By Ensign Max P. Andersen
Formed by retreating ice sheets over 14,000 years ago, the Great Lakes have long represented one of the most valuable fresh water resources in North America. They contain more than one-fifth of the world’s supply of fresh surface water, and the vast size is easily visible from space. From Native American hunting routes to French fur-trade exploration to influential battles in the War of 1812, the Lakes have proved a key platform for numerous historical events that shaped the development of the country.
Uniquely, these bodies of water served as the gateway to connect the booming production of an expanding population in the Midwest from 1825 to 1925. During this time, a broad range of wooden, sailing, and steam-powered ships trekked across the lakes, carrying coal, grain, and passengers. Due to unpredictable weather conditions, fire, ice, high-traffic areas, and an ever-increasing pressure to meet shipping quotas, hundreds of ships were lost in collisions and accidents. These incidents have earned this period the nickname “Shipwreck Century.” Today, the history of the “Shipwreck Century” is presented at Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary’s visitor’s center, the Great Lakes Maritime Heritage Center, in Alpena, Michigan.
Thunder Bay is located in Lake Huron, near one of the most historically dangerous areas of navigation in the Great Lakes. The sanctuary covers 4,300 square miles. In this area, over 200 shipwrecks are known to exist, and 92 have been discovered and accurately charted. The staff provides continual archaeological monitoring to ensure the preservation of the sites.
Much of this archaeological work is completed aboard research vessel (RV) Storm. Storm is operated by the NOAA Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory (GLERL) and is dedicated to supporting Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary. Storm is suited for a diverse range of projects and is equipped with multibeam and side scan sonar for survey projects, compact crane for using remotely operated underwater vehicles, and drop-down transom for handling diving equipment. Additionally, her use of B100 fuel – engine and hydraulic oil manufactured from vegetable oils – and redesign with recycled materials qualify her as one of NOAA’s “green ships.”
Traditionally, the survey systems on Storm have been primarily used to provide accurate locations and high-resolution acoustic imagery of shipwrecks. Using these positions and contextual images, teams of Thunder Bay NMS archaeologists can complete dives to see the submerged cultural resources that lie beneath the surface. They share that information with the public at the Great Lakes Maritime Heritage Center.
A side scan sonar provided this acoustic image of W.C. Franz shipwreck.
With recent increases in multibeam and side scan sonar proficiencies, the sanctuary has started a new collaboration with the Office of Coast Survey. This summer, Coast Survey physical scientist Tyanne Faulkes and Ensign Max Andersen assisted Capt. Travis Smith and maritime archaeologists John Bright and Phil Hartmeyer in a new project. The team was tasked with surveying two unique sites: an Air Force and Air National Guard live-fire testing range, and a high-traffic area that needed updated navigational charts. The teams used RV Storm as a “vessel of opportunity” (a vessel not normally used for charting surveys) to conduct surveys to charting specifications. As such, some of Storm’s survey equipment needed to be “tuned” to meet those stringent hydrographic requirements. After some trial and error, Storm’s Applanix POSMV, Reson 8101, Klein 3000, Castaway CTD, Hypack 2016 machine were operational and ready for data acquisition.
NOAA marine archaeologist Phil Hartmeyer acquired survey data for the project.
The survey operations were a tremendous success. Throughout the month of August, Storm completed a series of acquisition voyages – as weather permitted – including a 36-hour operation on August 17 and 18. They acquired charting data covering 28 square nautical miles, along 418 linear nautical miles.
Projects like this show the great gains for the scientific community when different partners collaborate. We are looking forward to using more vessels of opportunity to expand on nautical chart updates in the Great Lakes region.
The two project survey areas for chart updates are shown by the colored bathymetry. The area on the right (in blue and green) was surveyed in response to a military request.
Last week we blogged about the Civil War sailors whose remains were being interred at Arlington National Cemetery on March 8. The funeral, for unknown sailors who were lost when the USS Monitor capsized, was solemn and stirring, and reflected the nation’s great esteem for our fallen patriots. The unknown sailors were lost along with 14 of their shipmates when Monitor sank off Cape Hatteras, N.C., on Dec. 31, 1862.
All 16 sailors will be memorialized on a group marker in section 46 of the cemetery, which is between the amphitheater and the USS Maine Mast memorial.
