Ask for IX-inch guns, you get XI-inch guns: Naval support for the Third Major Bombardment

Last week, I mentioned this gun that was put to use on Morris Island in the summer of 1864:

At the end of July, 1864, Major-General John Foster requested support from Rear-Admiral John Dahlgren to sustain the Third Major Bombardment of Fort Sumter.  In addition to asking for replacements for burst heavy Parrott rifles, Foster asked if the Navy might loan some heavy smoothbore guns.  Foster asked for IX-inch Dahlgrens, but his subordinate, Brigadier-General Alexander Schimmelfennig, felt XI-inch 0r XV-inch Dahglrens would be more suitable for the work.  While Schimmelfennig had a cordial relationship with Dahlgren, I don’t think he pressed the Admiral directly on the issue.  Likely, Dahlgren had more of the XI-inch guns on hand, as the IX-inch guns were heavily used by the smaller blockaders and the XV-inch guns were for the monitors.

On August 5, 1864, Foster wrote to Schimmelfennig to announce the Naval “reinforcements” for the Third Major Bombardment:

Admiral Dahlgren has declared his willingness to lend six 11-inch guns, with carriages, implements, and the requisite officers, crew, and ammunition. The guns are to be landed by the navy at Light-House Inlet, and will be transported to their positions by the army. It is recommended, however, that at high tide the scows used for carrying the shells be run up as high as possible on the beach near the battery and the shells be thrown overboard, so that they can be picked up at low tide by the wagons and taken into the battery. Four 100-pounder Parrott guns will be sent up also as soon as transportation can be had. I will borrow from the navy some 100 and 200 and 300 pounder ammunition, and send it up at the same time, if possible.

Six XI-inch Dahlgrens and four 100-pdr Parrotts to add their weight to the bombardment falling on Fort Sumter. And the Army would receive ammunition to refresh their depleted stocks.  Notice how these would be delivered:  directly over the beach. In fact, dropped on the beach to be retrieved at low tide!  And I do like the use of the verb “borrow,” as if the Army intended to give those shells back.

Foster used the same letter to discuss the ongoing investigation of the failed raid on Fort Johnson.  But after briefly touching upon that matter, he turned to the care of ordnance used in the bombardment.  Referencing the ordnance report from the end of July, he wrote:

I likewise inclose an official copy of the ordnance report from your command, with indorsements thereon, and your attention is invited to indorsement from Lieut. John R. McGinness, chief of ordnance, who states that there is a good supply of lacquer on hand, and that he even used some himself when up there, instructing the men how to lay it on.

The report of the chief of artillery for the Northern District states that the suggestions of R. P. Parrott have not as yet been put into practice. You will cause an investigation to be had in this matter at once, and ascertain with whom the fault of this negligence lies, and have orders issued immediately to lacquer the shells, as per instruction given by Lieutenant McGinness, chief of ordnance, Department of the South, when in your district. The officer who is responsible for this negligence should be punished.

Lieutenant John McGinness complained the interior of the shells were not varnished as recommended by the weapon’s inventor.  And he leveled blame on the artillerists:

As soon as received, Captain Parrott’s letter to the major-general commanding, recommending that the interior of his shells be coated with lacquer or varnish, a copy was made and forwarded through the ordnance office, Morris Island, to the chief of artillery Northern District. An abundance of lacquer has long since been sent to Morris Island and the ordnance officer has been directed to send a supply of it to the batteries. A portion of the 12 shells herein mentioned were varnished by my own hands. I stood over the man until he had completed the balance, and I venture to say that had I not done so even this small number would not have been tried. Why were there not more varnished by the officer commanding the work (Putnam), as plenty of material remained, and give the suggestion a fair trial? I requested the chief of artillery that morning, after I had these shells varnished, to have others prepared in the same way, using lacquer. I respectfully submit that too little interest is manifested by the commandants of batteries in the working, care, and management of their guns, and that this fact more than any other accounts for the great number of guns burst at the front. Too much is expected of ordnance officers.

McGinness felt the artillerists should take an interest to ensuring their ordnance was properly prepared… and not assume the ordnance officers were handling those details.  It’s the little things, such as a light coat of varnish, that spell the difference between a shell sent to a precise point in the rubble that was Fort Sumter and a premature explosion damaging the gun and possibly killing the gunners.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 35, Part II, Serial 66, pages 192 and 216-7.)

 

 

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4 responses to “Ask for IX-inch guns, you get XI-inch guns: Naval support for the Third Major Bombardment

  1. Robert Hubbard

    Do you have any comments on the color of this gun? I didn’t know that the Union colored any guns; though the rebs had orders to paint theirs.like the terrain.

  2. Pingback: 3,180 shots at Fort Sumter between August 3 and 14, 1864: Third Major Bombardment continues | To the Sound of the Guns

  3. Pingback: “The Yankees have done no work to-day… because of our sharpshooters”: A real skirmish at Fort Sumter | To the Sound of the Guns

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