Prior to excavation, four sources of disturbance were expected to have impacted material inside the forward hold. First, testimony taken after the Maple Leaf sank reported the torpedo explosion caused extensive damage to the bow area (Board of Survey 1864). The portion of the hold examined during the 1992 excavation is close to the torpedo's detonation point and considerable damage and displacement of the cargo was expected.
Second, Union forces planned two different salvage attempts during the Civil War. A steamer was sent to the wreck on April 9, 1864 to remove the anchors and equipment, probably accounting for the missing anchors and chain. In June 1864 Army Captain W.L.M. Burger requested a centrifugal pump to help raise the vessel and remove valuables (OR I, XXXV, II:47, 123). There is no record of how successful these salvage attempts were, but missing deck planks and broken deck beams forward of the cargo hatch may have resulted from either venture.
Third, regardless of how the deck planks were removed, the large opening exposed the interior to the highly dynamic riverine environment. The hold was exposed for a considerable length of time as indicated by the large and numerous barnacles attached to material recovered during excavation. Water movement caused by currents and tides shifted and moved loose cargo until the interior completely filled with sediment. Buoyancy and density affected vertical location of some materials. Light wooden objects floated to the top of the hold while some heavier materials settled to the bottom. Wear and breakage of barrels, boxes, and other buoyant materials was considerable. This is shown in the artifact record by broken and collapsed boxes and barrels and many small artifacts distributed throughout the sediment filling the hold.
Fourth, in 1882 and 1888 Roderick G. Ross was contracted by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to clear wreckage from the site to provide safe river navigation (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers 1882,1888). The work was completed in 1883 and 1889. No substantial evidence of the superstructure or the walking beam was found, suggesting that Ross was very successful. Ross probably did not try to empty the forward hold but his activities certainly caused considerable damage to parts of the ship near the bow. The superstructure and both hogging trusses were removed. This, in turn, could have had a secondary impact on the cargo.
The combined effects of these four types of disturbance caused displacement and damage to materials in the hold. Very little of the original packing order is discernible in the profile walls of the excavation.
The excavation extended 8 ft. in depth to a large sheet metal plate that covered three fourths of the excavation unit bottom. Time and resources were lacking to enlarge the excavation so work was terminated. The condition and concentration of material on the bottom indicated less disturbance and damage. Several intact wooden boxes were felt beside and underneath the metal plate. Although these materials were not recovered, they suggest greater integrity than the scattered material found in the excavation above. This further indicates less destruction in the lower areas of the hold, with the exception of torpedo damage, and probably reflects less impact by water movement.
A large number of wooden tent poles are widely distributed in the cargo hold. Their location often hindered and stopped work. In addition, the wood is in very brittle condition and easily broken by diver activity. To avoid causing extensive and random damage, certain tent poles were intentionally broken and removed to provide an unobstructed work area.
Many of the tent poles and other wooden objects examined during this excavation were covered with barnacles. Their presence confirms the interior was exposed to open water for a considerable time and that water movement inside the hold was sufficient to keep them alive. As the interior filled with sediment the barnacles died.
Despite the damage and movement suffered by the cargo, the archaeological record may verify the single historical account of how the forward hold was packed for the last voyage. Charles H. Farnham, Second Officer on the Maple Leaf, superintended the loading at Pawnee Landing, South Carolina. Alternating layers of sutlers stores and tents were packed in the space. "It was sutler goods of the ordinary kind-tobacco-cigars-preserves-mackeral and such stores-and tents on top of the sutlers goods and then another layer of sutlers goods right up under the fore hatch" (Board of Survey 1864).
Only the west wall stratigraphic profile displayed remnants of packing in alternating layers (Figure 13). In the test excavation, this wall was the farthest from the areas most obviously disturbed. However, the profile interpretation is very speculative considering the limited area investigated.
Stratum 1 contains a large number of tent poles concentrated under the deck. They are generally aligned along the axis of the ship, resting under the camber of the deck. These poles may represent a layer placed on top of the cargo. Considering the large volume of tightly packed material, it is not likely the poles were able to float to the top of the hold. The tent pole concentration extends from the bottom of the deck beams to 2.5 ft. below datum. One small wooden box (Recovery 055) was found among the poles.
Stratum 2 extends from 2.5 to 3.5 ft. below datum. This level contains relatively clean sediment with only isolated artifacts and no concentrations. Stratum 3 is two layers of criss-crossed tent poles that intrudes into Stratum 4. Poles forming the top layer are oriented athwart ship and extend from 3.5 ft. to 4.2 ft. below datum. The lower layer is oriented with the long axis of the ship. This layer extends from 4.2 to 5.0 ft. below datum.
Stratum 4 (Recovery 062, a large wooden box, and a wooden barrel that was not removed) extends from 4.2 to 6.2 ft. This is the first layer with relatively undamaged and intact packing containers. As the excavation proceeded into the hold, the deeper material was less damaged by post sinking site formation processes.
Stratum 5, from 6.2 to 8.7 ft. below datum, contains an increasing number of artifact concentrations. Much of the material in this area extended from the wall into the excavation. Intact containers were encountered. Several artifact concentrations suggest the use of non-durable containers such as cloth bags. Recovery 059, rubber fabric fragments, and Recovery 060, tent rope tighteners, are distinct groupings by concentration and material type not associated with containers. Recovery 061 is a loose cluster of personal items that cannot be well established as a distinct association, but they are in close proximity to Recovery 64, a rifled musket. The musket has fabric impressions indicating that it was wrapped in cloth before being stowed in the hold. Recovery 063 is an ammunition box that fell on its side and rested on top of the musket barrel.
Eight feet below datum, a metal plate was encountered that obstructed further progress. The plate is 32 in. wide, approximately 1/16 in. thick and extends out of the north wall 3 ft. covering three fourths of the excavation unit. This plate, possibly part of a iron stove, was not removed. Narrow open spaces on the south and west edges of the plate allowed limited probing into unexcavated areas. The plate rests on top of at least one wooden box extending into the west wall. A concentration of tent poles extends into the south wall. The poles are generally oriented with the long axis of the ship.
According to the Certificate of Ownership, the depth of hold amidships is 10.6 ft., leaving a space roughly 2.6 ft. deep below the plate. The excavation did not reach the ceiling planks but it did demonstrate the types and condition of material in the hold. A large number of tent poles were present but no sutler's stores were found in the small area investigated. This partially confirms Second Officer Farnham's description of the material he saw packed in the hold. The presence of ammunition is a direct contradiction of his testimony. According to Farnham, ammunition or explosives were not in the forward cargo hold. "A few old ammunition boxes were put in aft, but they were light and I think they held only some soldier traps. I asked if there was any ammunition in them and was told that there was not, and I lifted one of them and found it light. Nothing of this kind ever went forward of the [paddle wheel] shaft" (Board of Survey 1864).
The forward hold test excavations confirmed extensive damage caused by the torpedo explosion and post sinking site formation processes. Material is better preserved deeper in the hold and possibly along the sides of the hull. This is a direct result of the large hole in the forward deck that exposed the interior to water movement causing cargo to shift. Future work will have to consider some distribution of material in the hold based on the varying buoyancy and density of material types. This factor, combined with the limited working space available inside the hull, must be considered when establishing a recording system and deciding on levels of accuracy. If a systematic packing arrangement can be discerned, excavation levels should follow this manmade stratigraphy. Otherwise, arbitrary levels should be established to detect artifact distribution patterns. Discrete artifact associations must be maintained separately.