Civil War shipwreck treasures unveiled

GULF SHORES, Ala. (WALA) – Once buried by the sands of time, a 150-year-old shipwreck off the Alabama coast was uncovered by a local exploration group a few years ago. Thursday, they unveiled some of what they found.

Fathom Exploratoin has been staying quietly busy the last few years. It was permitted to survey the gulf waters off Fort Morgan in 2004, and it didn’t take them long to find something unexpected. It was a shipwreck, but not from the turn of the century like they had anticipated.

“So as you look over a huge wreckage pile, you look for hints of what might be going on,” said David Anderson of Fathom Exploration.

Unveiled for the first time Thursday was one of the first artifacts David Anderson brought up from the waters on Mobile Bar – a 31 inch, 700 pound bronze bell that was much too large to be a ship’s bell.

Anderson knew he’d found something special when he first discovered the bell, but it wasn’t until he began cleaning it and a number appeared that he realized that it was really something special.

“When the 1860 date on the bell came out, we really had to take a step back and go, ‘Wait a minute. What is this?’” said Anderson.

After much research, the ship’s story began to unfold. It was June 5, 1861, and the British Bark “Amstel” was making haste to the port of Mobile. Their goal was to pick up a load of cotton before Union ships blockaded the mouth of the bay.

They ran aground on Mobile Bar – the Dixie Bar as it’s now known. By the time a salvage vessel returned to get the cargo, Union ships had arrived. The salvage vessel was confiscated and the Amstel was left to rot.

“When we realized this was the first naval engagement here – when we started digging throught the archives and doing the research – it became even more significant,” said Anderson.

Other items discovered on board were pre-Civil War era railroad axels and huge slabs of Pennsylvania stone. The bell and stone are believed to have been going to a building project somewhere in Alabama or Mississippi – another mystery the group is trying to unravel.

The bell will be on display at Lulu’s in Gulf Shores for about a week. Fathom Exploration will continue the salvage operation over the next few years, partnered with the Alabama Historical Commission, and under the authority of the United States District Court.

Sunday marks the 150th anniversary of the ship running aground.

About civilwarweek

Member - Minnesota Civil War Commemoration Task Force, Civil War reenactor and historian since 1993, holds Bachelor's Degree in History from Concordia University-St. Paul, currently pursuing Master's Degree in History at St. Cloud State University and is author of the forthcoming book, "Muskets and Memories: A Modern Man's Journey through the Civil War."
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