 1781, and the Civil War ships, Drewry, Commodore Jones, and Greyhound. June, 1985.
On April 27, 1781, a force of British soldiers covertly positioned themselves on a rise overlooking a bend in the James River and attacked a fleet of Virginia Navy ships. They were led by Benedict Arnold after he deserted the American cause and threw his lot with the English. The attack was a complete surprise and all nine American warships were either captured or burned.
Engaging the services once again of the guys from Underwater Archaeological Joint Ventures, and leaning heavily on the research of Bob Fleming and Martha McCartney of Williamsburg, Virginia, I arrived at the site along accompanied with my business partner, Bob Esbenson, and Bill Shea, who drove down from Boston.
Instrumentation consisted of a new magnetometer recently purchased by UAJV and NUMA’s old EGG&G side scan sonar.
Using as a basis a map drawn of the 1781 action by a British engineer, John Simcoe, we overlaid his sketch of the river with a matching scaled map of the present course. By this method we could pin down the location of the British guns and the approximate positions of the Virginia warships.
Simcoe’s landmarks easily corresponded on a current Geological survey chart, especially a rise resembling a pair of women’s boobs along the shoreline. The main difference in geology between 1781 and 1985 seems to be the river cuts more sharply north than it did 200 years ago than now. This particular reach is also no longer part of the main course of the James River. During the Civil War Grant’s army dug a cut between the north and south bends, calling it Dutch Gap. And though the old channel still runs into the main flow to the south, its northern reach ends at the tailing pond of an electrical generating plant.
During the search, everyone on the boat, chartered from a big bear of a guy who insisted on being called Critter, nearly died from the oppressive heat. The air temperature was 102 F. and the humidity was 97%. Still, I couldn’t figure why my sunglasses steamed up every time I leaned over the boat. Then I found out when I lifted the sonar sensor up from the water. It damned near burned my palms off. It seems the water coming out of the generating plant was only slightly cooler than steam and raised the temperature in the old channel to 108 F. Talk about miserable.
We found no trace of the Virginia Navy shipwrecks. No targets of any consequence turned up on the side scan sonar or magnetometer.
My own hunch is that the river has moved west in the past 200 years and if the colonials did not raise the wrecks after the war, their remains lie buried in the marsh northeast and under the land of Farrar Island.
We moved down the channel about a mile and conducted a mag search for the Drewry, a Confederate gunboat that was lost in action on January 24, 1865, and searched a section of the old river known as Trent’s Reach.
A local resident, Ray Grubbs, who generously allowed us to use his property for a staging area and who recovered a piece of a brass hatch from the Drewy when he was a boy, pointed out the general area where she now lies buried under the silt of a tidal wash. We found her with the magnetometer after only an hour’s search.
Our next target was the U.S.S.Commodore Jones, an armed side wheel ferry carrying six guns that patrolled the James River. She was destroyed by a Confederate electric mine in an explosion that claimed some 40 lives. She was lost at an army crossing of the James just opposite Four Mile Creek. The contemporary diagram showing the mine operation and her location at the time of the explosion is for the most part accurate. We found her mag mass about fifty feet closer to the southern shore of the bend and slightly up river of the drawing.
The water was only about six feet so we used eighteen foot steel rod probes, but had difficulty penetrating a thick layer of clay that we encountered at twelve feet and could not quite reach the remains.
Our final goal was to find the remains of the Greyhound, a very fast side wheel steamer that burned on November 27, 1864. She was built in the Keyport shipyards, New Jersey, and soon chartered to the Army quartermaster. She was later assigned to General Butler as his headquarters on the James River. On her last run she carried Butler and Admiral Porter and their entire staffs. She departed Bermuda Hundred and after proceeding a few miles a violent boiler explosion set her afire. She was run aground on Hog Island, or so the report went, where Butler, Porter and their officers and crew made it to shore.
There has been a bit of mystery about the Greyhound. Some historians have confused her with the much larger British-built Confederate blockade runner of the same name that was captured in May of 1864. They were definitely two different ships. There is a painting of her by James Bard and a photograph may be found in the Mariners Museum at Newport News.
The mention of Hog Island is also an enigma. Hog Island is far down the river just a few miles above Hampton Roads. Actually, the true report states the ship was run ashore at Hog Point. In looking over most records there is no such location, but thanks to the diligence of Martha McCartney, a point four miles down river from Bermuda Hundred was once known as Hogs Point for obvious reasons. A landowner kept his pigs penned up in a marshy area here. The point, was later known and marked on the charts as Jordans Point.
There was also a Union army Hogs Point signal station about a mile and a half south. We did a mag survey around the signal station area and found nothing. Then for some odd reason which I can’t for the life of me explain, I ordered everyone to pack up and shove off without ever running grids in the prime location. In retrospect, I guess the Greyhound lies buried in the sands on the western side of Jordan’s Point. That’s only speculation as we didn’t find a trace of her.
The team spent the next couple of days fishing for targets in the York River off of Yorktown, but accomplished very little. I had originally intended to so some hunting in the Hampton Roads and Norfolk area, but stupidly got sidetracked. Which goes to show that you should always follow your intended game plan before you screw around.
Buried under the silt in upper reach of old channel tidal flat about two hundred yards from south shore.
U.S.S. COMMODORE JONES
Buried nearly 20 to 30 feet deep in hard clay slightly west Four mile creek and 200 feet from the present southern bank.
Not content with looking for America’s most elusive shipwreck, I had to try for number two, which should indicate to those who don’t know me that my mind lies somewhere left of delirium and right of monomania.
The story of the Hunley has been told and retold many times since her disappearance in 1864. Constructed by the Confederacy in Mobile, she was later shipped to Charleston in an optimistic hope of breaking the Union blockade. Despite the fact she dispatched four of her crews, she was quite advanced for her time.
The Hunley took up the banner left by David Bushnell’s Turtle and blazed the trail for future underwater warfare by becoming the first submarine in history to sink a fighting ship during war. She gained her everlasting fame when her crew of nine propelled her out with the tide on the evening of February 17th, 1864, and laid her spar torpedo under the side of the new Union navy sloop-or-war, Housatonic.
Robert Fleming, a fine guy and one of our great maritime researchers came up with the lion’s share of the data. He went two steps past the other archivists and found the Naval Board of Inquiry record into the sinking of the Housatonic. The 115 pages were, of course, written in longhand and the wax seal was still unbroken on the folder.
Testimony by the ship’s deck officers indicated that the Confederate torpedo boat had backed off at least fifty feet and perhaps as far as a 100 after implanting her explosives into the aft starboard hull of the Housatonic. This suggests to me that she survived the blast and is not buried under or inside the remains of the Union ship.
Also, in November of 1864, Admiral Dahlgren ordered a survey of the wreck. The salvage officer reported that he had dragged the seabed for 500 yards around the Housatonic and found no trace of the torpedo boat.
Several salvage projects in the next forty years could not find the hulk of the Hunley either.
Oddly, the evidence that seems to be consistently ignored came from Lieutenant Colonel Dantzler, Commander of Battery Marshall, the fortification where the Hunley was based. Historians assumed he was trying to cover his tail for neglect with the following report.
‘I have the honor to report that the torpedo boat stationed at this post went out on the night of the 17th instant (Wednesday) has not yet returned. The signals agreed upon to be given in case the boat wished a light to be exposed at this post as a guide for its return were observed and answered. An earlier report would have been made of this matter, but the officer of the day for yesterday was under the impression that the boat had returned, and so informed me ….’
Therefore, our first expedition to Charleston to find the Hunley concentrated just off the beach line. From there, we worked out to sea about a mile before we had to break off the search attempt and head for Virginia.
Doc Edgerton came down with his side scan sonar and confirmed that anything that sank outside of Charleston Harbor quickly settled and was covered over by extremely soft silt. Our divers found they could easily push their arms into it up to their shoulders.
It came as no surprise when we discovered the remains of the Housatonic totally buried and quite scattered. Our divers extensively probed the debris area outside her boilers and found mostly shattered bits and pieces. No intellectual giant was required to conclude that the Hunley lies elsewhere under four to ten feet under the mud.
We used two boats for our preliminary, data finding search. Our smaller Zodiac with Bill Shea operating a proton magnetometer, Dirk Cussler at the steering arm of the outboard, and marine archaeologist Dan Koski-Karell taking the navigating chores, slipped over the bar at Breech Inlet and ran search lines up and down the surf line, moving out with each lane. Our second boat, a thirty-two footer with twin Chrysler engines called the Coastal Explorer, doubled as a search vessel and dive boat.
Forgive me for dwelling on the CE and her crew. The skipper, I beg his forgiveness for losing his name, was a really nice guy. His two crewmen, whom I referred to as Heckle and Jeckle, were students at Charleston’s Citadel academy and a genuine pair of Southern characters. Barnum, Bailey and the Ringling Bros. couldn’t have outshone the acts that took place on the Coastal Explorer.
The skipper’s parents screamed at each other nonstop twenty-four hours a day. The boat’s engines broke down like clockwork. We almost all died from the heat, humidity and flies. We struck the breakwater while trying to take a shortcut, holed the bottom and had to bail like madmen or we’d have gone down in the ship channel. Even Doc Edgerton jumped into the water with myself and the skipper to help shove her into deep water. We ran out of gas a hundred yards from the dock on two occasions. Peter Throckmorton and I fought on a regular basis. Karen Gestla, our resident psychic, sat entranced on the bow, doing a creditable job of predicting the weather but striking out on the Hunley’s location. Debbie Sharp, Wayne Gronquist’s girl friend, made quite a hit with the crew, sprawling her six foot, barely bikini clad body in front of the windshield so the helmsman could not see over the bow. Ralph Wilbanks, archaeologist with the University of South Carolina, also greatly added to the festivities with his down home dance routines.
However, strange as it seems, the expedition was efficiently carried out. The Housatonic was discovered and briefly surveyed, we also found the dual-turreted citadel ironclad, Keokuk, and the monitor, Weehawken, with our trusty Schonstedt gradiometer.
Our shoreline crew did not go home dry either. They discovered the Confederate blockade runner, Rattlesnake, that had run aground off Breech Inlet. But their greatest triumph was saving the lives of three children who were swept out to sea in a tidal current. If Bill, Dan and Dirk had not been nearby when the mother and people on shore frantically screamed, the children would have surely drowned.
So, though we didn’t come close to finding the Hunley, the sites of four historic shipwrecks were discovered and three children are walking around today who came within thirty seconds of receiving premature funerals.
Note: Location and survey details on our wreck discoveries will be covered in the next section, the June 1981 report on NUMA’s Siege of Charleston expedition.
After wrapping up the Charleston end of the expedition, we bid the Skipper, Heckle and Jeckle, and the Coastal Explorer a fond farewell, packed up our equipment and headed for Norfolk, Virginia, where we intended to check out the possibility of a later expedition to find the famous Confederate sea raider, Florida, and the Union frigate, Cumberland, which was sunk by the Merrimack, or Virginia as it was known to the South.
Derek Goodwin, our esteemed Washington correspondent and his talented wife, Susan, had arranged for a large, nineteen-twenties built yacht to carry us up and down the James River to look for the two Civil War ships, resting in unknown graves on the mud just off Newport News, Virginia.
I realized this sounds farfetched, but the crew of the Sekonit, as the long, narrow old yacht was called, were as dingy as the last batch. Somehow the events fog before my eyes. All I can remember was sleeping in a cabin the size of a dollhouse closet and lying awake all night listening to my sweat drip. God, was it humid. Bill Shea, Walt Schob and my son Dirk had the good sense to stay in a Holiday Inn. My only salvation were the evenings spent dining and drinking on the large canvas covered deck.
The Virginia state archaeologist, John Broadwater, showed up with his assistants, Mike Warner, Dick Swete, Sam Margolin and Jim Knickerbocker, who would later leave the state and form their own marine survey company.
For the next four days we swept back and forth parallel to the piers and shipyard. We hit several targets, but one that especially suggested the boilers of the Florida. Walt Schob and the archaeologists dove and found a wreck which indeed later proved to be the Florida. A few artifacts were brought up, but because of stupid state laws Broadwater threw them back in the river.
My wife, Barbara, and I had to leave at this stage and fly to Boston for the premiere of the motion picture based on my book “Raise the Titanic”. As the old saying goes, ‘I shudda stayed in bed.’ The movie was a disaster, particularly at the box office. But that’s another story.
We wrapped our combination Charleston/Norfolk project of 1980 and headed home, already planning for NUMA’s next adventure in Charleston and another attempt at the Hunley.
Hunt for U.S.S. CUMBERLAND and C.S.S. FLORIDA
The discovery and survey project on the Union frigate, Cumberland, and Confederate raider, Florida. July 1982.
Since we knew where the Florida rested, and had a good idea on the Cumberland site, I felt it was time for a professional survey conducted by a team of expert archaeologists. NUMA then contracted with the four former archaeologists from the state of Virginia, who dove with us during the ’81 expedition. Sam Margolin, Mike Warner, Dick Swete, and Jim Knickerbocker made up the Underwater Archaeological Joint Ventures survey team.
They performed admirably. Rather than comment, I’ll simply let Sam Margolin’s article and the report written by Mike Warner and the others stand alone. After the survey was completed and the artifacts recovered, John Broadwater and the State of Virginia Landmarks Department, who had offered to handle the conservation of the artifacts, backed out and claimed they had no money. At this point all the artifacts were in holding tanks inside rented garage space.
