Civil War Rifles

Tim Morris, the assistant manager at Sweetwater Creek State Park, shows a display of Civil War era rifles that were recovered from the wreck of the CSS Stono in Charleston Harbor, S.C. and is now on display at the park. (Ron Daniel/Douglas County Sentinel)

Tim Morris, the assistant manager at Sweetwater Creek State Park, isn’t sure how big the tank of water is at the entrance to the park’s Interpretive Center.

All he knows is it takes up a lot of space and that it’s full of history.

“That thing is huge,” Morris said. “People will come in and say, ‘Where’s the fish at?’ ” 

But there aren’t any fish or any other living creatures, for that matter, in what looks like a giant aquarium, especially to the kids that come in looking around at the wildlife exhibits.

At the bottom of the giant tank sits a crate of British Pattern Enfield rifle muskets — submerged in water much like they were for more than a century after the Civil War.

The rifles were recovered from the wreck of the CSS Stono in Charleston Harbor, S.C.

They were supposed to arm Confederate troops, but instead sank to the bottom of the harbor after the ship’s crew scuttled it when Union forces retook Charleston in 1865.

Morris said the guns have been at Sweetwater Creek’s Interpretive Center a month or two. While the CSS Stono’s smaller artifacts underwent conservation in South Carolina, the large crate of rifles required extensive care, so the Georgia Department of Natural Resources accepted them. They had been at the Preservation Laboratory at Panola Mountain since 2006.

But Morris said when the lab underwent renovations, the guns were moved to Sweetwater because of the Civil War history at the park and the overall theme of conservation Sweetwater prides itself on.

When the guns were first discovered by divers, only large fragments of the wooden crate remained, and the crate was filled with sediment. Removing the sediment took more than a year.

Inside the crate, there were two layers of 10 rifles each, wooden blocks made to keep the rifles from shifting during shipping, the remains of gun tools, a bullet mold, bayonets and 20 small cork and brass tampions used to plug the rifle barrels to keep out water.

At Sweetwater, the guns are submerged in fresh water as part of a long conservation process. The water’s chloride or salt level is monitored weekly, and the water is changed frequently to help remove the salt. That process has to be repeated until the chloride levels are immeasurable. 

Morris said the filter on the tank has to be cleaned once a week, and every other week, staff at Sweetwater has to disassemble all of the hoses and pipes for cleaning. 

“I don’t know how many years it has to be in fresh water, but supposedly after a long time, the salt will eventually get out of the wood and stuff, and eventually (the guns) can be displayed,” said Morris. 

While the butts, barrels and other parts of some of the guns submerged in the tank can be seen through the water, at the back of the Interpretive Center, Civil War enthusiasts can see a gun with direct historical ties to Sweetwater Creek State Park.

A model 1860 Spencer rifle is on display in a case. Morris said matching the serial number on the rifle with Civil War records, the gun can be traced back to the 11th Kentucky Cavalry. That unit was under the command of Col. Silas Adams, who detained the community of New Manchester and oversaw the deportation of the town’s inhabitants.

Morris said the New Manchester mill and the mill in Roswell were the only mills during the war where women and children were taken as prisoners. He said the men were fighting in the war at the time the mill and surrounding town were burned.

A sign under the rifle display reads, “This weapon was actually here at New Manchester from July 2nd through July 9th 1864.”

“That’s just a neat piece of history,” Morris said.

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