In his official report of the action outside Charleston on April 7, 1863, Admiral Samuel DuPont lamented that, “…it appears that only 139 shot and shell were fired by our vessels, though during that same period the enemy poured upon us an incessant storm of round shot and shell, rifled projectiles of all descriptions, and red-hot shot.” DuPont attached a report of ammunition collected by Lieutenant Alexander S. Mackinzie, his ordnance officer:
The summary was “Number of vessels, 9; number of guns, 23; number of fires, 139; number of shells, 96; number of solid shot, 30; number of cored shot, 13.” The Navy’s guns involved were XV-inch Dahlgrens, XI-inch Dahlgrens, and a couple of 8-inch Parrotts.
First off, Beauregard’s count of 125 shots was not too far off. But if we take the surface numbers and balance that against the damage reported at Fort Sumter, there’s an astonishing ratio – 139 shots fired and 55 hits. Like to the tune of 40%. But let me again caution that the Confederate reports of “hits” to Fort Sumter were more so “damaged spots.” Regardless, the Confederates could identify the type of projectile involved for 27 of the hits. Maybe an extreme downgrade adjustment to 20%? Let’s split the difference to 30% shall we? Still not bad, all things considered.
The details in the Confederate report allow some measures of Federal projectile effectiveness against the brickwork. Looking again at the east face:
Some rather dangerous holes were annotated as numbers 3, 9, 10, 16, 21, 22, 25 and 29. These were described as:
- 3: Unknown projectile – 2 feet 3 inch penetration. Exterior concrete keystone and interior embrasure arch knocked out; masonry cracked.
- 9: 15-inch shell and two other shots – 2 feet 6 inch penetration. Parapet wall cracked 25 feet in length; serious damage, perhaps by exploding shell.
- 10: 15-inch shell – 2 feet 3 inch penetration. Interior arch of embrasure dislocated; masonry between piers and embrasure badly shaken and projecting.
- 16: Unknown projectile – 2 feet 2 inch penetration. Damage not detailed.
- 21: Unknown projectile – 1 foot 6 inch penetration. Embrasure badly cracked and projecting inside.
- 22: 15 inch shell – 5 foot penetration. Struck head of arch in casemate, tearing away a section of masonry, then exploded.
- 25: 15 inch shell – 5 foot penetration. Destroyed embrasure, exploded in parade ground.
- 29: Unknown projectile – 2 feet 4 inch penetration. serious damage; wall not much cracked.
The damage, while not enough to harm the fort’s structural integrity was significant enough considering the small number fired. Naval guns have to contend with the three dimensional movement of the firing platform. So their effectiveness, at least before the days of computer aided gunnery, relied heavily on aggregate weight of the barrage. The weight of projectiles fired on April 7, 1863 towards Fort Sumter was far less than the 100,000 pounds used to create the breech in Fort Pulaski the previous year.
Consider also the placement of those stars on the fort.
The majority hit on the lower half of the respective faces. One practice followed by naval gunners was to “skip” or “ricochet” the rounds off the water in order to compensate for the motion of the ship. That practice may explain the arrangement of hits on the fort’s walls. Although this reduced the force of the projectile, that wasn’t as great a concern for shells (70% of the projectiles fired).
Given the Navy’s tally of ammunition expended and the Confederate accounting for damage done, I put the question on the table: Was it in the capacity of the ironclads to reduce Fort Sumter? If not, might the monitors have otherwise neutralized the fort?
(The table appears in ORN, Series I, Volume 14, page 27.)