Author Archives: Craig Swain

“The right angle of the fort has been cut away”: Progress report of Fort Sumter bombardment

On July 26, 1864, Major-General John Foster mentioned the need for a report on the progress of the Third Major Bombardment of Fort Sumter.  On the following day, Lieutenant-Colonel William Ames, 3rd Rhode Island Heavy Artillery and Chief of Artillery for the Northern District, Department of the South, provided that report.  Ames addressed his report to Lieutenant William B. Dean, Foster’s Assistant Adjutant General:

I have the honor to report the firing upon Fort Sumter as still continued with good effect. The points against which our fire has been directed are, viz: First, the angle formed by the junction of sea and gorge walls; second, the right (enemy’s) angle of the fort. The first-mentioned point has been much cut away, and, in my opinion, is the point against which the whole fire should be directed. The right angle of the fort has been cut away for about 8 or 9 feet. The progress made at this point, however, has been very slow.

Such was the measure of advance against Fort Sumter – 8 or 9 feet.  But the Federal gunners were obliterating a fort, practically brick by brick.

Ames then mentioned a good reason for the slow progress.

So many of the guns used in breaching have been disabled that I have ordered the fire of the remaining guns to be directed against the center angle. During this bombardment great inconvenience has been experienced from the premature explosion of shells, notwithstanding that all the projectiles fired were thoroughly examined before being filled, and the fuse plugs well covered with white lead previous to being screwed in; still these premature explosions take place. The plan of varnishing the interior surface of the shells, as recommended by R. P. Parrott, has not as yet been put into practice, owing to there being no varnish in the ordnance department. Twelve 30-pounder shells prepared in this way were fired without any premature explosions. This is not a fair trial, however, but as soon as varnish arrives from Hilton Head it will be more thoroughly tested.

Recall earlier in the year, Robert P. Parrott had forwarded his response to complaints about his guns. Parrott felt the friction between the rough interior of the shell and the powder, due to sudden movement when fired, caused these premature explosions.  So he recommended a layer of varnish, spread by rolling the empty shell around, would prevent these explosions.  Now the gunners on Morris Island were going to learn how to varnish the inside of shells.

Ames provided details about the guns disabled over the last week of firing – and note the numbers reference the battery numbers, and not registry numbers.  Four guns including one which burst:

The following guns have been disabled during the past week: No. 3 gun (200 Parrott), Fort Putnam, burst July 25 at the 1,300th round. No. 4 gun (200-pounder Parrott), Fort Putnam, requires a new vent. No. 3 gun (200-pounder Parrott), Battery Chatfield, ditto. No. 2 gun, 10-inch columbiad (colored battery), has had about 18 inches of its muzzle blown off by the premature explosion of a shell. This gun is still being fired, and will serve well for short range.

Notice the columbiad was serviced by USCT.

Ames planned to pull one 8-inch (200-pounder) Parrott to replace the burst gun.  But he required ordnance support to repair those with bad vents.  He also mentioned an additional 10-inch (300-pounder) Parrott and a 6.4-inch (100-pounder) Parrott that were not in place at that time.  He had no replacement smoothbore guns.

Tabulating the firing done since the start of the bombardment on July 7 through July 21, Ames stated:

The following number of projectiles have been expended in the bombardment of Fort Sumter from July 7 to July 21, inclusive:

Fort Putnam: 764 30-pounders, 1,183 200-pounders; total, 1,947.

Battery Chatfield: 363 100-pounders, 294 200-pounders, 173 300-pounders, 98 10-inch columbiad; total, 928.

Fort Strong: 1,146 100-pounders, 142 200-pounders; total, 1,288. Battery Barton: 729 10-inch mortars. Battery Seymour: 542 10-inch mortars. Thirteen-inch mortar battery: 91 13-inch mortars.

Number of rounds from each work: Putnam, 1,947 rounds; Chat-field, 928 rounds; Strong, 1,288 rounds; Barton, 729 rounds; Seymour, 542 rounds; 13-inch mortar, 91 rounds; total, 5,525.

Number and kind of projectiles: 764 30-pounders, 1,509 100-pounders, 1,619 200-pounders, 173 300-pounders, 98 10-inch columbiad, 1,271 10-inch sea-coast mortars, 91 13-inch mortars; total, 5,525.
Grand total, 5,525 projectiles.

Just two weeks of firing, as this did not count the week of July 22-27.  The rate was about 395 per day, or 16 ½ per hour.  The majority of these rounds – 3301 rounds – were fired from 6.4-, 8-, and 10-inch Parrotts.  He didn’t provide the breakdown of shells and solid bolts fired.  But figure roughly 263 tons of heavy Parrott projectiles hitting the fort over those two weeks of the bombardment.

And this was a minor theater of operation, mind you.

(Citation from OR, Series I, Volume 35, Part II, Serial 66, pages 190-1.)

Terror on the Border Seminar and Tour: After Action Report

Over the last couple of days, I had the pleasure of attending, as a guest, “Terror on the Border” hosted by Chambersburg Civil War Seminars and Tours.   I do hope you were able to catch some of the tweets and Facebook posts, but if not, let me offer a quick “catching up” in review.

