Archaeology Magazine Archive

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Georgia on My Mine Volume 54 Number 4, July/August 2001
by Eric A. Powell

A backhoe operator inadvertently dug up a cast-iron Confederate "torpedo" while excavating a trench for a pipeline on Elba Island, near Savannah, Georgia. Two-and-a-half-feet long, weighing 200 pounds, and encrusted with rust, the weapon, which operates something like a modern-day mine, would have been attached to a fixed pole in Savannah harbor sometime in 1863. Jeff Reed, a historian at Fort Stewart, Georgia, says the mine is an excellent example of the improvised munitions of the period. "Confederate weapons weren't always made in foundries. During the war, small laboratories specializing in munitions sprung up in Savannah." Fort Stewart's 38th Explosive Ordinance Disposal Company, an army bomb squad, was called in to recover the artifact. They heard water inside the shell, leading them to believe that its gunpowder was probably soaked. Nonetheless, historians at Fort Stewart aren't taking any chances. "In the worst case scenario, we'd render it inert. We'd blow it up," says Reed, who would prefer that the mine be left intact for further study. "A good portion of it might survive."

How do you curate an artifact that might blow your arm off? While the Fort Stewart Museum negotiates a minefield of red tape in an attempt to answer that question, the torpedo awaits its fate on a bed of sandbags in a concrete bunker.

© 2001 by the Archaeological Institute of America