CSS Neuse: From Salvage to Salvation


The remnants of the Confederate ironclad CSS Neuse sit in a climate-controlled facility in downtown Kinston, a far cry from the bottom of the Neuse River. How it got there is explained in a new exhibit at the CSS Neuse Civil War Interpretive Center designed by East Carolina University graduate student Samantha Bernard. She is enrolled in the maritime studies program through the history department at ECU, and the exhibit explains the process and purpose of underwater archaeology.

The CSS Neuse rested underwater for nearly 100 years before some local businessmen decided to rescue it from the murky waters of the Neuse River. In the exhibit Bernard explains the project was a salvage operation and lacked the key ingredient of archaeology: planning, planning, planning. It further notes that although different methods would have been used, the project did save the Neuse from total deterioration.

Through text and illustrations the case exhibit explains what maritime archaeology is – the study of material remains of human activities on the seas and interconnected waterways. The exhibit reviews the history of the CSS Neuse and current laws protecting shipwrecks. Visitors will learn the difference between a salvage operation and an archaeological one. 

The most important parts of the exhibit relate to the important work of archaeology and its mission to study, share and conserve artifacts from hundreds or sometimes thousands of years ago. Maps, photographs, sketches and reports all make it possible to give today’s visitors insights to the past.

Bernard has a long-held interest in nautical archaeology and a passion for education and public outreach. Before coming to East Carolina, she was a public school teacher in Texas and attended undergraduate and graduate school at the University of Texas Pan-American, now the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley. She became interested in Civil War history while in grad school and now pursues her love of archaeology, history and education.

The CSS Neuse is the only remaining commissioned Confederate ironclad above water. It was part of a new technology that the Confederacy used to combat the superior manpower and firepower of the Union Navy. Learn about this technological advance and warfare in eastern North Carolina at the CSS Neuse Civil War Interpretive Center. The Confederate Navy launched the CSS Neuse hoping to gain control of the lower Neuse River and New Bern, but ultimately destroyed the vessel to keep it out of Union hands.

The CSS Neuse Civil War Interpretive Center is located at 100 N. Queen St., Kinston, N.C., and open Tuesday-Saturday, 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Admission: adults $5, senior/active military $4, Students (ages 3-12) $3, ages 2 and under free. 

For additional information, please call the site at (252) 526-9600 x222. The CSS Neuse Center and the Richard Caswell Memorial are within the Division of State Historic Sites in the N.C. Department of Natural and Cultural Resources. 

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