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Hurricane Ike may have uncovered 1860s shipwreck

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

GALVESTON, Texas -- Experts know of about a dozen Civil War-era shipwrecks off the Texas coast. They might have just identified another.

Contractors searching for debris from Hurricane Ike near Galveston Island took a sonar scan of what the Texas Historical Commission believes is a previously undiscovered ship carrying cotton that sank in 1864.

The Carolina, also known as the Caroline, was a privately owned merchant ship that tried to break though a federal blockade of Galveston. After being pursued for several hours by Union gunships, the crew of the Carolina ran the ship aground in shallow water between Galveston and San Luis Pass, then set it on fire rather than let it be captured.

Historians said records indicate the ship sank in the area where workers took the sonar image. It had probably been buried in sand until Hurricane Ike scoured the Gulf floor.

"It's certainly significant if it turns out to be a historic wreck, as we think it is," Steven Hoyt, state marine archaeologist with the Texas Historical Commission, told the Houston Chronicle.

Hoyt said the shape of the image indicates the wreckage is a ship, and that he will study its size, style and characteristics to determine whether it could be the Carolina. Divers will investigate the site in the spring or summer when the Gulf of Mexico waters are calmer. Even then, visibility could be limited.

The possible wreck was discovered about a month ago by General Land Office contractors hired to clean the surrounding bays of debris from Ike. Crews have located hundreds of cubic yards of underwater debris, including a shrimping boat, washing machines, refrigerators and furniture, said Jim Suydam, land office spokesman.

Crews also have found two previously charted Civil War-era shipwrecks: the Acadia and the Will-o-the-Wisp. The two ships are protected state archaeological landmarks.

State workers will not reveal the location of the new possible shipwreck to prevent looters from discovering the site.


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