From the Charleston Post and Courier:
The wreckage of one of the most famous Civil War vessels to sail South Carolina waters may have been found off northern Charleston County.
Those behind the possible find aren’t saying much, but they plan to announce more details during an event here next month.
Early on May 13, 1862, enslaved pilot Robert Smalls seized the Planter, a 149-foot Confederate transport ship, from a Charleston wharf, maneuvered it past Fort Sumter and surrendered it to federal vessels outside the city’s harbor.
Newspapers called the move “bold” and “daring” and Smalls won freedom for his crew and several other slaves, including his wife and three children.
The Planter, a wooden vessel built in Charleston, continued to play a role in the war and later was sold to private owners, who returned it to its pre-war role of transporting people and goods up and down the coast.
By the account in the Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships, she sank in a storm off Cape Romain while assisting a stranded ship on July 1, 1876, said Stephen Wise, a military historian and director of the Parris Island Museum in Beaufort.
Wise said Gordon Watts, an underwater archaeologist with Tidewater Atlantic Research of North Carolina has been searching for the remains and believes he has found something.
“The only thing left are going to be the boilers,” Wise said. “They hit some things they thought were boilers. Of course, Cape Romain is an area where a lot of ships went down.”
Wise said he was unaware of any further details, including how any surviving wreckage has been or could be positively identified as Smalls’ former ship. Watts did not return phone and email messages left Tuesday.
(See more details in the Post and Courier article, including a short background of Robert Smalls and the Planter.)
A sidebar in the article provides details of a reception scheduled for next month:
NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries is holding a reception and presentation, “The Search for USS Planter: The Ship That Escaped Charleston and Carried Robert Smalls to Destiny,” at 6 p.m. May 12 at the Francis Marion Hotel in downtown Charleston.
Special guests are expected to include descendants of Robert Smalls and the team that led the search for the Planter as part of NOAA’s African-American Voyage to Discovery Initiative.
Those interested should contact Pam Plakas at 301-713-7287 or Pam.Plakas@noaa.gov by April 28.
If this find proves to be the USS Planter, we’d have yet another well timed discovery as we walk through the sesquicentennial. Optimism guarded, though, at this point. After all, the posted date of the article WAS April 1….