Not wishing to see them disintegrate and be trashed, I worked out a deal with the College of William & Mary to preserve them. They did a remarkable job and charged me far less than originally estimated. I then donated all the artifacts to John Sands, the director of the Newport News Mariners Museum, which has to be the finest and largest in the country.
The museum people built a most attractive display for the viewing public.
Then after about six months, some admiral with the odd nickname of Beetle something or other and Mike Curtin, the rotund, heavy jowled curator of the Norfolk Naval museum marched up to John Sands and demanded he turn over, as they generously put it, “our artifacts”.
Demonstrating arrogance with little grace, they threatened to go to court in order to claim artifacts whose recovery they offered no contribution whatsoever.
Displaying a bureaucratic lack of fortitude, Broadwater and the State caved in. The story is they didn’t want to upset the navy, who was responsible for thousands of jobs in and around the tidewater basin.
So now the artifacts sit in the Norfolk Naval Museum. Though the navy thinks they belong to them, the truth is that all U.S. Naval ships sold for salvage and stricken from commission belong to the General Services Administration.
What thanks did NUMA and UAJV receive for their efforts to preserve our country’s maritime heritage from a grateful government?
Ingratitude, rejection and antipathy.
Is it any wonder many of us no longer vote?
An attempt to find the mystery ship, Cyclops, which vanished in 1918 along with over 300 naval crewmen. May 1983.
Much has been written about how the U.S. Navy coal collier, Cyclops, vanished without a trace in the Bermuda Triangle during a voyage from Bahia, Brazil, to Baltimore, Maryland, in February/March of 1918.
Vincent Gaddis and Charles Berlitz have made fortunes touting barrel loads of bull shit from their books on the mythical triangle while Larry Kusche, a library researcher at the Arizona State, wrote an admirable, in-depth work called “The Bermuda Triangle Mystery – Solved” and barely made beer money.
Kusche has soundly demonstrated that the Cyclops most likely went down between Cape Hatteras and Cape Charles under a heavy gale that struck the east coast on the 9th and 10th of March. During the raging winds and high seas, the ship’s cargo of 10,000 tons of manganese probably shifted and she rolled over and sank without warning or time to send an SOS.
The Cyclops and her three sister coal colliers all met untimely fates. They were the largest navy ships of their time. The Jupiter was converted into our navy’s first aircraft carrier and renamed the Langley. She was bombed under the sea by Japanese planes off Java in 1942. Incredibly, the other two sister ships, the Nereus and the Proteus, which were sold by the navy, both disappeared with all hands in the Atlantic during World War II and were presumed sunk by German U-boats.
The Cyclops still remains the largest navy ship ever lost without leaving the slightest clue to her fate.
Interesting when you think about it. The only difference between a great sea mystery and a perfectly explainable ship sinking is one survivor.
No clue turned up until 1968 when master navy diver, Dean Hawes, descended on a large hulk lying in 180 feet of water about 40 nautical miles northeast of Cape Charles. Hawes was stunned. He found himself standing on a vessel unlike any he’d ever seen. The bridge sat on steel stilts above the deck and huge arms stretched upward along the main deck into the liquid gloom.
Hawes finally surfaced with the intention of going down again with his dive team, but bad weather forced the navy salvage ship to abandon the wreck and sail back to Norfolk. The dive exercise was rumored to be a searching for the then missing nuclear submarine, Scorpion that was later found on the bottom west of the Azores, and the navy felt no need to spend unnecessary time investigating the wreck further.
Years later, Hawes happened to read an article on the mystery of the Cyclops. Included was a picture of the ship, exactly what Hawes had explored.
Hawes managed to convince the navy to return and check out the site again, but a different wreck was located and nothing resembling the Cyclops was found.
Dean was about to give up when NUMA and I entered the picture and offered to fund an attempt to relocate the vessel he’d discovered. I flew to Norfolk and stayed with Dean and his lovely wife. We went over the coordinates from the log book of Hawes’ former salvage ship, the Killiwake, and I thought it odd that the Cyclops had missed entering Chesapeake Bay and steamed past, sinking almost 40 miles to the northeast. (see Hawes’ coordinates on chart).
He and Kusche both thought that the ship, only operating on one engine and thrown about by the storm, was simply driven off course and missed the entrance to the bay.
Dean Hawes’ coordinates from the navy salvage ships in the area at the time he found the wreck are listed below.
Log book position of U.S.S. Killiwake, the ship Hawes dove From in 1968:
37 26′ 06″
74 42′ 07″
Log book position of U.S.S. Sunbird, nearby salvage ship on day of dive:
37 27′ 05″
74 41′ 08″
Wreck position Hawes dove during NUMA expedition of 1983.
37 27′ 04″
Wreck of the Ethel C.
Wreck of the Merida.
Where is the Cyclops? As an article on the Hawes and the expedition suggests, it remains a sunken puzzle. Dean Hawes died a few weeks after the search and I have yet to make another attempt. Did Dean really step onto the deck of the Cyclops, or did he find the missing Nereus or Proteus instead.
Perhaps someday, when technology permits us to view the bottom of the sea with the same clarity that we can on land, the three ships will be discovered. Until then we can only wish.
Search for Captain Cook’s famous ships the Endeavor and Resolution at Newport, Rhode Island. November, 1985.
On April 27, 1781, a force of British soldiers covertly positioned themselves on a rise overlooking a bend in the James River and attacked a fleet of Virginia Navy ships. They were led by Benedict Arnold after he deserted the American cause and threw his lot with the English. The attack was a complete surprise and all nine American warships were either captured or burned.
While on book tour in New Zealand I wandered into a marine museum near the Bay of Islands. Their main exhibit was a giant model of the ship that carried Captain Cook on his first round the world voyage of discovery, the Endeavor. On one wall was a plaque describing the ship, her service, and her final disposition as a derelict in Newport harbor, Rhode Island in the late 1770s.
The fact that her bones lay in the U.S. was more than enough to send me on a research probe.
She was built in 1764 as a cat-built bark and originally named the Earl of Pembroke. In 1768 the ship was purchased by the Admiralty for scientific research to make astronomical observations and chart then unknown regions of the Pacific. Upon completion of Cook’s epic voyage, the Endeavor was refitted and carried naval stores to several destinations including the Falklands.
In 1790 she was purchased by an American, a Captain William Mather, to carry whale oil for the firm of Gibbs & Channing and rechristened the La Liberte. A cargo of barreled oil was taken on board and she sailed for Newport, Rhode Island where she arrived safely and lay alongside the wharves for several months before receiving a cargo. Loaded at last, she ran aground on leaving the harbor. Refloated, she returned to dock where she was surveyed and found not worth repairing, her old timbers severely rotted and sprung.
She was sold to Captain John Cahoone, who was building a packet called the Concord. He salvaged what materials he could from the Endeavor’s upper works and used them on the packet under construction.
For many years the Endeavor’s lower hull lay in view until the gale of 1815 when what was left of her above the silt was badly battered, reportedly on Cahoone’s shore at the south end of the town. Sometime in the early 1820s the rotting hulk was pointed out by Mr. Gibbs to John Gilpin, the British consul. Gilpin then certified the wreck and removed pieces of it which he sent to England. What was left of the wreck was soon torn apart by souvenir hunters who made canes, snuff boxes and other knick knacks out of the timbers.
The remains of the lower hull and keel were then covered over by silt and the famous ship was soon forgotten, her final resting place lost in the past.
Some historians think the ship disintegrated at Gibb’s lower wharf where she was surveyed after the grounding. This prospect is entirely possible as it was Gibbs who pointed out the wreck to Gilpin. However, this was a busy docking area and it seems more logical for Cahoone to have towed the derelict down to his dock so his carpenters could remove whatever they needed and transfer to the new packet on the spot rather than haul it almost a mile from the Gibbs wharf. Gibb’s wharf, by the way, was located slightly to the north of Mary Street.
Petersen’s History of Rhode Island (1853) also puts the wreck on “Cahoone’s shore”.
Now our search turned to Cahoone’s beach. This was a tough nut to crack. All we knew in the beginning from the Newport Historical Society was that Cahoone’s beach was at the south end of Thames Street before the turn toward what is now King’s Beach.
There were no records of Cahoone’s property, but the breakthrough came when it was discovered that Captain Cahoone sold his waterfront beach and wharf to a Captain Waite, whose name is depicted on any number of later maps of Newport.
An on site search by a NUMA team traced the alley that was Waites Wharf. The area has been heavily filled in and is now a large parking area surrounded by a small restaurant and fish market on the west end, a slip for the excursion boat SS Newport on the north, old buildings to the east, and apartments and condominiums on the south.
I’m the first to admit it’s a wild guess and a long shot, but there is a remote chance the few remains of the Endeavor lie beneath this parking lot.
It must also be noted that there are some historians, mostly Australian, who suggest that Captain Cook’s other ship, the Resolution, is the one that came and died in Newport in 1793. Who can say with any certainty?
Are a few bits and pieces of the Endeavor buried under silt and landfill somewhere around Gibb’s & Channing’s old lower wharf, or is she truly under the parking lot over what was once Cahoone’s beach? Is it indeed the Endeavor or Cook’s equally famous ship, the Resolution?
Perhaps someday, someone will find a clue hidden away in an archive and an excavation can be launched with fair hope of success.
This was a fleet that I found most intriguing. It was the Confederacy’s last fighting squadron of ships, and many of the south’s most famous naval heroes served on its ironclad gunboats.
Semmes and Kell from the Alabama, Read of Arkansas and Florida fame, Glassel from the David in Charleston, and many others ended their naval careers with the James River Fleet.
Our NUMA crew along with the UAJV team and Doc Edgerton made a few passes up and down the river at the Drewry Bluff site but the rain came down in torrents and Doc’s sub-bottom profiler had trouble reading through the gasses deep in the mud.
But fate dealt a lucky hand.
Determined to go through every file and drawer in the Army Corp of Engineers archives at Fort Norfolk, I dug in one morning intending to make an all out two day effort. Besides the James River Fleet, I was also searching for any clues to the Merrimack and any other ships that went down in the tidewater area during the past two hundred years.
No more than three hours into the hunt I struck pay dirt.
In a drawer marked ‘Survey of the Pamunkey River 1931’ I found a large sheet of very unusual transparent paper that had been tinted orange and blue from the rear, beautifully done, and labeled ‘Position of Wrecks, Drury’s Bluff’. Off to one side was a brief note by my old friend from Charleston, Benjamin Maillefert, the salvor from Charleston.
He had drawn the map which showed the wreck sites of the fleets destruction in 1865. A total of eight ships were outlined where he had salvaged them.
I immediately headed for the nearest saloon and quickly became bagged.
The following survey by the guys from UAJV pretty much tells the story.
CSS VIRGINIA II
A very tough ironclad built along the lines of the famous Merrimack (Virginia). She lies badly broken nearly twenty feet under the silt, partially beneath the opposite shoreline from the bluff.
Her remains are only fifty yards up river from her sister ship. She rests in a parallel position with the river six to fifteen deep under the mud, also opposite Drewry’s Bluff.
The third ironclad was positively identified on dives during the 1985 James River expedition. He grave is about two thirds across the river to the west of Chaffin’s Bluff, twenty-six to thirty-six feet deep. She is mostly buried by silt, but one side of her is open to the channel.
A sidewheel steamer used by the Confederates as a cargo ship. Sunk as an obstruction at Drewry’s Bluff in 1862. She lies along the shore under the bluff.
A passenger steamer armed as a gunboat by the Confederates. Fought with the Merrimack during the battles in Hampton Roads. Later sunk as an obstruction at Drewry’s Bluff. As marked by the Maillefert map she rests in the middle of the river, but very little is left of her.
The subject of this report is the most recent effort to locate the remains of the Confederate fleet’s James River Squadron from the American Civil War. The project was funded by the National Underwater Marine Agency (NUMA) and was conducted as a cooperative venture with equipment and manpower supplied by MA, Underwater Archaeological Joint Ventures (UAJV), Schonstedt Instrument Company, Dr. Harold Edgerton of Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), and a team of British Army divers from the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers.
The actual field work was contracted to Underwater Archaeological Joint Ventures who, under a permit issued by the Virginia Yarine Resources Commission, conducted a two-week Phase I Archaeological Survey in August and September of 1982. The survey area is approximately 12 miles south of Richmond, Virginia, and encompasses both Chaffin Bluff and Drewry’s Bluff (site of Ft. Darling, Fig. 1).
In order to strengthen the Confederate Navy, an appeal went out in March of 1862 for Southerners to donate funds to build the CSS Richmond. Individuals and civic groups banded together and gave both money and scrap iron for the cause. In Richmond, Virginia, the tobacco factories destroyed their machinery so that it could be used for the iron casemate.
The CSS Richmond, designed by William Graves, was to be 160 feet long with a beam of 41 feet and drawing 12″‘ feet of water. The ship’s casemate frame was oak and pine 18 inches thick, covered with 4 inches of iron plate above the waterline and 2-inch plating below. The Richmond’s armament was composed of four 7-inch Brooke rifles which were cast in Richmond, Virginia.
In 1864 two other ironclads were constructed at Rocketts, the Richmond Naval Yard, which would serve in the James River Squadron, the CSS Virginia II and the CSS Fredericksburg. The CSS Virginia II was 180 feet in length with a beam of 48 feet and drew 14 feet of water. The casemate was 6-inch iron plate and her armament in 1865 consisted of six guns (Fig. 2). The CSS Fredericksburg was 170 feet in length with a beam of 41 feet and drew 9 feet 6 inches of water. The casemate was 4-inch iron plate and in 1865 the ship was armed with six guns (Fig. 3).
