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article imageBig cache of weapons seized by Gen. Sherman may have been found

By Karen Graham     Jan 20, 2015 in Science
Columbia - Civil War General William. Tecumseh Sherman's name still draws boos and hisses in South Carolina, after destroying the capital on his way out of town 150 years ago. Now, Sherman is creating another ruckus. His loot has been found at the bottom of a river.
The story of Sherman's destructive advance through Columbia, South Carolina on February 17, 1865, and the ordered dumping of confiscated Rebel arms and ammunition into the Congaree River has long been part of local lore.
All kinds of contraband were dumped by Sherman's troops, from cannonballs to ball cartridges, rammers, sabers, bayonet scabbards, and knapsacks, according to The State newspaper. A few of those relics have been found over the years, a good indication, say archaeologists, that there is a lot more at the bottom of the river.
The burning of Columbia  South Carolina  February 17  1865  by General Sherman s troops.
The burning of Columbia, South Carolina, February 17, 1865, by General Sherman's troops.
William Waud (d. 1878) for Harper's Weekly
According to historians, the Civil War was winding down, and it was Sherman's plan to destroy the state where secession had started. Gen. Sherman, writing from Savannah, Georgia on Dec. 24, 1864, to Gen. Henry W. Halleck said: "The truth is, the whole army is burning with an insatiable desire to wreak vengeance upon South Carolina. I almost tremble at her fate, but feel that she deserves all that seems in store for her." In closing, Sherman added: "I look upon Columbia as quite as bad as Charleston, and I doubt if we will spare the public buildings there as we did at Milledgeville (Georgia)."
Modern science helps in finding and retrieving the past
Today, with a partnership that includes historians, researchers, and the science of sonar and metal detection, we have a much better picture of precisely where the munitions were dumped near the Gervais Street bridge, in downtown Columbia. Plans are being made to find the best way to retrieve the artifacts. James Spirek, the state's underwater archaeologist, said the artifacts will probably be housed at the Confederate Relic Room.
Gervais Street Bridge  Gervais Street spanning Congaree River  Columbia  Richland County  S.C.
Gervais Street Bridge, Gervais Street spanning Congaree River, Columbia, Richland County, S.C.
Jack E. Boucher
Getting the munitions out of the river is going to be more difficult than most people imagine. There are actually two little problems to overcome. First, no one knows for sure where or how dangerous the weapons cache is, exactly. But explosives experts have been called in and will be on hand. There are condominiums and a children's museum nearby.
The other problem is actually much bigger. It involves a toxic-waste cleanup. The weapons lie beneath a two-foot thick layer of toxic tar buildup that spilled into the Congaree River a few years ago from a now-defunct gas making plant near what is now the Governors mansion. S.C. utility company, SCANA Corp. hired consultants as part of the $18.5 million cleanup of the river, and they are the people who found evidence of the artifacts.
SCANA announced back in 2010 the tar had been found and would be removed, but at that time, there was no mention of artifacts being found. They are saying now that as the tar is removed, the artifacts will also be removed, basing this on an estimated three-year time period for the project.
The State newspaper obtained a draft of a report to SCANA from Tidewater Atlantic Research, and in the report, it states: “It has been confirmed that in 1865, during the Civil War, live munitions and other articles of war produced by the Confederacy were dumped into the Congaree River near the Gervais Street bridge by Union forces.”
The primary goal for all concerned is now two-fold: Clean up the Congaree River and retrieve the Civil War artifacts without anyone getting hurt. It will be interesting to Civil War buffs and historians alike, to find out just how much Sherman's troops dumped, won't it?
More about Gen William T Sherman, Civil War, south caroline, Congaree River, Munitions
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