3-D Sonar Scans Offer Unprecedented View Of Civil War Ship Sunk 150 Years Ago

USS HatterasA bird-eye view of the USS Hatteras wreck site.

Photo: NOAA

One-hundred and 50 years ago, the USS Hatteras, a 210-foot, iron-hulled Navy ship, was sunk by a Confederate ship about 20 miles off the coast of Galveston, Texas. The Hatteras was the only Union warship sunk in combat in the Gulf of Mexico during the Civil War.Today, the ship sits 57 feet underwater and is largely intact, though mostly trapped by mud and sand.  

Last September, however, hurricanes and storms moved some of the sand and sediment that covered the wreckage.

A team from the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration hustled to get three-dimensional sonar scans of the vessel before it was buried again.  

In addition to giving the public an unprecedented 3-D view at the wreck, the more detailed view will help archaeologists plan for the ship’s long-term preservation.

The Hatteras, located in federal waters administered by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, is still U.S. Navy property. The shipwreck is protected by the Sunken Military Craft Act as a war grave since two Hatteras crew members that went down with the ship are still thought to lie inside the vessel.  

The 3-D scans show that most of one paddlewheel survived and that the ship’s stern and rudder are sticking up from the sand. 

It also plots damage “to engine room machinery and the ship’s paddlewheel shaft, which seems to have bent when the ship capsized and sank after being shot full of holes,” according to a NOAA press release

“The engine room spaces were a dangerous place in the battle,” James Delgado, director of maritime heritage for NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries said in a statement. “Cannon fire severed steam lines and filled these spaces with scalding steam. Fires broke out, and yet the crew stayed at their post to keep the ship running and fighting, and in here, two of them paid the ultimate price.”

Check out a 3-D sonar video of the shipwreck below. The colours are used to differentiate between various types of machinery, Delgado tells us. 

Head over to NOAA to see more photos of the Hatteras

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