Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Galveston Research Summary #13 - Recovering Artifacts from the USS Westfield

I had the great pleasure last night of attending a lecture at the Houston Museum of Natural Science: “U.S.S. Westfield, A Civil War Shipwreck in Galveston Bay”:

In the fall of 2009, a team of marine archeologists working under the direction of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers supervised the recovery of artifacts from USS Westfield, a Staten Island ferryboat that had been converted into a Civil War gunboat after its purchase by the U.S. Navy in 1861. Westfield saw significant Civil War action, participating in battles at New Orleans, Vicksburg and other places along the Gulf Coast. Its destruction at the Battle of Galveston on January 1, 1863, was one of the most important and dramatic events of the Civil War in Texas. This audiovisual program uses rare historic documents and images to describe the conversion of a ferryboat to armored warship and examine the military career of this unique “fighting ferryboat” and its impact on the war in Texas. It retraces the series of events that led to the relocation of Westfield’s wreck and the challenging project that resulted in recovery of tons of artifacts undergoing conservation at the Conservation Research Laboratory at Texas A&M University. Among the artifacts being conserved is a more than 4 ton Dahlgren cannon capable of firing a projectile almost 2 miles.

The lectures and slide show were led by Houston-based Civil War author and historian Edward T. Cotham, Jr., Robert Gearhart (a marine archeologist and hydrographer at Atkins North American, Inc, and Amy Borgens (State Marine Archaeologist at Texas Historical Commission).

Ed Cotham gave a great history of the wartime service of the USS Westfield, Robert described how they found the wreck and recovered the artifacts, and Amy described the conservation of the recovered artifacts and what they have learned about the Westfield.

They included amazing period sketches and photographs, video of the recovery effort, and photographs of the conserved artifacts in their presentation.

There is a good amount of published material now on the USS Westfield artifact recovery, and I have provided some links below.

It was also great to see my friend Andrew Hall, blogger at Dead Confederates and Maritime Texas. Andy will be giving a lecture at the Museum next week himself: "Patriots for Profit: The Blockade Runners of the Confederacy" (details here), which I am really looking forward to.

And: I want to be a marine archaeologist when I grow up!

Enjoy the links below!

Article from the November 2010 issue of Current Archaeology in Texas (PDF here or click on graphic below):

And a video of the recovery effort from KXAN TV (Austin, TX) via Andy's excellent Maritime Texas website (here or click on graphic below):


Mark said...

So cool! How do you find out about these lectures? I'd love to attend something like that in my neck of the woods.

Jim Schmidt said...

Thanks, Mark!

Well, in this case I had met Mr. Cotham and Mr. Hall at the Galveston Civil War anniversary events in January and they had told me about their planned lectures, so I've been looking forward to them ever since.

Their two lectures were part of a series being given at the Museum over the past several months and there may still be another one or two keft.

The Museum is hosting a great Civil War exhibit until late April: