Photo Courtesy of the Mariners’ Museum

Civil War Ship Gets 1st-of-its-Kind Gun Cleaning in Hampton Roads

The Mariners’ Museum and Park will take spring cleaning to a whole new level when it cleans out two massive guns from the warship USS Monitor in search of artifacts from the Civil War era.

On two days in February and March, the museum’s team will use custom machinery to clean out the two 11-foot bores in both 16,000-pound Dahlgren guns that were originally on the ironclad warship’s turret.

The Monitor served in the Civil War, including the Battle of Hampton Roads, and ultimately sank and came to rest at the bottom of the Atlantic near Cape Hatteras in 1862. U.S. Navy divers and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) raised the ship’s 120-ton turret in 2002. The turret and other portions of the ship were taken to the Mariner’s Museum, where conservationists work to preserve and learn from the larger pieces as well as the artifacts that have been found within the turret.

The museum explains that although some buildup inside the bores and on the exterior of the guns has been removed by hand and through the use of electrochemical treatments, “the bores of the gun(s) are still full of marine materials which cannot be accessed by hand tools. To remove this
material, a custom boring machine and holding apparatus is currently being built by the Museum and Master Machine and Tool of Newport News.”

Will Hoffman, Director of Conservation at the Mariners’ Museum, said in a statement that the specialized device for cleaning the guns is needed because of the massive scale of the undertaking.

Once the boring begins, Hoffman says, “We will finally have the ability to remove trapped ocean salts from the interiors of these massive artifacts, which sets the stage for us to dry and put the guns on display.”

What’s more, there’s a chance that Civil War-era relics could be trapped inside the guns. Hoffman noted that items such as coins, pocket knives, and silverware were found when the Monitor’s turret was excavated.

“Although the chance is small, the potential to find artifacts is exciting.”

-Laura Adams Boycourt