Civil War cannons raised from Great Pee Dee River

Jordan Schuman / One of the cannons that was raised the morning of Sept. 29

For some, it's a bit like a birthday that's been 150 years in the making.

"I had 3 children and it's kind of like having a child I guess, they show up and you're happy and sooner or later when the crowd thins out I'll go over and they'll dry my babies out and I'm gonna kiss them," William Lockridge said.

This morning a team of underwater archaeologists from the University of South Carolina raised three Civil War cannons from the bottom of the Great Pee Dee River near Florence.

Each of the cannons weighed between 10,000 and 15,000 pounds. Two are Confederate Brooke Rifle cannons (11.8 and 12.25 feet each) and the third cannon is a captured Union Dahlgren cannon (8.9 feet).

They help tell a story about what happened right there during the Civil War 150 years ago.

"A lot of these gun tubes are undocumented, they were taken and sold for scraps, or are buried in the mud somewhere. We are hugely fortunate to have these two," Lockridge said.

All three cannons were artillery aboard the CSS Pee Dee, a gunboat used to protect the coast at the Mars Bluff Navy Yard. When commanders worried the boat might fall into enemy hands, they ordered the cannons to be thrown into the river and the ship to be set on fire.

"Over the years ever since the guns were thrown overboard, people have always wondered sort of what happened to these guns, and so a number of individuals in the past as well as present were sort of looking for these guns," underwater archaeologist James Spirek said.

Researchers searched the area for 20 years before finding the first two cannons in 2009, and the last one in 2012. But for one man in crowd, the treasure hunt is personal; his great-grandfather made the two Brooke Rifle Cannons in Selma, Alabama in 1863.

"I've been all over the country seeing these other tubes that were made in Selma, I've seen - now that I've seen these two I've seen all of them," World War II Veteran Catesby Jones said.

"To the history of the shipyard, the history of the confederacy, the confederate navy, it's a huge addition and it can't be measured. I don't know that I have the words to properly express it," Lockridge said.

The cannons will be taken to the Warren Lasch Conservation Center in North Charleston where they'll sit in preservation tubs for two years. They'll eventually be displayed outside the newly constructed Veterans Administration building Florence County.

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