Friday’s sessions held at Wilson Collage in Chambersburg, included eight speakers:  Jeffry Wert, Richard Sommers, Steve Brockmiller, Ted Alexander, Mark Neely, Jr., Steve French, Daniel Carol Toomey, and Gail Stephens.  That’s quite a lineup.  The topics focused on activities in the summer months of 1864, though mostly narrowed to the events connected to Confederate General Jubal Early’s Raid that July and associated activities into August.  The exception was Neely’s discussion of the Democratic Party’s 1864 presidential campaign.  And I’d argue Neely’s topic fit in well alongside the others, reflecting the ultimate output from the military campaigns through those critical months of the war.

On Saturday we were afield for a tour.  And not just a “get on the bus and we’ll drive around” tour.  We did a lot of “stepping out” to see the sites.  Ed Bearss, Ted Alexander, and Ranger Brian Dankmeyer were our guides as we traced the advance of Early’s Confederates from Hagerstown to Frederick and then on to the Monocacy battlefield.  I offered up several photos on social media yesterday, so forgive me if these are redundant to those who followed along there:




A couple of structures on the Monocacy Battlefield which we visited caught my attention.  Even during the 150th tour of Monocacy a few weeks ago, we had not visited the buildings of the Thomas Farm, as we focused more so on the actions across the field.  So it was a treat to step out around the buildings.  A stone building, which was recently restored, was a slave quarters next to the house:


The Thomas house itself witnessed the fighting on July 9, 1864.


What’s more, it was the setting of a very important meeting in which General U.S. Grant laid out the operations to follow in the fall of 1864.  And we are coming up on the anniversary of that event.

Let me offer up in closing and overall review of the programs, some overall thoughts on the programs.  I’ve attended over the years a lot of seminars and tours.  I found those offered by Chambersburg Civil War Seminars and Tours are a lot more focused than most.  None of the speakers waded the audience through excessive high level overviews.  Instead, we moved directly into discussions about the events in focus.  Don’t get me wrong, sometimes those broad overviews are needed, and certainly welcome.  But if the speaker has a finite amount of time to cover a subject, and the audience is sharp and attentive, as is the case for these seminars, we get more bang for the buck.  In addition, the seminars and tours are structured to complement each other (as the speakers are constantly referring back to material covered earlier in the programs).  These are blended, somewhat seamlessly, by Ted Alexander’s commentary throughout the sessions.  These are “full course” meals, not “fast food” deals.  So at the end of the series, the audience leaves with a full, robust appreciation of many facets of the topic.

I highly recommend these programs. Please visit the Seminars and Tours website and consider future events on their schedule.  And… keep in mind the objective of the organization with these programs – battlefield preservation.  It’s a win-win across the board.

“I desire you to have the Swamp Angel repaired”: Foster seeks another “angle” on Fort Sumter

On July 26, 1864, Major-General John Foster gave Brigadier General Alexander Schimmelfennig an order with several tasks to accomplish.  The first was with respect to the old Marsh Battery where a year earlier the Swamp Angel had first brought Charleston under bombardment:

I desire you to have the Swamp Angel repaired and armed with a 30-pounder or 100-pounder Parrott to fire on Fort Sumter along the left flank of that work, and thus prevent the enemy landing materials at the sally-port on that side, and also receiving re-enforcements and supplies. Considerable work is needed on the platform and foundation to make it strong enough to support the shock of the gun.

With guns in Fort Putnam able to range Charleston with ease (and regularity), the Marsh Battery was redundant for bombardments of the city.  But the position of the battery, to the left of the main Federal breaching battery lines, allowed fresh angles for the work against Fort Sumter.  The map below demonstrates this:


The line of fire for guns in Battery Putnam is in dark blue and touches the southernmost corner of the fort.  The orange line is the original line of fire for the Swamp Angel into Charleston.  The light blue is the line of fire proposed by Foster, which allowed a gun to cover the western corner and fire across the northwest face of the fort.  And there just happened to be a wharf along that side, relocated by the Confederates after the bombardment of Fort Sumter began almost a year earlier. Clearly Foster was serious about wearing down Fort Sumter.

Other instructions handed down by Foster in the order spoke to some of the administrative matters within the command:

I also want your report, as soon as it can be furnished, of the effect of the firing on Fort Sumter, and of the mine rafts, and also your opinion as to the practicability of-an assault by boats.

A very interesting – for those of us who like things that go “boom” – report was in the works which would detail the work of the guns against Fort Sumter that July.  Look for it in a follow up blog post.

The other matter was left over business from earlier in the month… and less favorable than blasted brickwork at Fort Sumter:

I also require a report of the attack on Fort Johnson by boats, and the reason for the failure of such attack. The rebel papers speak of Colonel Hoyt’s conduct as being very gallant and brave, but state that some of his men ran back to the boats.  They do not refer to the reserve or to any other regiment than Colonel Hoyt’s, so that this portion of the force could not have gone near enough to attract their attention. The responsibility for lack of support to Colonel Hoyt should be made to rest where it belongs.

Due to illness, Schimmelfennig had delayed an investigation into the failed July 3 assault on Fort Johnson.  Not until October would a final report go forward, casting Colonel William Gurney of the 127th New York in very negative light.

(Citation from OR, Series I, Volume 35, Part II, Serial 66, pages 187-8.)