In 1862, prior to the building of the ironclads Fredericksburg and Virginia II, the Confederates sank the steamers Jamestown, Northampton, and Curtis Peck off Drewry’s Bluff as obstructions to prevent the Union fleet from making an assault on Richmond. At this time the Confederate James River fleet was very weak but by May of 1864 the fleet had been strengthened somewhat and consisted of the Virginia, Fredericksburg, Richmond, Hampton, Nansemond, Roanoke, Beaufort, Patrick Henry, Torpedo, Drewry, Wasp and the Shrapnel. sentence (1) In August 1864 the Union squadron on the James was more than twice the size of the Confederate fleet and included the following vessels: ALawam, Alert, Commodore Perry, Commodore Morris, Caconicus, Commodore Barney, Dunn, Delaware, General Putnam, Hunchback, Nenota, Mackinaw, Osceola, Onondaga., Pequot, Sassacus, Saugus Steppine Stones, Young America, Eutaus and the Torpedo Tugs 1 – 6. sentence (2)
During the year 1864 the Confederate fleet’s goal under the direction of Commander John K. Mitchell was to prevent the Union Navy from making an assault on Richmond. Conversely, the Union Navy’s objective under the leadership of Captain and Divisional Officer M. Smith was to assure that the Confederate fleet was not able to run their blockade to re-supply Richmond. Because of these common defensive aims the Union and Confederate James River fleets only had a series of small encounters which inflicted negligible damage to either side.
By 1865 things were looking bleak for the Confederates. Lee’s Army had dwindled to a mere fraction of its former strength, Savannah had fallen, and Hood’s Army in Nashville had been shattered. The South desperately needed an important victory or all could be lost. Confederate officials thought that an excellent move would be to break up the Union blockading fleet in the James River and to destroy the supplies at the Union Army’s City Point supply depot.
A secret plan was devised and, on a particularly high tide on January 22, 1865, the strike against the Union blockade took place. The Confederate vessels were lashed together in small groups and drifted to Dutch Gap Canal. Unfortunately for the Southerners, a torpedo boat ran aground and was discovered by Union sentries. As the tide fell the Virginia II and Richmond also went aground and at daybreak the crews realized they were within gun range of the Union Ft. Pearson. In the ensuing battle the South Drewry and torpedo-launch Wasp were destroyed and the Union’s double-turreted monitor Onondaza administered a heavy heating to the ironclad Virginia II.
Later that evening the Confederate squadron tried another assault on the Union forces. As the squadron headed towards Union fortifications at Trent’s each, the blackness of the river’s night suddenly turned to day as the Federals illuminated a series of calcium lights and drove the startled Confederate squadron into retreat.
Things remained fairly quiet on the James River until April 2, 1865, when General Grant broke General Lee’s Petersburg line, leaving Richmond extremely vulnerable to attack. That afternoon newly-appointed Commander of the James River Squadron Admiral Raphael Semmes received this communication from the Secretary of the Confederate Navy:
Rear Admiral Raphael Semmes, Commanding James River Squadron Sir: General Lee advises the Government to withdraw from this city, and the officers will leave this evening, accordingly. I presume that General Lee has advised you of this, and of his movements, and made suggestions as to the disposition to be made of your squadron. He withdraws upon lines toward Danville this night; and unless otherwise directed by General Lee, upon you is devolved the duty of destroying your ships this night, and with all the forces under your command joining General Lee. Confer with him, if practicable, before destroying them. Let your people be rationed, as far as possible, for the march, and armed and equipped for duty in the field. Very respectfully, your obedient servant, S . R . Mallory, Secretary of the Navy. sentence (3)
The orders were clear, the men were rationed, the vessels were stripped, and late that night the James River Squadron was put to the torch as the highly volatile shells and powder put on a spectacular show of fire and explosion.
After the war many of the sunken ships which had served in the James River Squadron became hazards to navigation. Many proposals were sent to the government requesting salvage rights in order to clear obstructions. A report from Admiral Porter of the U.S. Navy stated that, “Some of the ships are in sight above the water and may be raised. They partly obstruct the channel and will either have to be raised or blown up.” sentence (4) A report from Commodore Radford of the United States Navy said that the “ironclad Richmond lies sunk abreast of Chaffin Bluff. She has been scuttled and blown up and probably can be easily raised.” sentence (5)
In May of 1865 the submarine engineer James Maillefert at Ft. Darling had cleared “9 large stone cribworks, strong framed; 1 iron hull gunboat; rebel rams Virginia and Richmond, or what portions of them as were in my way; also quite a quantity of piling.” sentence (6)
The environmental conditions in the upper James River include both positive and negative aspects affecting field investigations. Generally poor visibility (the best during this survey being approximately two feet) makes data recording difficult. Visibility is zero in water deeper than 25 feet as there is little or no light penetration; however, visibility can be restored to two feet with the use of underwater lights. Maximum current velocities are approximately 1.5 knots which is just strong enough to carry away silt that divers stir up while working.
Bottom composition varies according to the location and may be comprised of mud, sand, rock, or a combination of these. The channel area, which has been dredged on numerous occasions, appears to be composed almost entirely of hard packed sand, whereas the near shore areas are composed almost entirely of mud and rock. It also was noted that when large, heavily laden ships passed by, their propeller wash actually churned up the bottom. Obviously, such continuous action over the years would have severely, and adversely, affected any archaeological site lying within the channel.
The most valuable piece of information obtained for this survey was inadvertently located by NUMA’s Chairman of the Board, Clive Cussler, while he was doing research in the Norfolk Corps of Engineers Library. In an obscure file fir. Cussler found a detailed map of Drewry’s Bluff drawn by the submarine engineer James Maillefert in 1881. This map, which measures 28 inches by 17 1/2 inches and has a scale of 3/4 inch = 50 feet, shows the detailed locations of the majority of the ships scuttled from the James River Squadron (i.e., steamer Northampton, steamer Curtis Peck, Pilot Boat, Marcus, steamer Jamestown, steamer Beaufort, ironclad Fredericksburg and the ironclad Virginia II) (Fig. 4).
Once blueprint copies of the Maillefert map were made, a comparative analysis with modern charts showed that the main channel had moved at least 150 feet south and that the northern bank of the river had undergone much sedimentation.
For remote sensing, a Schonstedt GAU 20 underwater magnetic gradiometer was used with a Esterline chart recorder to detect magnetic anomalies. The Schonstedt gradiometer is somewhat new in the field of underwater archaeology and has some definite advantages over the traditional magnetometer. A gradiometer reads the difference of magnetic intensity of a ferrous object between two sensors spaced 20 inches apart, and can be towed at speeds of up to 25 knots. By comparison, a magnetometer reads differences in the earth’s magnetic field which, because of various atmospheric conditions, may often cause spurious readings, and it must be towed at a relatively slow speed. The gradiometer sensor was rigidly attached to the bow of the survey vessel and survey lanes were run by visual spacing parallel to shore approximately 10 feet apart on an east-west axis.
Dr. Harold Edgerton also provided the use of a 6KHZ guts-bottom profiler for a day but, unfortunately, bad weather prevented us from re-verifying two potential targets. Further complications arose as a result of decomposing organic material creating gaseous pockets which prevented proper sub-bottom transmission.
When magnetic targets were detected, steel buoys with lead anchors were dropped from the stern of the survey vessel for diver verification.. When gradiometer readings indicated that a particular target had a large mass, a series of survey lanes were run and buoys dropped in an effort to approximate the target’s length and width. Divers then verified targets by swimming a series of concentric circles in 10 feet increments and continued this procedure until a diameter of 100 feet was completed. As the divers were swimming they continually probed with four-foot iron rods where bottom substrate permitted it.
Another search method employed was to establish probable wreck locations based solely on the 1881 Maillefert map. By calculating transit angles from shore to the various sites on the nineteenth century map, we were able to transfer these data into transit bearings from our AB baseline. Buoys dropped on these areas served as focal points for visual inspection and probing by divers.
All targets whose existence was supported by gradiometer readings and/or diver investigations were shot in with land based transits located on the Drewry’s Bluff side of the river. Transit Station A’s center point is a large galvanized gutter spike in the center of the first of a series of pilings closest to the small creek by Ft. Darling. Station B’s center point is a four-foot section of iron rebar on the beach 405 feet from Station A. This rebar is only 15 feet away from a USGS marker (mongoose) which is embedded in the side of the bluff. It should be noted that both Transit Stations A and B are slightly under water during high tide. (Fig. 5).
Three major magnetic anomaly targets were encountered in the Drewry’s Bluff survey area. Each magnetic anomaly is identified according to the wreck site which it most closely corresponds to on the 1881 Maillefert map.
The Fredericksburg anomaly (Fig. 6) has a magnetic intensity of 100 gammas with the gradiometer sensor being at least 20 feet away from the actual target. The magnetic anomaly is of the typical horizontal dipole pattern which suggests that the survey vessel passed directly over the longitudinal axis of the target. According to Mr. Eric Schonstedt of Schonstedt Instrument Company, the anomaly’s signal is that characteristic of a shipwreck site. The magnetic anomaly’s dimensions of approximately 200 feet by 50 feet and its position in relation to the 1881 Maillefert map correspond to that of the ironclad CSS Fredericksburg (Fig. 11). By comparing depths on the 1881 Maillefert map and soundings that were taken during the survey, there appears to have been approximately 15 feet of sedimentation on the Fredericksburg over the past 100 years. Divers probing along the longitudinal axis of the target with a 21 foot stainless steel probe found much difficulty in reaching hard substrate because of resistance, and what was thought to have been iron was encountered on numerous occasions at depths ranging from 6 feet to 15 feet.
The Virginia anomaly has a magnetic intensity of 135 gammas with the gradiometer sensor being an estimated 15 to 35 feet away from the actual target. The magnetic anomaly is again the typical dipole pattern with dimensions of approximately 135 feet by 175 feet (Fig. 7). These dimensions and their position on the 1881 Maillefert map roughly correspond to that of the ironclad CSS Virginia (Fig. 11). The Virginia target actually continues to the present shoreline where probing of up to 17 feet yielded inconclusive results. One explanation for the Virginia target’s unconventional dimensions could be the fact that explosive charges were set off on the ship in order to clear the channel after the war.
The Northampton anomaly, which also corresponds to the 1881 Maillefert map, has a magnetic intensity of 90 gammas with the gradiometer sensor being 15 feet to 20 feet from the target. The Northampton magnetic anomaly, unlike the Fredericksburg and Virginia anomalies, is a narrow single pole target with associated scatter which suggests a concentrated area of scattered iron debris (Fig. 8). Upon examination of this target, divers encountered scattered wood, 11-inch to 2-inch iron piping, rock, copper sheathing, and many iron mechanical-type objects some of which were recovered for on-site photographs and subsequently re-deposited on the site.
Two of the recovered artifacts could possibly be components associated with a steam engine. One is a large spherical two piece iron support 2 feet 3 inches long that is fastened with a 3-inch diameter brass bolt and 3-inch diameter iron nut; the attachment hole is 13 inches in diameter (Fig. 12A). The other iron object appears to be some type of two-piece clamp that may have attached to a shaft and is 1 foot 31 inches long with two 1-inch by 4-inch bolts for clamping (Fig. 12B). Another artifact recovered for photography was a 2 foot 6 inch section of copper sheathing 1 1/16-inches in width that had 1 1/8-inch cut copper nails for fastening (Fig. 13A). The only artifact recovered that was easily identified was a common infantry spade designed for use in trenches. It measured 1 foot by 7 inches and had part of its wooden handle remaining (Fig. 13B).
In addition to the three significant gradiometer targets off Drewry’s Bluff, other areas of scattered wood, stone, brick and iron debris were located during this survey (Fig. 9) (Fig. 10). There is strong possibility that these may be the remains of the many wood and stone cribworks erected by the Confederates to block the channel. sentence (7)
After completing preliminary investigations off Drewry’s Bluff, we focused our attention further down river off Chaffin Bluff in hopes of locating the remains of the ironclad CSS Richmond. One major magnetic anomaly was located while testing the eradiometer at a speed of approximately 20 knots. Closer investigation of the anomaly showed a target of 135 gammas with an approximate size of 200 feet by 80 feet (Fig. 14). Because of time restrictions transit stations were not used, but compass angles were taken to various landmarks from the center of the site (Fig. 15).
Unfortunately, again because of time restraints, only two dives could be made on the Chaffin Bluff site. Divers located large areas of exposed wreckage consisting of wooden timbers with iron fastenings. One interesting feature encountered was a series of two or three rectangular iron boxes approximately 6 feet long by 3 feet wide and at least 1 foot deep. These were constructed out of 1/4-inch iron plate fastened by round stove bolt-type rivets nearly 3 inches apart extending completely around the top of the boxes.
Conclusions and Recommendations
Because of the historical documentary evidence, the dimensions of the targets and their position on the 1881 Maillefert map, and the artifacts from the Northampton site, we feel fairly certain that the gradiometer anomalies off Drewry’s Bluff do in fact represent the remains of the side wheel steamer Northampton, the ironclad CSS Fredericksburg, and the ironclad CSS Virginia II of the Confederate Navyos James River Squadron.
Unfortunately we cannot make a definitive statement on the Chaffin Bluff site. Although the site does lie within the area that the ironclad CSS Richmond was destroyed, further investigations will have to be conducted to ascertain whether this site actually represents the remains of the Richmond.
