tv Laura Lawfer Orr Discusses Civil War Naval Engagement CSPAN August 18, 2017 10:43pm-11:40pm EDT
>> announcer: at 7:00 p.m. eastern, new jersey residence and activists discussed the 1967 newark developments. >> there were 286 reports of snipers fired. zero snipers were ever found. no evidence of any snipers, no gun shells other than the police unshells. no foot prints no finger prints nothing was found and yet 26 people was killed. one policeman, one firemen and citizens all by the police department that was operating. >> announcer: american history t.v. all weekend and every weekend only on c-span3. snow we return to the annual civil war substitute conference at gettysburg college. good afternoon everyone.
i am p. carmichael. it's my pleasure to welcome laura lawfer orr. laura is a grad wit of penn state university. during her summer she spent time as a seasonal historian at gettysburg park. she wen on to usc greens burrough where she and i spent some timing to. i was her mentor for a year before i moved on. laura completed her masters and she's had a career in the field of public history. her first job was at strike that ford hall, the birthplace of robert e. lee. initially she was a deputy director at the naval museum.
she's been there since 2010. she works as an educator there and does special events. she's also worked at fort monroe museum. today, she will be speaking to us about civil warship wrecks, which is very unusual. in my seven years here i don't think we've done anything that han been on land, haven't done any naval operations at all. she'll be talking about the ship wrecks of uc c comer land and usa florida. before she comes on stage, note that laura and her husband, tim orr have just recently posted a book. the title of that book is "never call me a hero, a legendary pilot remembers the battle of
midway." let me introduce laura lawfer orr. >> good afternoon, how is everybody? good? stay awake after lunch. while i worked for the united states navy at the museum everything you hear to do is my opinion. i have to star off with that disclosure. i think you'll see why as we go through this talk today. one of the thing that we're going to focus on is civil war battlefields in a different way than you usually do. we're losing the fight to preserve some civil war battlefields. you might not know it, especially here in gettysburg where over 6,000 acres have been saved. on an important front, civil war press vacation is unfortunately
failing. navy wrecks have been plundered, abused by unscrupulous individuals who see jurn water acts as salvage, adderall lick piles, sea for seizure. this shatters all the u.s. navals around the world, the final resting place for u.s. sailors. the wrecks sit underpretexted. and there are victims of divers and plunderers who seeked to take pieces of those wrecks for themselves. of course many navy wrecks are hard to reach. they sit on the battle of oceans you need special dive equipment to get to them. civil war wrecks are vulnerable because they sank in shallow
waters, where deep see equipment isn't necessary. the story i'd like to tell is about the uss comer lon and the c s s florida. i think the time in the water sunken is interesting by the time of flow. i hope by the i know of this you'll appreciate the flights of civil war wrecks in the area. since the end of the civil war, the u.s. navy has claimed and held official ownership of beau wrecks. over the passage of times our past fleets have lacked the resources to protect these gave yards. f centuries men included this ships under the guise of fishing. the story of uss comer land and
c s s florida is the story of a failed preservation effort. in short. plunder of the wrecks were allowed by the organization and entrusted to their care, the us navy. before i tell this sad story let me introduce you to these ships. it's logical to begin with the u.s. comer land. the ship sanked by the uss virginia. it was one of the finest vessels in the fleet. launched in may 1842, the three masted 170 foot fur long served in the navy. served as the flag ship of the u.s. navy home squad rant during the mexico/american war. workers converted it into a sloop of war by cutting down a
deck and refitting the ship's arm mayment. after the ship's refitting for several years cruise off the shore slave trade. by the time the civil war began in 1861, cumberland boasted 22 nine-inch smooth board and two pivot guns one in the bow and one in the stern of the ship. these monster guns weighed 2,500 pounds each. at the time some of the largest artillery in the world. at the beginning of the civil war, cumberland in portsmith, virginia. the ship was towed to safety when they took over the shipyard. in several minor actions in hampton roads and captured a
small number of ships in the harbor. additionally, cumberland was part of the force that captured the forts at cape hatteras. on march 8th, 1862, when duelling the converted iron clad "css virginia." for many months the men of cumberland when merrymic was burned at the beginning of the war. all that training did nothing to help them. that fateful morning, the confederate iron clad responded with a shot that burst through the star side killing nine marines right off the bat. the second shell from virginia took out an entire gun crew except for the powder boy. the iron clad maintained a position off the union ship's bow and they kept up firing at
cumberland. as the ship lay helplessly at anchor. unable tabring its broad side battery to bear against the attacker and in the wind and tide. virginia moved away from the victim's bow. the steam directly for cumberland piercing the hole below the berth deck with the deadly ram on the front of the virginia. for several moments, the iron clad could not extricate itself. as cumberland began to sink, it appeared that the two vessels might sink together. fortunately for the confederates, the ram broke off and freed the virginia. but in so doing, its actions exposed the ship to the cumberland's broad side. the union ship was doomed. all aboard knew it. amazingly, no uninjured gunners left their stations. they realized they had an opportunity to retaliate. despite their devastating losses, the union sailors
intensified their efforts. the dead were thrown to the port side and the wounded carried below. the remaining gun crews fired three broad sides, but none of them pierced the iron clad's armor. at this point, someone on the virginia yelled over to the cumberland's commanding officer to lieutenant george morris asking if cumberland would surrender. morris replied, never. we will sink with our colors flying. finally around 3:30 that afternoon, cumberland's bow submerged. morris gave the order to abandon ship. water poured through the breach opened by virginia's ram. causing the warship to lurch forward and the ship plunged bow first to the bottom of the river carrying 121 men down with her. in the aftermath, cumberland became famous. most importantly, the ship had snapped off virginia's ram, weakening the ship.
enabling "uss monitor kae" whic came in the next day and eventually drive its back to its birth. there two months later the virginia was intentionally destroyed by confederate forces. throughout the rest of the civil war, u.s. soldiers and sailors routinely visited the site of cumberland. easily accessible by its mast sticking out of the water. sa paid homage to the dead. recognizing that section of the james river as hallowed ground. two years and eight months later, another important warship joined cumberland on the bottom of the james river. the confederate "css florida." first of the foreign built raiders. conducted in a liverpool ship pool and try to perway union
ageag agents. using a british boat, the vessel was designed for speed and maneuverability and operate under sail and steam. on march 22, 1862, went to sea and sailed to the bahamas where a navy captain john maffitt assumed command. meanwhile, his crew loaded ammunition and a battery of guns on the ship. as a raider, florida was incredibly successful. during its very first cruise, it captured 25 merchant ships, including the "jacob bell" and a ship called the "unida." the cargo values were at $1.5 million and $1 million. this is civil war money. think of how much more that would be today. a huge capture for florida.
three captured vessel with prize crews and they became satellites of the florida and accounted for 22 ship seizures. after an extended layover in france, they captured 13 more merchants ships in 1864. that year "the new york times" printed an editorial accusing the navy a lack of diligence. the article's author demanded action. without calling him out by name he blamed u.s. secretary gideon welles. he believed that welles hadn't sent enough ships out to try to catch raiders like the florida. florida's career ended in october 1864. but it was rammed and hijacked. they were in the neutral brazilian port. the captain spotted the raider
there who was anchored in port under the cover of darkness he ordered the ship rammed and sunk. when the ramming failed, he decided to seize the ship and tow it out of port and take it back to hamten roads. the union crews towed the confederate vessel back to the united states. they anchored it off newport news, virginia. there the ship sank under mysterious circumstances. the morning of november 28, 1864. although a u.s. government investigation concluded that the loss of the vessel was because of mechanical failures, specifically blaming leakage and pump failure because of the ramming, most likely the crew of "uss" deliberately scuttled the ship so the navy wouldn't have to be put in the awkward position of returning it to brazil. after all, florida's abduction from a neutral port had created a bit of an international dispute. the navy had been required to apologize publicly for the
incident. years later, florida's captain john maffitt reported in a conversation with admiral dixon porter. porter admitted to giving the order to sink the ship which he called the rebel craft. in short, hamten roads was the famous resting place. one union and one confederate. it didn't take long for questions to arise about their preservation. after the battle of hampton roads, the federal government experienced interest in raising the sunken remains of "uss cumberland." ownership of the wreck was never in dispute during the war. the territorial clause of the u.s. constitution made it clear that all u.s. naval wrecks remained property of the navy. didn't matter if that wreck was on the bottom of the trench or had run aground at cape may. if it once belonged to the navy, it always belonged to the navy.
