GALVESTON, Texas – The remains of the only U.S. Navy ship sunk in the Gulf of Mexico during Civil War combat now can be seen in 3-D sonar images from the Gulfs murky depths, revealing details such as a shell hole that may have been among the ships fatal wounds.
The high-resolution images of the 210-foot, iron-hulled USS Hatteras are being released this month to coincide with the 150th anniversary of the battle where the ship was lost. Besides the shell hole, they also show a paddle wheel and the ships stern and rudder emerging from the shifting undersea sands 20 miles off the coast of Galveston.
This vessel is a practically intact time capsule sealed by mud and sand, and what is there will be the things that help bring the crew and ship to life in a way, said Jim Delgado, the projects leader and director of maritime heritage for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administrations Office of National Marine Sanctuaries.
The Hatteras sat mostly undisturbed and unnoticed from January 1863 – when a Confederate raider sunk the ship and took most of the crew prisoner – until its discovery in the early 1970s.
Recent storms shifted the sand and mud where the Hatteras rests 57 feet below the surface, exposing more of the ship. So archaeologists and technicians, racing to beat any potential seabed movement that could conceal the Hatteras again, spent two days last September scanning the wreckage using sonar imaging technology for the first time at sea.
Divers used the 3-D gear to map the site in the silt-filled water where visibility is from near zero to only a few feet. The waters murkiness doesnt affect sonar technology as it would regular photography equipment. Sonar technology produces computer-colored images by analyzing sound waves bouncing off objects.
Also revealed were platforms for the ships 32-pounder guns, named for the size of the cast-iron shell the cannon delivered, and the bow.
Very exciting, said Jami Durham, manager of historic properties, research and special programs for the Galveston Historical Foundation. We knew the ship was out there and to finally see the images. It seemed to make it more real.