Because of the success of this project and the historical significance of the James River fleet, we feel that certain precautions should be taken to protect the sites from destruction. A survey should be conducted on the Chaffin Bluff site to determine its historical significance and state of preservation. Two to three days should also be spent on the steamer Northampton to determine the extent of scattered debris. Any construction or dredging projects that could have a negative impact on the sites should be designed in such a manner as to minimize the potential damage or, better yet, avoid the shipwrecks altogether.
Footnotes for the Naval Ironclads
1. Official Records of the Union and Confederate Navies in the War of the Rebellion, Series I, Vol. 12, Washington, D.C., 1901, pg. 186.
2. Ibid., Vol. 10, pg. 326.
3. Melton, Maurice. The Confederate Ironclads, New Jersey, 1968, pg. 247.
4. Official Records of the Union and Confederate Navies in the War of the Rebellion, Series I, Vol. 12, Washington, D.C., 1901, pg. 101.
5. Ibid., pg. 124.
6. Ibid., pg. 138.
7. Official Records of the Union and Confederate Navies in the War of the Rebellion, Series I, Vol. 12, Washington, D.C., 1901, pg. 101.
Survey of the Civil War ships, USS PHILIPPI, C.S.S. GAINES, blockade runner IVANHOE, USS MILWAUKEE, and USS OSAGE. Also eighteenth century French merchant vessel, BELLONE. September, 1989.
The interesting aspect the marine archaeology of Mobil Bay is that so little has taken place. Except for a survey of Civil War obstructions just below the main city dock area, a few dives on the monitor Tecumseh, and the discovery of two Confederate ironclad floating batteries, no one bothered to confirm the location and dispositions of the many ships lost in and around Mobile Bay beginning as early as the sixteenth century.
After obtaining the necessary permits and working with John Tyson, a former state senator and prominent attorney, and state historical agencies, not to forget the Army Corp of Engineers, the NUMA team consisting of Cussler, Craig Dirgo and Allen Green set up a base at Fort Morgan and began the survey.
The approximate locations of the vessels, with the exceptions of the Bellone, Milwaukee and the Osage, were well documented through old charts. Our primary goal was to verify the existence of these wrecks and determine condition if possible. Using the research compiled by Jack Friend and the Baldwin County Historical Commission, we set out for the first target, the Confederate gunboat, Gaines. This was a hastily constructed sidewheel steamer 202 feet in length with a 38 foot beam. Planned by a crew of 130, it mounted one 8 inch rifled gun and five 32 pounders. She fought a good fight against the Union fleet before being run aground behind Fort Morgan to avoid capture.
After a few passes using our EG&G sidescan sonar and the Schoenstedt gradiometer, we received a very heavy mag reading indicating the presence of boilers. The sonar, however, recorded nothing of interest, except a nearby sunken barge. We went over the side in only five feet of water and immediately found several clusters of coal. Then, using steel probes we struck iron plate and other hard objects three feet below the bottom.
The Gaines site could prove an excellent excavation project during low tide.
Next, we circled the Fort Morgan point and began sweeps for the Ivanhoe, a Confederate blockade runner that was run aground in June of 1864 and burned by a Union force. After a land and water search over a square acre grid to make sure no other anomalies were close by, we quickly found the site by using chart overlays and the gradiometer. Our readings showed scattered debris with the heaviest hits about fifty yards south of the end of the road and twenty yards from the shoreline.
Despite rumors of divers salvaging the ship in recent years, we found the remains to be buried between 12 and 18 feet. This is consistent with other ships we’ve surveyed that ran ashore over the course of a hundred or more years and were slowly buried in the sand, particularly under similar conditions in the Charleston area.
The following day, we set out early to search for the Philippi. Formerly the blockade runner, Ella, a sidewheel steamer 311 feet in length and a beam of 24 feet. She was captured and commissioned as a Union navy gunboat. During Farragut’s entry into Mobile Bay, the Philippi moved behind the fleet and ran aground. She was shelled by the guns of Fort Morgan and eventually set on fire.
We set up a grid starting from the outer channel buoy and worked along the west bank of the channel where overlays of the 1864 chart put the ship on modern recordings. Running the bank on the fathometer while probing with the gradiometer and sonar, we worked for four hours before striking a strong sidescan picture of a shipwreck standing proud of the bottom. After mooring over the site, our divers went down and returned with the announcement that we had struck an old steamer. The visibility was little more than three feet, but burnt hull beams, scattered remains of boilers and coal indicated that in all probability it was indeed the Philippi.
The search was continued for a distance of 300 yards on each side of the vessel to determine if there were any other ships or anomalies in the area. There were none, the bottom was clean of all but small debris.
We had expected to find the remains the Philippi buried, but because it lies on the bank and is scoured by the action of the tides in and out of the channel much of the wreck is exposed. The next morning we were out again early to make an attempt to find the remains of the Bellone, a French merchant vessel that mysteriously sprang a leak and sank suddenly off Dauphin Island on April 1, 1725. An interesting clue about the Bellone is a map showiag its anchorage. Lining the marking up with Alligator Lake and Oleander Pond, which still occupy areas of Dauphin Island in the same approximate locations, we obtained a quick and practical reference point to center the search. In addition, because of the size and the draft of the vessel and the little change in depth over 350 years, we assumed the prime wreck site to be in water exceeding 10 feet deep.
We began our search lanes, however, as close in shore as the boat could run and ran all the way to Pelican Island, extending from the east end of the island to a hundred yards beyond a condominium complex to the west. We spent the entire day, running east and west lanes, and north and south lanes as insurance. The lanes were run in widths of approximately forty feet and were marked off with four buoys set in lines that were picked up and repositioned after three runs on each side.
We found two targets. One suggested an old fishing boat about 50 feet in length. The second seemed the most promising as the Bellone. It covered a much larger area and stretched between 100 to 130 feet. There was considerable scattered debris but little of the vessel was sticking up from the bottom. From past experience, we found that shrimp trawlers running over the wreck for a hundred years or more have leveled it with their nets. We obtained several good readings and sent a diver down, who reported wood, but didn’t hang around too long in the murky water due to a fear of sharks. Though the depth was only twelve feet, visibility was down to a foot or two.
From an archaeology standpoint, this would be an excellent wreck to work. Interesting artifacts should abound at the wreck site, and the shallow depth would enable divers to work for long periods, providing some sort of cage was built for protection against nasty sea creatures.
Late that afternoon, we also attempted to locate the remains of the Hermes, a British warship that had blown up near Mobile Point during the war of 1812, We covered the entire water area by boat and recorded nothing. A study of the movement of the shore around Fort Morgan indicates the point has moved out somewhat and any remains of the Hermes are covered over by the beach sand. A land search that evening turned up little that would incite an extensive excavation.
We then bid a fond farewell to our house at Fort Morgan and moved the operation to the Blakely River to search for any remains of the union monitors Milwaukee and Osage, sunk by Confederate mines during the closing months of the war.
The Milwaukee was an unusual ironclad with two different types of turrets both mounting 11 inch Dahlren smoothbores. She was 257 feet in length with a beam of 57 feet. Just below Spanish Fort on March 28, 1865, she struck a Confederate torpedo and sank in deep water until she was completely submerged.
The Osage was a single-turreted river monitor that measured 523 feet in length with a 45 foot beam. She mounted two 11 inch Dahlgren cannon. She was also put on the bottom by a Confederate torpedo only a day after the Milwaukee.
Although it is recorded that the hulk of the Osage was raised three years later and sold at auction in New Orleans, and the Milwaukee was supposedly also salvaged, we’ve found that quite often the salvors leave considerable debris and wreckage behind. Then, there is the intriguing map on an 1867 chart showing a historical site above the Blakely River bar. We could not help but wonder if it was the marked site of one of the ironclads. Unfortunately, the flag when overlaid on modern charts sits in the middle of an immense bog.
We imaged with both the mag and sonar from the causeway to the site of the old bar and found no trace of a shipwreck. There were some heavy mag reading further up the river under the shore, but according to contemporary reports, both ironclads were sunk not far above the bar which was out from the mouth of the river in the bay.
Perhaps if we return, we’ll drop a mag out of a helicopter and check out the bog. Who knows, maybe one of salvaged remains of an old monitor still lies alone and forgotten in the mud.
Expedition to find the SULTANA and the Confederate gunboats sunk during the battle of Memphis. April 1982.
The burning of the fine sidepaddle steamer, SULTANA, in 1865 immediately after the end of the Civil War was the worst ship disaster in number of lives lost in North America. Over 1240 people were known lost. Twenty-two more than the Titanic.
Again, Walt Schob and I, along with the Schonstedt gradiometer, gathered in Memphis, Tennessee, in preparation to look for the shipwrecks. Using an 1871 Mississippi River pilot’s map showing the marked positions of the wrecks, it took no great power of deduction or strain of gray matter to find and pinpoint the wrecks with the gradiometer. The chart was right on the money at nearly every site.
After contacting Jerry Potter, a Memphis attorney who had been working with the farmer who had dug up some artifacts from the wreck, we set out to make a firm position of the remains. We searched the area where the artifacts were found. More were detected and excavated.
What concerned me, however, was my failure to record a large reading indicating boilers. And, according to the pilot’s chart, we were working almost four hundred yards too far south of the marked wreck site.
We came to the conclusion that due to the flood tide during the tragedy, the hulk of the steamer was hung up in trees along the old river bank during the salvage. The salvors were forced to remove the loose wreckage onto rafts, then towing the debris the four hundred yards down river where it was unloaded on shore.(see Figure 1)
Foul weather was closing in, making it nearly impossible to tramp through the mud of a soybean field. I laid out a grid for Potter, indicating my preference for the Sultana’s grave. Then Walt and I headed back to Memphis to prepare for the next two
days of searching the river for the Confederate gunboats.
Potter later searched my preference area and, after being thrown off by a steel well casing, homed in on the boilers. I suggested a drilling core operation, which was set into operation. The core brought up charred wood over a wide area marking the Sultana’s burial site nearly two miles from the present course of the Mississippi, twenty feet deep under a farmer’s soybean field in Arkansas. (see Figure 2)
As of this writing, Potter is having a difficult time trying to set an excavation project into motion. The same old story. I offered to help in the funding, but so far no takers.
Walt hired a hippie who lived in a dingy houseboat and sold scrimshaw. He borrowed a friend’s inboard speedboat and off we went under a dreary gray sky that sprinkled occasionally but never soaked us.
Our recorded readings conform almost exactly to the old pilot’s river chart. The only difference is that the river channel has moved about three hundred yards to the west toward Hopewell Bend across from the city of Memphis.
STEAMER ST. PATRICK
She lies 320 yards due east of the west bank and barely a hundred yards north of the highway 40 bridge.
River has moved west and the gunboat sits almost in the middle of the main channel 620 yards northwest of the tip of Joe Curtis Point and almost due west of the library.
This gunboat rests just around the Hopewell Bend not twenty-five yards south of the shore. During one extremely low river, her timbers could be seen.
About three quarters of a mile west of the Beauregard only a few yards from shore. There are no landmarks in this area. Just a worn embankment rutted with kids driving three-wheeled off road motorcycles. The shoreline runs almost exactly as it did in 1862.
This steamer, which ran afoul of the Thompson and sank next to her, lies only twenty yards southwest of the gunboat.
Search for the steamship General Slocum off Corson’s Inlet, New Jersey. September 12, 1994.
I contracted with Ralph Wilbanks and Wes Hall to search for the General Slocum, the paddlewheel steamer that burned and sank in the Hudson River off New York on June 15, 1904, while carrying 1500 passengers on an weekend excursion. As high as 1200 hundred were reported dead, mostly women and children.
After studying the reports on the sinking of the General Slocum, after she was raised and refitted into a barge called the Maryland, I decided highest probability area stemmed from the report of the Army Corp of Engineers who placed it a mile off shore abreast of Corson’s Inlet. Without going into a lengthy description of the
The search, using sidescan sonar and proton magnetometer, turned up nothing that indicated the remains of the General Slocum/Maryland. Perhaps we might make another attempt someday, working further south toward Ludlam’s Beach.
Contrary to the procedure of this book, although this barge sank under the name Maryland, I have listed it under the name for which it is notorious. So much has been written about the disaster at Hell Gate that I will give it only a short recounting.
The General Slocum was an excursion steamer, reminiscent of lazy days on the Mississippi when side paddle wheelers were the most modern mode of river travel. The Hudson River
was her route, and the morning of June 15, 1904, dawned like many others for the Slocum. Nearly 1500 people crowded her three tiered decks; all but a hundred were women and children.
The vessel was only a few hundred feet from shore when fire broke out and, fanned by the wind, quickly spread through the wooden superstructure. Captain William van Schaick found his craft dangerously close to the oil tanks on shore, and was forced to run full speed ahead toward North Brother Island.
As the heat and flames became intolerable the crowd jammed up against the rails and broke through, depositing scores of women and children into the water. The Slocum ran aground on a rocky shore with a steep slope. A river tug came to the rescue and tied itself to the Slocum’s paddle box. The captain, some of the crew, and as many passengers as the cramped deck space could fit, got aboard before the tug itself caught fire and was forced to cast off.
The Slocum’s upper deck collapsed, dropping people and burning timbers into the water. Fire boats steamed into the melee, and poured water on the raging conflagration. Then the hurricane deck disintegrated into fiery splinters. Hundreds oaf people were either burned to death, or were knocked into the water to drown. The ship eventually burned right to the waterline.