immediately after the battle of hampton roads, the navy expressed interest in bringing up cumberland and seeing if it could be reused. in may, 1862, secretary of the navy gideon welles hired loreven baits to conduct a preliminary survey of the wreck. and his report, which was the earliest account of conditions on the sunken warship was not optimistic at all. he wrote, the comberland lies in 66 feet of water. deeply embedded in the mud. heeled to an angle of 45 degrees. the water is very thick. and with some difficulty, we could get a be. everything appears in confusion down there. bates concluded the damage was too extensive to justify the cost of raising it. however, the u.s. navy continued to find ways to recover reusable property, such as loose canon
barrels that they rexwruz used. for the next decade they sold the rights to recovery to salvage firms. this creates issues in later years because in the, you know, 19th century they sell salvage rights and in the 20th century comes up as a question from some divers i'm going to talk about in a little while. although the u.s. government received $8,000 for the rights to dive on the ship, nothing less than a congressional act can remove a ship from the ownership of the u.s. government. even a "philadelphia enquirer" article noted that the navy would retain all rights to the ship, including everything of both military and historic value. the article reminded potential divers that nothing they found on the ship was theirs stating bidders for this contact will take into consideration that the government requires that whatever may be onboard her whether public or private property will be delivered to
the navy yard in virginia. however, such restrictions about artifacts did not deter daring divers. more than anything, the government hired solvers wanted to retrieve the safe which contained a minimum of $40,000 in gold species. what ship carries gold species on it, who knows. the safe turned out to be something of a hoax. in 1875 a detroit salvage company claimed to find the safe and found no gold in it. george west was a newsport news resident and wrote memoirs that talked about the salvage activities in the post civil war eras. no one ever knew what was done with the safe. it was never reported that any gold was taken from it. nevertheless, as years passed, divers continued to believe that a mysterious yankee treasure lay in the bottom of the james
river. during the depression of the 1870s, diving on cumberland became a get rich quick scheme. salvage diving was not easy. a host of dangers surrounded anyone who attempted the 60-foot dive. a german salvage diver had a plan to reach the supposed safe by putting dynamite under the stern of the wreck and blowing a hole into the cabin. today we can only marvel at his daring and what most of us would probably call stupidity, as well. he had handle live explosives in murky water without even a portable underwater lamp. they didn't have underwater lamps at this time. risking mechanical failure with his crude and cumbersome breathing apparatus. reported that the german diver was brought up unconscious several times. he observed thee was splendid
looking fellow and he reduced rapidly and did not live long. meanwhile, as divers went to work blowing apart cumberland, the u.s. navy expressed equal interest in florida. as with cumberland, there was never any doubt who owned "css florida." at the conclusion of the civil war, all confederate war material reverted to the u.s. government, specifically to the department of the treasury. when the government services administration was created in the 1950s, the organization took hold of the confederate artifacts including the ship wrecks. in modern time, the navy wishes to study any confederate vessel and the navy has to officially request the gsa turn over those ships to the navy one at a time. the navy began diving on "css florida" after the civil war ended. so the transfer of control from the treasury to the navy occurred shortly before that. so, in any event, although
ownership of the wreck was definitely questionable in 1864, by 1865, it was not. regrettably official reports concerning the progress and extent of post-war salvage operations on "florida" both government and private are pretty much nonexistent. only george west's account was stripped by hired divers after the war. unfortunately, west who witnessed much of this operation declined to elaborate on the nature of these activities. except to say the "florida" must have been magnificently built so the state rooms were handsomely decorated. truly, if they can see the decorations through all the aquatic life, then florida must have sunk in excellent condition. documentary evidence suggests that all the major salvage efforts concluded within a decade after the end of the war. from that point on, the memory
of cumberland and florida quickly failed. except for brief periods of revived interests in the 1920s and 1930s. both the union warship and the confederate raider remained out of sight. for the most part, out of mind. the only major recovery occurred in the 1920s when government hired salvage divers recovered cumberland's anchor chain sending it to the museum of the confederacy in richmond. for the next 60 years, no documented activity took place. that's not to say that no one dove on the ship wrecks. plundered them for artifacts. in fact, many watermen did just that. the middle decades of the 20th century became something of a hay day. many owned the technology they needed to dive in these waters. and it's important to remember, too, that historic preservation in the united states didn't take hold until the 1960s and ship
