FLORENCE, S.C. – The three cannons of the doomed Confederate Cruiser CSS Peedee are set to return to Florence.
After nearly four years of conservation at the Warren Lasch Conservation Center in North Charleston, they will soon move to their permanent home at the Florence County Veterans Center in Florence.
“These cannons are an important part of the complex and often tragic history of our county, state, and country,” County Administrator K.G. “Rusty” Smith said. “Florence County hopes that by making them publicly accessible we will promote the study and understanding of that history. At the end of the day, war is about human sacrifice, and our Veterans Center is about serving the needs of those who have made great sacrifices in more contemporary conflicts.”
Randy Godbold, veterans affairs officer, said it would be something historic for the veterans center.
“These cannons help tell us about the dynamics of a conflict that defined the South more than any other event in our history,” said Ben Zeigler, president of the Florence County Historical Society. “They were technological marvels created for a purpose that was never fulfilled and in a cause that will be remembered as fatally flawed by the injustice of chattel slavery.”
The county historical society helped coordinate the protection of the guns and their recovery.
The cannons are the property of the U.S. government, and their recovery and conservation was funded by a grant from the Drs. Bruce & Lee Foundation in Florence.
Both Smith and Zeigler said the cannons are not intended to serve as a memorial, but as a basis for reflection on the inherently complex nature of human conflict.
Smith said the cannons will be mounted this summer and the county and other involved entities will hold an event to introduce them to the public and discuss their significance.
The cannons will be included in the Florence County Museum’s permanent exhibit resources relating to the Civil War, and visitors to the museum will be directed to the veterans center to view them.
The cannons lay buried in the mud at the bottom of the Pee Dee for over 150 years before they were recovered by University of South Carolina archaeologists in 2015.
The cannons, two rifled Brooke cannons and a smoothbore Dahlgren, are between 10 and 12 feet long and each weighs between 9,000 and 15,000 pounds. The Brooke cannons were cast in Selma, Ala. The Brooke rifles were among the the most technologically advanced weapons of their age.
The Dahlgren was a captured Union cannon, originally cast in Pennsylvania.
The three cannons were the primary armament of the CSS Peedee, a 150-foot-long steam- and sail-powered cruiser built by the Confederate Navy at the Mars Bluff Navy Yard on the east bank of the Pee Dee in1863 and 1864. The Navy yard was among a dozen or so Confederate navy yards.
The ship was designed to break through the Union blockade of the Southern coast, and was known as the finest ship built by the Confederacy.
The cannons were thrown in the Pee Dee River in March 1865, three months after the ship was launched, just before the CSS Peedee was scuttled to avoid capture by Gen. William T. Sherman as he approached Cheraw.
The CSS Pee Dee had sailed to Cheraw to cover the river crossing of Confederate forces fleeing Sherman and moving into North Carolina.
The CSS Peedee was scuttled without ever seeing action, and its guns were never fired in combat.