Contemporary accounts hawked the death hall. at anywhere between 833 and 1,200, with something like 250 survivors. President Theodore Roosevelt ordered an investigation, which eventually returned a verdict of improper storage of flammable materials, rotted fire hose, old and substandard life preservers, insufficient crew training.
Captain van Schaick was charged with manslaughter and criminal negligence, and sentenced to 10 years at hard labor in Sing Sing. The sentence was commuted after 2 years. The real culprit was determined to be the Slocum’s operators. According try the law, their liability was limited to the value of the vessel. The burned out hulk was raised and sold for $1,800.
The General Slocum was sold to Peter Hagen, converted into a barge, and renamed Maryland. Laden with coke, and bound from Camden, NJ, to Newark, NJ, the old hull sprung a leak off Atlantic City. Captain Robert Moon, master of the tug Hudson, cast off the tow line after the Maryland slipped beneath the waves, and turned back to rescue the three men tending the barge. Despite high seas he got them all off. The wreck lay in shallow water, just off Ludlam Beach. By now it is probably sanded in, or torn apart by the surf.
Search for the Republic of Texas Navy ship Invincible. Lost outside of Galveston after fight with two Mexican ships, August 27, 1837.
The search for the Invincible was an ongoing one since at this writing we have yet to find it. I conducted a mag search in 1986 while the rest of the crew dug up the Zavala. We tried again in ’87 which was a disaster. I crushed to crushed two disks in my vertebra in an accident while trailing the mag up and down the beach, and the rest of the crew swamped the boat in the breakers and shorted out the Schonstedt gradiometer.
Undaunted, but plenty pissed off, we returned in ’88 and conducted an excellent survey and diving expedition, identifying several targets found by Barto Arnold, chief of the Texas Antiquities Commission, during his survey in 1980.
Using the University of Texas dive boat, which had a prop wash shield, and several volunteer divers from the Galveston area, we uncovered several mag readings. Most proved to be dumped junk. Only one proved to be remains of a shipwreck from the early nineteenth century.
The Invincible was commissioned in 1836. She was schooner rigged and a very fast sailer for her time. An ex-slaver built in Baltimore, she displaced 125 tons and was approximately 90 feet long. Manned by a crew of 40, her reported armament consisted of two 18 pounders, two 9 pounders, and four 6 pounders.
She was responsible for the capture of several Mexican ships that were supplying Santa Ana’s armies, playing a heavy role in aiding Houston and the Texas forces during the days after the Alamo.
After a battle with the Mexican brigs, Libertador and Iturbide, the Invincible attempted to run into Galveston Harbor, but due to the shallow tide at the time snagged her rudder on the harbor bar and ran aground. She was then quickly pounded to pieces by the breakers until her hull completely disappeared.
The problem with the search, as always, is a lack of data pinpointing the wreck site. Most reports simply state that the Invincible ran aground either in the breakes or, as one report put it, on the beach. Jim Dan Hill, in his book on the Texas Navy, provided a diagram of the battle and grounding that he found in the papers of a Doctor Alexander Dienst. Where Dienst obtained the data, we have yet to determine.
After an extensive search of the waters off Galveston, using enlarged mylar overlays of old charts and Hill’s diagram, we found no large wreckage of a sunken ship. We did find, however, some scattered remains, old brass hull sheathing, wood, hardware and curious pieces of cable that appeared to be cut in about one foot lengths.
Barto Arnold and Wayne Gronquist felt certain the artifacts could well be the Invincible. But if so, where is the rest of the ship? There should be tons of material scattered around. Our findings came from one localized spot.
The factor that we found most fascinating was the sea bottom itself. After blowing through four feet of silt, we hit very hard clay, which geologists claim covers the entire area for miles around Galveston. If this is the case, the wreck could not have sunk into the bottom and been complete covered.
This leads to an interesting speculation that during a number of hurricanes, especially the one 1906 (?), any remains could have been carried far inland and buried in the sand. The only problem with this is the guns and anchors. If they were not recovered due to rough weather and water, it is unlikely they could have been swept away, at least not very far.
There is also another intriguing possibility. On an 1853 chart a wreck is show on the beach just east of what is now Stewart Beach Park and slightly west of some abandoned condominium buildings. This chart also shows the wrecks of the Zavala and the Brutus, so there is a possibility, however slim, that this marked wreck is the Invincible.
As of this date, the search has not ended. And someday, perhaps we can write the final chapter on a most fascinating little warship.
Expedition to find the lost Vanderbilt steamer, Lexington which burned and sank in Long Island Sound in 1840 with a loss of 154 lives.
I can’t recall what piqued my interest in the Lexington. I think perhaps researcher Bob Fleming put me on the track of her. He certainly did a tremendous amount of digging in the archives for me. First it was the attraction of the story behind her burning and sinking and later salvage attempt. Newspaper accounts said she was raised and lost by salvagers in 1842. And again in 1850 it was reported she had been raised for good.
It then became a challenge for me when everyone claimed the Lexington was long gone because no one had ever found her over the years.
I’d heard this all before, and it was akin to waving the red flag in front of a stubborn bull. Besides, there was no record of her final salvage in insurance company historic records.
Many had looked for the Lexington since the nineteen fifties, but none had come close to finding her. No contemporary report gave an approximate site of her sinking. Sightings were vague and none gave a ballpark location. But thanks to the efforts of Fleming, he finally ran across the coroner’s report of the sinking and the description of the lighthouse keeper at Old Field Point near Port Jefferson.
He stated the Lexington sank four miles due north of the point and slightly west. He was damned close. Using a Klein side scan sonar we found the wreckage three and a half miles due north of the point and slightly to the west.
She is broken into three sections, the breaks no doubt coming during her salvage when she was temporarily raised to the surface. Two of the reasons divers and fishermen had not run across her is because she is lying in 140 feet of water, a tricky and dangerous dive, and almost under the path of the Bridgeport – Port Jefferson ferry which has been in operation since 1874.
Since NUMA’s discovery, many divers have investigated the wreckage, her location becoming well known among local dive boat captains.
The Lexington is a fascinating wreck of historical significance and we were very fortunate in finding her.
NUMA’s choice of the Lexington was determined by several factors regarding her status as an important historical steamer of Long Island Sound. Cornelius Vanderbilt had her constructed especially for himself, sparing no expense, and including many innovations. Vanderbilt was a significant representative of America’s heritage of free interprise and he began his huge fortune with his use of the Lexington.
The Lexington ,was a great example of the Sound steamers of the early nineteenth century, being especially fast and strong, a fine example of our early maritime craftsmanship. The disaster involved the greatest loss of life at that time in the Sound and was the first great steamship disaster in steamboat, history.
She came into existence at a time when the evolution of the steam engine was shaping the railroad systems of the future and steamer lines at sea. The tall ships, powered by the wind, were about to disappear from commercial shipping and the stagecoach would soon be obsolete. By 1835, rival sidewheel steamers plied Long Island Sound with passengers and cargo from New York City to Providence and Boston where a new railroad connecting Boston and Providence was completed attracting many passengers away from the stages, hastening their demise. New York capitalists were more interested :in expanding the flourishing railroads by 1840 rather than the steamer lines with their dangerous route out of New York Harbor and around the perilous Point Judith near Providence, and in a few years, the steamers would yield to the rails . From 1835 to 1840, however, the Lexington was the fastest vessel on the route from New York City to Boston.
The Vanderbilts, Cornelius and brother Jacob, were emergent financial figures in shipping and railroads at this time and in 1835, Cornelius ordered the Lexington built in New York City in the Bishop and Simonson shipyards to his specifications with no contract and unlimited funds lie supervised her progress daily, including many new innovations in her construction. The best of woods were used and she had 30% more faster than other vessels of her type. The first of its kind, her deck was arched with pressure against the ends of the timber instead of against the sides for added strength. Her vertical beam engine eras so extremely efficient that she consumed about half the wood other steamers used. The machinery was all in the middle so many strengthening measures were taken to make the hull yell supported. Measuring 207′ by 21’by 11′, with a wide, square stern, she: was long, slim and fast. Her two paddlewheel.; made her 46′ wide there, each having a 9′ face and were turned by a walking beam attached to their shaft.
Wanting a vessel to rival the John J. Richmond, the New Jersey Steam Navigation and Transportation Company persuaded Vanderbilt to sell her to them in 1838 for about $72,000. Her furnaces were converted to coal fuel, having two huge blowers installed to provide sufficient draft to ignite coal and she continued satisfactory service for the next two years.
On Monday, January 13, 1840 at 4:00 o’clock p.m., the Lexington was chosen for the New York to Stonington run because of bad weather with strong winds, high seas and sub zero temperatures would require the strongest boat for the journey.
The Stonington run was made regularly at night to meet train that connected with Boston. The Lexington’s motto was “Through by Dawn” and her reputation for speed guaranteed a quick trip. She could speed along at twenty three miles per hour, as fast as some of the later blockade runners of the Civil War.
Her captain was usually Captain Jake Vanderbilt, but on this night, he was ill at home, unable to make the trip, so Sound veteran Captain George Child took command of the vessel loaded with a cargo of cotton bales and passengers.
As she steamed past Eaton’s Neck lighthouse at approximately 7;00 o’clock p.m., fire broke out near the single stack, setting the bales of cotton afire. A bucket brigade formed immediately but the high winds fanned the flames out of control quickly. spreading the fire along the length of the hull. A few hours later, controlled only by the elements, the helpless vessel drifted ablaze in a north easterly direction in the middle of the Sound. Those unfortunate passengers that survived the burning by jumping in the water died of exposure or drowning. The life boats, launched in panic while the boat was churning along under full power were immediately swamped in the wake.
Captain Hillard, a surviving passenger, looked at his watch sitting on a floating cotton bale and noted the exact time the hull sank below the surface. It was exactly 3;00 o’clock a. m. on the morning of January 14.
There were four survivors, all experienced seamen and all but one were rescued by the sloop merchant and its master, Captain Meeker by noon that day. They included Captain Chester Hillard, Captain Stephen Manchester, pilot of the Lexington, Charles 13. Smith, fireman, and David Crowley, second mate. Crowley survived exposure for forty-eight hours until his cotton bale floated ashore near Baiting Hollow, Long Island, on the beach of the Mary Hutchinson property.
When four bodies were recovered and because of the great loss of life, as much as a possible 154 persons, a Coroner IC inquest was held immediately afterward in New York City. All principals were called as witnesses, including Vanderbilt himself’. Other notables such as Captain Elihu Bunker, United State: Steam Engine Inspector, and Captain William Comstock of the New Jersey Steam Navigation Company testified to the soundness, of her hull, machinery and boilers. The builders and iron workers also testified, as did the witnesses who identified the bodies.
The Jury charged that the use of blowers was dangerous, that passengers and cotton bales were an unfortunate mix for cargo; that the inspectors were not accurate when they passed the soundness of the steam system; that poor discipline among the crew members and officers caused loss of life unnecessarily and Captains Child and Manchester were held culpable for their conduct after the breakout of the fire.
Two years later, in 1842, somehow the burned hull was raise(! for a brief time to the surface and a lump of melted silver coins of 30 pounds was retrieved, part of a shipment of specie by the Herndon Express Company. Shortly after, the chains holding her snapped, releasing her to settle, keel upright on the bottom of the Sound in 150 feet of water. Forgotten, untouched, and well preserved, she remained there for the next one hundred. and forty four years, a historically rich and archaeologically significant vessel close to Suffolk County’s North Shore. The Lexington, a symbol of Long Island’s’ maritime history, dates back to the early part of the nineteenth century and is irreplaceable as a historical resource for Suffolk County.
Hunt for the lost locomotive of Kiowa Creek, Colorado. January, 1989.
This search came about as the result of reading an article about a train wreck and the mystery of the missing locomotive in 1978. The event inspired the basic concept of a book I wrote several years later entitled, “Night Probe”.
As told by the following pages and articles, a Kansas Pacific freight train traveling east on the night of May 21, 1878, fell off a shattered bridge into a stream swollen by flash floods and was wrecked with the loss of three lives. Most of the freight cars and coal tender were salvaged in the weeks to come, but the engine was supposedly never found.
Though my son, Dirk, and I had conducted a few cursory searches in 1981 and 1982, we found little in the way of magnetic anomalies to inspire a more in-depth effort. Not until 1989, when Craig Dirgo joined NUMA as a director, did we began to get earnest about finding the engine.
After promoting a search, we were swamped with over three hundred people on a cold wintry day in January. Using nearly thirty metal detectors, magnetometers, radar ground penetrating units and a backhoe, we turned up only a few bits and pieces of the wreck. No hint of the locomotive was indicated. Even a satellite search by the government failed to detect a heavy mass of iron.
Finally, a hunt through railroad archives by Loyd Glasier of Denver turned up a record of the locomotive being dug up in the dead of night and towed to Kansas City, where it was rebuilt and renumbered.
I personally think it was a nineteenth century scam to collect on the insurance. The railroad, of course, denies this. Why, I can’t imagine? The Kansas Pacific and its insurance company are long gone.
This project was unusual in that the target as such did not exist, but the mystery behind its disappearance was solved.
NUMA was one of several co-sponsors who backed Tom Hotzel and the North Face Research Expedition to find British climbers George Mallory and Andrew Irvine, lost on Mount Everest. November, 1986.
The unknown fate of Mallory and Irvine, who vanished near the summit of Mount Everest in 1924, has been a puzzle for over six decades. Mallory, a famous mountain climber of his day, was the man who coined the phrase “because it’s there” when asked why he wanted to reach the peak of Mount Everest.
I read of Hotzel’s expedition in the newspaper and contacted him, offering to contribute to his effort. Unfortunately, his search team was beat out by terrible weather and they accomplished very little. We’ve maintained close correspondence and Hotzel intends to try again. His story of the expedition follows.
As of this writing (2-11-88) Mallory and Irvine remain buried somewhere on the icy slopes of Everest.
Mallory & Irvine–The Search Continues by Tom Holzel 617 263-1122 Of forty-two Himalayan expeditions setting out to conquer Himalayan summits this autumn, none of them succeeded. We were no exception. Pinned down in our tents by furious winds, the hard won tracks of the previous days’ route filled in by nightly snowfalls, the expedition members were slowly worn down by exhaustion, high altitude deterioration and, eventually by the sheer cold, but we scored several small victories.
Post-monsoon (Autumn) expeditions to Mt. Everest all follow a simple plan–a plan simple to describe, that is. The climbers try to stock an intermediate “Advance Base Camp” (ABC) as fully as possible. Advance Base Camps are situated as high up the mountain as possible, but before the climbing becomes too difficult, or “technical”, i.e., requiring ropes to climb. Then, in an anticipated seasonal 10-day window of calm, clear weather, the climbers attempt their rush to the summit.
We followed this plan to the letter, stocking our camp three (C3) with 15 pitched tents, oxygen, ropes, food, fuel and a powerful team of strong, young climbers. While we were right on schedule, Mother Nature failed to follow hers. The 10-day window never arrived. Even so, the climbers repeatedly broke trail over the same route in order to stock C-4 and C-5 at 23,000 and 25, 300ft, but it was not to be.
Once stocked, climbers never again were able to reach C-5. It was during an effort to regain our high point that 4 Sherpas became stranded at C-4 for two nights of harrowing storms. At the first sign of clear weather, they aborted their attempt and began a descent. Although the exact cause of the avalanche is not entirely clear, it seems likely that a Sherpa higher up on an 150-ft long rope started an avalanche that ripped loose his companion lower down. The sliding Sherpa fell over a 60-ft cliff. His impact created a second avalanche of large, hard snow blocks. The pummeling of these blocks, added to by the oxygen bottle in his pack probably broke his neck, the likely cause of his death.
Our primary goal was to reach the 27,000-ft snow terrace where we hoped to discover the body of an “English dead” sighted by a Chinese climber in 1975, and reported to a Japanese climber in 1979. The day after the report, the Chinese discoverer died in an avalanche on the same North Col headwall that killed our Sherpa. Because of the description given of the body and its location, it could only be that of Mallory or Irvine, two British climbers who disappeared on Mt. Everest in 1924. We hoped the cameras both climbers were known to be carrying would answer the 62-year old mystery of whether or not the two climbers reached the top before they perished.
A second major goal was to search the top of the Second Step cliff. Here we had hoped to find their empty oxygen cylinders to confirm that the two climbers did indeed get that high, and so probably did reach the summit some three hours farther up, but if we failed to reach these two major goals, was the expedition a failure?
Strangely not, for the Search for Mallory & Irvine has taken place on many levels. It was on the literary level that we discovered facts suggesting that Mallory & Irvine had a much greater chance of having reached the summit than their contemporaries were willing to give them credit for. Here too we discovered the powerful British prejudice against the use of oxygen breathing equipment, and how this sentiment would doom the subsequent pre-WW II expeditions to failure.
Our search has also taken place on the eyewitness level. Here like so many others, we interviewed the two still-living 1924 expedition members. But their testimony equivocal has been around for a long time. The most galvanizing eyewitness testimony has been that of Chinese climber Wang Hung bao. It is a report that, like nearly every aspect of the Mallory & Irvine episode, has engendered heated controversy. Most damaging, the Chinese Mountaineering Association was caught completely off guard by the report, a report made by one of its own members to the Climbing Leader of a Japanese Everest expedition, Ryoten Hasagawa. More incredible, still, is that Wang died in an avalanche the day after telling his story to the Japanese climber!
Wang described in detail finding a body at 8100m (27,000 ft) dressed in old-fashioned clothing that “danced in the wind” when touched. The corpse had a hole in one cheek. Wang claimed to have discovered the body during his participation in the very large, and very successful Chinese Everest expedition of 1975.
The report was immediately attacked by older British climbers as a delusion, confusion or a fraud, as they have reflexively attacked every aspect of the Mallory & Irvine episode that might put the two climbers on top. But we were convinced by Wang’s story that the body (and camera) of either Mallory or Irvine lay on the 8100m snow terrace and, given reasonable weather, that we could search for it and find it.
When we questioned our Chinese Liaison Officer assigned to the expedition, Mr. Song Zhiyi, (who was a member of the Chinese expedition of 1975) he admitted he knew the story well. And he denied its authenticity vigorously. But his was a reflexive denial, too, and simply reflected the official view of the Chinese Mountaineering Association. After many discussions over the months at Base Camp, Song came around to admitting the faint possibility that Wang may have found an English body. After all, he agreed, how could a relative simple man, as Hasagawa and Song had both described him, dream up so complex a plot–and be so precisely correct as to the location the body should be found? Its location reported in 1980 was precisely where I had predicted, in 1971, the body of Andrew Irvine should lie. Given the still insular conditions in China in 1980, it was a prediction Wang could not conceivably have learned about.
More important than Song’s change of heart was his subsequent agreement to introduce us to the group climbing leader of Wang’s assault team, Mr. Chen Tian Lian, now an official of the Tibetan Mountaineering Association in Lhasa. Mr. Chen had led the 4-man team including Wang on an unsuccessful summit attempt. Certainly if Wang discovered a body, it could have only been while climbing with Chen and their two other companions. Mr. Song agreed to introduce us to Chen upon our return from the mountain through Lhasa.
The five-hour interview of Mr. Chen at the luxurious Lhasa Hotel started on a depressing note. Mr. Chen began by stating that as Wang’s climbing leader, he had been with him the entire 4 days the group was at C-5 or higher, and that he was aware of no body discovered by Wang during that period. But persistence pays off. It was only in the final half-hour of our discussion that Mr. Chen recalled receiving an emergency radio call from Base Camp ordering him up to the next camp–a hasty bivouac actually, at 28,000 ft., to search for a missing Chinese climber. “Did you take Mr. Wang with you on this climb?” I asked. “No,” he replied, I/I went with one of the Tibetan porters. Wang and his partner Zhan Jun Yan remained in C-6 for the day.”
“So it was possible that if Wang did find a body, he could have done so on that day, May 5th, without you knowing about it?” Mr. Chen gazed at me intently as he though about that question. “Yes,” he answered finally, “It is possible.” Our next assignment was clear. Find Mr. Zhang, living in Peking.
Our Liaison Officer was able to arrange the Zhang meeting, but only just. We met the evening of our departure to the US over supper at the Bei-Wei Hotel in Peking. The interview was unexpectedly short. Yes, Mr. Zhang, had been left along with Wang on the day that Chen and his Tibetan companion left on a search & rescue mission. He, Zhang stayed in his sleeping bag that morning, but Wang got up and wandered around the snow terrace by himself. Then came the $64 question: “bid Wang ever mention finding the body of an English mountaineer?” “Yes he did,” Zhang answered easily. “He mentioned it to me and to several of our climbing companions on the way down.” So there we had it–confirmation from an “eyewitness” that Japanese climber Hasagawa was not deluded, and a direct refutation of the criticism that Wang must have been lying because he never told any Chinese about his discovery.
In the sense of this discovery, we did not fail in our search, we were simply defeated in climbing the mountain. We did not set foot on the 27,000 ft snow terrace, yet we were able to scan that territory with high-powered binoculars and so pin-point the presumed location of the “foreign mountaineer.” This location is fortunately off any presently used route up the mountain which means the body will only be rediscovered by climbers also anxious to solve this great mystery, climbers committed to continuing the Search for Mallory & Irvine.
HALIFAX, N.S.- Known throughout history as the fabled Ghost Ship, the MARY CELESTE was found sailing off the Azores in 1872 ghost-like with no one aboard. The MARY CELESTE sailed into oblivion when a boarding party from a passing ship found that her captain, his wife, two-year-old daughter and entire crew had inexplicably vanished.
Clive Cussler, best-selling novelist and adventurer, representing the National Underwater & Marine Agency, (NUMA) and John Davis, president of ECO-NOVA Productions of Canada, announced August 9th, 2001, that they had discovered the remains of MARY CELESTE on a reef off the coast of Haiti.
“With so many stories written about MARY CELESTE,” Cussler stated, “it was time to write the final chapter, although the true story of her missing crew may never be solved.”
“After her eerie abandonment,” explained Davis, “the ship sailed under different owners for twelve years, until her last captain loaded her with a cargo of cheap rubber boots and cat food before deliberately sinking her, and then filing an exorbitant insurance claim for an exotic cargo that never existed. Unfortunately, for the captain his plan fell apart after running the ship onto Rochelais Reef in Haiti, the ship hung up on the coral and refused to sink. Insurance inspectors investigated and found the worthless cargo. The captain and his first mate were later convicted on charges of what was then known as barratry.”
Allan Gardner, skipper of the survey boat, pointed out that the ship left a large trench after she rammed the coral. “The 120 natives, who now live on the reef after building an island of conch shells,” he said, “use the old MARY CELESTE’s groove as a channel to launch their boats.”
Master Diver, Mike Fletcher, quickly found artifacts of the ship’s presence that were carefully removed from the sand and coral. Their location was videotaped and they were cataloged for study and conservation. “Very little of the ship is visible,” Fletcher reported, “She is covered by some of the most beautiful coral I’ve ever seen.”
Archaeologist James Delgado, comparing the remains of the wreck with historical accounts and carefully studying the fragments, was confidently able to identify the wreck as MARY CELESTE. Detailed research shows no other ship is known to have wrecked on Rochelais Reef, and a systematic survey of the reef revealed only one shipwreck. Other evidence cited by Delgado identifying the wreck as MARY CELESTE were:
* A survey of the wreck revealed its dimensions to be 100 by 25 feet: MARY CELESTE’s recorded dimensions at the keel were 99.3 by 25.3 feet.
* The wreck was fastened together with iron “drifts” and bronze spikes commonly used in ships built in the mid-19th century: MARY CELESTE was constructed in 1861.
* The wreck was sheathed with “Muntz metal,” also known as “naval brass,” which began to replace copper sheathing on ship’s hulls after 1850. By the 1860’s it had nearly completely replaced copper sheathing.
* Detailed analysis of twelve samples of wood by Dr. David Etheridge, a wood scientist from Victoria, British Columbia, showed the ship was built either in Northern New England or the Maritime Provinces of Canada. MARY CELESTE was built at Spencer’s island, Nova Scotia.
“We can safely say the final resting place of the infamous MARY CELESTE has been found,” concluded Delgado.
“We were lucky,” admitted Cussler, who has found nearly 70 historic shipwrecks, including the Confederate Submarine HUNLEY and the ship that rescued the TITANIC survivors, CARPATHIA, in between writing 20 best-selling novels. “Everything came together for a crew of dedicated people focused on preserving maritime history.”
Footage of the MARY CELESTE expedition will be featured in a new National Geographic Channels International television series called “The Sea Hunters,” set to air in 2002. Based on Clive Cussler’s best-selling novel, the series follows modern-day adventurers as they attempt to solve ancient maritime mysteries and will air on the National Geographic Channels International in at least 129 countries around the world. In Canada, the series will premiere on History Television.
A news conference was held August 9th, 2001 at the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic in Halifax, Nova Scotia where Cussler, best-selling author and Founder of the National Underwater & Marine Agency (NUMA), and Delgado, Director of the Vancouver Maritime Museum, displayed artifacts and answered questions concerning the search and discovery of MARY CELESTE.
Then Cussler added, “The enigma of the MARY CELESTE will continue to haunt us all for generations to come. She is a tale of the sea that will never be forgotten.”
The hunt for remains of the legendary Confederate ironclad, Merrimack in the Elizabeth River, Portsmouth, Virginia. September 1982.
This was a fleet that I found most intriguing. It was the Confederacy’s last fighting squadron of ships, and many of the south’s most famous naval heroes served on its ironclad gunboats. Naturally, while everyone is making headlines and fame by searching for and discovering the monitor, where am I?
Looking for the Merrimack, that’s where.
How’s that for never following the mob?
I decided to give it a try after working with researcher Bob Fleming in Washington. He dug up voluminous material in the archives and sent it to my home in Denver, where I began the fascinating though tedious study of the evidence.
The story of the Merrimack’s off again, on again, salvage operations are well documented. Much was brought up soon after the war. And newspaper records of salvor, Captain William West, were quite detailed. His was the last salvage attempt and many historians thought the most complete, believing he raised whatever was left of the entire wreck and placing it in the dry dock where the ironclad was built. There, it was broken up into souvenirs, relics and just plain junk.
So why search if nothing was there? Because of a report by a salvage expert by the name of Barnabus, who mentioned that West did not bring up the entire wreck, and two newspaper accounts. One stated that “The portion of the Merrimack which was raised from Craney Island bend by Capt. Wm. West the other told of the hulk breaking in two and trapping West for a short time.
These accounts indicated pieces of her still remained on the bottom of the river.
Once again I contracted with the UAJV guys, who made an outstanding survey of the Elizabeth River near Craney Island, Every possible square yard was covered by Doc Edgerton with his sub-bottom profiler, Gary Kozak with the Klein 500 kilohertz side scan, the Schonstedt gradiometer, and Margolin, Warner and Knickerbocker who made numerous dives to check out targets.
