tv Laura Lawfer Orr Discusses Civil War Naval Engagement CSPAN August 21, 2017 10:39am-11:36am EDT
you're watching american history tv. 48 hours of programming on american history every weekend on c-span3. follow us on twitte twitter @cspanhistory for information on our schedule and to keep up with the latest history news. now we return to the annual civil war institute at gettysburg college for conversation on shipwrecks during the civil war. this is just under an hour. good afternoon, everyone. i am pete carmichael, professor of history at gettysburg college, also the director of the support institute. it's my pleasure to welcome laura lauffer. laura is a graduate of penn state university. during her summer, she spent time as a seasonal historian at
gettysburg national park. she then went on to unc greensboro where laura and i spent some time together. i was her mentor for a year before i moved on to west virginia university. laura did complete her masters at uncg. and then she has had a very varied career in the field of public history. her first job was at stratford hall, the birthplace of robert e. lee. recently, she's the deputy education director at the hampton rhodes naval museum. been there since 2010 and works as an educator there and does special events. she's also worked, i should add, she's also worked at fort monroe casement museum. today she will be speaking to us about the civil warship wrecks, which is very unusual.
in my seven years here, i don't think we have done anything that hasn't been on land, we have not done any naval operations at all. she'll be talking about the shipwrecks of the "uss cumberland" and "ussa florida." a note that laura and her husband have just recently published a book. you can see a copy of it just in front of the podium. the title of that book is "never call me a hero: a legendary american dive bomber pilot remembers the battle of midway." let me introduce laura lauffer. good afternoon. how is everybody? good? stay awake after lunch, okay? no, i have to actually start out with a matter of disclosure. while i work for the united
states navy at the hampton rhodes naval museum, everything you hear today is my opinion. it's not endorsed by the u.s. navy. i always have to start out with that disclosure. and i think you will kind of see why as we go through the talk today. one of the things 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, but on an important front, civil war reservation is unfortunately failing. navy wrecks have been plunder, abused by unscrupulous individuals who see underwater wrecks as savage, as relic piles free for seizure and exploitation. this problem shadows all naval wrecks around the world.
sunken ships and planes, the final resting place for many u.s. sailors. the wrecks sit unprotected. the wrecks silt unprotected and are victims of diverers and plunderers who seek to take pieces of those wrecks for themselves. of course, many navy wrecks are hard to reach. they sit on the bottom of vast oceans, you need special diving equipment to get to them, but the civil war wrecks are particularly vulnerable because they sank? shallow waters where deep sea diving equipment is not necessary to loot the wrecks. the story i would like to tell today is about two ships. the "uss coumberlandcumberland" "css florida." their time in the water is just as interesting by the time afloat. so i hope by tend of this you'll appreciate the flight of the two civil war wrecks in the hampton
rhodes area. for many years the ships were victims of intentional plunder. since the end of the civil war, the u.s. navy has claimed and held official ownership of both wrecks. but over the passage of time, our vast fleet has consistently lacked the necessary resources to protect these aquatic graveyards. in the 20th century, virginia watermen looted and pillaged the ships under the guides of clamming and fishing. today we're on the verge of losing the wrecks, wiping from the face of the earth the last vestiges of this crucial naval action of the midatlantic. the story of "uss cumberland" and "css florida" is a story of a failed preservation effort. in short, plunder of the wrecks was allowed by the organization entrusted to their care. the u.s. navy. before i tell this sad story, though, let me first introduce you to these two ships. it's logical, i think, to begin
with "the uss cumberland" dunk surrying the battle of hampton rhodes. cumberland was one of the finest vessels in the federal fleet. built at the boston navy yard and launch in may 1842, the fleet amasted 175-foot in the 1840s. cumberland took part in three mediterranean cruises, served as the flag ship of the u.s. navy home squadrand during the mexican war. they were cutting down a deck and refitting the ship's armament. after the ship's fitting, they cruised off the coast of africa as a flagship of the african squadrant. by the time the civil war began in 1861, cumberland boasted 22
9-inch doll grants, two 10-inch pivot guns, one in the bow and one in the stern of the ship. the monstrous guns weighed 12,000 pounds each and fired a shell. at the time, they were some of the largest pieces of naval artillery in the world. at the beginning of the civil war, cumberland was at the yard in portsmouth, virginia. the ship was towed to safety when the confederates took over the shipyard. the war engaged confederate forces in several minor actions in hampton rhodes and captured a small number of ships in the harbor. additionally, it happened at cape hatteras. but "uss cumberland" met the march on march 8, 1862, when dueling the "css virginia." for many months, the men of cumberland were aware of the construction of the virginia
made from the captured hull of the "uss meramec" when it was burned at the beginning of the war. they drill in preparation for the inevitable encounter. all that training did nothing to help them. that fateful morning as cumberland opened fire with their forward guns, the confederate ironclad responded with a shot that burst through the starboard side killing or wounding nine marines right off the bat. the second shell from virginia took out an entire gun crew except for the powder boy. the ironclad maintained a position off the union ship's bow and kept up firing at cumberland as the ship lay helplessly at anchor, unable to bring the broadside to bear against the attacker and in the slapped wind and tide. virginia moved away from the victim's bow and steamed directly for the starboard side, piercing a hole beloatw the ber
deck. for several moments, the ironclad 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, it's actions exposed the ship to the cumberland's broadside. the union ship was doomed. all aboard nknew 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 ironclad'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 ramp causing the warship to lurch forward and the ship you think mr. plunged to the bottom of the river carrying 120 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" that came in the next day to pummel it and eventually drive it back to its berth. 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 at that point by its mast sticking out of the water. u.s. troops recognized the sacrifice of the cumberland crew. and they paid homage to the dead, recognizing that section vessel was designed for speed and map nufr ability. it cooperate under sale and steam. on march 22nd, areto went to sea and sailed to the bahamas where
a captain assumed command. he crist end the else have "ussa florida." meanwhile, his crew surreptitiously lodloaded 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 "unieda" the cargo values on these ships were at 1.5 million and $1 million. this is civil war money so think how much more that would be today. it was a huge capture for css florida. they fitted three capture vezels with prize cruise. they became satellites of florida and they account the for an additional 22 ship seizures. after an ex-end itted layover in france, they captured 13 more merchant ships in 1864. that yeert "new york times" printed an editorial accusing
the navy of a lack of diligence and its efforts to catch this troublesome raid dore. editor's author demanded action. without calling him out by name he blamed united states secretary of navy gideon wells. he was the source of the incompetency because he believed that wells hadn't sent enough ships out to try to catch raiders like the florida. florida's career ended in olkt, 1864 when it was ram and hijacked by uss wa chew set. they were in the brazilian port. the captain spotted the raider there who was ancered in port under the cover of the darkness he ordered the ship rammed and sunk. when the ramming failed, he decided he was going to seize the ship and tow it out of port and take it back to hampton rhodes. the union crew towed the confederate vessel back to the united states.
they anchored it off lower port news. there it sank under mysterious circumstances on 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 ram, most likely the crew of deliberately skus will 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 and the navy had been required to apologize publicly for the incident. years later, florida's captain john most fit reported that in a conversation with admiral dixon porter he said that party admit to giving the order to sinkt ship which he called that rebel craft. in short, hampton rhodes became the final resting place for two
famous war ships from the civil war, one union and one confederate. it didn't take long for questions to arise about their preservation. after the battle of hampton rhodes, 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 around the world remain property of the navy. didn't matter if that wreck was on the bottom of the marianne that's trench or had run aground at cape may, 'f it once belonged to the navy it always belonged to the navy. immediately after the battle of hampton rhodes, the navy expressed interest in bringing up cumberland and seeing if it could be reused. in may, 1862, second of navy gideon wells hired lor rine bates to conduct a preliminary survey of the wreck. and his report, which was the
earliest account of conditions on the sunken war ship, was not optimistic at all. he wrote, the couple ber land lies in 66 feet of water deeply embedded in the mud, heeled to an angle of 45 degrees. the water's very nick and with some difficulty, we could get a bow. everything appears in confusion down there. bates concluded that the damage sustained by the vessel was too extensive to just fight cost 6 raising it. however, the u.s. navy continued to find raise to recover reusable property such as loose can knoll barrels that they'd reuse. for the next decade, the government sold the rights of recovery to a success offal salvage firms. incidentally it creates issues in later years because in the 19th century they sell salvage rights and then in the 20th century it 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 inquirer article from february 1864 noted that the navy would retain all rights to the ship, including everything of both military and historic vol u. the article reminded potential divers that nothing they found on the ship was theirs. stating bidders for this contract will take in consideration that the government requires that the frig got cumberland and whatever may be on board here, either private or public property will be delivered to the navy yard at gos port, virginia. however, such restrictions about artifacts did not deter divers. more than anything, the government hired salvagers wanted to retrieve the pay masters safe which report lid contained a minimum of $40,000 in gold specie, what ship
carries gold specie on it, who knows. >> the safe turned out to be a hoax. in 1875 a detroit salvage company plamd claimed to have found the pay masters safe and found no gold in it. george west was a new york resident and he wrote mem wars that talked about them in the post civil war airy. he said no one knew what was done with the safe. it was never reported that any gold was taken from it. nevertheless, divers toind believe that a miss steer yaus yank yeah treasure lay on the bottom of the james river. diving in cumberland became something of of a get rich quick scheme. 19th century salvage diving was not easy. the host -- a host of dangers surround anyone who attempted the 60-foot dive. german sal rage diver had a plan to reach the supposed safe by putting dynamite under the stern
