Woman's relative helped recover ironclad's cannon

  • Posted: Monday, December 6, 2010 12:01 a.m., Updated: Monday, March 19, 2012 1:41 a.m.

During the Civil War, Thomas Durkin, my grandmother's uncle, served as a young private in the 1st S.C. Artillery, Company B, at Fort Sumter.

At the age of 17, he was involved in a particularly noteworthy event - the recovery of an 11-inch Dahlgren (cannon) from the shipwrecked USS Keokuk, a Union ironclad. In April 1863, the ship was sunk by the Confederates 1,400 yards off the southern tip of Morris Island, at the mouth of Charleston Harbor, after receiving 90 hits during an attack. It managed to limp away after being hit, but the next day it sank in 15 feet of water.

The gun and its mate were extremely valuable and needed by the Confederacy, so men were recruited to visit the wreckage nightly for two weeks, working at low tide under the cover of darkness to remove the guns. Near the end of the endeavor, when the task seemed almost impossible, a huge wave helped to hoist the gun, and it was put into service for the Confederacy at Battery Bee on Sullivan's Island.

When Confederate troops evacuated Charleston in February 1865, the gun was abandoned and over time was covered with sand. Over 30 years later, it was discovered and brought to The Battery (White Point Garden) where it still sits at the corner of South Battery and East Battery.

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