Artifact Conservation Project
For our new supporters and followers, welcome to the National Civil War Naval Museum, a truly unique institution. For our stalwarts, thank you for your continued support as we get aboard on what is possibly the most important project since the opening of the new museum facility in 2001. As a flashback reminder, for many reasons, parts of the two vessels in our care, the ironclad Jackson and the hybrid gunboat Chattahoochee, could not be moved inside the museum when the ships’ hulls were moved to the new facility. I’m happy to announce, after many ups and downs, that major conservation work is currently underway.
Terra Mare Conservators arrived in early September to begin the laborious process of documenting, cleaning, and moving the fantail of the Jackson and the largest parts of the engines of the Chattahoochee. Terra Mare’s team of Claudia Chemello and Paul Mardikian are world-renowned giants in the conservation field. Their work includes numerous artifacts scattered across the globe.
The complexities of these artifacts does not make the conservation of these artifacts easy. Joining the team of Chemello and Mardikian is Vincent Blouin, an engineer from Clemson University, who has worked with Terra Mare on a number of large artifact projects. A small team of maritime archaeologists from SEARCH, Inc, headed by James Delgado, an internationally recognized authority, was here for a few days recording as much data about these artifacts as possible. Both Blouin and Delgado will continue to work on elements of this project for some time.
After months of preparation, the team arrived ready to go. The first phase was to begin documenting and dismantling the fantail of the Jackson. This is the stern section of the ironclad. Of the ironclads that survive from the Civil War, this is the only fantail that survives. It is a complex structure of wood and iron in a half-moon shape. Hence the name “fantail.” Since the fantail was upside down, the wooden structure was the first part to receive attention. Each beam was documented and carefully removed for conservation work. Using a process called photogrammetry, the archaeologists took hundreds of images of each layer in order to better understand the structure. As each level emerged, we were able to see elements of this vessel that no one has seen since 1864. As each level surfaced, several questions about how the Jackson was constructed were answered, but many more questions developed. Simply, this structure is much more complex than we thought heading into this project.
Finally getting to the layer of iron plating, the team documented each plate, which weigh about 350-400 pounds apiece. They were then separated and each plate underwent a blast cleaning using dry ice. This process will also be applied to the machinery of the Chattahoochee.
In preparation for the engines, access panels were removed and the interior of these piston heads saw the light of day for the first time since the 1860s. In every cavity was Chattahoochee river mud. Many hours were spent removing mud from difficult places thanks to the help of some of our great volunteers. Our Executive Director Holly Wait even took a turn.
The goal is not only to conserve these artifacts, but to study them in detail and learn as much as can about them. This will give us a better understanding of not only these items, but materials and techniques that were used to build them. When we move these items inside for a much needed rest from environmental decay, they will be on display for the world to see. We even plan for new and exciting exhibits for these stories you’ll hear nowhere else.
Personally, I have to pinch myself every morning as a reminder that this project is really happening. We have the best people in their fields working on this complex mission. And most importantly, we’re saving a few singular artifacts that are important to the story of Columbus and the nation. We are far from finished with this work but we are committed to seeing it through. Thank you all for your continued support of what we do here.
A heartfelt thanks,
Director of History & Collections