Mission Summary

Kids learn about multibeam data on the Bay Hydrographer.

Left to right: Jenny, Brandon, and Meghan take notes and ask questions, while a NOAA crew member explains the multibeam data being received. Click image for larger view and image credit.

The Cumberland Club waits for the ROV competition to begin

The Cumberland Club anxiously waits in front of Nauticus for the ROV (remotely operated vehicle) competition to begin. Club members will use their group-constructed ROVs in the event. Click image for larger view and image credit.

Cumberland Club 2007

Jennifer Hurst
Hampton Roads Naval Museum
Norfolk, Virginia

From June 18 to 29, 2007, the Hampton Roads Naval Museum (HRNM) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) held a summer enrichment program, giving students the opportunity to experience being historians, archeologists, and marine-scientists. Named the “Cumberland Club,” after the shipwreck they would explore, these rising 8th grade students were selected to participate in the free summer program by writing essays that answered the question: “Why is history important?” The students are primarily from the largely underserved Norfolk Public School system.

The grant from the NOAA Ocean Explorer education program has given interested students a once-in-a-life time opportunity to be part of something real. All of this year's participants say they want to come back next year as senior members to mentor the new Cumberland Club kids — and are all welcome to attend! We plan to follow up on these kids throughout their scholastic careers, and to continue to aid them in any way we can by providing future opportunities to pursue careers in science or history.

USS Cumberland and the Battle of Hampton Roads

Nearly a year into the American Civil War, the USS Cumberland was moored off Newport News Point, Virginia. On March 8, 1862, the Cumberland met the Confederate ironclad CSS Virginia for the first — and last — time.

After exchanging broadsides with the wooden ship, the CSS Virginia succeeded in ramming her enemy, the USS Cumberland. With her ram stuck inside of the doomed ship, the Virginia feared it too would be brought down with the sinking sloop. The gun crews of the Cumberland gallantly continued firing, even as the ship's destruction became obviously inevitable. The ship, still containing the dislodged Virginia’s ram, settled in 65 feet of water, but atop the Cumberland's masts, the United States Flag still flew triumphantly above water.

The CSS Virginia continued to decimate the Union’s wooden warships in Hampton Roads until the next day, March 9, when the USS Monitor appeared; Virginia had met her match. The battle between the ironclads Virginia and Monitor forever changed the face of naval warfare. Iron and steam power were now seen as far superior to the wooden, sail-powered ships of old.

Kids present their artifact analysis to the Cumberland Club

Left to right: Jenny, Emily, and Meghan present their artifact analysis to the rest of the Cumberland Club at the Hampton Roads Naval Museum (HRNM) annex site in Naval Station Norfolk. Click image for larger view and image credit.

Artifact Conservation at Naval Station Norfolk

Today, the Cumberland’s wreckage is protected by law. All artifacts belong to the U.S. Navy, and the artifact repository is HRNM. During this year's Cumberland Club program, students learned how to document, photograph, and assess the condition of Cumberland artifacts to determine which were in need of conservation. Part of the Cumberland Club funding is being used to conserve two artifacts from the wreck. Those pieces were chosen by the students during the project: a grid from the back of one of Cumberland’s cannons, and an unidentified artifact with detailed judicial engravings on brass rivets, binding together two pieces of wood.

ROV Building and Competition

In addition to artifact conservation, the club worked in teams to build their own remotely operated vehicles (ROVs). Nauticus and NOAA educators, Peter Leighton and Krista Trono, assisted in providing supplies and expertise. The ROVs were constructed out of PVC pipes, stereo wire, fish tank motors, model propellers, and, of course, duct tape. After completing their vessels, the teams competed against each other in timed trials, simulating actual ROV use in underwater archeological expeditions.

National Marine Sanctuaries

NOAA National Marine Sanctuary Program Educator Krista Trono gave an in-depth lesson about the 14 National Marine Sanctuaries (NMS), featuring the Monitor NMS. The fun and interactive lessons ended with a highly polarized student debate about the expansion of the Monitor NMS. Students portrayed various groups impacted by the growth of the Monitor NMS. Among these were commercial fishermen, recreational scuba divers, tourism boards, underwater archeologists, and other groups that would be impacted by changing the sanctuary.

