Last month’s recovery of rusted artefacts brings the number of cannons, plus fragments of another, found last year during preparations for the port expansion project to 15.
“We don’t know what’s down there,” Corps District archaeologist Andrea Farmer told CNN, saying “much of the river is unknown.”
They said – based on measurements and appearance – that the guns could have come from HMS Rose, a famous British warship that mixed it with settlers during the revolution or as the UK calls it. United, the War of Independence. Nearly 250 years ago, the British scuttled the ship in the Savannah River to block the channel and prevent French ships from coming to the aid of settlers trying to retake the city.
But they quickly realized that the theory doesn’t hold water, so to speak. It turns out that HMS Rose was sunk further upstream and her artillery was apparently withdrawn beforehand.
British records indicate that the guns may have belonged to two or more British troop transports also sunk to block the canal.
Farmer says officials believe the cannons are associated with the Revolutionary War. Experts look for distinguishing marks or characteristics that can help verify provenance, such as a known inventory of what a ship was carrying.
So why were British troops in Savannah?
A short refresher course might help answer this question.
HMS Rose, with her 20 guns and 160 sailors, and other ships were brought in to aid the other Redcoats.
The warship was already famous, having been a “plague” to the colonists, as the Royal Navy puts it. He suppressed smuggling in Rhode Island, prompting the formation of the precursor to the United States Navy. The Rose fought and patrolled the New York waterways and parts of the eastern seaboard before heading south.
“The French had blockaded the port of Savannah, preparing to attack,” Stephen James, an archaeologist with the Commonwealth Heritage Group, says in the Corps video. “They scuttled those troop transports to keep the French out and basically saved the town from the start of the takeover. They plugged the canal where…the French couldn’t come up and take the city.”
The guns discovered last February appear to date from the mid-1700s – predating the Civil War by around a century – which closely matches the story of HMS Rose. They are about 5 feet long.
Further study and removal of sediment on the guns can provide information on when and where they were made.
“I think it’s fantastic and interesting when artifacts of maritime history come to light,” said Cmdr. Jim Morley, the UK’s deputy naval attache in Washington, told CNN last year. “It just gives us the opportunity to look back on our shared maritime history and history in general.”
CNN reached out to Morley on Tuesday for further comment.
Further research and analysis awaits us
Salvage divers assisted the Commonwealth Heritage Group in removing munitions from the channel. Divers can only work at high or low tide and when no cargo is passing directly overhead. The conditions are dangerous and the government has discouraged treasure hunters from diving in these waters.
“The tide turns and it turns like this. You have no (visibility) screws,” says diver Richard Steele in the video. “The current tears you apart, you cling to life half the time, trying to make your way there. Every time you step into the water, you’re racing against time.”
The crews placed slings under the guns and used inflatable lifting bags to free them from the mud. They were moved to a holding area ahead of the January resumption.
It is possible that the cannons come from several ships – either for combat or for ballast.
Robert Neyland, chief of the Underwater Archeology Branch of the Naval History and Heritage Command, said last year that it was possible the Civil War battleship was carrying older weapons and further research is needed. It is possible that some of the guns were used at Fort Jackson, which was built in the early 1800s, or elsewhere and discarded.
“You have to do the detective work to solve the mystery,” Neyland said at the time.
Farmer says officials will identify some of the artillery pieces — which are kept in protective troughs — for safekeeping and, ideally, put them on display in Savannah.
The Corps, meanwhile, is in the final stages of deepening the harbor from 42ft to 47ft to ensure the supertankers have enough room to navigate.
Besides cannons, archaeologists using sonar have found anchors and tiller balls, a type of ammunition designed to destroy ships’ rigging. They were commonly used during the Revolutionary War. Divers also studied “cradles” – underwater obstructions placed in the river to keep Union shipping away during the Civil War.
The Savannah office of the Army Corps of Engineers will provide more details to media next week. An expert will provide an analysis of what has been learned. “They’re still actively researching the archives and working with other experts on this, so they’ll have more information to share,” Farmer said.
The public will have a chance to learn more at 7 p.m. ET on February 17 during a free program at the Savannah History Museum. Face masks are mandatory.