Civil War Wreck Mapped in 3D

The only Federal warship sunk at sea in the Gulf of Mexico during the Civil War lies about 20 miles off of the Texas coast, in Federal waters administered by BOEM and BSEE.

On January 11, 1863, the U.S. Navy gunboat Hatteras was anchored offshore from Galveston. It was preparing to assist a Union invasion to recapture the port city when it was lured into a trap by Captain Raphael Semmes aboard the disguised CSS Alabama, the most notorious Confederate commerce raider of the war.

After a 13-minute battle, the outmatched Hatteras was disabled and in flames. It sank on its port side with two sailors entombed in the steamship’s coal bunker.

 

This video features a new technology called BlueView® that maps objects on the seafloor in three dimensions. The brightly-colored fluorescent green, blue, red, and orange objects are the remnants of the ship that are exposed on the seafloor. The rest of the ship’s hull is buried.

One of the first features you see is the middle or midships section of the wreck, and mechanical components that were used to turn the steamship’s paddle wheels. The video then shows a 360 degree view of the stern or rear end of the vessel, including the top of the rudder and remnant frames protruding from the seabed. The detail of the map is so sharp that you can see the ripples of sand on the seafloor. Despite murky waters that made visibility poor for the divers, this technology can see through the darkness to create the images seen here.


The wreck of the USS Hatteras, which remains the property of the U.S. Navy, was discovered in the 1970s. Since then, and in an effort to ensure that the wreck is not damaged by surrounding oil and gas lease development, BOEM has periodically monitored and mapped the exposed remains of the wreck through both partnerships with the State of Texas and through scientific research funded by BOEM’s Environmental Studies Program. After one such study (OCS Study BOEM 2013-011110), a joint public and private archaeological and educational project was initiated to document recent changes in the site’s exposure using the cutting-edge BlueView® 3D mapping technology shown above.

Archaeologists with BOEM and BSEE helped map this 210-foot long ship in September 2012. The resulting imagery produced the first 3D map of the wreck.

Hatteras is the only Gulf shipwreck of any kind in Federal waters that is currently listed on the National Register of Historic Places. More information on the USS Hatteras can be found here.

Special thanks go out to all those who made this project possible, including:

  • NOAA Maritime Heritage Program;
  • ExploreOcean Foundation;
  • Edward E. and Marie L. Matthews Foundation;
  • Texas Historical Commission;
  • NOAA Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary;
  • U.S. Navy History and Heritage Command;
  • Tesla Offshore, LLC;
  • Northwest Hydro, Inc.;
  • Texas A&M Galveston;
  • and other individual participants.