Thursday, February 19, 2009

World War I Battleship Found

More than a year ago, a French battleship from World War I was discovered on the ocean floor near the island of Sardinia in the Mediterranean Sea. The battleship, the Danton, was torpedoed by a German u-boat in 1917 shortly after the the battleship received word that enemy submarines were in the area. The Danton was en route to Corfu, Greece on March 18th when the ship was attacked. The ship is believed to have rolled after being torpedoed and as it sank, it rolled again landing upright on the sea bed. The Danton was one of the largest French vessels of World War I. It carried almost 1,000 men. Three fourths of the crew were rescued, but casualties still numbered more than 290.

The Danton was discovered by an unmanned submarine conducting a survey of the sea floor for a proposed oil pipeline route. For the complete story please visit French Battleship Intact After Nearly a Century Under Water by Deb Krajnak.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

17th Century Spanish Galleon Found

In October 1631 a Spanish fleet of 19 ships set sail for their homeland from Veracruz, a port on the Gulf coast of what is now Mexico. Shortly after departing, the fleet encountered a violent storm, most likely a hurricane, which ultimately sank the majority of the fleet. While the exact cargo of the fleet is unknown, it is speculated to have been carrying gold and silver from the mines in Peru and Central America. One of the ships in the fleet was the Spanish galleon Our Lady of Juncal. Our Lady has recently been discovered by Odyssey Marine Exploration of Tampa, Florida. (Odyssey is the same company that discovered the HMS Victory in my previous post.) Odyssey wishes to explore the shipwreck and recover artifacts in compliance with the United Nations Educational, Scientific, anc Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Convention which would keep all artifacts together as a single collection. The Mexican government has denied Odyssey the right to explore and recover stating that Odyssey's proposal "is not intended to conduct research and does not have the approval of archaeologists or an academic institution of recognized prestige."

For the complete AP article by Mark Stevenson, please visit Mexico says US firm can't explore shipwreck.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Another Historic Shipwreck Found

In 1744, the British Royal Navy was the mightiest of them all, in part because of ships like the Her Majesty's Ship (HMS) Victory. The HMS Victory was "the world's mightiest and most technically advanced warship" of it's time. Its sinking has been called "one of the greatest mysteries in naval history", until now.

Odyssey Marine Exploration believes they have found the wreck of the HMS Victory, and its location is nowhere near where the Victory was thought to have sunk. Originally, the ship was believed to have sank in Channel Islands near the French coast. Odyssey Marine Exploration has found the wreckage in the English Channel almost 62 miles from the Channel Islands. Historians believed that Admiral Sir John Balchin and his crew ran the ship aground on a reef due to mistakes and faulty navigation, but Odyssey's discovery in the deep waters of the English Channel indicate the ship may have sank in a violent storm. The design of the ship is believed to have played a part in the ship's demise.

The HMS Victory's crew numbered almost 1,000 men. A crew this size was virtually unheard of in 1744 when the ship went down. The ship has been identified by artifacts near the site including a 42 pounder cannon. The ship itself is unrecoverable. Like the Titanic, the ship was believed to be unsinkable.

To read the complete story by Josh Levs, please visit Treasure Hunters Claim Historic Warship Found on

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

The Worst Maritime Disaster in the United States

While researching my family heritage (see post dated December 30, 2009) my brother directed me to a website that mentioned the sinking of the SS Sultana, known as the worst maritime disaster in the United States. "The SS What?", you ask. Exactly!

After seeing the site my brother directed me to, I got thinking. How could a shipping disaster that claimed more lives than the sinking of the Titanic go unnoticed? Show me one history book that mentions the SS Sultana. While, local history texts may mention it, on a national level the event is no where to be found. According to Fire Service History, two books have been written about the incident. Neither, however, are mainstream. The first is The Sultana Tragedy: America's Greatest Maritime Disaster by Jerry O. Potter. The second, Disaster on the Mississippi: The Sultana Explosion, April 27, 1865 by Gene Eric Salecker. So I again ask, how does a shipping disaster that claimed more lives than the Titanic go unnoticed?

