KINSTON, N.C. - This Monday, March 10 at 10 a.m., the N.C. Department of Cultural Resources' State Underwater Archeology team will be on the Neuse River to search for remnants of the ironclad CSS Neuse using the latest in high resolution technology. Their vessel, a 23' boat named the R/V Snap dragon II, will patrol the river between the King Street bridge and the Queen Street bridge for about five hours. The focus of the expedition will be to gather data on any objects from the Confederate built ironclad that was destroyed in March 1865.
There will be an initial pre-launch briefing at 10 a.m. at the boat ramp off Highway 70 in Kinston and a follow-up briefing at 4 p.m. to reveal what was discovered during this innovative survey mission.
"The Neuse River is in great condition for this project right now," said John Morris III, Deputy State Underwater Archeologist for the Department of Cultural Resources. "The river is currently high enough to conduct this type of investigative work." The river survey is a combined project between the Office of State Archeology and State Historic Sites, both divisions of the N. C. Department of Cultural Resources.
"This will be the first detailed survey of this part of the river using modern side scan sonar, a magnetometer, and a differential Global Positioning System," continued Morris.
The CSS Neuse was constructed in Whitehall, now known as Seven Springs, from October 1862 until the summer of 1863 when she was taken down river to Kinston for completion. She was officially launched in April 1864 with the intention of steaming down river toward New Bern, which had been occupied by Union troops since March 1862. The Neuse never made it that far, running a ground on a sandbar just south of town. After being stranded there for a month, she was refloated and brought back to Kinston, where she remained until March 1865 when the ship was scuttled by her own crew to prevent it from being captured.
"We are hoping this survey will tell us what, if anything, is salvageable." said Keith Hardison, Director of Historic Sites. "We need to gather information about what is there so we can begin to explore the possibility of recovering additional pieces of the ship to add to the CSS Neuse Civil War Interpretive Center in downtown Kinston." The interpretive center is currently open for visitors to tour and watch as the museum takes shape.
The CSS Neuse remained underwater until the early 1960s when several attempts were made to recover her from her watery grave. In 1964, most of the ship was salvaged and brought to the site of the Governor Richard Caswell Memorial on Vernon Avenue. The recovery process was documented by Mr. Bill Rowland, who is also a member of the steering committee for this survey project. The ship remained under a shelter on Vernon Avenue until the summer of 2012 when she was moved to her new home on the corner of Queen and Caswell Streets in downtown Kinston.
"It's very significant because it's the only commissioned Confederate ironclad left from the Civil War." said Matthew Young, Site Manager for the CSS Neuse Civil War Interpretive Center. "We know there are still sections of the ship in the river. What we don't know is how significant they are to our understanding of how she was built and operated. There may be pieces of iron armored plate, a propeller, or even one of the ship's anchors still in the river." Donations to support this effort are encouraged and welcome.
The CSS Neuse Interpretive Center is located at 100 N. Queen St., Kinston, N.C. Hours are Tuesday-Saturday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. The Gov. Caswell Center is located at 2612 W. Vernon Ave., Kinston, N.C., 27604. Hours are 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and Saturday 10 a.m. 4 p.m. The sites are closed Sunday and Monday, and most major holidays.