Feature: Fort Sumter

Article excerpt

SULLIVANS Island, South Carolina, United States (AP) - Preservationists are using computer sensors and other high-tech methods to protect massive iron guns at a fort in South Carolina that fired on Fort Sumter to open the American Civil War in April 1861.

The sensors and modern rust-fighting epoxy coatings are being used to preserve historic siege and garrison guns, some of which were used to lob shells at Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor when the war erupted. Union forces surrendered 34 hours after the boambardment started as the nation plunged into a bloody, four-year war between the northern states and secessionist, pro-slavery southern states.

Ten massive guns from Fort Moultrie on Sullivans Island, which is part of the Fort Sumter National Monument, were recently conserved as part of an ongoing program to protect the historic pieces from the salty, humid air. The guns were cast in foundries both in the North and South a century and a half ago.

The last of the guns, a 7-ton Union rifled Parrott gun suspended in a yellow sling held by a crane, was slowly jockeyed into place onto a new concrete base last week. It completes what the fort refers to as Cannon Row, where seven of the heavy guns are lined up next to each other.

The conservation work is being done under a multiyear, $900,000 agreement between the National Park Service and the Clemson University Restoration Institute, said Rick Dorrance, chief of resource management at the national monument.

Last winter, institute conservators visited Sumter, where they conserved shells that had landed in the fort's walls during the bombardment. The shells were being preserved in place because removing them would damage the fort's fragile brickwork.

Institute conservator Liisa Nasanen was at Moultrie last week as the last of the heavy guns was returned from weeks of conservation. All but one are now coated with a modern epoxy.

"The paint that was on them was an oil-based coating. That is historically correct, but it's not something that necessarily does the trick when it comes to keeping the artifact safe,'' Nasanen said. ''We kind of borrowed ideas, and this epoxy system is something very widely used in the marine industry.''

The one cannon repainted with oil-based paint will allow comparisons as to which system works best.

In addition, sensors have been sealed in the barrels of the cannon to store information on humidity and temperature. The data can be downloaded to a computer to provide continuous monitoring of the iron inside the cannon.

The system is modeled after one used at Fort Jefferson in the Dry Tortugas National Park off of Key West, Florida. …