wrecks were not at the top of the list for preservation focus. at the same time, many important artifacts may well have been lost during these decades because of ignorance and outright vandalism. for instance, the ram from "css virginia" which was lost inside cumberland in 1862 has never been found. currently, it doesn't show up on any of the sonar readings of cumberland or any of the areas around the ship. so, the question remains, did an enterprising waterman in the 20th century find that significant artifact and bring the ram up? the answer may never be known. official interest in the wrecks didn't occur again until 1980. so many years have passed but the wrecks actually had to be relocated. still, the navy expressed no interest in underwriting a preservationest campaign, assuming that locating the wrecks would only embolden plunderers. with the navy deadlocked on the
issue clyde cussler led the effort. he served at the chairman of the national underwater marine agency. a private nonprofit organization dedicated to the preservation of maretime heritage. in 1980 he decided to pursue his long-standing interest in the two ships. he believed that both ships told an important story about the civil war navy and he also believed that both ships had a number of artifacts on them but should be brought up and preserved. so he hired a washington-based researcher and contacted a local historian who calculated the probable locations for the sunken vessels. he entered into a cooperative agreement with the virginia state-based ark logical agency which offered to supply divers to search for the two local wreck sites. the one thing that cussler failed to do was make any contact with the owners of the two wrecks, the u.s. navy. a decision that ultimately set
in motion events that led to a bitter rivalry between his group and the navy. the state arkia logical group he worked with established a survey area in the lower james river, which according to the research, offered the greatest potential for containing the remains of the sunken ships. even using all of the available technology to detect different anomalies in the water, initially they could not find the wrecks. so, another year went by. cussler went back and he contract would the joint venturers this time. and the voint ventures firm reached out to local watermen. they contacted local watermen who fished in the area you see on your map here in the box. and they tried to obtain the location of the ships or any information about recovery of artifacts from that area. eventually, they found a man named wilbur riley.
wilbur riley was a veteran clamor of the new york and james rivers and reportedly knew the location of a wreck right off of newport news. he had retrieved a number of objects from it already. for the archiologists had proved to be without foundation. but this time, riley described how he first discovered the wreck after four or five years of clamming and then he lost a pair of clam tongs in the james river. and he tried to retrieve them. he discovered a brass sword hill and handle that was decorated with a design during the civil war. he also a large, copper cylinder. that bore a striking resemblance to the building pump.
furthermore, he thought the wreck was about 65 feet below the surface, which is about what was expected of "uss cumberland." his artifacts and the location, the description of his location and depth of the ship warranted a first-hand investigation. the clamor offered to help find the ship. several days later, he shortened his dawn to dusk work day and transported a dive time to the site. without the benefit of instrumentation, riley mored the clam boat right over the spot where his visual calculation of land variance indicated the wreck was lying. given how difficult it was to find the wrecks with modern technology, it suggests that riley had probably taken artifacts from the wreck several times before, since he was able to find it so quickly. in any event, the divers soon appreciated the waterman's accuracy. as they extended their search line to begin a systematic sweep of the river bed, they encountered an area of wreckage. it was dominated by massive
wooden timbers protruding eerily out of the mud at odd angles in the murky gloom. they collected some artifacts that helped identify the ship. one was a white iron stone plate. little fragment that had a manufacturer's name and mark on it. this established as a product of the potteries of england. they also found a remarkably well preserved pair of brass gunner's calipers. measure projectiles. finally, divers found a sabot, a solid cylinder composed of a single block of wood. it was used to ensure that a ball would be seeded in the bottom of a canon with a fuse facing towards the muzzle in order to prevent an explosion when the tube was fired. the sabot most intriguing figure to these divers was its nine
inch diameter which corresponded to the size of the canons from "uss cumberland." though by no means definitive. the wreck was the final resting place of cumberland. with cumberland's location known the next day, the dive team went looking for "css florida." while off the ship shore, the divers found an underwater anomaly and then dropped a buoy. a pair of divers examined the site and found concentrated debris and a few artifacts. a liquor bottle dating to the correct time period and a copper alloy hoop of unknown function, which was probably one of the brass ornaments in the florida state rooms. as the salvage divers had noted back in 1865, reaching the wrecks of cumberland and florida was not an easy task.