of the wreck and blowing a hole into the pay master's cabin. today we can only marvel at his daring and what most of us would probably call stu pid ditty as well. he had a handle live explosives in murky without without a portable underwater lamped. he risk mechanical failures spoerkted with his crude and cumbersome breathing april rat tis. west that mnews throw he was a i did looking fellow when we first met this deep water diving reduced his health and he did not live long. mid-meanwhile as defers went to work blowing apart cumberland, they expressed equal into tr in "ussa florida." as to cumberland, there was never any downed who auntd css
florida. all confederate war material reverted to the u.s. government, specifically to the department of treasury. when the government services administration was created in 1950s, the organization took hold of the confederate artifacts, including the shipwrecks. in modern times, the navy wishes to study any confederate vessel, then the navy has to officially request that 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 convenient, 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 in informs us that the commerce raider 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 for the divers said the state rooms were very handsomely decorated. truly if they could see the declarations through all the floating silt and aquatic life, then florida 34u 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 interest in the 1920s and 1930s, both the union war ship and the confederate raider remained out of site. and for the most part, out of mind. the only major recovery occurred in the 1920s when government hired salvage divers required
cumberland ar anchor chain sending it to the museum in richmond. for the next 60 years, no documented activity took place. that's not to say that no one dove on the shipwrecks and plundered them for artifacts. in fact, many watermen did just that. the middle decades of the 20th century became something of of a heyday for plunderingers. 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 really didn't take hold until the 1960s and shipwrecks were not at the top of the list for preservationists focus. at the same time, many important artifacts may well have been lott 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 so he far 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 interests in the wrecks didn't occur again until 1980. so many years have passed, that the wrecks actually had to be relocated. still, the navy expressed no interest in underwrite ailing preservationist campaign assuming that locating the wrecks would only embolden plunderers. with the navy deadlocked on the issue, popular novelist clyde clive cussler led the effort. at the time he served as the chairman of the national underwater marine agency. it was a private nonprofit organization dedicate to the preservation of maritime 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 that should be brought up and preserved. so he hired a washington-based research and contactsed a local historian who calculated the probable locations for the sunken velgsz. he entered into a can he operative agreement with the state based archeological agency which tufrd supply divers to search for the two local wreck sites. the one thing that cussler failed 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 archeological group he worked with established a survey area in the lower james river which, according to research, offered the greatest potential for containing the remains of the sunken ships. even using all of the available
technology to detect different anom liz in the water, initially they could not find the wrecks. so, another year went by, cussler went back, he contracted with the underwater archeological joint ventures this time. and the joint ventures firm reached out to local waterman. 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 recover riff artifacts from that area. veen eventually they found a man named wilber riley. he was a veteran clammer of the york and james rivers and he reportedly new the location of a wreck right off of newport news. he add itted that he actually retrieved a number of objects from it already. for cussler's archeologists, similar reports regarding shipwrecks, cannon and even sunken treasure in virginia
waters in the past had usually 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 retrieve them. he zroifrd discovered a brass sword hill and hand that will was deck rapted way design emblommatic of the navy during the civil war. he also tonged from the site a large copper cylinder. that bore a striking resemblance to the section of the bilg pump pipe from the "uss cumberland." furthermore, he thought the wreck was about 65 feet beloet surface. which is about what was expected. the description of his location and depth of the ship warranted a first-hand investigation. the clammer offered to help find the ship. several days later he shortened his dawn to dusk workday and
transported a dive team to the site. without the benefit of instrumentation, riley mord the clam boat right over the spot where his visual calculation of land barriers indicated the wreck was lying. given how difficult it was to find the wrecks with morn technology, it suggests that riley had probably taken artifacts from the wreck receiver times before since he was able to find is so quickly. in any event, the divers soon appreciated the waterman's accuracy. as they extended their search line to become a systematic sweep of the riverbed, they encountered an area of wreckage. was dominated by massive wooden timbers protruding eerily out of the mud at odd angles in the murky gloom. they collected artifacts that help identify the ship. one as a white iron stone plate, little fragment that had a manufacturer's name and markon it.
