On Wednesday and Thursday, March 16 and 17, the Institute of Maritime History assisted NHHC and Phoenix International Holdings, a SUPSALV contractor, in deploying a Remotely Operated Underwater Vehicle (ROV) and an Autonomous Underwater Vehicle (AUV), two types of small, unmanned submarines, to take sonar and video images of the USS Tulip wreck. Tulip was a US Navy gunboat that sank with heavy loss of life in a boiler explosion in 1864. IMH is a non-profit society that is based at Tall Timbers Marina and conducts underwater archaeological reconnaissance and research for the Maryland Historical Trust and other agencies.
The river was too rough on Wednesday to safely deploy the ROV. Thursday was calm, but even at slack high tide the river sediment prevented the ROV from getting good video images. The AUV obtained excellent high-resolution sonar images of the hull and debris field. At the end of work on Thursday a memorial service was held on the site, with tulips dropped into the water to commemorate the sailors who died in the tragic sinking.
Dr. George Schwarz was the NHHC archaeologist on the project. Stephanie Brown was the SUPSALV representative. Curt Newport, Charlie Kapica and Andy Yockey of Phoenix operated the Seaeye Falcon ROV and the Iver-3-580-3037 AUV. IMH members Dan Lynberg, Charlie Reid and Dave Howe, and local resident Will Jordan operated the IMH dive boat Roper. Roper towed a skiff and used her as a work platform to launch and recover the AUV. On Thursday, Captain Will Gates of the pinnace Maryland Dove at Historic St. Mary's City joined in the effort.
In May, Brendan Burke of the Lighthouse Archaeological Maritime Program at the St. Augustine (Florida) Lighthouse and Maritime Museum will visit IMH, bringing LAMP's Klein 3900 sidescan sonar and Marine Magnetics "Explorer" underwater magnetometer. He and IMH members will spend several days scanning, magging, diving and mapping what appears to be another Civil War shipwreck near USMC Base Quantico VA, and several days on the Tulip. IMH will dive Tulip only if accompanied by Dr Schwarz or another NHHC underwater archaeologist. As a federal war grave, Tulip is a sensitive site. The wreck is also protected from unauthorized disturbance under the Sunken Military Craft Act. Some artifacts were illegally recovered years ago, were eventually surrendered to the Navy, and have been conserved and curated at NHHC. In the current operation the site was not touched or disturbed.
USS Tulip was a screw gunboat, 183 tons, length 97'3", beam 21'9", depth 9'6", draft 8', complement 57, carrying two 24-pounder smoothbore cannons and one 20-pounder Parrott rifle. She was built at New York City in 1862 and 1863 by Jowett & Company for export to China as the lighthouse tender Chih Kiang, but was purchased by the US Navy on 22 June 1863.
Renamed Tulip and refitted for service as a tug and gunboat, she joined the Potomac River Flotilla in August 1863. That force patrolled the river, protecting Union waterborne communications between the nation's capital and the port cities of the divided nation during the Civil War. She initially performed towing duties at the Washington Navy Yard, and then served with the flotilla in operations against Confederate forces in the Rappahannock. In the latter duties, the ship carried Federal troops and supported naval landing parties which from time to time went ashore for operations against Confederate traffic across the river.
As she continued this wartime riverine service into 1864, Tulip developed a defective starboard boiler. Commander Foxhall A. Parker, commanding the Potomac Flotilla, ordered the ship home to the Washington Navy Yard for repairs. Tulip got underway on 11 November with orders to steam only the port boiler. Not long after departing from St. Inigoes Creek, St. Mary's County, Maryland, her engineers, against all orders, began supplying steam to the starboard boiler. When abreast Ragged Point, the boiler exploded and tore the fragile ship apart, killing 47 men instantly of the 57-man complement. Of the 10 survivors, two died later as a result of injuries received in the violent explosion which claimed the ship.
The attached photo by Charlie Reid shows Captain Will Gates, Curt Newport, and Andy Yockey preparing to launch the ROV.