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Fri, Aug 22, 2014 01:56 PM
Issue of August 20, 2014
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Plans set for Alice Dean recovery


May 07, 2014 | 10:08 AM

Plans are in place to raise the Alice Dean, a Civil War-era steamboat, from the depths of the Ohio River. The boat was burned and sunk by Confederate Brig. Gen. John Hunt Morgan and his cavalry near Mauckport during the Civil War in June 1863.

The man behind the plan is Clarence Merk Jr., and the company that hopes to make it happen is Cross Marine Salvage out of Salt Lake City.

"He has all the experience and equipment to perform such a project," Merk said of Jim Cross, the owner of the salvage company.

Merk said, after a long process, they have secured — or are in the process of securing — all of the many necessary permits to begin the project including ones from the Army Corps of Engineers, the Navy Heritage and History Command Center in Washington, D.C., The Kentucky Heritage Council, SHPO, U.S. Dept. of Natural Resources and the U.S. General Services Administration.

The plan will start in earnest later this month when a Louisville-based dive team is set to locate the boat, or all of its pieces.

The estimated cost of the project, which will be funded by corporate sponsors and private donors through Cross Marine (potentially including The History Channel), is $3 million.

After the dive and the exact location of the remains is determined, a dam with steel pylons will be created this fall before the process of bringing the steamboat to the surface begins.

The pieces of the boat will be taken to a yet-to-be-determined location for cleaning and restoration. The final resting place also is still undetermined but Merk hopes it could possible be the focal point of a museum on either or both sides of the river.

"It could be a game changer," he said.

Merk said it could be a great addition to Indiana's bicentennial celebration in 2016.

"It's really blossoming beyond anything I ever thought," he said. "It's been an amazing journey ... I'm looking forward to seeing it come to fruition."

Merk said he has a love of history, especially Harrison County, where his family has called home since 1830. He was a history teacher at Corydon Central and South Central in the 1970s and his love for Harrison County history, specifically regarding the Ohio River, expanded at that time.

He said he hopes the battle on the river will be finally and officially recognized as a Navy battle of the Civil War.

The Alice Dean (about three times the size of the Belle of Louisville), a 411-ton side-wheel, wooden-hulled packet steamer, served as a Union troop transport that carried forces from Memphis, Tenn., to join Gen. Ulysses Grant's siege of Vicksburg, Miss. Morgan's raiders captured the Alice Dean while crossing from Brandenburg to Mauckport at Morvin's Landing. After fulfilling its use for Morgan, he burned the boat.

The hull was exposed in 1959 after Dam 44, below Brandenburg on the Ohio, broke and the runoff of water left part of the old steamer's skeleton exposed. Many people took pieces of the wood as plaques to commemorate the raid.

It will be just the third Civil War vessel to be retrieved from its watery grave; the other two were in Texas and Norfolk, Va.

Twitter: @rossschulz

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Corydon Democrat, 301 N. Capitol Ave., Corydon, IN 47112 1-812-738-2211 email