this established the pot shurd as a product of the staffer shire potteries of england. they also fourd found a remarkably well preserved pair of brass gunner's calipers, the device used to mesh you're the diameter of cannon bores and projectiles. finally they found a solid cylinder composesed of a single back bloc of wood. it was used to ensure that a ball would be seated in the bottom of a cannon bore with the fuse facing toward the muz i will in order to prevent an explosion when the tube was fired. the sab bow's most intrigue figure to these divers wauz it's nine-inch diameter which was the size of the "uss cumberland." the evidence suggested that the wreck was the final resting place of cumberland. with cumberland's location known, the next day the dive team went looking for "ussa florida." while offshore from the shipyard
of newport news, the divers found an underwater anomly and then dropped a bowie. pair of divers descended to examine the site. they found concentrated debris showing there's a ship and there they got a few art takts. a liquor bottle dating to the correct time period. a ledger bay onet, and a copper alloyd loy hoop of unnoengs known function but 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 posed formidable obstacles, swift currents and poor visibility hindered almost all aspects of the underwater operations. water depth over 60 feet at each site. restricted daily bottom time without decompression stops to barely over an hour for each member of the dive team. the hulls and propeller blades
the freightters, tankers and barges that relgin' regularly made their way up and down the river represented a constant source of concern to divers during their assent and descent. by far, the greatest cause of consternation was the frequent disappearance of site-marking buoys which were inadvertently dragged away every night as vessels passed by the two wreck sites. the two ships at salt in very different states of preservation. 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. war ship during hits violent encount we are virginia subsequently compounded with all the destructive efforts of the salvage divers and passing ships over the decades accounted for the vessel's shattered state. furthermore, at some point an enormous quantity of dredge
spoil clr is basically piles of dirt that were dredged out of the river for the shipyard nearby, they were dumped over top of the wreck prompting george west that are early memoirist to conclude no doubt the boat sen tierl covered over. even show, cumberland still poeszed unique artifacts that invoked a sense of drama that the ship faced. 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.phi feet high, dmaft bronze, this was the bell that rang on the morning of march 8th, 1862 to send the crew to general quarters as css virginia came up the river. -- mu anythings on cumberland and florida prompted a protected legal battle.