Rear Admiral Gerd Glang, Coast Survey’s director, was honored to represent NOAA in the officer escort for the caissons. Glang and Rear Admiral Anthony Kurta (USN) served as Escort Commanders, and were joined by Capt. Gary Clore (Navy Chaplain) and Cmdr. Nathaniel Standquist (U.S. Navy Ceremonial Guard), as the nation paid a final tribute.
Dr. Kathryn Sullivan, acting NOAA administrator, spoke at the chapel service preceding the procession and burial. (See NOAA: Remains of USS Monitor sailors interred for highlights of Dr. Sullivan’s remarks.)
Thanks to public affairs officers David Hall (NOAA Office of Marine and Aviation Operations) and Lt. Lauryn Dempsey (U.S. Navy), we are able to provide a photographic montage of the burial ceremony.
After a moving memorial service in the Fort Meyer Chapel, the caskets are transferred for the funeral procession. (Photo: Lt. Lauryn Dempsey, U.S. Navy)
Casket teams position the caskets on the caissons, while the escort team salutes. (Photo: David Hall, NOAA)
Members of the elite Caisson platoon at Fort Myer draw the caissons to the burial site. (Photo: David Hall, NOAA)
Capt. Gary Clore (Navy Chaplain); Rear Admiral Anthony Kurta (USN); Rear Admiral Gerd Glang (NOAA); and Cmdr. Nathaniel Standquist (U.S. Navy Ceremonial Guard). (Photo: David Hall, NOAA)
- The funeral procession arrives at the burial site. (Photo credit: David Hall, NOAA)
After the graveside religious service, casket teams remove the flags from the coffins. (Photo: David Hall, NOAA)
Folding the flags. (Photo: David Hall, NOAA)
A final moment. (Photo: David Hall, NOAA)
On Friday, March 8, a NOAA Corps admiral will have the honor of doing something extraordinary. Coast Survey’s director, Rear Admiral Gerd Glang, will be the NOAA Escort Flag Officer for the full honors funeral of two unknown sailors who went down with the Civil War ironclad USS Monitor in 1862. Rear Adm. Glang will join Rear Adm. Anthony Kurta, U.S. Navy, as the two officers escort the caissons during the somber event at Arlington National Cemetery.
The interment will be open to the public.
Facial reconstruction of the two sailors found in the Monitor’s turret (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Gina K. Morrissette)
The Monitor sank southeast of Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, during a New Year’s Eve storm, carrying 16 crew members to their deaths.
The wreck was discovered in 1973, and confirmed in 1974 by John Newton and a team from Duke University. The ironclad was lying upside down with the turret separated from the hull, resting in 230 feet of water approximately 16 miles off Cape Hatteras. In the late 1990s through 2002, experts recovered iconic Monitor artifacts, which are now conserved at the Mariners’ Museum in Newport News, Virginia. Two skeletons were discovered in 2002 when the turret was raised from the seafloor, and efforts to identify the remains have been unsuccessful so far.
To protect this national treasure, Congress created the nation’s first national marine sanctuary. The Monitor National Marine Sanctuary was designated in 1975.
The U.S. Coast Survey was intricately involved in the Civil War, creating the Slave Density Map, making thousands of copies of maps and charts for the war effort, embedding with the Armies and supporting naval operations, writing and distributing Notes on the Coast (which were essential for the blockades), and documenting the war’s successes and failures. Coast Survey had no involvement with the battle between the Monitor and the Merrimack (or Virginia), but NOAA historian Albert Theberge tells us that the unpublished autobiography of Joseph Smith Harris, a Coast Surveyor and future railroad magnate of the late 19th century, has an interesting story…
Harris was assigned as the officer-in-charge of the Coast Survey steamer Uncas, which was supposed to be Admiral Farragut’s primary Coast Survey vessel during the bombardment of Fort Jackson and subsequent attack on New Orleans. The Uncas left New York in late February 1862 but had to put into Hampton Roads because of storms and low coal. It was determined at that time that the Uncas was not seaworthy, so Coast Survey secured a second vessel. That vessel, the Sachem, left New York, apparently in company with the Monitor, on March 4, 1862, for Hampton Roads.
