S.C. Congaree River cleanup yields pieces of Civil War history
COLUMBIA, S.C. - Hundreds of Civil War relics were discovered during the cleanup of a South Carolina river where Union troops dumped Confederate military equipment to deliver a demoralizing blow for rebel forces in the birthplace of the secessionist movement.
The artifacts were discovered while crews removed tar-like material from the Congaree River and bring new tangible evidence of Union Gen. William T. Sherman’s ruthless Southern campaign toward the end of the Civil War.
The remains are expected to find a safer home at the South Carolina Confederate Relic Room and Military Museum in the state capital of Columbia.
Dozens were on display Monday at an event in Columbia marking the cleanup’s completion.
Historical finds include cannonballs, a sword blade and a wheel experts believe belonged to a wagon that blew up during the two days of supply dumps. The odds of finding the wagon wheel “are crazy,” according to Sean Norris.
“It’s an interesting story to tell,” said Norris, the archaeological program manager at an environmental consulting firm called TRC. “It’s a good one — that we were able to take a real piece of it rather than just the written record showing this is what happened.”
Archaeologists and state leaders say what else they found hidden underneath these waters has great value to South Carolina.
“This is a whole history of Columbia right in this one spot that is shown in this river,” Norris said.
Even more than 150 years after the Civil War ended – some artifacts were still treacherous to handle.
“They recovered a couple live rounds that had potential black powder in them and were able to kind of inert them and take them to the bomb squad and figure out how to dispose of them without causing an explosion,” Norris said.
Archaeologists say Sherman’s Union troops dumped the Confederate military supplies in the river as they moved through Columbia at the end of the Civil War.
Dominion Energy crews have been working to rid the riverbed of toxic tar first discovered in 2010, at times even operating armor-plated excavators as a safeguard against potential explosives. State and local officials gathered Monday to celebrate early completion of the $20 million project.
South Carolina Republican Gov. Henry McMaster said this preservation is necessary for current generations to learn from history.
“All those things are lost on us today. They seem like just stories from the past,” McMaster said. “But when we read about those, and when we see artifacts, and see things that touched people’s hands, it brings us right back to how fortunate we are in this state and in this country to be where we are.”
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