Library at the
American Archaeologists and French volunteer and Navy divers have recovered
the bell of the famous Confederate commerce raider CSS ALABAMA from its
resting place off Cherbourg, France.
The bell was found near the ships'
galley stove, still attached to the ornate brass bracket which once
attached it to the foremast.
The brass or bronze bell found this week is 14 inches in diameter and 13
inches high. The bell is still covered with a layer of concreted sediment
and no engraving is visible. During recovery the fragile mounting at
the top of the bell separated from the mounting bracket. The bell will be
shipped to the Warren Lasch Archaeological Conservation Laboratory in
Charleston, South Carolina, for conservation treatment and cleaning.
This lab is presently conserving the remains of the Confederate submarine
This summer season of diving is the most recent campaign in a series of
many years. Found in 1984 and identified shortly after, the wreck has
been studied through a successful international partnership between the
French and United States governments and French and American volunteer
archaeological divers with occasional substantial assistance from the
French Navy. Funding was predominately provided by French companies
for earlier years of the project, but the United States government has
provided substantial funding assistance recently through the Department of
Defense's Cultural Legacy Resources grant program.
Planned archaeological work must be approved by the joint
Franco-American CSS Alabama Scientific Committee, made up of two representatives from
each government. It must then meet French requirements to receive permits
for scientific diving projects and archaeological work in French waters.
All artifacts remain the property of the US Navy, which exhibits some,
including the remains of the ship's wheel, at the Navy Museum in the
Washington Navy Yard. Some of the most interesting artifacts are on
loan to museums in Mobile, Alabama, and Cherbourg, France, with long-standing
interest and involvement with the ship.
Work on the wreck site has been hampered over the years by a high-energy
bottom scoured by powerful tides, leaving only two short windows during
slack tides each day. The wreck is at the maximum safe depth for
compressed air diving, which severely restricts available time to work
on the bottom as well. Past campaigns have concentrated on different
research objectives each year. One campaign excavated parts of the officers
quarters at the stern, where a porcelain and brass toilet and several
china plates and cups were found. Other years saw study of the engines and
boilers amidships, the main armament, and the propeller lifting frame at
The largest artifacts recovered to date are the Blakely pattern stern
pivot gun and part of its mounting - currently on long-term loan to
Cherbourg. The gun and its reconstructed mount are on exhibit at the magnificent
new Cherbourg maritime museum Cite de la Mer in the grand ocean liner
terminal buildings of the city.
The centerpiece of the Cite de la Mer is the
preserved nuclear-propelled ballistic missile submarine REDOUTABLE which
with Alabama's gun gives an excellent contrast in the most fearsome
weapon systems of their respective centuries.
Further work planned for this diving season on the ALABAMA includes
recovery of the iron galley stove if possible, and study of the crew
berthing area in the forward part of the wreck. After diving ends June
21st, a US Navy remotely operated vehicle will be used to map the entire
site using high-resolution digital photography.
This report is compiled in part from information provided by the CSS
Alabama Project, including a news story by Mark Padover; from past
involvement with the project and visits to Cherbourg; and from several
individuals present at this year's campaign.
News story credit to Kevin Foster, National
Park Service, Washington, D.C.