I had a fun time during the expedition. Susan Wynne and Derek Goodwin came down along with Doc Edgerton, Admiral Bill Thompson and a few of the NUMA trustees.
We took turns staying at the Portsmouth home of Judi Spindel, who extended her gracious hospitality during our hunt for the Merrimack. She and her son and daughter were solid company.
One of the highlights of the trip was my invited review of the Civil War battle reenactment men of the 6th Virginia Regiment and Mahones’ Virginia Brigade. An event that gave me an excellent ending for my novel “Deep Six”.
For the most part, the search proved unsuccessful. Though a number of mag contacts bear further investigation and possibly even excavation, we determined that whatever was left of the tough old ironclad at the spot where she was blown up in 1862 was dredged out of existence by the U.S. Navy in 1942. At that time during WWII, they build an oil loading facility on Craney Island and dredged the river from eighteen to forty-two feet to allow dockside loading of large oil tankers. So except for pieces that were thrown by the explosion into the mud flats to the west, little or nothing is left. The Merrimack was obliterated.
Thanks to the efforts of Susan Wynne, a press conference was given announcing the sad truth.
This had to be the first time on record that an underwater search effort went on record as having failed. Still, I felt the record had to be set straight for those who follow.
The following pages come direct from the archaeologist’s report.
The ironclad C.S.S. Virginia (alias Merrimack), once the pride of the Confederate fleet, was lost more than 100 years ago. Unfortunately, little is known about the Virginia, and very few artifacts remain. The subject of this report is the most recent effort to locate the remains of this famous ironclad that helped change the course of naval history. The project was funded by the National Underwater Marine Agency (NUMA) and was conducted as a cooperative venture with equipment and manpower supplied by NUMA, Underwater Archaeological Joint Ventures (UAJV), Schonstedt Instrument Company, Dr. Harold Edgerton of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), and Klein Associates.
The field work was contracted to UAJV who, under a permit issued by the Virginia Marine Resources Commission, conducted a 30 day Phase One Archaeological Survey in July and August of 1982.
The survey area is at the mouth of the Elizabeth River in Portsmouth, Virginia, and encompasses an area of approximately 800 by 500 yards at the southern tip of Craney Island (Fig. 1).
The story of the C.S.S. Virginia (former Merrimack) is probably better known than any other naval engagement in the history of the United States.
As Union forces were abandoning Norfolk in April of 1861, they decided to burn and sink the Boston-built frigate U.S.S. Merrimack. Little did the Union know that the Merrimack would be refloated in May and transformed into the Confederate’s first ironclad, the C.S.S. Virginia.
Commissioned on February 17, 1862, the C.S.S. Virginia measured 262 feet in length with the casemate being 178 feet long at a sloping angle of 36 degrees. The casemate was backed with two feet of solid pine and oak that extended from the waterline to a point seven feet above the gun deck. Over this laid a horizontal and vertical layer of 2-inch iron plate (Fig. 2). The Virginia’s battery consisted of two 7-inch rifles, two 6-inch rifles, six 9-inch rifles, and two 12 pound Howitzers.
The primary goal of the Virginia was to wreak havoc with the wooden ships of the Union blockading squadron in Hampton Roads. On March 8, 1862, the Virginia, commanded by F. Buchanan, successfully rammed and sank the U.S.S. Cumberland, killing more than 100 men and also totally destroyed the U.S.S. Congress.
The following morning, the ironclad Virginia, now under the command of Captain R. Jones, met the ironclad Monitor in a dramatic battle that ended in a stalemate but revolutionized warfare at sea. This battle was to mark the end of an era of the now antiquated wooden hull warships.
For several weeks after this historic battle, the Virginia and Monitor continued to stalemate each other. However, the Union’s military strength caused the Confederates to evacuate Norfolk and, in so doing, the Virginia, because of her deep draft, was not able to escape up the James River. The Virginia was run ashore near Craney Island, her crew was evacuated and the ship was set afire.
An eye witness account of the destruction of the Virginia stated that, “tar, oil, fat and grease were spread over the decks and set on fire. She had been burning fiercely for an hour and a half, when a terrific explosion tore her to pieces. The air was thick with large and small pieces of timber. Huge sections of red hot iron plate were torn off and whirled through the air so much like paper. The shore and water for miles around were covered with pieces of the wreck of every conceivable size and shape. The ill-fated vessel sank immediately, not a vestige of her remained above the water.”
Found in a contemporary scrapbook and quoted in Thomas J. Wertenbaker’s Norfolk: Historical Southern Port, 1931. For the most part, the Virginia lay forgotten during the War except that in 1865 she vas declared a hazard to navigation when the schooner Priscilla wrecked on the remains. On October 9, 1867, the Norfolk newspaper, the Virginian, stated that wreckers continued to remove portions of the Virginia’s armor and her stern had been successfully removed. In 1874- B.J. Baker and Co. had salvaged much of the Virginia and had a 10-ton.crankshaft from the Virginia lashed to the side of their tug Planet Mars.
On June 17, 1875, the Norfolk newspaper stated that John 0’Conner, Jr., was shipping old copper bolts and pipe from the Virginia to Philadelphia to be molded into fancy articles as relics.
On June 29, 1875, diver James West’s lighter, loaded with old metal and two cannons from the Virginia, sprang a leak and sank at the Portsmouth Ferry Dock. In May of 1876, James West raised the bottom timbers of the Virginia and towed them with their tug Nettle to Dry-dock #j1 (where she was originally refitted as the Virginia) to be cut up. Part of the wood was sold to Messrs. Tilley and Co. to be manufactured into relic canes and the rest was sold as scrap.
The working environment in the Elizabeth River at Craney Island is not conducive to precise field archaeology. Diving operations were hampered by extremely poor visibility (the best during the survey being 6 inches). This condition is thought to be caused by river pollution and a very soft silty mud on the river bottom that is constantly stirred by river current velocities of up to two knots. Another problem encountered by divers was what seemed to be hundreds of deep anchor or dredging scours that cut trenches as much as five feet beneath the river bottom’s general contours.
Bottom composition consisted of a very soft mud that became mixed with gravel in the areas towards the ship channel.
The most important environmental condition is the fact that since the fuel docks were established on Craney Island during the second World War, the entire survey area has undergone periodic maintenance dredging at depths of approximately 10 feet more than 19th century charts show.
Although the historical records showed that the Virginia’s hull or a major portion of it was recovered in 1876, NUMA hoped that scattered debris associated with the Virginia still lay on the river bottom. A comparative analysis of both modern and 19th century maps provided a fairly precise location of the “Aterrimac Wreck Buoy +101° (Fig. 3). Unfortunately, the entire area has undergone periodic dredging by the Corps of Engineers and modern depths over the “Merrimac Buoy” range approximately 10 feet more than the 19th century charts.
Three types of remote sensing equipment were used for this survey: a Schonstedt GAU 20 underwater magnetic gradiometer with an Esterline chart recorder for detecting magnetic anomalies; an Edgerton 6KH2 sub-bottom profiler to determine if large objects lay buried beneath sediment; and a Klein 500 gHZ side scan sonar for locating objects protruding above the river bottom. In addition, a Sitex 256HE recording fathometer was used in conjunction with these to observe coincidental depth variations.
Target positioning was accomplished through land-based transits on the Coast Guard piers at Craney Island (Fig. 4). For the gradiometer survey, the mechanical fish which was towed one foot above the river bottom was attached to a bridle with a flag for accurate transit positioning. Buoys were dropped on the northwest and southwest corners of the survey area with two additional buoys placed approximately 150 feet due east of the first buoys. These buoys served as a basis for running survey lanes with visual spacing of approximately 15 feet. When an entire grid was surveyed, the westernmost buoys were moved 150 feet to the east of original east buoys, thus creating another grid for surveying. This jockeying procedure was followed until the entire survey area was completed.
After plotting the original gradiometer data (App. I), ten zones of target concentration were chosen for a more detailed survey (Figs. 5-15), Buoys were dropped in the four corners of each zone and an attempt was made to re-verify targets with the use of the gradiometer. When targets were located, buoys were dropped and the gradiometer fish was retrieved. We then used the gradiometer fish in a manner we referred to as “vertical probing”. By slowly moving the survey vessel up current of the buoy we would place the boat in neutral and slowly drift past the buoy while vertically lowering the tow fish to the bottom. When a precise location was made of a gradiometer target, another buoy would be dropped. This in turn served as a focal point for divers to verify targets by swimming a series of concentric circles in 10 foot increments. This procedure was continued until a diameter of 100 feet was completed. As the divers were swimming they continually probed with 6-foot iron rods to determine if large solid objects lay buried beneath the sediment.
Because of the profusion of gradiometer targets recorded which would have required an inordinate amount of time to verify by direct diver inspection, and the minimal chance that anything remained from the Virginia, we also employed a less sophisticated survey method. We felt this method was justified by the extensive dredging which the area has undergone in the past. Two grapple hooks were connected to the end of a 10-foot section of galvanized pipe which was towed in the zones of concentration in an effort to locate solid debris. The towing mechanism was equipped with a quick release mechanism to avoid damaging or displacing any objects of potential historical significance.
Other survey methods employed included the use of a sub-bottom profiler in which lanes were run in a similar manner to the gradiometer. The final method used was the Klein 500 Khz side scan sonar which unfortunately was only available for one day when manpower was lacking and transit stations were not available. Sonar lanes were run. by visual spacing with the sonar on the 50 meter per channel scale.
A total of 183 gradiometer targets were recorded: 147 with the towfish on or near the bottom, 36 with the fish towed approximately five feet below the surface (see Fig. 20). Fourteen of these were located in areas of concentration which were visually inspected and probed by divers. None of these investigations revealed the presence of either artifacts or structural remains which might constitute debris from the wreck of the C.S.S. Virginia.
A treat deal of time and energy was expended in efforts to determine the most efficient means of operating the gradiometer. After much trial and error, it was discovered that many of the readings recorded while the fish was being towed on or close to the bottom were spurious, the result of frequent contact with sediment mounds and ridges in the heavily dredged and scoured survey area. Many other readings can be attributed to the presence of a large quantity of discarded steel cable lying on the river bottom. By using the grapple hook rig subsequent to the recording of gradiometer targets, we were often able to snag sections of cable and thereby eliminate the immediate area from further consideration without having to make a time-consuming diver search for the object.
Apart from the abundance of cable and a three foot section of iron pipe recovered during diver investigation, the only object of any significant mass encountered in the search was what appears to be a section of iron bridge girder protruding some 24o 211 from the river bottom at an oblique angle (Target No. 140, see Fig. 17). The object was detected when the gradiometer registered a reading of 36 gammas on the 3 miligaus scale (Fig. 18) while the recording fathometer simultaneously indicated a sudden five foot rise above the surrounding bottom. Using both instruments in an effort to pinpoint its location, we made a series of passes over the object and were able to drop a buoy within 15 feet of the target in a water depth of 35 feet.
Target No. 140 was also the only substantial object detected by the Klein Khz side scan sonar unit. Fig. 19 shows the side scan record of the girder and its associated scour pattern. Other objects recorded by the unit were identified by operator Gary Kozak as tires, logs, pilings, or other equally insignificant debris. An effort was made to cover the entire survey area with the side scan but, unfortunately, due to the lack of transits and sufficient manpower on the day that the unit was made available, total coverage cannot be positively assured.
The results of Doc Edgerton’s sub-bottom profiling operation were generally inconclusive. The prevalence of gas pockets resulting from the decomposition of organic material in much of the sediment within the search area inhibited the unit’s ability to penetrate the bottom. A number of relatively small targets were recorded, however, in shallow water off shore of Transit Station B.
Conclusions and Recommendations
Based upon our investigations and subsequent analysis, we have concluded that: a) there are no large areas of either concentrated or scattered debris associated with the Virginia lying on the river bottom within the survey area, and, b) apart from Target No. 140 (bridge girder) and numerous lengths of steel cable, there are no large concentrations of iron mass lying on, or up to ten feet beneath, the river bottom within the survey area.
Considering the 19th century record of repeated and extensive salvage operations conducted on the Virginia in addition to the more recent, chronic, and intensive dredging activities in and around the wreck site, we feel that the chances of recovering any portion of the ironclad are slim indeed. Should NMfA wish to continue the search, however, there are several options which might be pursued: a) relocate and dredge down to the shallow water subbottom profiler targets identified by Doc Edgerton, b) extend the survey area further offshore and conduct search activities in the river channel itself, an area less likely to have been affected by dredging, and, c) attempt to locate the site (near the old Portsmouth Ferry Dock) where salvage diver West’s barge allegedly overturned with its cargo of Virginia wreck debris in 1875.
A cautionary note should be added to each of these suggestions, though. The distances between the sub-bottom targets and the Merrimack buoy location, approximately 1000 yards, seems too great for these anomalies to constitute debris exploded from the Virginia. Also, any search activities, particularly diver investigations, conducted farther out in the channel would be severely hampered by the large volume of ship traffic on the Elizabeth River. Finally, as far as diver West is concerned, it should be noted that his credibility concerning salvage achievements has been challenged elsewhere, if the newspaper report about the capsized barge of artifacts was, in fact, based solely upon his own testimony.
Search for the first steamboat on the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers, the New Orleans. April, 1989.
The story of the New Orleans is a fascinating as well as historical story. Built in 1811 for Nicholas Roosevelt by Robert Fulton, the maiden voyage of the newly built ship down the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers was an adventure epic by itself.
