Siege of Yorktown, Part One: The Navies

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The Siege of Yorktown, April 1862. Ch. Worret, contributor. Courtesy Library of Congress.
CSS Virginia Enables the 1862 Defense of Yorktown 

In spring 1862, Union general George Brinton McClellan had assembled a very powerful army around Washington, D.C. The Union had already recently achieved several major victories along the Mississippi River and its tributaries, as well as they had captured the North Carolina Sounds. McClellan’s army was poised and ready to strike at the Confederate capital at Richmond, Virginia. General McClellan, often called ‘Young Napoleon’ or ‘Little Mac,’ wanted nothing to do with a march overland toward Richmond. 

This path was blocked by General Joseph E. ‘Joe’ Johnston’s 45,000-strong army defending Manassas. In an effort to flank and isolate Johnston’s army away from Richmond, McClellan conceived the Urbanna Plan to move his army to the Rappahannock River at Urbanna, Virginia, and then strike directly at Richmond. Before the Union general could implement his campaign, Joe Johnston abandoned his Manassas defenses beginning March 6, 1862, and fell back to Fredericksburg. McClellan quickly offered a secondary amphibious operation to strike at Richmond by way of the Virginia Peninsula.   Read more

Plastics in Our Collections: Chapter 1

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Collecting latex from a tree
© User:Iamshibukc / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-SA-3.0

The Plastics Age

History is filled with ages that are tied to the innovation of materials:  The Stone Age, The Bronze Age, and The Iron Age. We are currently in The Plastics Age. Plastics have changed so much in our daily lives. Plastics are around us all the time.  They are in every electrical thing in our houses, in the clothes that we wear, in our furniture and the packaging of our food.

This means that as caretakers of historic objects, museums have to consider how long plastic materials will last in our collections. We focus on what we have to do and learn in order to care for plastic objects. We also study plastics in order to store them in ways that better ensure their survival. This is a complicated thing.  Plastics are not simple materials, and what works for one may damage another.  Some plastics have been around longer than others, so we know more about them. We can see how they’ve aged. For other plastics, we can guess at how they will survive (or not) based on their behaviors and chemistries, while still others are a gigantic question mark.   Read more

Coal is cool: archaeological implications of Monitor’s cannon boring project

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The archaeological conservators boring one of the two Dahlgren guns. 

The Conservation team recently bored USS Monitor’s 2 XI-inch Dahlgren cannons. This was a huge step in the objects’ treatment. It came from a need, but also required the right expertise, a TON of planning, donor funding, and specially crafted parts to make it happen. This task was completed for absolutely no archaeological reason. It needed to happen to conserve the artifacts and, therefore, it happened, but that doesn’t mean that archaeological interpretation didn’t benefit from the project.

So, here is my tale of why coal is cool…

To accomplish “archaeological investigation” of the concretions which came out of the guns’ bores, we set up a screening station at which the screeners – me, and the poor fools I tricked into helping me (our CEO Howard, our intern Christy, and our volunteer Heidi) – broke up the concretion into smaller bits of concretion until it fit through the screen and we could say with fair certainty that there were no artifacts left inside. This is a standard archaeological practice called sifting. What is maybe unique about our situation, is that since everything belongs to NOAA, we don’t get rid of the dirt and rock after its sifted, we bury it and save it in case there are techniques that it will be useful for in the future. No, I won’t tell you where we bury it. Actually, even I don’t know where, so I couldn’t tell you if I wanted to.   Read more

The Bronze Door Society Paves the Way for New Possibilities at the Museum!

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Zeiss Axioscope 5 Microscope, equipped with transmitted and reflected bright field, dark field, polarization, and UV fluorescence. In the lab, mounted with Axiocam 305 camera with workstation and ZEN imaging software. Image credit: The Mariners’ Museum and Park.

My pitch to The Bronze Door Society during the annual project selection dinner last fall dressed as Sherlock Holmes (and complete with an impeccable English accent, if I do say so myself) was well worth it. After months of anticipation, the Batten Conservation Complex’s new microscope, one of the projects funded by The Bronze Door Society, has finally arrived! (to learn more about The Bronze Door Society, go here: https://www.marinersmuseum.org/bronze-door-society/).

The new Zeiss Axioscope 5  will allow conservators and scientists to view samples at high magnification with polarized light, darkfield and brightfield illumination, and ultraviolet visible fluorescence. These analytical features, in conjunction with our new workstation, camera, and imaging software, will allow us to view, capture, and share information that we previously could not attain in-house.   Read more

Filling the Turret Tank: an epic saga in six parts

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The outside auxiliary tanks can hold the turret’s solution while we work or be used to build up new water. The middle “small” tank is where the skeg beam and hull plates are housed.

Turret Season is officially over! Last week we changed the solution in the turret tank and hooked it back up to its electrolytic reduction (ER) system. This is a long and exhausting process which takes about a week to complete. Let’s look at the steps involved in readying the turret for the off-season.

Thursday, A week out:   Read more