August 20, 2015
Confederate Ship CSS Georgia
Emerging From Savannah River
By RUSS BYNUM
Savannah, GA (AP) After 150 years at the bottom of the Savannah River, the armored skeleton of the Confederate warship CSS Georgia is being raised to the surface one 5-ton chunk at a time.
Navy divers who began working in late June to recover cannons, unexploded shells and other artifacts from the riverbed finally started midweek on their last major task , retrieving an estimated 250,000 pounds of the Civil War ironclad’s armored siding.
The CSS Georgia was scuttled by its own crew to prevent Gen. William T. Sherman from capturing the massive gunship when his Union troops took Savannah in December 1864.
A chunk of the Georgia taken recently from the Savannah
Still classified as a captured enemy vessel by the Navy, the remains of the Confederate ironclad are being salvaged as part of a $703 million deepening of the Savannah harbor for cargo ships.
``The historical significance is evident in everything we do,’’ Chief Warrant Officer 3 Jason Potts, the Navy’s on-scene commander, said Wednesday as his crew prepared to start raising the first of three giant slabs of armor.
The CSS Georgia was a crude example of the first armored warships designed during the Civil War to stand up to cannon and artillery fire. Its 1,200-ton frame was built using three layers of timber topped with 24-foot strips of railroad iron.
Having sections of the Georgia’s armor for study should reveal more about how the Confederacy compensated for the South’s lack of an industrial base when it came to building ships and other war machines.
``A lot of these ironclads are built by house carpenters, they’re not built by shipwrights,’’ said Jeff Seymour, historian and curator for the National Civil War Naval Museum in Columbus. ``So what are the construction techniques? They vary from ship-to-ship.’’
The Georgia proved so bulky its own engines were too weak to propel it against the Savannah River’s currents. The Confederates anchored the ironclad off Old Fort Jackson as a floating gun battery. It was sunk without ever firing a shot in combat.
After months of preparation work by underwater archaeologists, Navy divers from the Virginia Beach-based Mobile Diving Salvage Unit 2 arrived in late June.
Their first task was to raise 132 unexploded shells—both cannonballs and rifled shells shaped like large bullets—found scattered across the wreckage site. Using a crane mounted on a barge, they also pulled up four cannons weighing 1,000 to 10,000 pounds apiece.
Other artifacts soon emerged from 40 feet or more of water: a flywheel, a pump and sections of the steamship’s boiler. Perhaps most impressive, the Georgia’s propeller was recovered intact and still attached to the long shaft that turned it.
The salvage crew at work in the Savannah River
``We don’t just simply want to bring it all back to the surface,’’ Potts said. ``We want to bring it back intact. So we go to the maximum effort to make sure we don’t rip these things apart on the way up.’’
The three large sections of the Georgia’s armored casemate, however, proved too heavy to raise without cutting them down into smaller pieces. They’re being separated into about 20 total chunks, each measuring about 4 feet by 24 feet and weighing roughly 5 tons.
After a century and a half, Potts said, most of the ship’s wooden hull has rotted away. But the railroad iron remains essentially glued together by mud and silt from the riverbed. The crew uses a crane-held tool with a long, flat blade to slide between the iron strips and pry apart chunks of the armor.
A web of slings is then attached to the slab of armor to ensure its weight is evenly distributed as the crane lifts it from the river.
With river currents typically limiting divers to less than three hours underwater each day, Potts estimates it will take his team nearly a month to raise all of the armored siding. That’s at a rate of roughly one 5-ton chunk per day.
All artifacts from the CSS Georgia are being sent to the Conservation Research Laboratory at Texas A&M University in College Station, Texas, for cataloging and preservation. The Navy hasn’t said where those artifacts will ultimately reside.
Thomas The Courthouse Cat Got Lucky At His New Home
By Ronald W. Erdrich
Breckenridge, TX (AP) In its storied history, Thomas likely is not the first fat cat to stroll the halls of the Stephens County Courthouse. But he’s probably the first to do it on four legs.
In 2013, a too-skinny, pitiful-looking creature wandered up to the building’s west door. With his gray fur clamped to his body, the little cat sat down to lament his bedraggled state. It was winter, and by all reports it was raining, if not worse.
