University of South Carolina

Christopher Amer (left), Joe Beatty carry artillery shell recovered from Pee Dee River.
Underwater archaeologist Christopher Amer (left) and archaeological assistant Joe Beatty carry an artillery shell from a Confederate Brooke rifled cannon recovered from the Pee Dee River.

Continued: Archaeology

Leader, with the help of eight university students, conducted terrestrial operations using ground-penetrating radar and other remote-sensing technologies to identify where the buildings of the naval yard once stood. The data was used to create a 3-D map for excavation work.

Archaeologists and graduate students are digging pits, measuring 50 centimeters wide down to the Pleistocene layer, so that artifacts can be dated in the soil layers where they lay before they are excavated. A variety of objects, including ceramics, glass and nails, provide clues to the location of specific buildings and activity areas at the naval yard, which operated as a Confederate States of America (CSA) stronghold from 1862 –1865.

“A smoking pipe bowl fragment recovered by the excavation team bears the initials ‘WG,’” Leader said. “WG pipes are known from American Revolutionary War and others sites to ca. 1830. It gave us quite a start, as one of the original owner’s initials was also WG, a remarkable coincidence.”

Among the resources Amer has used in the project is a letterbook kept by Confederate Lt. Edward Means from Aug. 3, 1864, to March 15, 1865 (among holdings at Louisiana State University), which provides valuable information about operations at the Mars Bluff Naval Yard.

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History in the Pee Dee

  • What: Discovery of remains of the Confederate gunboat C.S.S. Pee Dee and Mars Bluff Naval Yard
  • Who: State underwater archaeologist Christopher Amer, state archaeologist and research associate professor Dr. Jon Leader, and research collaborators from East Carolina University and Francis Marion University
  • Where: Marion County, on the east side of the Pee Dee River

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