The trip was exceedingly stormy. Harris writes:
“Her [Sachem’s] captain, a former merchantman, told me of their voyage down… On their way down, probably on the night of March 4th, the Monitor telegraphed to the Sachem to come and take off the crew as the vessel was sinking. Just then the band which encircled the head of the Sachem’s rudder slipped, and the vessel became unmanageable. It took perhaps an hour to secure it, and when the Sachem was laid along side the Monitor, it appeared that the panic was past. A heavy sea had gone down the smokestack, the gas forced out from the furnace had overpowered the engineer and the assistant engineer, and left the engine in the hands of a young man just making his first voyage who became badly scared. By the time an hour had passed the fear had passed too, and they were willing to try their fate further, but the Captain told me that if the rudder band had held the Monitor probably would have been abandoned that night. On how small occurrences great events turn! In that case the Merrimack would have had no competent antagonist, and the Government might have lost control of Hampton Roads. The Captain, whose name I immediately forgot, seemed like a reliable person and I have no doubt he told me the truth.”
Theberge explains that “Harris was not one to embellish his stories, as is shown by his description of what he saw in Hampton Roads” during the battle between the Monitor and the Merrimack. “Although Harris reported that he entered Roads on the night of March 9, he apparently erred in his date” as he reports:
“We headed about for Hampton Roads which we reached early on the evening of March 9th. [Theberge points out that this had to have been March 8.] We noticed during the latter part of the night a bright light evidently from a fire ahead and supposed a barn was burning, but it turned out to be the U.S. frigate Congress, set on fire by the C.S. steamer Merrimack, and in the morning about 8:00 A.M. we saw firing from vessels a few miles to the S.E., which I thought was artillery practice of our own vessels, but which was the battle between the Monitor and Merrimack…”
Tomorrow’s interment of the two unknown sailors from the Monitor represents the nation’s enduring commitment to our men and women who serve in uniform. We are proud that Rear Adm. Glang will represent NOAA, the NOAA Corps, the National Ocean Service and Coast Survey in honoring the memory of fallen comrades at sea.
Coast Survey Civil War Collection
War Record of J.W. Donn
Coast Survey and Army Operations during the Civil War
by Lt. Madeleine Adler, NOAA, Navigation Officer, NOAA Ship Ferdinand R. Hassler
Three-dimensional model of the seabed in the vicinity of USS New Jersey (north) and USS Virginia (south) created with Hassler multibeam echo sounder data.
NOAA Ship Ferdinand R. Hassler recently submitted a multibeam echo sounder survey of two sunken World War I era battleships to the Office of Coast Survey. Hassler, which was commissioned earlier this summer, surveyed the site of these two wrecks while transiting through the area during test and evaluation operations in 2011, and has been using the resulting dataset for calibration purposes since then. Although the wreck locations were well known, they had never been surveyed with modern techniques.
The ships are USS New Jersey and USS Virginia, which were intentionally sunk during aerial bombing experiments in 1923. U.S. Army Colonel Billy Mitchell, a pioneer of military aviation, urged the Navy to investigate the effectiveness of aerial bombing against surface vessels. As part of a series of tests, the Navy anchored the two obsolete “White Fleet” battleships off Cape Hatteras in September 1923 to serve as targets. Bombers under Mitchell’s direction sank both ships in short order. The success of these tests had a significant influence on subsequent development of U.S. air power and air defense for naval vessels.
Hydrographic survey systems require thorough calibration and testing before data can be accepted for application to NOAA nautical charts. New Jersey and Virginia rest in water approximately 100 meters deep, making them excellent test targets for Hassler’s Reson 7111 mid-water depth multibeam echo sounder system. Hassler surveyed the wrecks during a trial voyage from Pascagoula, Miss., to Norfolk, Va., in 2011, and the crew used this dataset and others to calibrate the echo sounder. Hassler’s survey systems are now fully operational, and the survey is ready for submission.
Coast Survey will use the survey of USS New Jersey and USS Virginia to update nautical charts of the area, and NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries personnel will study it to further their understanding of marine archeology and the seafloor in the vicinity of Monitor National Marine Sanctuary.
NOAA Ship Ferdinand R. Hassler was commissioned on 8 June 2012, and continues to survey mid-Atlantic coastal waters for charting, fisheries and ocean exploration.
Surveyed wreck site (lower right corner) overlaid on Chart 11555. Site is 16 nautical miles southeast of Cape Hatteras, North Carolina.