``Yeah, he looked like a wet rat,’’ Richard Cook, who maintains the courthouse, told the Abilene Reporter-News.
``He just came up to the west door and everybody was just `Oohing’ and `Ahhing,’ thinking `Poor cat,’’’ recalled Sharon Trigg, the Stephens County treasurer. ``The judge decided we’d take him in.’’
County Judge Gary Fuller is credited with naming him Thomas. A collection was taken and the cat was neutered and vaccinated. Then came the wait for him to get comfortable in his new home.
Thomas, with a courthouse employee
``He wouldn’t come indoors for a while,’’ said secretary Bonnie Marsh. ``But gradually, he finally just kind of moved in.’’
Those skinny days are long gone, now. Thomas weighs in at a hefty 16 pounds and no matter how many rounds he makes through the courthouse, his new shape looks like it’s here to stay.
Some days he’ll visit Marsh for a nice rub-down. Later on, the cat will move down the hall to Joanie Gipson in the county clerk’s office, or drag himself over to Trigg’s desk for a sprawl across her desk.
To be truthful, though, it’s not just her desk he takes over. Thomas is likely to oblige himself at any workstation if the human occupant lets him.
``He just jumps up there when he wants his belly scratched,’’ Gipson said. ``If you don’t respond within a certain amount of time, he’ll leave and go find someone else. He’s not partial.’’
If there’s no desk to be had, there’s always the floor in the main hallway. That is, until Cook comes by.
``He’ll follow me around, up and down the hall, up and down the steps,’’ Cook said. ``I’ve got to go up on the third floor a lot. He’ll try to beat me up there, sometimes.’’
The emphasis is on the word ``try,’’ however.
``It depends on how aggressive he is, because most times he only gets so far and then just flops down on the floor,’’ he said, laughing.
He’s not much of a mouser, either. Some time back, a rodent showed up in the clerk’s office.
``He just looked at it and watched it go by,’’ Cook said, laughing again.
Well, what about a favorite scratching post ... does he have one of those?
``Yeah, my shoe,’’ Cook said.
``We have to buy Richard new shoes every once in a while,’’ Marsh laughed.
Trigg likes having Thomas around.
Thomas on patrol in Breckeridge, Texas
``I’m a cat lover. To me, he’s relaxing,’’ she said. ``When he comes and sits in here, he relaxes me.’’
Not everyone likes a cat; even Thomas knows that. Accordingly, he only visits the offices where he’s welcome.
``Every time I come in and see the cat upside down or in one of his weird positions, I can’t help but smile,’’ Trigg said.
``Because he’s got a million of them.’’
But if his lounge act starts dragging, Trigg knows how to get a move-on _ bring out the comb. A cat can only stand so much grooming from its humans.
Unfortunately it does result in stray fur. Trigg resigns herself with a sigh, admitting the likelihood of cat fur filed away with some of her records.
``I just put it in the trash can when I find it,’’ she said.
He’s a smart cat, but he’s not so smart to figure out how the door opens to get outside. On the other hand, he is smart enough to wait for somebody to do it for him.
When outside, Thomas likes to hang out beneath the hedges, or maybe pad through the grass to sniff the wind. Trigg said Thomas has a girlfriend named Gracie, who also was fixed. The two of them play or lounge when the heat gets to be too much.
``Most of the time when I lock up, I’ll go out and call him and he’s ready to come in,’’ Trigg said. ``But if he’s not ready to come in, he’ll run you for a merry chase.’’
They keep a litter box and cat food in the basement. They used to lock Thomas there, too.
``But we thought that was cruel and inhumane. So we just let him roam the courthouse,’’ Trigg said.
But just in case, Trigg makes it a point to drop by during the weekend.
``I feel bad that he’s up here by himself, I can’t stand it that he doesn’t have anybody,’’ she said. ``Because he’s a people pers ... ,uh, cat, you know.
``I just feel bad if I don’t come up here and check on him.’’
County Commissioner D.C. Sikes remembered the time someone took Thomas as their own.
``Yeah, somebody kidnapped him,’’ he said.
``They found him at some apartments across town,’’ Cook recalled.
But by now everyone knows Thomas.
``A lot of people look for him,’’ Trigg said. ``We get people from out of town who want to see Thomas the cat.’’