Reaching the Mississippi just in time to experience the worst earthquake in American history, the New Madrid upheaval, its crew, including Roosevelt’s wife who gave birth to a descendant of Teddy and Franklin during the trip, was forced to steam over forested land after the river changed course, narrowly avoiding disaster from thousands of uprooted and drifting trees.
Finally reaching New Orleans, the ship went into service between that city and Natchez. In 1814 it transported men of Andrew Jackson’s army to fight in the famous battle against the invading British at Chalmette.
She hung on a snag in 1814 above Baton Rouge and sank at a place called Clay’s Landing according to the report describing the end of her short but brilliant trailblazing career on the river. Considering the legend of this famous ship, we again found it strange that no one had ever searched for her burial place.
Marshaling NUMA’s research team, we tackled the problem, using the able Bob Fleming’s initial research, the book on the New Orleans by Mary Helen Samsot, and Keith Sliman of Baton Rouge who worked at the Seven Seas Dive Shop and probed the records of the Louisiana state capitol archives.
Sliman, going on the report of the sinking, found the answer to the mystery that had defied all efforts for nearly four years. He pinpointed the land along the river frontage that had been owned by John Clay from 1813 to 1818. The land parcel, now owned by an oil company, has the exact same dimensions as it did when Clay supplied firewood to the New Orleans. Fortunately, the river bank boundary has never measured more than a 100 yards. Now, we had a real ballpark location.
In cooperation with the Army Corp of Engineers and the Louisiana State Archeology Office, Craig Dirgo and I came to Baton Rouge and began a mag survey of the land between the levee and the present shore line. We turned up nothing that suggested any heavy metal, well aware that the copper boilers on the ship would not read on the Schonstedt gradiometer and the engines had been removed and installed in a later ship, but hoping for scattered iron contacts.
The Army Corp of Engineers research came through at this point, mostly with bad news. Their projections put the 1814 river bank about 100 feet farther into the water. Then the agonizing blow. In 1971 the Corp had laid a steel and concrete revetment mattress along the bank to halt erosion, which now lies on top of any remains of the New Orleans.
Sad to say, when the river is low during a drought, you can almost walk on top of the famous old ship, but cannot touch or pinpoint her exact site with metal detection gear because of the revetment and the steel cables that hold it together.
In the distant future, perhaps, the revetment might be pulled up for some reason and a survey will discover the bones of the first steamship on western waters. But until then, the New Orleans will have to remain at rest in the mud.
Search for the first steamboat to cross the Atlantic, the Savannah, on Fire Island, New York. October 1982.
The Savannah made all the history books. She was a fine ship, well constructed with elegant fixtures for her 32 passenger staterooms and expensive furnishings in her salons. An early 90-horsepower steam engine with folding paddles sat in her hull. And on May 22, 1819, she steamed out across the Atlantic. Twenty-nine days later, with smoke and sparks bursting from her single stack, she sailed into Liverpool harbor to the cheers of thousands.
Although she was only under steam for 80 hours, her famous voyage stands unchallenged in the history books.
Her owners turned their backs on her accomplishment, however, in favor of black ink and had her engine stripped off, remaking her into a cargo-carrying coastal ship. They regarded her as a financial failure, while Britain was inspired to leap into the world steamship trade, leaving the Americans far behind over the next decades.
The Savannah was lost when she ran aground on Fire Island in 1821, across the bay from a village then known as Fireplace. The approximate impact site was said to be at a point where there was a break in the island known as the old Inlet.
She struck and sat “upright and sound”, according to her Captain, whose name was Holdridge. During the next few days, the wave action split her hull and she began to bury herself. The last mention of the Savannah’s wreck was an obituary. A man sailing out to guard the doomed ship, “lying on the beach near Fireplace, L.I.”, drowned in a small boat.
The first search for the site of the legendary steam ship took place in 1958 when Frank Braynard, noted naval historian and director of the American Merchant Marine Institute, organized an extensive effort to find the Savannah’s resting place beneath the sands of Fire Island.
His best projection is that she grounded a hundred yards out from the 1821 beach line somewhere between the old Bellport life saving station and the Smith’s point station to the east (see 1878 chart).
Braynard conducted tests with naval blimps using magnetometers. His 1958 grid area shows six contacts running as far as 400 yards off the beach. None of the contacts paid off. At the same time, a group of divers claimed they struck a copper sheathed wreck off the Old Inlet area in 20 feet of water. But after repeated efforts, they could not find the spot again.
Surprisingly, the Fire Island shore has changed little since 1821. Surveys taken over nearly 200 years show tide line shifts of less than 150 yards, and then only after hurricanes have slammed onto the coast.
During our search in 1982, using a more modern gradiometer, we found no contacts a hundred yards or more off the shore. A survey of several miles along the Fire Island beach line strangely revealed the same lack of contact. This was puzzling because there are literally hundreds of ships that have run aground on the island over four centuries, the basis for the adage ‘a wreck lies every hundred yards under Fire Island’s beach.
We then gambled on losing the boat and made a run along the surf line, nearly capsizing in the breakers. Eureka! The contacts came one on top of the other. The gradiometer sang like an impaled diva.
This indicated that most of the wrecks lie under the tide line between the dunes and a parallel line only 75 yards out into the water.
A tight grid search within these perimeters, using a good metal detector, should strike on the copper hull sheathing of the Savannah. Then the real fun begins. An excavation.
Search for Sam Houston’s TWIN SISTERS, a pair of four-pounder cannon used against Santa Ana in the battle of San Jacinto. April 1987.
T he two, iron 6-pounder cannon, funded and cast in Cincinnati, Ohio, by Texas independence sympathizers and used by Houston’s army with great effect on the field of San Jacinto, have curiously meant far more to most Texans than the exploits of their entire navy.
The story of how they were smuggled down the Mississippi though New Orleans as holloware and watched over by Dr. Rice, accompanied by his twin daughters Elizabeth and Eleanor, and their battlefield description by both sides is well documented.
For events surrounding their later fate and burial I have included two newspaper accounts by Mamie Wynne Cox, a reporter for the Houston Chronicle in the early 1920s and a Houston Chronicle Magazine article by Ken Hammond in 1986. These pretty much tell the story of the Twin Sisters and how they were hidden by a group of Confederate war veterans, led by a Dr. Henry Graves, who were returning home after the Civil War.
Wayne Gronquist and I became interested in the missing cannon during our search in Galveston for the Zavala. The research was begun and in April of 1987 we returned to Texas and began looking for the cannon at Harrisburg.
Tony Bell, the Ross family, Gronquist, Bob Esbenson, Dana Larson and several other people gave it their best shot. I am most grateful for their kind help and efforts. We also teamed up with Richard Harper and his group who had been searching for the Twin Sisters for several years.
The big problem is that Dr. Graves did not say what direction he and his buddies took when they stole the cannon and pushed them off into the night.
Most of the many searchers favor the northeast since this approaches the nearest bayou where Graves claims they threw the gun carriages. Harper believes a report from one of the Confederates that stated they buried the cannon a hundred yards north of the Valentine house, which Harper determined once sat on the southwest corner of Elm and Colorado Streets.
This whole northeast section is a disaster. Over the years, Bray’s Bayou had been dredged and the ground a good three blocks inland has been filled in some areas to a depth of ten feet with all sorts of junk and debris, making a solid magnetometer search terribly difficult. So if the cannon lie in this area they are several feet deeper than when Graves buried them.
We took a completely different tack in ’87. One of Cox’s reports stated that a Mr. Milby owned the land where Graves thought the cannon rested. Through the Ross family the grandson of the man who knew Graves was contacted. Interestingly, the Milbys still own the same parcels of land as they did in the 1920s. This acreage was to the southeast. Much of it was still open and was used for horse pastures. But after an extensive search with the Schonstedt gradiometers, we came up dry.
This attempt ended our first expedition to Harrisburg. We intend to return in March of 1988. This time we will be led by Connie Young of Enid, Oklahoma, a psychic who seems to have a pretty good handle on the events. We shall see. Whatever the outcome, I will simply add that expedition’s report to this one.
First of three search expeditions for the White Bird, the aircraft flown by Nungessor & Coli, who vanished on transatlantic flight in 1927. October, 1984.
Early on May 8, 1927, twelve days before Charles Lindberg was to make his historic flight, two famous WWI French flying aces took off from Le Bourget airfield near Paris on an east to west flight across the Atlantic to New York. They were one of the first who successfully managed to get off the ground with a fuel-over laden airplane and soar out over the Atlantic.
Charles Nungesser and Francois Coli were already the toast of France. Nungesser had shot down 44 German planes and barnstormed in Europe and the United States after the war. Coli was also an ace, but later gained fame on a long distance flight to Africa.
After takeoff the L’Oiseau blanc (the White Bird), a Levasseur bi-wing, open cockpit aircraft powered by a 450 horsepower Lorraine-Dietrich 12 cylinder engine, dropped its landing gear and flew out over the English Channel. It was last sighted heading over the ocean from the eastern shore of Ireland.
The White Bird then simply vanished and was never seen again. It was not until 1980 when Gunnar Hanson, a freelance writer, researched and published an article on a man by the name of Anson Berry who was living near Machias, Maine, in 1927 and who claimed to hear an aircraft fly over his isolated camp late in the afternoon of May 9th, 1927. Anson, told several friends and neighbors he had heard the plane overhead in the overcast and but could not see it. He also stated the engine sounded erratic and it sounded to him as if the plane crashed in the distance.
Gunner dug deeper and found a number of other reports and a few sightings beginning in Newfoundland and traveling on a line south past Nova Scotia and into the coastal region of Maine. He then ran onto a report by a hunter who said he’d found an old engine buried in the ground sometime in 1950. The site was within a mile of where Anson Berry heard the plane pass.
Gunner organized a group, including the hunter, a gentleman by the name of Ray Beck of Chatham, New York. Coincidentally, Bob Fleming and I were also researching the mysterious flight and heard about Gunner. I contacted him, offered to fund some of the search and flew up to Bangor, Maine.
The country is beautiful, and in the bog areas impossible to penetrate. The first trek we accomplished very little. While preparations were made for a second attempt, I contacted the well respected psychic, Ingo Swann, and asked him to take a crack at it.
He accompanied us on the second try and we came up dry. At the same time there was a group led by a Rick Gillespie who was also searching for the lost plane. Interestingly he didn’t know about our efforts. None of us wished to join his organization because he lived on media hype. And my feeling has always been not to make a big deal out of an expedition unless you can prove you actually discovered your intended target.
Swann later arranged for an experiment with several other psychics. Strange as it seems, working separately they all put the downed aircraft within a quarter of a mile from each other’s projections on the southern slope of the Round Hills near Round Lake.
What can I say. We combed the area foot by foot on the third attempt. The White Bird isn’t there.
The search goes on, however. No one wants to quit.
My personal theory, two in fact, is that it did not come down near where Anson Berry heard it, but some miles further south. Or, and I like this over any others, the plane went down in an impenetrable bog and chances of it ever being found are quite nil.
Expedition to find the mystery ship Waratah that vanished off the eastern coast of South Africa. September, 1987.
The Waratah was one of the most baffling mysteries of the sea. In July of 1909, the 500 foot steamer, on her return maiden voyage from Australia to Capetown, went missing with over 200 passengers and crew somewhere in the Indian ocean off the rugged eastern coast of South Africa.
For 79 years she rested lost, but not forgotten. Her loss was the subject of numerous books, articles and endless speculation as to he fate. Rather than write another redundant report, I’ve simply added newspaper accounts on her loss and testimony of a handful of witnesses.
My own involvement came in April of 1985 when my British publisher sent me to South Africa on tour to plug my then latest book, “Deep Six”. I had often read of the Waratah and was most interested in her tale, but brushed off any thought of an expedition to find her since flying a NUMA crew and our equipment 8000 miles to South Africa and back was simply too damned expensive. Then, add to the fact the search area was not easily accessible by air or car.
Fortunately, after a talk I gave in Capetown on shipwrecks, I was approached by Mr. Emlyn Brown, a native South African who had spent ten years researching the lost ship. We had a drink together and formed a partnership to find the Waratah. Brown would be search director, put together and lead the expedition, while I through NUMA would fund and consult.
In the end we contracted with a marine survey firm by the name of Sistema Ltd., near Capetown. I’d like to say that Emlyn Brown did a Herculean job of overcoming obstacles of local incompetence and uncaring interest. All credit for the discovery of the wreck must go to Emlyn. The results of the survey for the Waratah come behind the newspaper accounts of the liner’s loss.
The readings by the South Africans were hardly what we’ve come to expect during our own expeditions. Gary Kozak of Klein & Associates studied the sonar readings and found them too vague to draw solid conclusions.
There definitely is a shipwreck in the area the witnesses described, especially Joe Conquer, who watched the ship disappear on the correct date, and D. J. Roos, an airmail pilot, who spotted a large wreck on the bottom in the same position during a flight to Durban.
Records show no other iron steamer on the bottom within sixty miles, and those are accounted for.
Odds favor our find being the Waratah, but until we get an ROV down on her, we can only assume we’ve finally solved the enigma of her disappearance. Another expedition plus a documentary is in the making. So it should be only a question of a year or two before we actually see her up close.
Following the Civil War, there were reports of three abandoned Confederate submarines near their place of construction in Shreveport, Louisiana (Cross Bayou).
This PDF document also contains information about a search for the the C.S.S. Grand Duke and a Free French Air Force B-26 Bomber.