04/05/2015 - Texas A&M Brings Old Civil War Ship Back to Life
She's been resting at the bottom of the Savannah river for 150 years, and now the CSS Georgia is being brought back to life, with some help from Texas A&M.
"if you didn't get dirty in the lab, you didn't do it properly."
Those are words Jim Jobling lives by. The Texas A&M Conservation Research Lab Project Manager is about to have many opportunities to practice what he preaches.
There are 8,000 artifacts from the CSS Georgia that have started arriving in College Station.
The rest will get here over the next few months, straight from the bottom of the Savannah River.
Recovering those pieces of the Civil War Ironclad, though, isn't easy.
Stephen James with PanAmerican Consultants in Savannah says, "It's all by touch. We have an electronic grid. We have a tracker on the diver when we put them down in the unit because it's zero visibility."
The confederate ship has been at the bottom of the river ever since the confederates themselves put her there.
Jobling says "Late in 1864 Sherman was advancing on Savannah, they knew she was going to be captured. they didn't want the vessel captured, so they simply scuttled her, opened up the valves and sank her."
Now that these pieces of history are being brought to the surface, it's time for Jobling and his team to get to down to business, combing through the massive shipment of artifacts.
While each piece is different, they do have something in common. They've all spent 150 years under water and time has taken its toll.
There's concretion all around it. mollusks, barnacles on it. Sometimes you've got an oyster shell or two."
Now the real work begins.
"We chisel off the concretions. It then goes into electrolysis. The iron is reduced. The salt is removed. We then boil and rinse it. We then coat it with tannic acid."
The work is by no means a quick process. Even the smallest artifact can take more than 6 months to restore, and the bigger pieces can take more than a year.
"WE don't say tedious. Tedious to me is negative. We always look at it as a challenge."
Their reward for meeting that challenge is learning a little something about the people in our past, Jobling says as he shows off some recently restored leg irons.
"Some poor guy's ankles or legs would be in here." Savannah during the Summer months, it's very very hot. Mosquitoes are miserable. In the Winter months it's very very cold. The guys didn't like the posting, so they deserted. When they were caught, they were put in leg irons and they had to shovel coal to keep the boiler going."
The leg irons and everything else they're able to salvage, will be shipped back to Savannah and put on display in a museum, 1,000 miles away from the team that worked so hard to restore them, but Jim Jobling wouldn't have it any other way.
"I am living a dream. I have a mantra that I've said for many years. preserving our past for our future."
The CSS Georgia is just the latest in a long line of restorations the lab has worked on. Over the last 18 years, they've finished 130 projects, which is more than two million artifacts.