How do you dispose of captured munitions and supplies, perhaps tons of it, if you are General William T. Sherman and you are marching north through the Carolinas planning to link up with General Grant and end the War of Southern Secession?
You throw them in the river. The Congaree River that runs through downtown Columbia, SC to be exact.
Consultants hired by the state of South Carolina have found evidence of the sites that Sherman’s men disposed of the captured supplies in downtown Columbia. The consultants were determining what it would take to clean up the tar that was deposited in the river from a long-defunct gas-making plant.
According to the Washington Post, the research companies report includes, “It has been confirmed that in 1865, during the Civil War, live munitions and other articles of war produced by the Confederacy were dumped into the Congaree River near the Gervais Street Bridge by Union forces.”
The artifacts were never recovered because Sherman sacked Columbia in February and then marched north. The war ended in early April, barely two months later, with the surrender of General Robert E. Lee at Appomattox Court House in Virginia. Sherman was still marching north when the war ended.
The dump site was officially forgotten although many of Columbia’s locals new approximately where it was and what was there. It has been a popular story to tell tourists for years. Now, however, the stories are coming true and the government will have to decide what to do with the trove of artifacts that are buried under the tar deposit.
Although it will be 150 years next month from when Sherman dumped the captured munitions, no one really knows if they pose a danger. Granted, none of it has exploded, yet, and it probably wouldn’t if left where it is at, but if the state decides to recover the artifacts or they have to be removed when the tar is cleaned up, it could be a cause for concern.
The fascination with the American Civil War, or the Late Unpleasantness as my Southern born-and-bred mother called it, means that this site and these artifacts are of historical interest to many people in the South. What artifacts can be salvaged from the site during the tar cleanup need to be housed in a museum for everyone to view. Too many of our historic treasures have been lost to the ravages of time or neglect.
“Historic documentation clearly indicates that disposal of the ordnance was a significant event associated with the capture and burning of Columbia,” the report continues. The consultants agreed that the artifacts in the Congaree River are historical artifacts and the dump site meets the criteria to be added to the National Register of Historic Places.
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