Archaeologists Recover Three Civil War Cannons From South Carolina River

PHOTO: A team of underwater archaeologists from the University of South Carolina uncovered three Civil War cannons from the Pee Dee River on Tuesday.PlayWDPE
WATCH Civil War Cannons Recovered From South Carolina River

A team of underwater archaeologists have uncovered three Civil War cannons from the Pee Dee River in South Carolina, researchers said.

State underwater archaeologist Jim Spirek from the University of South Carolina told ABC News today that finally raising the cannons from the river after a six-year search is a "weight off of [their] shoulders."

"It gives South Carolina another picture of what was going on in Marion County during that time," Spirek said. "Now we have a complete set of armament from the boat and it's all intact. Locals will now have a good interpretive representation."

The 150-year-old artifacts were found near Florence, South Carolina, by the Confederate Mars Bluff Naval Yard. Two of the three cannons raised out of the river on Tuesday are Confederate Brooke Rifle cannons while the other is a captured Union Dahlgren cannon. They each weigh about 15,000 pounds.

The cannons were used during Union General William T. Sherman's march through the Carolinas in 1865, researchers said.

Confederate troops threw the cannons off of the C.S.S. Pee Dee gunboat to avoid capture by the Union. The ship was later destroyed in the river, according to civilwar.org. Spirek said finding the cannons debunks a lot of mysteries about the C.S.S. Pee Dee.

PHOTO: A team of underwater archaeologists from the University of South Carolina uncovered three Civil War cannons from the Pee Dee River on Tuesday.WDPE
A team of underwater archaeologists from the University of South Carolina uncovered three Civil War cannons from the Pee Dee River on Tuesday.

"Everyone thought the cannons were with the ship but they were jettisoned off and the ship was burned. We found them further upstream," Spirek said.

Pieces of the C.S.S. Pee Dee were found in late 2010 by archaeologists with the University of South Carolina, school officials said. The project was sponsored by a grant of more than $200,000 by the Drs. Bruce and Lee Foundation. Part of the organization's mission is to support programs dedicated to historic preservation. State archaeologist Jon Leader said the community's appreciation of history drove the expedition.

"There is quite a depth to this that people don't understand. It's three state-of-the-art artillery pieces that were attached to a ship with a global history. A lot of South Carolinians know their history," Leader said. "Where most people see a cannon, what we see is the tip of an iceberg."

Members of the Confederacy faced a "fairly unique circumstance," Leader said, because they were without a Navy. As a result, they created an inland shipyard -- Mars Bluff -- where the C.S.S. Pee Dee was built.

Spectators cheered as the cannons are raised from a riverbank by a backhoe, according to a report from local ABC affiliate WDPE.

The cannons are being transported today to the Warren Lasch Conservation Center in North Charleston to be restored, Spirek said. They will be placed outside of the new U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs building in Florence.

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