after all, his team had brought up artifacts without turning them directly over to the navy and admirals in the u.s. navy were not happy about it. when the first dives on cumberland and florida ended, cussler's people first turned over those artifacts to the college of william and mary for preservation. under the expectation that they'd eventually go to some agency associated with the common wealth of virginia. but officially, as we've talked about, both wrecks are owned by the united states navy. at the time the navy didn't have a permitting process for diving on the ships which meant they had 2340 way to educated historians about the ships and about their ownership. thus, cussler expressed surprise at finding out that the navy wanted the artifacts back. when he was informed of this matter, it became a bitter battle. for months he refused to turn over the artifacts. much like a plunderer, cussler 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 corps and the then director of the navy museum did those artifacts eventually go back to the navy. cussler never forgave the navy for its intervention. he wrote a dispeptic account of the seizure of the artifacts. continuinged with vitriol, he blamed the vaef for all of 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 team were for the navy's sole benefit. he sanctimoniously claimed the department of the navy owned both ships and all bits and pieces thereof. demonstrate a definite lack of style and sophistication, the navy threatened to go to court in order to claim the an tick quitties to whose recovery they
contributed zilch and because they stoke the economy of the virginia tide water area with nearly 30,000 jobs, the common wealth of virginia rolled over and threw in the towel. the artifacts were trukd to the norfolk museum where they're now on display. >> cussler had a point in some ways. the u.s. navy wasn't terribly communicative. it failed to give him any specifics or provide any security for those ships. it had created a situation where 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, even in defeat, cussler believed he was always in the right. lamenting that the navy had 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 fold by the abandon shipwrecks act of 1987 placed ownership of the vessels firmly in the navy's grip. howev however selfless their intent, they were no different than the lewders who have h been plundering the krekz wrecks for the past century. to complicate matters, cussler believed that the navy to longer owned the wrek wrecks. his 996 book he argued that the navy had soltd rights to cumberland back in 18602 when the navy first hired sal vers. he believed no navy ship could possibly be owned by the gochl. his argument held no legal stand, but it underscored a lather problem. most virginia watermen believed as cussler did, that the navy didn't own the wrecks, had he were fru to be looted. once the cat was out of bag and the location of the wrecks became public, a frantic frenzy occurred among watermen has they
tried to seeds as many artifacts as they could before the navy wised upnd tried to protect the vessels. for the next ten years the comeland and florida wrecks possess nod 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 that many of them had their own private collections of material from the two wrecks and probably from others in the area as well that were not civil war shipwrecks. for generation, they had adopted a pirate mentality that if they had the means to haul something off the bottom, it was theirs. currently, this mentality form the greatest threat to naval battle feeltsds of the 1i68 war. locals continue to see the ships as salvage are, not as hallowed ground. few hampton rhodes residents remember that 120 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's blessed with an active community of private preservationists. was a member of the confederate naval historical society who brought the risch of looting to the federal government's attention. in 1989, this private citizen found an advertisement boasting artifacts from cumberland and florida and they informed the government of this find. he sent in a copy of the north south civil war traders magazine when advertised a limited edition of the brass buckles. clearly they had been hooking brass and gave it to a collector who melt today down and made it in to ren actor belt buckles the. i actually have a few of those to show you after this presentation. the government spohned to this notice by deploying too
importanter is virsz. the naefl criminal investigation and the fbi. the fbi woman won a big victory when it raid the potter's berg factory. search warrant filed until u.s. district court noted that the search sought u.s. sfroenl cumberland's wreckage and brass and copper spikes taken from the florida and melted down in belt buckles. fbi recovered the artifacts but the raid left some unanswered legal questions. the defendants include four people. larry stevens, and gary williams who owned the artifacts that had been given to them. and eugene krit kriseman and joseph hastings, the oift everymen who actually looltted them from the wrekds. the men challenged the fbi saying that the looting was accidental. -- was wrong. one of the accused, eugene
kriseman said we're just out there tlieg to catch clams. i'd have thrown the stuff back overboard if i had known the relevant licks were government property. >> however, many historians doubted the sincerity of the looter's words. john core seen it of the virginia war museum in newport news dlefd believed this that he deliberately disturbed the ships for the sole purpose of taking artifacts. historians from the naval history and heritage command from the newly created under water archeology rang ranch david cooper argued these wear themen were not prosecuted for casual and ub intentional recovery of artifacts in the course of normal commercial shell fishing activities. they were prosecuted for unauthorized exploitation of a navy wreck, intder state trafficking in an tick quitties 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 they didn't know that they
weren't allowed to take art facts from the wrecks and sell them arguing that there should are been security on the ship twroekz prevent them from applying their trade. in essence they lame that they out on the water needed a sign to tell them that loot was illegal. this line of thinking resulted in some ridicule from the historical community. as one underwater archaeologist know the noted if someone wanted to go out and dig up the gettysburg battlefield because nobody was doing anything about it, would that make it right? the u.s. specialist attorney in charge of prosecuting the men did his best to call shenanigans on the defendant aefz argument. he said ignorance of the slaw no kmus 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 mind you he said this back in 1990 lee, the same year the world trade center was attacked for the first time.
