New Sonar Map Shows Details Of USS Hatteras Wreck
By Scott C. Boyd
(February/March 2013 Civil War News)

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WASHINGTON, D.C. — A new 3D state-of-the-art sonar map released by NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries, ExploreOcean, Teledyne BlueView and Northwest Hydro shows never-before seen details of the USS Hatteras, the only Union warship sunk in combat in the Gulf of Mexico during the Civil War.

The map was released on the 150th anniversary of the ship sinking on Jan. 11, 1863, after fighting the raider CSS Alabama approximately 20 miles off the coast of Galveston, Texas.

The Hatteras was a 210-foot-long iron-hulled steamship the U.S. Navy converted into a gunboat. Its wreck is largely intact 57 feet under water in sand and silt.

James Delgado, director of maritime heritage for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Office of National Marine Sanctuaries, said he learned from diver and underwater photographer Jesse Cancelmo that 2008’s Hurricane Ike and other storms removed some of the sediment, leaving parts of the wreck exposed above the seafloor.

With reburial possible due to shifting sands, a team of archeologists and technicians conducted a two-day mission last September to create 3-D photo mosaics of the Hatteras for research, education and outreach purposes. The divers worked from a NOAA research vessel and two private craft.

Most shipwreck survey maps are two-dimensional and based on observations made by sight, photographs or by feel, according to Delgado, who served as senior scientist for the project.

“Thanks to the high-resolution sonar, we have a three-dimensional map that not only provides measurements and observations, but the ability for researchers and the public to virtually swim through the wreck’s exposed remains and even look below the surface at structure buried in loose silt,” he said.

“We learned how the Hatteras sank, how she came to rest on the sea bed, what is missing and what is left.”

The survey revealed that one paddlewheel survived and that the ship’s stern and rudder are emerging from the sand. The three-dimensional map also plots damage to engine room machinery and the ship’s paddlewheel shaft, which seems to have bent when the ship capsized and sank after being shot full of holes.

“The engine room spaces were a dangerous place in the battle,” Delgado said. “Cannon fire severed steam lines and filled these spaces with scalding steam. Fires broke out, and yet the crew stayed at their post to keep the ship running and fighting, and, in here, two of them paid the ultimate price.”

The dead sailors were Irish immigrants John Cleary, fireman, and William Healy, coal heaver. Their bodies have never been recovered, which makes the wreck site a war grave.

NOAA has been unable to locate any living descendants, Delgado said.

The five guns on the ship were not found, although the mounts for the 32-pdrs. at the bow can be seen. Delgado said they believe the guns likely were recovered. The ship’s masts with pennants still flying were visible after the ship sank. Union forces probably retrieved the ship’s guns to prevent them from falling into Confederate hands.

The Hatteras in 1863 was part of Union Rear Adm. David Farragut’s West Gulf Blockading Squadron that helped block the passage of goods,     supplies and arms to and from the Confederacy on the Gulf coast between the mouth of the Mississippi River and the Rio Grande.

The wreck is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. It is in federal waters administered by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) and the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE), but the ship itself is owned by the Navy and protected by the Sunken Military Craft Act.

Funding and support for the project was provided by the Edward E. and Marie L. Matthews Foundation, ExploreOcean and Teledyne BlueView. Participants included NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries, BOEM, BSEE, the Texas Historical Commission, the U.S. Navy’s History and Heritage Command, Tesla Offshore LLC, and private citizens including Jesse Cancelmo.

The detailed final maps were produced by James Glaeser of Northwest Hydro Inc. of Skamania, Wash. Artist Tom Freeman created a painting of the battle between the Hatteras and Alabama expressly for the project.

For more information, see sanctuaries.noaa.gov and www.cancelmophoto.com/gallery/main.php/v/USS+Hatteras+2012/