environmental conditions formidable. hindered the operations. water depth over 60 feet at each site. restricted daily bottom time without decompression stops to barely over an hour to each member of the dive team. the hulls and propeller blades of the freighters, tankers and barges that regularly made their way up and down the river represented a constant source of concern to divers during their assent and decent. by far the greatest cause of was site-marking buoys which were dragged away every night as investigateles pa vessels passed by the two wreck sites. florida was in an essentially undisturbed condition. it was consistent with the ship's more peaceful demise. whereas "uss cumberland" was
barely held together. the damage sustained by the u.s. warship during its violent encounter compounded with all the destructive efforts of the salvage divers and passing ships over the decades. it accounted for the vessel's shattered state. furthermore at some point, dredge spoil, which is basically piles of dirt that were dredged out of the river for the ship yard nearby. they were dumped over top the wreck. from prompting george west to conclude no doubt now, the boat is entirely covered over. cussler's crew recovered a small wooden frame. custom fitted with a broken piece of mirror glass. fashioned no doubt by a common seaman for his personal use. they also recovered a
magnificent ship's bell. 1 1/2 feet high cast in bronze. this was the bell that rang on the morning of march 8, 1862 to send the crew to general quarters. cussler's diving missions on cumberland and florida prompted a protracted legal battle. after all, his team had brought up artifacts without turning them directly to the navy. and admirals and the u.s. navy were not happy about it. when the first dives on cumberland and florida ended, cussler's people first turned over the artifacts to the college of william and mary for preservation. under the expectation that they would go to some agency associated with the commonwealth of virginia. but, officially, as we talked about, both wrecks are owned by the u.s. navy. at the time the navy didn't have a permitted process for diving on the ships which means they had no way to educate historians about the ships and about their
ownership. thus, cussler expressed surprise that the navy wanted the artifacts back. when he was informed of this matter, it became a bitter battle. for months refused to turn over the artifacts. he argued that because he was the one who went to get those artifacts, they were his. and he could give the artifacts to whoever he wanted to. only through the intervention of the navy's judge advocate core and the director of the naval museum did those artifacts eventually go back to the navy. he never forgave the navy for its intervention. he wrote an account of the seizure of the artifacts in his 1996 book "sea hunters." tinged with vitriol he blamed the navy for all his misfortunes. he wrote, it seems the judge advocate of the navy had a dream. he envisioned that my two years of research, the small fortune i
spent on the project and the efforts of the dive time were for the navy's soul benefit. he claimed the department of the navy owned both ships and all bits and pieces thereof. demonstrating a lack of style and sophistication, the navy threatened to go to court in order to claim the antiquities to whose recovery they zilch. nearly 30,000 jobs, the commonwealth of virginia rolled over and threw in the towel. the artifacts to the norfolk naval museum where they are on display. cussler had a point in some ways. the u.s. navy wasn't terribly communicative and failed to give him any specifics or provide any for those ships. a well-meaning diver went down to work on behalf of preservation. but failed because the navy kept him ignorant of the rules.
