ECU Maritime Studies examines Confederate Navy yard

GREENVILLE, N.C. —   Though the Civil War has long past, history of this epic era continues to surface. 

This summer, East Carolina University professors and students in the Thomas Harriot College of Arts and Sciences program in Maritime History and Nautical Archaeology are spending nearly four weeks identifying and documenting submerged vessels within the Pee Dee River near Mars Bluff, S.C. 

Already, archaeologists have made an impressive discovery: they located the sunken site of the Confederate gunship, C.S.S. Pee Dee, a 150-foot-long gunboat equipped with three cannons. 

The Mars Bluff summer field school began May 26 and runs through June 19, and is under the supervision of ECU professors Larry Babits and Lynn Harris. It also involves researchers from the South Carolina Institute of Archaeology and Anthropology at the University of South Carolina. 

According to Babits and Harris, the Mars Bluff Naval Yard was one of five inland water naval facilities created in 1862 by Confederate States Naval Secretary Stephen Mallory in an attempt to build a strong navy to defend the South. Remote inland sites often were chosen for their protection from Union raiding parties. The Mars Bluff site also had proximity to a railroad. 

“This project aims to increase understanding of the role played by inland Confederate Navy yards during 1862-65 and the type of vessels produced during these years,” Harris said. “To date, no inland Confederate Navy yards have been studied and only two wooden gunboats built at inland yards have been examined – the Chattahoochee and the Chicod Creek Vessel.”

The first phase of the field school will be used to identify and document submerged resources in the Pee Dee River, which could include Confederate Navy vessels and evidence of a shipyard and its operations. Depending on these findings, the second goal is to uncover, record and possibly recover elements of the CSS Pee Dee armament, ordnance and related materials, as well as artifacts associated with the Confederate Naval yard.

Two ECU students, Nolen Caudell and Adam Edmonds, are participating in the field school, gathering data for graduate theses. Caudell and Edmonds, as well as other students, will learn a full range of underwater archaeological searching, mapping, recording, excavating and recovery techniques. 

Rufus Purdue and Glenn Dutton, the owners of the waterfront property, have a keen interest in preserving Civil War heritage and are allowing ECU and the University of South Carolina to conduct the archaeological testing on their land and to access the river from their property.

For more information about the Mars Bluff Shipyard field school, contact the ECU Maritime History and Nautical Archaeology Program at 252-328-6097. Project updates will be recorded in a public journal, which can be accessed on the Museum of Underwater Archaeology web site at