USS Water Witch
Location: City of Savannah
In cooperation with the Georgia Department of Natural Resource’s Historic Preservation Division (GADNR), the National Civil War Naval Museum, and FHWA, GDOT initiated underwater archaeological investigations throughout the proposed Harry S. Truman Parkway project area of potential effect (APE). The survey occurred in an area believed to be near the location of the sunken Civil War era USS/CSS Water Witch, lost for over 150 years. As part of its environmental stewardship philosophy, GDOT committed to a survey covering a broad, two to three mile corridor that went well beyond the proposed 250-foot project APE required by regulatory mandate. The investigation, documented with video, identified an anomaly believed to be the remains of the Water Witch.
The proposed Harry S. Truman Parkway project would include parallel bridges over the Wilshire Canal and the Vernon River in Savannah, Georgia. The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and the Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT) must comply with Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act and consider the effects of their projects on historic properties that are eligible for inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places.
Coinciding with the archaeological investigation, the National Civil War Naval Museum at Port Columbus is completing an educational and heritage tourism initiative that centers on the construction of a full scale replica of the Water Witch using original plan drawings. Visitors to the museum will have the opportunity to tour the replica, experience life as a sailor aboard the vessel, and learn the compelling stories of the sailors who served on the ship. The educational package includes regional collaboration with “Partners in Education” (established in 1987 as a joint venture of the Muscogee County School District and the Greater Columbus Chamber of Commerce) and the University of Georgia.
Built in 1851 by the U.S. Navy, the Water Witch was a wooden hulled, double side wheel steamer, 160-feet in length; it’s distinctive design features—sails and steam powered side wheels—reflected both old and new ship building technologies.
Between 1862 and 1864 the Water Witch served in the South Atlantic Blockading Squadron. On the night of June 3, 1864, the Water Witch, with a crew of 65, was raided by 120 members of the Confederate Navy who had been guided to the vessel by an African-American slave named Moses Dallas. After her capture, the Confederates moved the Water Witch into the Vernon River, near the present day town of Vernonburg, Georgia. The Water Witch remained in the river until December 1864, when it was intentionally burned and sunk by the Confederate Navy to avoid her capture by General Sherman’s army advancing on Savannah.
Accomplishments in Preservation
- The project’s environmental stewardship commitment is seen as a best practice model for governmental agencies wishing to tailor cultural resource mandates to the customer—the public.
- The discovery of the Water Witch provides the GADNR and the U.S. General Services Administration with vital information necessary to preserve the integrity of the site.
- Publicly advertised presentations, held in Savannah and Columbus, Georgia, were extremely successful in drawing attention to the importance of this resource. As a result of the discovery, the National Civil War Naval Museum has noted a greater public awareness of the Water Witch from people visiting the museum each day.
- The discovery of the Water Witch was featured on National Public Radio (NPR) and by the Civil War Times Illustrated. An Associated Press article was covered by over 100 local, national, and international news outlets. A short documentary—produced by GDOT—entitled “Water Witch: Traversing the Seas of History,” is currently one of five films that headline The Archaeology Channel. And to complement the National Civil War Naval Museum’s Water Witch exhibition, the University of Georgia’s Dramatic Media Department is producing a computer animated short film of the Water Witch.