in the end, cussler and his team did the work and the navy reaped the benefits. even in the end, cussler believed he was in the right. not a peg leg, as he put it, to stand on. in truth, though, the law sided with the navy. the u.s. constitution's property clause followed by the abandoned ship wreck's act of 1987 placed ownership of the vessel firmly in the navy's grip. however selfless their intent, cussler and his team were no different than the looters who had been plungering the wrecks for the last century. in his 1996 book, he argued that the navy had sold the rights to cumberland, back in 1862. when the navy first hired solvers. he believed no confederate ship could possibly be owned by the government. his argument held no legal
standing. but it underscored a larger problem. most virginia watermen believed as cussler did that the navy didn't own the wrecks. they were free to be looted. once the cat was out of the bag in a location the wrecks became public, a frantic feeding frenzy occurred as they try to seize as many artifacts as they could before the navy wised up and tried to protect the vessels. for the next ten years, the cumberland and florida wrecks possessed no protection from looters who went after the ships with a vengeance. mostly crabbers and fishermen began looting the artifacts from the wrecks. word among the local watermen was many of them had their own private collections from the two wrecks and probably from others in the area, as well, that were not civil warship wrecks. for generations, they had adopted a pirate mentality. if they had the means to haul something off the bottom, it was
their's. forms the greatest threat to naval battlefields of the civil war. locals continue to see the ships as salvage, not as hallowed ground. few hampton roads residents remember that 121 men went down with the ship when cumberland sank in 1862. those men are still buried with the ship. when looters go through it to take artifacts, they disturb military graves at the same time. luckily, the civil war is blessed with an active community of private preservationists. a member of the historical society who brought the issue of looting to the federal government's attention. in 1989, this private citizen found an advertisement boasting of a of artifacts from cumberland and florida. he sent in a copy of the war magazine which advertised brass
buckles made from the "css florida" he had been hooking brass and then gave it to a collector who melted it down and made it into reenactor belt buckles. i have a few of those to show you here after this presentation. the government responded to this notice by deploying two important organizations. the naval criminal investigative services or ncis and the fbi. in 1990, the fbi won a big victory when it raided the williamsberi williamsburg. search warrant filed in u.s. district court noted that the search sought u.s. property stolen from cumberland's wreckage and brass and copper spikes taken from the florida and melted down into belt buckles. the fbi recovered the artifacts, but the raid left some unanswered legal questions. the defendants included four people. larry stevens and gary williams who owned the artifacts that had been given to them. and eugene christening and the
oystermen who looted them from the wrecks. the men challenged the fbi, saying that the looting was accidental. they tonged the artifacts from their oyster boats but they didn't know the prominence of the artifacts and they didn't know trading and selling them was wrong. one of the accused said, we're just out there trying to catch clams. i had thrown the stuff back overboard if i had known the relics were government property. however, many historians doubted the sincerity of the looters' words. john corsteen in "newport news" believe they destroyed the ships for the sole purpose of taking artifacts. from the newly created archeology branch, they were not prosecuted for unintentional recovery from artifacts in the course of normal commercial
shell fishing activities. they were prosecuted for deliberate and unauthorized commercial exploitation of a navy wreck. and interstate trafficking and antiquities that were the property of the federal government and were removed in violation of both federal and state law. to the end, the accused claim didn't know they were allowed to take artifacts from the wrecks and sell them. there should have been security on the ship wrecks to prevent them. in essence they claim assuming that they out on the water needed a sign to tell them that looting was illegal. this line of thinking resulted in some ridicule from the historical community. as one underwater archeologist noted, if somebody wanted to go up and did up the gettysburg battlefield because nobody was doing anything about it, would that make it right? the u.s. special assistant attorney in charge of prosecuting the men did his best to call shenanigans on the it
defendant's argument. ignorance of the law is no excuse for taking items from the ship, which are listed among the virginia's historic landmarks. you could blow up the world trade center and say you didn't know it was wrong. keep in mind he said this back in 1993, the same year the world trade center was attacked for the first time. ultimately the two oystermen pleaded guilty. they faced up to two years in prison. and $250,000 in fines for their crimes. they ended up getting a felony conviction, but the court allowed them to go free while paying minimum fines. under the understanding that they would return all artifacts to the u.s. navy and never do this again. the two men to whom they gave the oystermen artifacts to sell pleaded guilty to misdemeanor fines. the 1993 prosecutions of
chrisman, hastings, stevens and williams caused the navy to take naval preservation more seriously. the underwater branch lobbied congress for additional protection merlasures for the sp wrecks. they argued that the property clause of the constitution wasn't enough to protect the ships indefinitely and neither was the 1987 abandoned ship wrecks act. it didn't specify that the artifacts for military wrecks went to the u.s. navy and focused mostly on civilian wrecks. so, after 14 years the lawmakers corrected this problem. in o2004, president george bush signed into law the military craft act. while no action made it happen, several court cases many of which involved foreign sunken military craft off the coast of the u.s. eventually led to passage of this act.
