Reconstructing the USS Westfield, A Civil War Gunboat

Reconstructing the USS Westfield, A Civil War GunboatOn Display January 30 – May 3, 2014

The Brazos Valley Museum of Natural History proudly announces "Reconstructing the USS Westfield, A Civil War Gunboat", a free presentation by Justin Parkoff, Manager of the Westfield project at the Texas A&M University’s Conservation Research Laboratory, and Jessica Stika, the Westfield project’s Lead Conservator and Assistant Project Manager on Tuesday, February 25th, at 7pm.  Afterwards, visitors can view artifacts from the USS Westfield which are on display at the Museum from  January 30-May 3, 2014, showing concurrently with the Museum’s exhibit, the MONITOR & VIRGINIA: Ironclads at War.

"Forward she was blown into fragments down to the water…. The commodore's boat and all in it were annihilated in the terrible catastrophe – scattered through the air in fragments. The smoke-stacks and the after part of the ship lay in a black mass in the water for ten minutes, when there was another flash, and she was speedily wrapped in flames."

This quote, by a Confederate witness, captures the final moments of the Federal gunboat USS Westfield during the Battle of Galveston in the early hours of January 1,1863. The gunboat’s short life as the flagship of the West Gulf Blockading Squadron ended abruptly when her captain scuttled the ship to prevent her imminent capture by Confederate steamers.

The USS Westfield wreckage lay in the murky waters of the Texas City ship channel until 2009, when the disarticulated artifact debris field was recovered by Atkins Global (formerly PBS&J) during a dredging operation organized and orchestrated by the U.S. Corp of Engineers, making this Texas’ largest marine archaeology rescue project to date. The artifacts were brought to Texas A&M University’s Conservation Research Laboratory for conservation and analysis. Westfield’s fragmented remains offer abundant information about the steam machinery and armor, as the hull itself was not preserved.

Justin Parkoff and Jessica Stika will review these artifacts and demonstrate how even the most scant archaeological evidence can be an asset if properly documented and studied. The importance of conservation for archaeological collections will also be discussed. In addition, they will share the future plans for reconstructing the artifacts into an interpretative museum display at the Texas City Museum that exhibits Westfield's steam machinery and the vessel's unique design.

Justin Parkoff

Justin Parkoff
Westfield Project Manager and Conservator

Justin Parkoff is the Project Manager responsible for the conservation of the Civil War gunboat USS Westfield at Texas A&M University's Conservation Research Laboratory. Working in coordination with the U.S. Navy, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and the Texas Historical Commission, he is currently interpreting and reconstructing large portions of Westfield’s steam machinery. Parkoff earned a BA in History and an MA in Nautical Archaeology, both from Texas A&M University. With Westfield serving as his research focus, Justin is continuing his studies at Texas A&M University pursuing his PhD.

Jessica Stika

Jessica Stika
Westfield Lead Conservator and Assistant Project Manager

Jessica Stika is the Lead Conservator and Assistant Project Manager for the USS Westfield project at the Conservation Research Laboratory. Continuing her work following the completion of her master’s degree, she is responsible for the conservation, documentation, and management of the artifacts excavated from the USS Westfield site. Stika earned a BS in Interdisciplinary Studies from the University of Texas at Dallas and an MA in Nautical Archaeology from Texas A&M University.

Image at top right: Destruction of the USS Westfield in the Battle of Galveston