To begin with, the SS Sultana was a steamship operating on the Mississippi River. During the Civil War, the ship was used to transport Union soldiers and supplies into the Confederacy. On April 27, 1865 when the SS Sultana sank, the war was nearly over. The Sultana began transporting Union prisoners of war back to St. Louis. En route, the steamship had to stop in Vicksburg for some repairs to one of the boilers and take on more passengers. Although the ship was only certified to carry 376, more than 2,000 were believed to be on board. At approximately 2 a.m. on April 27, 1865, the hasty repairs to the boiler gave way causing the ship to explode. Because the Sultana was heading upstream against the strong spring currents, the ship required more steam (and thus more pressure) to sail upriver. The ship was also listing because of the excessive weight from overcrowding. The boiler explosion killed more than 1,500 people. Official estimates are 1,547, but many historians believe that upwards of 1,800 were sent to their deaths. Official reports point to the boiler explosion as the cause, but a Confederate sabotage theory has also been advanced.

Casualties from the RMS Titanic number 1,517, thirty less than the estimates from the SS Sultana, yet the Sultana has been forgotten by history. Why? Because of when it sank. On April 27, 1865, the United States was mourning the loss of President Lincoln who had been assassinated two weeks earlier. As the first U.S. President to be assassinated, Lincoln's death held the nation captive for several months. Lincoln's body would not be laid to rest until the following month after a long tour around the country. Immediately following Lincoln's assassination, the conspiracy to kill several key government officials became known. This too turned the nation's attention away from a small steamship that sank on the Mississippi River and thus relegated the SS Sultana into near oblivion.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Move Over Titanic

The sinking of the Titanic and its later discovery was the most important maritime discovery of the 20th century. That discovery will continue to make history and awe thousands, if not millions of people. But the 21st century must find its own place in history, and it amy have done so in the past week with a discovery that is to science what the Titanic was to popular culture.

On Friday, January 9, 2009, the BBC reported the possible discovery of the HMS Beagle. The HMS Beagle was the ship that Charles Darwin sailed on to the Pacific when he formulated his theory on evolution.

The HMS Beagle made only three voyages before being sent the British Coast Guard to aid in their anti-smuggling campaign. After years of service in the Coast Guard, the HMS Beagle was decommissioned and sold off to be stripped and dismantled. According to the BBC article, it is believed that two local farmer purchased the ship and then let it sink in the muddy marshes of River Roach in Essex, England after they salvaged as much as they possibly could. Samples taken from the hull of the ship will eventually confirm whether or not the find is indeed the HMS Beagle, but already their are positive signs. The discovery is apporximately the same size as the HMS Beagle and the first samples have confirmed the presence of organisms, called diatoms, which are only found in the Pacific and Australian seas.

To read the complete article by Jeremy Grange, please visit

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Roman Expansion

Yesterday, CNN reported that archeologists in Germany discovered a battlefield from the Ancient Roman Empire. What is fascinating about this discovery is that it revises all previous notions of the Romans in Northern Germany. Prior to this discovery, historians believed the Germanic tribes defeated the Romans within a decade of Christ. The battlefield, however, proves the Romans were still strong and in control of Northern Germany into the third century. Archealogists at the site believe the Germanic tribes ambushed the Romans, but that the Romans were able to regroup and that advanced Roamn weaponry thwarted the ambush resulting in close hand-to-hand combat. One of the more interesting finds at the site was a Roman coin depicting the late second century Emperor Commodus. Most of the artifacts have been preserved so well that archealogists and historians can re-create portions of the third century battle.

The full story can be accessed on CNN's website at German Battlefield Yields Roman Surprises.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Genealogy as a Field of History

Since just before my son was born in October 2007, I have been researching the genealogy of our family. It has been quite interesting to uncover the stories of family members and I enjoy looking through all the records to find just the piece of the puzzle I am missing. Through it all, our family tree has grown to include almost 600 people and it can be traced back to Germany, Ireland, Italy, Scotland, and Switzerland. One of our relatives was born of Irish parents in the Congo in the middle of Africa. Our tree currently traces back to the late 1500s / early 1600s.

What surprises me about the field of genealogy is that it is not more prominently advanced by historians. Genealogy may center on family heritage and tradition, but much can be learned from the field. Genealogical research is not just about filling in the missing links between generations. It shows migratory patterns, includes personal accounts of historical events and utilizes masses of public records including censuses, military records, land deeds & titles, and cemetery records. One can learn a great deal about history just from researching their family lineage.

To become a professional genealogist, one must pass rigorous exams given by the certifying institution and prove the ability to accurately research a family lineage. Yet, one must undertake a study of genealogy on their own. Not a single major university or college offers course work to prepare for a career as a genealogist. I find this truly amazing and I would advocate the need for a more formalized program at the postgraduate level. Maybe after I earn my PhD and begin teaching at a university, I will be able to help establish a formal program somewhere. Until then, genealogists will just have to rely on their own research abilities and forge a community amongst themselves.