Lying serenely inside a water-treated, aquarium-like structure at Sweetwater Creek State Park is a piece of Civil War history.
A crate of rare Civil War Pattern 53 British Enfield Muskets, circa 1863, is on display at the park, the result of a joint partnership between South Carolina and the Georgia Department of Natural Resources.
The artifacts were recovered in the 1980s by a group of underwater archaeologists from a sunken Confederate ship, known as a blockade runner, in Charleston, S.C.
After more than 150 years in their salt water grave, the deadly accurate muskets are in remarkably good shape, said Josh Headlee, senior preservation technician for the Historic Preservation Division of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources.
“Although the crate in which the 20 rifles are packed has suffered the most underwater damage, a number of the muskets, all of which remain inside the crate, are in remarkably good shape while others are not in such good shape,” Headlee said.
“Most of what we have on display are the rather easily recognizable wooden stocks of the muskets as well as some of their brass components.”
Headlee said the rifles were part of the cargo of the Confederate ship, the CSS Stono.
He said the ship was laden with European arms, munitions and other goods for the Confederate war effort in 1863.
However, the Stono, likely bound for the Caribbean Islands where other Confederate blockade runners would pick up the cargo for transport to Southern troops, ran aground on a submerged sandbar, Headlee said.
“Two years later as the federal forces were about to capture Charleston, the Stono and its cargo was burned to prevent it from falling into Federal hands where they would be used to bolster their own war effort,” Headlee said..
There the cargo lay for more than 120 years before being discovered.
The rifles had been on display at Panola Mountain State Park in Henry County but were in need of a new home during park renovations, officials said.
They are scheduled to be on “long-term temporary display” at Sweetwater Creek, which also features Civil War history on its grounds with the remains of the New Manchester Manufacturing Company.
The factory produced cloth for tents and sheets before Union troops burned it during the Atlanta campaign of 1864.