The first cannon fired from the Savannah River in Georgia surprised the workers of the Army Corps of Engineers who extracted them from the clay of the riverbed.
The next two piqued their interest and brought divers, archaeologists and sonar operators in search of age-old treasures.
Then they pulled out 12 more guns, covered in rust, sediment and mold, and when the experts started lecturing about the finds, they didn’t even know another gun had been found.
By the end of the dredging project in March, the corps had brought 19 guns to the surface, all believed to be relics of ships sunk during the American Revolution, when the British occupied Savannah.
Andrea Farmer, Savannah District archaeologist with the Army Corps of Engineers, said the guns most likely came from HMS Savannah, one of several British ships sunk in an area called Five Fathom Hole. The Savannah was sunk to block the advance of French troops, allied to the rebels, in September 1779.
“There are historical records from the period that indicate it was sunk so quickly that they left everything: armament, provisions, pretty much the only thing that wasn’t on board were humans” , Ms. Farmer said.
In the fall of 1779, George Washington was trying to organize an offensive against the British with the French allies of the revolutionaries. In October, American and French forces attacked the city of Savannah by land in one of the deadliest battles of the war, known as the Siege of Savannah. But they failed to dislodge the British, and the French fleet sailed home before the start of hurricane season. The British did not evacuate Savannah until years later, in 1782.
“Honestly, Savannah would have looked a lot different today if they had been able to attack by water,” Ms Farmer said.
Several entities have a stake in the future of the cannons, including the federal government, the British government, and the state of Georgia, which owns the water where the cannons were found. Ms. Farmer said the groups were working on a deal to keep the cannons in Savannah, conveniently displayed at the Savannah History Museum, and directed to a window that overlooks the site of the 1779 battle.
The Army Corps of Engineers found the first cannon in February 2021, while working on a $973 million project to deepen a 40-mile stretch of the Savannah River. Engineers had to temporarily halt dredging after finding the first three guns, and they brought in sonar equipment and divers to search and recover the others buried under the sediment.
The conditions did not cooperate. Divers worked with little or no visibility in the river water, and sonar failed to detect the last of the guns – which were only found after dredging resumed this year.
To date the guns, researchers considered their size and examined structural details such as trunnion and bolt placement, hoping to determine where they were made and compare them to existing gun records.
Ms Farmer said they initially thought the first gun may have come from a sunken Civil War ship, the CSS Georgia. This seemed less likely after the discovery of the other two guns, as the corps had already carried out a thorough search of this wreckage. Researchers who examined the guns later confirmed that the guns were not from this ship.
Ms Farmer said at least four of the guns were 70 inches long and “more than likely” made in France. The other 15 are about 60 inches long and were built for heavy use, but researchers have been unable to find similar guns in historical records. “This story is still in full development, there is still much to learn from the artifacts and the curatorial process,” Ms Farmer said.
For now, the guns sit in plastic-lined bins filled with fresh water, to better preserve them until they are sent to a conservation lab. UXO technicians have also confirmed that the cannons are not a safety issue, although the water baths provide an additional layer of protection.
In its construction projects around the world, the Army Corps of Engineers has a long history of finding artifacts.
In 2009, during a dredging operation, the District of Galveston brought to the surface a 10,000-pound Civil War cannon from the Texas City Channel. A corps paleontologist and an air force archaeologist found ancient hand axes during a surveying trip to Niger in 2017.
Building on its expertise, the corps also created a program in 2009 for military veterans to process the many artifacts, such as pottery shards and stone tools, that it has collected over its many decades. infrastructure projects.