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SS Republic

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The SS Republic sank in a hurricane in 1865
Odyssey's ROV ZEUS at the SS Republic wreck site 1,700 feet deep
An SS Republic gold coin on limpet

SS Republic - Frequently Asked Questions

 

What was the SS Republic®?

The SS Republic was a Civil War-era sidewheel steamship that sank in 1865 after battling a hurricane for two days. At the time, she was en route from New York to New Orleans carrying a large cargo of silver and gold coins and a stunning variety of everyday goods to help rebuild New Orleans’ ailing post-war economy.

Built in 1853 in Fells Point, Baltimore, during the height of the steam age, the Republic measured 210 feet in length and was equipped with a vertical walking-beam steam engine and was powered by steam from a pair of double return flue boilers and other machinery. The most notable feature was her two 28-foot iron-framed wooden paddlewheels driven by a massive single piston.

 

How did Odyssey discover the SS Republic?

A team of archaeologists and researchers used historical data to narrow the search area. Then the Odyssey team began an extensive search, which utilized advanced robotics and cutting edge technologies, covering over 1,000 square miles during 2002 and 2003 alone.

In the summer of 2003, Odyssey discovered a promising target when the side-sonar image revealed what appeared to be two paddle-wheels, the walking beam engine, two boilers and hull shape. These features and their dimensions closely matched those of the SS Republic as documented in the historical records. Odyssey used a Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) to inspect the site and confirm the presence of a paddlewheel steamer. The ROV recovered an artifact in order to file an Admiralty arrest in U.S. Federal Court to protect the site.

Read the complete operational overview of the SS Republic here.

What is the history of the SS Republic?

The legacy of the SS Republic includes service in the American Civil War for both Confederate and Union navies as well as her role as a commercial cargo and passenger transport vessel. Originally named the SS Tennessee, in 1855 she became the first Baltimore steamer to complete a transatlantic voyage between Baltimore and Southampton, England. With the outbreak of the American Civil War in April 1861, the Tennessee was trapped in harbor at New Orleans, and was later purchased for service in the Confederate navy. After the Union’s capture of the city, the Tennessee was seized and converted into a powerful gunboat, and was also employed as a troop transport, supply and dispatch vessel. Her notable Civil War naval service includes participation in the Mississippi River campaign, the Gulf Coast Blockade, the Battle of Mobile Bay, and service off and on as the flagship of Admiral David Farragut.

Her name changed to USS Mobile after the Battle of Mobile Bay, the steamship was purchased at an auction in 1865. Following repair and refit, she was renamed SS Republic and chartered for commercial passenger and cargo service. Throughout her travels, the Republic encountered several severe hurricanes and storms. In October 1865, en route from New York to New Orleans, she sailed into her fourth hurricane ultimately causing her demise.

Read the complete history of the SS Republic, including her final voyage here.

What happened to the passengers aboard the SS Republic?

Battling the hurricane for two days, the vessel’s paddlewheels stalled, and the ship was leaking badly. When her auxillary pumps failed, water rose rapidly and it soon became apparent that the SS Republic would eventually sink. At this time the crew began working on a makeshift raft and prepared the ship’s lifeboats. As the passengers and crew members were boarding the lifeboats and raft, the SS Republic sank. The remaining 21 passengers aboard then jumped into the sea. All passengers and crewmen safely made it into a lifeboat or raft, except for two men who were last seen trying to swim through the ship's floating debris. Captain Edward Young was pulled down with the sinking ship, yet, fortunately escaped and swam to the safety of a lifeboat.

To read more about the Republic’s final voyage, please click here.

What was recovered from the SS Republic?

In the most extensive archaeologically sensitive deep-ocean excavation to date, Odyssey recovered from the SS Republic site over 51,000 silver and gold coins and more than 14,000 artifacts including an impressive assortment of 19th-century goods used during the Civil War-era.

In addition to the material goods recovered, a wealth of knowledge has been gained from the SS Republic shipwreck project and the subsequent historical research that has followed. The success of the archaeological excavation has set a precedent for achieving the highest archaeological standards essential to the emerging field of deep-water shipwreck exploration and recovery.

To read more about Odyssey's approach to the archaeological recovery of the SS Republic click here.

What happened to the coins and artifacts recovered from the SS Republic?

After conservation, recording and photographic documentation, the SS Republic artifacts deemed historically significant, including rare and one-of-a-kind objects, and a representative sample of multiple artifacts are maintained in Odyssey’s permanent collection. Many of these items are on display in Odyssey’s various exhibits. Upon request, this private collection is made available for further study and display by researchers, archaeologists, academics, scientists, curators and museums.

Following conservation and thorough documentation, select trade goods (i.e. items that had been produced and shipped in multiple quantities) are made available for purchase by private collectors with an interest in these culturally and historically significant pieces. Odyssey’s collection policy ensures that representative examples of each trade good are reserved in perpetuity in its permanent collection so that these items can be made accessible for future study and publication.

One of Odyssey’s key objectives is to share the treasure we recover with a broad audience. Some of the ways we are able to achieve this is by displaying artifacts at museums and through interactive exhibits, producing books and exhibit catalogs, popular and scientific articles and online publications, DVDs and television features. The adventure and excitement that is inherent to our work in the deep ocean also motivates and inspires young students to become interested in the marine sciences, world history, geography and robotic technology. We further support this interest by developing educational curricula and through community outreach initiatives.

To learn more about the artifacts and treasures of the SS Republic, please click here.

What was involved in conducting the archaeological excavation of the SS Republic shipwreck site?

The archaeological excavation of the SS Republic was conducted at a depth well beyond a range practical and safe for human divers. The project called for adaptations and innovations utilizing Remotely Operated Vehicles (ROVs) combined with advanced electronic survey/navigation systems, video and still photography and data logging programs to record and process information. Some 262 ROV dives took place on the Republic, accumulating 3,500 hours of bottom time on the seabed. In the most extensive archaeologically sensitive deep-ocean excavation to date, Odyssey captured 16,000 digital still photographs and recorded 3,000 hours of video footage. Prior to excavation of the site, the predisturbance survey included developing a photomosaic of the SS Republic which comprised approximately 2,500 high-resolution images each digitally stitched together resulting in a large panoramic view of the entire wreck site 1,700 feet below the ocean surface.

To learn more about the archaeological excavation of the SS Republic, please click here.

 


 

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