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

Amer says the university’s research findings and the artifacts recovered will help tell the story of the people who worked at the Mars Bluff Naval Yard and how they constructed the Confederate warships.

“The artifacts recovered to date provide us with a tantalizing glimpse into past lifeways at the site,” Amer said, “and remind us of a time in this nation’s history when, in the face of advancing overwhelming odds, the Confederate officers, sailors and workmen at the only inland Confederate naval shipyard in South Carolina, along with the local community, gave it their best shot.”

The Mars Bluff Naval Yard was one of a score of Confederate naval yards that were located inland in Southern states so gunboats and support vessels for the war could be built and protected from Union forces. Mars Bluff was chosen for its inland location, proximity to the railroad, water communication with Charleston via Georgetown and the abundance of ash, oak and pine lumber.

C.S.S. Pee Dee was a 150-foot Macon class gunboat that was built at Mars Bluff and outfitted with two Brooke rifled cannon and a Union Dahlgren cannon and launched in January 1865. The Pee Dee’s career was short-lived. Fearing that the gunboat might fall into enemy hands as Gen. William T. Sherman’s Union troops moved from Columbia northward to advance on North Carolina, commanders ordered the cannons thrown overboard into the Pee Dee River before the ship was scuttled on March 15, set ablaze and blown up.

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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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