Engineers and technicians have spent the last two months turning live artillery shells, recovered from the mud of Savannah harbor, into inert museum pieces.
The recovery was part of the efforts to save the wreck of the Confederate ironclad gunboat CSS Georgia this summer to make way for a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers dredging project. The Georgia, scuttled by her crew to avoid capture by the Union Army during Sherman’s famous March to the Sea in 1864, was scoured by U.S. Navy divers who brought a number of artifacts and cannon to the surface.
Among the more dangerous items found were pallets of unexploded ordnance in the form of some 170 9-inch Dahlgren and 6.4-inch Brooke projectiles, the vast majority filled with black powder and armed with corroded fuzes.
Once on the surface, each was remotely drilled into by a pair of technicians behind a cleared blast area shielded by a half-inch steel plate and 5.5-inch thick ballistic glass.
After the hole was drilled, each shell was soaked and flushed of black powder using first hot water and then MuniRem, a specially formulated solution that chemically neutralizes explosives. Once the explosive has been removed, the techs unscrewed the fuze, leaving the shell fully inert.
“This is the only job like this I’ve seen,” said Ben Redmond, a retired Marine Corps master EOD technician and senior technical consultant for the project. “Most inerting is done in an industrial setting, not in the field like this.”
At the end of the disarming process, the shells were sent to Texas A&M University’s Conservation Research Laboratory for further study and preservation for future generations.