Shipwreck Archeology

HRNM interns Matthew Eng and Rebecca Kaczkowski developed and tested a new pilot program for the Cumberland Club, incorporating bathymetry and multibeam technology. The interns created an imaginary shipwreck, including log books and a fictional background story. Students were split into groups; each received a quarter of the fictional multibeam image. Using clay, the students created a three dimensional model of the multibeam image. Then putting all four sections together, students analyzed the log books and background information to try and determine the fate of the sunken ship. This program was distributed to teachers participating in our August teacher workshops External Link and is available by request through our Web site, www.hrnm.navy.mil exit icon External Link.

Monitor Center at the Mariners' Museum

The Mariners' Museum in Newport News, Virginia, hosted the Cumberland Club for a day. Head Conservator Marcie Renner and Conservator Susanne Grieve gave the students an amazing behind-the-scenes tour of the new Monitor Center and its cutting-edge conservation labs. (Susanne Grieve also spoke at our Cumberland Club teacher workshop on August 17.) The students were given free time to explore the rest of the Mariners' Museum.

Civil War Sailors and Sailing

During the Cumberland Club program, students experienced a reenactment from Tidewater’s Marine Life Heritage Association. Alan Mordicca taught the group about life as a Civil War sailor. The kids learned knot tying and sea shanties. Then they boarded the sailing ship American Rover for a tour around the harbor, learning how to operate the rigging from the American Rover crew as they listened to Mr. Mordicca perform shanties with his concertina.

2007 multibeam image of the wreck of the U.S.S. Cumberland. Image courtesy of the U.S. Navy/NOAA.

A 2007 multibeam image of the USS Cumberland wreck. Click image for larger view

NOAA research vessel Bay Hydrographer

Cumberland Club spent the second week onboard the Bay Hydrographer, with only four or five students fitting onboard the tiny boat each day. Our cruise departed from the NOAA docks in Norfolk, sailed to the wreck site of the Cumberland, off the Newport News Point pier docks. Once in position over the wreck site, we all helped lower the side scan sonar into the water. Inside the ship’s cabin, computer screens showed the river bottom as it was recorded by the side scan sonar. All of the data was recorded so that underwater archeologist Steve Schmidt could mosaic the data together and create a complete image of the wreck. The complete side scan image is used to evaluate the current condition of the shipwreck, providing a “snapshot in time” of the wreck’s state on the river bottom.

NOAA researchers and crewmen allowed the kids to help drive the boat and control the level of the side scan. The same process was performed with the multibeam sonar, except that the processed images are three-dimensional and displayed in color, rather than the two-dimensional black-and-white images gathered by the side scan sonar. The resulting mosaicked images showed increased sedimentation over the wreck. This is great news for the wreck of USS Cumberland: the sedimentation is protecting it from further damage and deterioration.


Monitor National Marine Sanctuary External Link is one of 14 National Marine Sanctuaries. It protects the wreck site of the USS Monitor. Its Web site has many great activities as well as information and lesson plans for families, students, and teachers. Their educator, Krista Trono, was a great help to the Cumberland Club. Their offices are located at the Mariners' Museum

The Mariners' Museum exit icon External Link is located in Newport News, Virginia. This museum is home to the new Monitor Center, which showcases the Battle of Hampton Roads and the historic ship. The Monitor Center is working on the conservation of the Monitor’s turret, engine, and cannons, as well as the conservation of many smaller artifacts.

Hampton Roads Naval Museum exit icon External Link , one of 11 U.S. Navy-owned museums, is the current repository for all Cumberland artifacts. All of the museum’s programs are free to the public. The museum also boasts the WWII battleship USS Wisconsin as its largest artifact, which is also open to the public for free tours.

Nauticus exit icon External Link is owned and operated by the City of Norfolk and is the home of the Hampton Roads Naval Museum and the Norfolk branch of NOAA education. Nauticus educator Peter Leighton supplied the equipment for Cumberland Club’s ROV competition.