ultimately, the two oyster men pleaded guilty to the charge of pill lathing 40 thou thousand dollars in relevant licks. 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 minimal fines. under the understanding that they would return all artifacts to the u.s. navy and would never do this again. the two men to whom the oyster men gave the artifacts to sell pleaded guilty to misdemeanor crimes and also paid fooinds fiensz for their transgressions plaintiffs the 1993 pros kugsz of chris man, hastings, stevens and williams caused the navy to take naval preservation more seriously. the underwater archeology branch lobbied congress for additional protection mesh urds for the shipwrecks. the nnhc argued that the property clause of the
constitution wasn't enough to protect the ships indefinitely and neither was the 1987 abandon shipwreck's act. it didn't specify that the artifacts from military wrecks went to the u.s. navy and focused mostly on civilian wreksz. after 14 years, the lawmakers corrected this problem. in 2004, president george bush signed into law the sunken military craft act. while no single action made the sunken military craft act happen, several court case, many of which involved sunken -- foreign sunken military craft off the coast of the u.s., convenient kwlly led to the passage of this act. the sunken military craft act protected ships and planes belong together armed services from unauthorized disturbance. it included all vessels in american waters, including all foreign military craft. the navy's sunken military craft
remained property of the u.s. regardless of their location over 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 archeological, education ole or historical purposes provided that they do nothing to disturb the wreksz. additionally, the fines for violating this act are i credibly high. the government can charge violators $100,000 per day for vielgt 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 realized an educational outreach to teach potential divers about
the consequences of looting. the smca summarily strength end the ability to punish looters but it's doubtful that the cumberland and floo wrecks will benefit from it in the long term. they have little knowledge of the act's existence if the if they did, some would probably not care. in reality, plundering has died down for a different reason. after the war on terror began in 2001, newport news ship building imposed heightened security measures that prevent unauthorized boaters from getting near the shipyard. the ships lie just off you the shipyard just offshore. it's of tremendous gen ben. >> i to the wreksz because they're written the shin yard's security zone. from personal experience i know that it doesn't take more than a few minutes for a police boast to accost any craft anchored above these civil war shipwrecks. in 2001 i accompanied an authorized kpa decision with the navy history command to conduct latest surveys of these two
wrecks. police boats came by to ensure we of no threat to the yards. and during the ex-decision, we found the wrecks to be in poor condition. both are covered over with large piles of silt which is to be expected in this high traffic area of the river. now a days it's difficult even to i'd fight exact shape of "uss cumberland." the ship suspect 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 waterborn security measures at newport ship build cog cease. on that day, the ships will no longer be protected as they are now. divers will able to plunder them with impunity 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 whun 50 plus years, humankind has allowed that corrosion to occur. presently "uss cumberland" and css florida are on the verge of extinction. the u.s. navy e navy needs a plan to reseev these ships. methodology to select artifactstor recovery and material and human resources to carry it out. it would be indroekt 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 wresting 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 be in battle or lost at sea that we will never forget their loved one's sacrifice pirt believe the u.s. navy has a moral obligation to keep its word. in the case of the come, those sailors's lives happen to be given out on the water. naval wrecks need to have the same legion of defenders as land battlefields do. it could be ideal if some of the same people who consider metal detecting at gettysburg national park a form ever hair rosie would also stand against those who plunder bells, plates, and sabos from civil war wrecks. it's not then the failure of one institution, but unfortunate lit 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. [ applause ] >> so i have a few artifacts that i brought along to show as you well. i'm holding here a piece of k"us cumberland." this was part of the lute that was plundered in the early 1990s by the men i talked about. and one of the rngz i can stand here and hold it without gloves on is because they shellac today. they took the wood up, they put shellac all over it to so it is not a museum artifact. at the same time that helps us out because it's part of our education collection. so we can take this to schools and kids can mold a piece of the "uss cumberland" when her doing their battle of hampton rhodes. this is something you don't get to do most places. so afterwards once we take questions if you'd like to come up i have a couple pieces of
cumberland which welcome to touch. i have some of the copper spikes i talked about and even some of the evidence boxes that the fbi took and there's a glass bot that will was found. and there are some of the brass ren actor belt buckles as well. so you're welcome to come up and look at some of this and i can talk to you one on one. but in the meantime let me take a couple questions. yes. >> here regoe. thank you so much for your fascinating talk. you've talked about now what can be done by the navy and the government to essentially punish knows who do this. is there much that can be done to really protect? i mean i suppose it's the hunley have been brought up and are safely their thanks is that a solution for some elements of this or rjers 23u bring them up on their own would just deteriorate or is there more that can be done beyond, you know, war on terrorism, levels
