Monthly Archives: April 2012

Lines and Angles: Bomardment of Fort Jackson

Among the primary sources for the Battle of Forts Jackson and St. Philip are several maps drafted to support naval operations. The maps themselves were products of the Coast Survey, working with Army surveys done before the war.  The products of the survey in turn were used for operational planning.  That provides what in my generation of warfighters we’d have called an “overlay,” alluding to days of clear acetate and grease pencil smudges that passed for operational graphics.

Those graphics, at the time of the operation, are a valuable tool for the commander to relate the orders.  A well drawn graphic rises above any ambiguities, perhaps due to misinterpretation of the written word, and places a THERE on the map.  For the historian, the things that are recorded on the map provide some insight into the thoughts, concerns, or preferences of the commander and his staff.

A copy of both the survey team’s draft and the finished copy are part of Fold3’s free Civil War map collection.  Here’s the final:

The caption on the map reads:

Reconnoissance of the Mississippi River below Forts Jackson and St. Philip made previous to the reduction by the U.S. Fleet under the command of Flag officer D.G. Farragut, U.S.N.  By the party under the direction of F.H. Gerdes, Asst. U.S. Coast Survey, A.D. Bache, Supdt.

NOTE – O1, O2, O3 &c. H1, H2, H3 &c are points established by triangulation.  A, B, C, D &c are points on the left bank and 1, 2, 3, 4 &c. points on the right bank of the River, established for placing the Gunboats and Mortarboats in position.  The position of the Mortar Flotilla on the first day of the bombardment, April 18th was as follows – 6 mortars on the left bank between C & J, distance to Fort Jackson 3900 to 4500 yards — 14 mortars on the right bank from 1 to 5; distance to Fort Jackson 2830 to 3490 yards.  On the 19th, the 2nd day of the bombardment, they were all on the right bank and 20 mortars were placed distant from Fort Jackson 3010 to 4100 yards.  They remained on the 3rd and 4th days nearly in the same position.  All the large armed steamers and Gunboats were placed from ¼ to 1 ¾ miles below the lowest mortar vessel.  On the first day the small steam sloops and the Gunboats went up to abreast of the Smokestack, where they engaged the forts and the enemy’s steamers.

Here’s a close up view of the left edge of the map, showing the location of the forts and marked positions for the bombarding boats.

A set of lines show the surveyors paid careful attention to the layout of the forts.  One line shows the “lower limit of casemate tier” of Fort Jackson’s down river facing battery.  Another set of lines indicates the “sector without casemate fire.”   The river facing bastion created a blind spot that guns within the casemates could not cover.  Of course, guns on the barbette tier could cover that angle.  But the mortars were supposed to make those positions untenable, if not dismounting the guns entirely.  Notice what lays within that uncovered angle.  Yes, the hulks and chains obstructing the river.  Go figure….

Another line indicates the upper limit of the casemate guns, reaching across to Fort St. Philip.  While the arc of coverage from that fort’s casemates is not depicted, simple extrapolation demonstrates the “cross fire” from the forts lay upstream of the obstructions.   So if the mortars could suppress the open barbette tier and the exterior water batteries, the casemate guns would have difficulty covering the channel.

The maps pertaining to the “battle of the forts” also includes a survey of damage done to Fort Jackson:

A close up view shows large sections, including two bastions and the central citadel, burned.  But the most serious damage was to the glacis facing downriver.  Not only did this open the moat and interior of the fort to flooding, it also exposed the casemate walls.

With the masonry exposed, the attackers could then begin battering work… in due time…. But as related yesterday, Admiral Farragut didn’t want to prosecute a formal siege.  He wanted to get up river to his assigned target.  The forts were just impediments to be bypassed if need be.  Damaged, flooded, and demoralized, the forts alone could not hold the West Gulf Blockading Squadron at bay.

The Mortar Schooners: Bombarding the Mississippi Forts

Continuing the discussion of 13-inch mortars in action, I’ve posted an article on the Civil War Navy Sesquicentennial blog detailing the Navy’s mortar schooners used below New Orleans.   The piece complements a series of cross-posts between the CWN150 blog and the Civil War Monitor’s Front Line blog, all focused on the campaign to take New Orleans.  The posts thus far also include a look at how the sketch artists covered the action.

As I indicate in the post, the mortars failed to meet expectations.  That continued a trend seen at Fort Pulaski and at Island No. 10.  Were the mortars simply inadequate or defective?   I wouldn’t go that far.  A better way to put it – heavy mortars alone could not bring about the reduction of enemy works, but provided a valuable component to any besieging force.   And while the physical damage was not as extensive as predicted, perhaps the psychological effect made up for the shortfall.

The Sesquicentennial right on your phone!

Being a techie by trade, I’ve often lamented that we – that is the Civil War obsessed minority – don’t leverage the technology to better advantage. During a visit to Chickamauga in the 1990s, I probably “weirded out” my fellow stompers by predicting one day we’d walk the fields sans maps or guidebooks, equipped only with an electronic device. Nostradamus I am not. I was only offering the art of the possible at that time. The gap was not technology, but rather resources to cost. Software development was the prohibitive cost. At that time (circa 1998) there was limited demand for “handheld battlefields” and the software platforms were on the heavy side.

A decade and …well a half later, the software resource question changed. I’m able to run blog posts from my phone. Lightweight application platforms lowered the raw cost of development (oh, and a few other factors such as the evolution of a profession). And at the same time, the demand picked up.

Not us Civil War wonks crying for electronic maps, but rather organizations looking for new ways to reach an audience. I’ve mentioned Civil War Trust’s series of Battlefield Apps for smart phones before. That’s a great example were a preservation organization is reaching a broader audience – in short showcasing what it aims to save.

Another emerging “requirement” falls in line with the sesquicentennial activities. Tourism boards now seek better mediums than brochures. So little wonder state sesquicentennial committees turned to smart phone apps. Two that I’ve had the chance to review are from Tennessee and Virginia.

I found the Tennessee app full of goodies. The home page divides content into four categories.

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The places section offers brief overviews, some well known fields and sites. Others less so.

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Each entry also provides directions and nearby attractions. In true Web 2.0 fashion, the app offers the option to share the entry on Facebook. And…even to upload you photos to share.

The artifacts section offers some primary sources.

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The people section introduces military, political and civilian personalities.

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I snagged a screen shot of Clinton B. Fisk, but you will find pages on common soldiers, women, slaves, freedmen, and unionists.

And to complete the outreach, Tennessee’s app offers a list of events, also with the social media options mentioned above.

Virginia’s version is not so robust yet:

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It offers a calendar, but lacks the story boards.

Tennessee may have set the early mark in regard to sesquicentennial apps, but from what I hear, Virginia is about to one up that!