Monitor, Hunley teams collaborate on preservation
BY BRIAN HICKS
Of The Post and Courier Staff
If they'd met in their day, the Hunley and the Monitor would have done their best to blow each other out of the water.
Now, they might end up saving each other.
On Tuesday, officials with the USS Monitor Center in Newport News, Va., visited the Warren Lasch Conservation Center in North Charleston to compare notes with Hunley scientists on 19th-century shipwreck preservation. The meeting is the first step in a collaboration that could preserve two pioneering maritime vessels -- and result in technological developments to save many metal artifacts.
With so many common traits between the first ironclad and the first successful combat submarine, it only makes sense for scientists to get together to test their mettle -- or their metal, as the case may be.
How to safely and effectively preserve the cast and wrought irons the Confederate submarine H.L. Hunley and Union ironclad Monitor are made of is the big question on the table. Scientists involved in the talks say they see a lot of room for common work.
There has been none of that pesky North-South unpleasantness.
"It's very appropriate," said Mike Drews, a material science
professor at Clemson working on methods to conserve the Hunley's iron hull. "These ships represent the technology of this country in the 1800s and the ingenuity on both sides."
John Broadwater, manager for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Monitor National Marine Sanctuary, said he hopes the two conservation teams can come up with a new way to treat corroded metal that is safer than known methods, faster and less expensive.
"There are plenty of opportunities to work together," Broadwater said. "Both the Monitor and Hunley are sitting in tanks waiting to be conserved. They are essentially contemporaries, made of cast and wrought iron and they've been in very similar conditions."
The Monitor, the Union Navy's first ironclad, made history on March 9, 1862, when it battled a Confederate ironclad, the CSS Virginia (formerly the USS Merrimack) to a draw. The turreted warship was lost in a storm later that year and was found in 1973 in 240 feet of water off the Outer Banks of North Carolina. The ship's engine was raised in 2001 and its massive, 140-ton turret in 2002.
The Hunley, built in 1863, was lost off Sullivan's Island in 1864
after sinking the USS Housatonic. It was buried beneath sand in less than 30 feet of water. It was recovered in 2000.
The Monitor sat on the ocean floor, near the Gulf Stream and its fluctuating temperatures. The Hunley's environment was decidedly more stable. Although iron pretty much rusts the same way, complications still exist.
Paul Mardikian, the Hunley's senior conservator, said that with the Monitor's complex engine, his counterparts at the Mariners' Museum --home of the Monitor Center -- have a problem similar to his. The engine, like the Hunley, is made of various types of metal that traditionally have been conserved using different methods. To proceed on that course would mean taking the engine, and the Hunley, apart. That, Mardikian said, would compromise their historical
"If you had to take it apart and put it back together again, it
would not be the Hunley," Mardikian said. "We need a more holistic way to approach that kind of thing."
Already, the two scientific teams have worked on a joint research proposal to look at wood conservation. The Monitor had a lot of wooden parts, including its gun carriage. The Hunley had some wood on board, including the crew bench, the bellows and a small shelf.
That project could be the first of many, and might save some of the tax dollars the two projects have been competing for in past years. That is a good thing from the perspective of the Navy, which has an interest in both ships.
"Ideally, they will stimulate each other's research," said Bob
Neyland, head of the Navy's underwater archaeology program, "not duplicating work, but complementing it."
It could be that these two warships will finally achieve what was
fought for more than a century ago: a harmonious union.
ABOUT THE VESSELS
Battled the CSS Virginia (formerly the USS Merrimack) in 1862.
Sank in a storm in 1862
Where: On the ocean floor off the Outer Banks of North Carolina.
How deep: 240 feet of water
Environment: Near the Gulf Stream and its fluctuating temperatures
Raised: Engine in 2001; turret in 2002
Sank the USS Housatonic
Sank off Sullivan's Island in 1864 after that battle.
Where: Beneath sand off Sullivan's Island
How deep: less than 30 feet of water
Environment: Much more stable than the Monitor
Iron: Both have cast iron and wrought iron that needs preservation.
Different metals: The Monitor's engine and all of the Hunley have
different types of metal that traditionally have been conserved
using different methods.
Woods: The Monitor has wooden parts, including its gun carriage.
Hunley has some wood on board, including the crew's bench.
On August 5, 2002, the iconic gun turret from the USS Monitor was recovered by NOAA, the U.S. Navy, and The Mariners’ Museum.