of security over some of these places? >> think that's probably the best way to preserve bringing up what you can. i mean, at this point most of the artifacts have been brought up from these two shipwrecks. but bringing up the month terret, taking it toya museum rrtd problem is the cost of that. when it came to bringing up the monitor turret, the navy said even though they owned the shipyard at the time they said we can't do that because we don't have the money for it. but that is absolutely what needs to be done to help preserve these shipwrecks. when we find them, we need to do what we can to preserve them. you know, it also depends, too, on whether it's a grave. if it's a grave then that's one of those big questions do you bring it up. you probably do not. i know when they brought the turret up they didn't expect to find bodies inside, skeletons inside, but they did. so i do think that the best way to preserve these shipwrecks is either completely leave them alone, or bring up what you can
and bring them to museums. it's difficult to teach naval history because you don't have the place like you have with, you know, northwest land battlefields. you come to gettysburg you stand on the fields of pickets charge and you can envision what happened. when you're teaching the battle of hampton rhodes you're look out at waters and so it's hard for people to envision that and the best way is to have those artifacts. >> thank you. >> the fisher from oxford, ohio. being in the arc lomg cal community, i understand all of the issues. but do you think that the navy will ever put the money out to do the preservation at once and if no is the answer to that question, what about public/private partnerships that have preserved land sites and some maritime sites all over the world or are they sitting there saying, no, we don't want do you
that but no, we're not going to put the money up to help you? what's going on there? >> i would say the navy will probably never have the money for this. in the past 20 years they have gotten better, they have funded the underwater archeology branch, the naefl history arc college command and they do sewn far readings and protection of ships around the world, but her never going to have enough money. and i think public/private partnerships wieb 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's the way that we have to good to be able to preserve these ships and the artifacts. not just the ones we talked about today. >> to a lot of maritime people, cussler was a visionary. >> right. >> did the enactment of all these laws and current regs
scare people away frebteriom en into agreements with the navy? >> i don't think so. from what i understand in talking with the underwater archeologists who do this, they basically created the regular layings in partnership with the people like cussler who dive on wrecks. obviously he doesn't do it anymore but his organization. and they -- so they worked with them on creating these regulations. now they can go get a permit and they can dive for historical information, for ork logical information, for educational as well, and it makes it a lot easier. so it's harder for people to get caught without a permit and who get, you know, fined and thrown in jail for it, but for people like cussler who really did try to do the right thing, now they know what the right thing is. now they know, oh, we have go to the navy, we have to get a permit for this. it actually makes it a little bit easier.
>> jeff sinclair. if i was paying attention closely enough, the first couple attempts to find out what happened to the cumberland was 1870s. >> right after the civil war, yeah. >> all right. well, my question is this. i don't think scuba gear was invented then. how long could they stay down? how -- what apparatus did they use in order to stay down when they -- >> i don't know the specifics of what kind of apparatus they could use. i know that they couldn't stay down for more than 30 minutes at a time. so i'm not sure what apparatus they had. that's definitely not my expertise. but they did have some sort of a cumbersome breathing apparatus that i'm sure we could do some research on and find out what it was. but it did allow them to dive for about 30 minutes at a time. >> thank you very much. at least i know that. >> sure.
thanks. [ applause ] we'll have more from the annual civil war institute conference at get diz tiesburg college in just a moment. tonight on american history tv we'll take a look at the congressional debate over slavery that took place in the 1790s as well as talk about the legacy of former house speaker newt gingrich and his influence on contemporary partisan politics. that's at 8:00 p.m. this evening. american history is in prime time every night this month while congress is away for their summer recess. the first total solar eclipse will be visible from coast to coast in the u.s. for the first time in 99 years. at noon eastern, we'll have a live siem mule cast of nasa tv. join us on c-span and online at
c-span.org. >> you're watching american history tv. 48 hours of programming on american history every weekend on c-span 3. follow us on twitter at c-span history for information on our schedule. and to keep up with the latest history news. next, texas a&m university professor and author lor rheeian foot talks about union soldiers who escaped from confederate prison camps toward the end of the civil warnd thafr experience dollars attempting to make it safely to union lines. this talk was part of the annual civil war institute conference at gettysburg college. all right. good afternoon again. i'm pete carmichael, member of the history department here at gettysburg college, also the director of the civil war institute. our final talk