ECU students study Civil War gunboat in Chicod creek
(May 31, 2002)
Graduate students from East Carolina University have begun the partial excavation of an American Civil War gunboat that has rested in the murky depths of a Tar River tributary for more than 130 years.
For the second consecutive year, students in a summer field school for ECU's program in Maritime History and Nautical Archaeology have worked at the shipwreck site on Chicod Creek near Grimesland in Pitt County. The project is aimed at assessing the overall condition of the vessel.
The Confederate Navy built the gunboat in Washington, N.C., but scuttled it in the creek before completion to prevent its capture by Union forces. The vessel sits in the narrows of the winding, dark-water creek, covered by mud, silt and 15 feet of water.
Dr. Larry Babits, an ECU nautical archaeologist, is leading the team that is studying the site. He said he hopes to determine how much of the ship remains in the creek and make an assessment of its overall condition. The students will make repeated dives at the site and produce detailed drawings of the ship's structure. The work will also involve some excavation of the hull and the possible recovery of artifacts.
"We have a fantastic opportunity to examine an important part of history right in our own back yard," said Babits. "The Chicod Creek site should tell us about local shipbuilding methods and materials that were used during the American Civil War," he said.
The ECU graduate program in Maritime History and Nautical Archaeology conducts a field school each summer to give students experience in the methods of researching and uncovering historical shipwreck sites. The work at the wreck site began on Monday (May 27) after two weeks of classroom lectures and practice with a shipwreck model in the school's diving tank. The study ends on June 17.