the craft act because it wouldn't be the federal government if there wasn't an acronym. protected ships and planes belonging to the armed services from unauthorized disturbance. it included all vessels in american waters, including all foreign military craft. pursuant to the smca the navy sunken military craft regardless of their location or the passage of time. they can't be disturbed without permission from the u.s. navy. the smca also allowed the heads of each military service to begin a permitting program. they allowed people to dive on the wrecks for arcelogical or historical purposes provided that they do nuthing to disturb the wrecks. additionally, the fines for violating this act are incredibly high. the government can charge violators $100,000 per day for violating by diving without a permit. they can also fine them for any
damages believed to be incurred on the wrecks during this time. finally, the divers' research vessel can be confiscated by the government. with this act, the navy has a much stronger mechanism to protect the ships. but still realize an educational outreach to reach potential divers about the consequences of looting. strengthened the ability to punish looters. but doubtful that the cumberland and florida wrecks will benefit from it in the long term. looters have little knowledge of the act's existence. if they did, some would probably not care. in reality, plungering has died down for a different reason. security measures that prevent unauthorized boaters from getting near the ship yard. the ships lie just off the ship yard. just off shore. it's of tremendous benefit to the wrecks because they're
within the ship yard security zone. from personal experience, i know it doesn't take more than a few minutes for a police boat to accost any. in 2001 i companied an authorized expedition with no one in the hairage command to conduct the latest surveys of these two wrecks. police boats came by to ensure we were of no threat to the yards. during the expedition, we found the wrecks to be in poor condition. both are covered over with large piles of silk which is expected in the high traffic area of the river. nowadays, it's difficult to identify the exact shape of "uss cumberland." the ship is a little more than an insignificant lump on the bottom of the river. probably there are no artifacts left to be found. but one wonders how many are still out there in the museums of looters. at some point, the war on terror
will come to an end. and newport news ship building could cease. on that day, the ships will no longer be protected as they are now. divers will be able to plunder them with immunity, once again. it goes without saying that one day the passage of time will completely obliterate these wrecks. we can't preserve them in water forever. however, it seems abstractly wrong to hasten their destruction through artificial means. for the past 150 plus years, human kind has allowed that corrosion to occur. presently, "uss cumberland" and "css florida" are on the vernal of extinction. the u.s. navy needs a plan to preserve these ships. select artifacts for recovery and human resources to carry it out. it would be incorrect to say that the navy does not care about these vessels. on the contrary, the navy cares about them a great deal.
after all, these wrecks are the final resting place for those who gave their lives that our nation might live. as admiral sam cox said last year, if we expect sailors to fight and die for our country, the least we can do as a navy and a nation is to remember them. we make the promise to the families of those fallen in battle or lost at sea that we will never forget their loved one sacrifice. i believe the u.s. navy has a moral obligation to keep its word. in the case of "uss cumberland" those sailors lives happened to be given out on the water. naval wrecks need the same defenders as land battlefields do. ideal if some of the same people who consider metal detecting a
form of ha-- it's not then the failure of one institution. but, unfortunately, the failure of a community to protect our nation's naval heritage. if we don't act, we will lose the fight to preserve naval battles. and if we lose this fight, we'll lose that history forever. thank you. >> so, i have a few artifacts that i brought along to show you, as well. i am holding here a piece of "uss cumberland." this was part of the loot that was plundered in the early 1990s by the men i talked about. and one of the reasons i can stand here and hold it without gloves on is because they shellacked it. they took the wood up and put shellac over it. it is not a museum artifact. at the same time, that helps us out. it means it's part of our
education collection. we can take this to schools and kids can actually hold a piece of the "uss cumberland" when they're doing their battle of hampton roads program. this is something you don't get to do most places. so, afterwards, once we take some questions, if you'd like to come up. i have a couple pieces of the cumberland, which you're welcome to touch. i have some of the copper spikes i talked about. i even have some of the evidence boxes that the fbi took. and there's a couple -- there's a glass bottle that was found and some of the brass reenactor belt buckles, as well. you're welcome to come up and take a look at this and i can talk to you one on one. in the meantime, let me take a couple questions. >> thank you so much for your fascinating talk. you talked about now what can be done by the navy and the government to essentially punish those who did this? is there much to protect?
some elements of "the monitor" have been brought up and now safely or, as safely as they can be, in their very special tanks in museums. is that a solution or some elements of this? others that, you know, you bring them up on their own det deterrierate or more that can be done on level of security over some of these places? >> i think that's probably the best way to preserve bringing up what you can. at this point most of the artifacts have been brought up for these two ship wrecks. taking it to a mu zeem. the problem is the cost with that. when it came to bringing it up, the navy said even though they own the ship wreck at the time, no, we can't do that because we don't have the money for it. luckily noaa stepped in and partnered with that. that is absolutely what needs to be done to preserve these fish wrecks. we need to do what we can to
preserve them. also depends, too, if it's a grave. if it's a grave, do you bring it it up? you probably do not. i know when they brought this up, they didn't expect to find bodies inside or skeletons inside, but they did. i think the best way to preserve the ship wrecks is either completely leave them alone or bring up what you can and bring them to a mu zseum. you don't have the place like you do with any of the land battlefields. you come to gettysburg and you stand on the fields and you can envision what happens. when you're teaching the battle of hampton roads, you're just looking out at water. it's hard for people to envision that and the best way is to have those artifacts. >> thank you. >> thank you. yes. >> lee fisher from oxford, ohio. being in the arceia logical community. i understand all the issues. but do you think the navy will
ever put the money out to do the preservation at once and knows the answer to that question. what about public, private partnerships that had preserved land sites and some maritime sites around the world. or are they sitting there saying, we don't want you to do that. but, no, we're not going to put the money up to help you. what is going on there? >> i am saying the navy will probably never have the money for this. in the past 30 ye20 years, they gotten better and the heritage command and they go out and they do sonar readings and a lot of protection of ship wrecks around the world, not just in the u.s. but they're never going to have enough money. and i think public/private partnerships would be a great plan. the difficulty is the federal government is creating that
public, private partnership getting through all of the red tape to be able to get that done. but i absolutely think that is the way we have to go to be able to preserve these ships and these artifacts. not just the ones we talked about today. >> cussler was a visionary. >> right. >> did the enactment scare people away from entering into agreements with the navy? >> i don't think so. from what i understand from talking with the underwater archeologists who do this, they have -- they xwasically re-created like cussler who dives on. you know, his organization. they worked with them on creating these regulations. now, they can go get a permit and they can dive for historical information, for educational, as well. and it actually makes it it a lot easier. so, it's harder for people who
get caught without a permit and who get, you know, fined and thrown in jail for it. but for people like cussle who knows what the right thing is. it makes it a little bit easier. >> if i was paying attention personally, the first couple attempts to find out what happened to the cumberland was 1870s. >> right after the civil war. >> all right. well, my question is this. i don't think scuba gear was invented then. how long could they stay down? what apparatus did they use? >> i don't know the specifics of what kind of apparatus they could use. i know they couldn't stand down
for more than 30 minutes at a time. i'm not sure what apparatus they had, that's not my expertise. they did have some sort of a cumberland breathing apparatus. >> thank you very much. >> sure, thanks. you're watching american history tv all weekend every weekend on cspan3. to join the conversation, join us on facebook at cspanhistory. c-span's coverage of the solar eclipse on monday starts at 7:00 a.m. eastern with the "washington journal" live at nasa's spaceflight center in green belt, maryland.
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