Category Archives: American Civil War

“Forty Parrott shells fired at fort to-day, 15 missed”: The Third Major Bombardment of Fort Sumter slows to a close

At 7:30 p.m on September 2, 1864, Captain Thomas A. Huguenin sent his routine summary report for the day from Fort Sumter:

Forty Parrott shells fired at fort to-day, 15 missed.

Routine was right.  For eight straight weeks Fort Sumter was under concentrated bombardment by Federal batteries on Morris Island.  Early in July, the shells came at faster rates and from large caliber weapons.  But by late August and into September, the Federal’s pace and weight of fire fell offFrom the first two weeks of the bombardment (July 7 to July 21) the average rate was just over fifteen rounds per hour, the majority of which were heavy caliber Parrott rounds.  Over the second pair of weeks (July 22 to August 2), the average hourly rate dropped to eleven and a half rounds.  Those weeks saw a larger portion of mortars and small caliber Parrotts used.  Between August 3 and August 14, the hourly average held somewhat steady at 11, but mortar and columbiad fires accounted for half of the total.  So with forty rounds during the day, added to the thirty-three Parrott shells fired overnight, on September 2, the Federal bombardment dropped to “minor bombardment” levels, if not “desultory firing” levels.

From the middle of August through the end of the month, Huguenin recorded the following tallies incoming to Fort Sumter (allow me to cite his reports, as opposed to providing a table, as his notations are incomplete):

  • August 16 – “Forty-two Parrott shells fired at the fort during the night, of which 22 struck; 58 mortar shells, of which 33 struck.”
  • August 18 – “Sixteen Parrott shells fired at the fort to-day, of which 11 missed; 56 mortar shells, of which 11 missed.”
  • August 20, 11 a.m. – “Twenty-six Parrott shells fired at the fort last night, of which 14 hit; 51 mortar shells, of which 31 hit.”
  • August 20, evening – “Nine Parrott shells fired at the fort to-day, of which 8 missed; 51 mortar shells, of which 11 missed.”
  • August 22 – “Thirty-four Parrott shells have been fired during the night, 9 of which missed; 42 mortar shells, 6 of which missed.”
  • August 23, morning – “The enemy fired 20 Parrott shells last night, 14 of which missed; also 23 columbiad shells, 11 missed.”
  • August 23, evening – “Thirty-six Parrott shells fired at the fort to-day, 22 of which missed; also 61 columbiad shells, 5 of which missed.”
  • August 25, morning – “Five Parrott shells fired at the fort last night, of which 4 missed; 27 columbiad shells, of which 5 missed.”
  • August 25, evening – “Thirty columbiad shells fired at fort to-day, of which 28 hit; 19 Parrott shells, of which 3 hit.”
  • August 26 – “Thirty-five columbiad shells fired at the fort last night, of which 16 missed; 18 Parrott shells, of which 9 missed.”
  • August 27 – “Eleven Parrott shells fired at the fort to-day, all of which missed; 35 columbiads, of which 3 missed.”
  • August 28 – “Eighteen Parrott shots were fired at the fort last night, of which 17 missed; 32 columbiads, of which 5 missed.”
  • August 29 – “Twenty-one Parrotts fired at the fort to-day, of which 15 missed; 40 columbiads, of which 9 missed.”
  • August 30, morning – “Ten Parrott shells fired at the fort last night, none of which struck; 29 columbiads, of which 7 missed.”
  • August 30, evening – “Twenty Parrott shells fired at the fort t0-day, of which 10 missed; 38 columbiads, of which 9 missed.”
  • August 31, morning – “Four Parrott shells fired at the fort last night, of which 3 missed; 31 columbiads, none of which missed; 1 mortar, which missed.”
  • August 31, afternoon – “Fourteen Parrot shots fired at the fort to-day, of which 7 missed; 27 mortar, of which 8 missed.”

For September 1, the totals were 34 Parrott shells, of which 14 missed; 41 mortar shells, with 17 missing. And as mentioned, September 2nd saw 77 total Parrott rounds both day and night, with 26 missing.   During second half of August, Huguenin reported two Confederates wounded, and also four negro laborers killed and nine wounded.  Life in the fort continued to be more dangerous for the laborers than for the soldiers.

Huguenin’s observations indicate a significant number of the Federal shots went wide of the target.  One would think, given a year of operations in which to fine tune the direction of the guns, the Federal fires would be very accurate by August 1864.  On the other hand, there was less of Fort Sumter to aim at by the end of that month, and the Federals were focusing fires on specific portions of the fort.  And there was one other issue facing the Federals on Morris Island, alluded to by Brigadier-General Alexander Schimmelfennig

In his update of August 24, 1864, Schimmelfennig provided his tally of ammunition expended from August 16 to August 24:

The following is the number of shots fired by our batteries and by the enemy since my last report of the 16th instant: At Fort Sumter, total number of shots, 1,014; at the city we have fired within the last twenty-four hours fifteen 100-pounder shell. Previous to that there was no firing at the city, the 100-pounder being dismounted by reason of a broken carriage, and the powder that we had for the 30-pounder being so poor as not to throw a shell into the city. The enemy has fired from Sullivan’s and James Islands at our camps and front batteries 118 shells.  This fire has been responded to from Fort Strong.

He didn’t indicate if the poor powder affected the firing on Fort Sumter.  But the rate of fire over those days was down to less than five per hour.  On September 2, he added the tallies for August 24 through that date:

The firing from our front battery since my last report (nine days) has been as follows: At Fort Sumter, 936 shells; at the city, 298 shells. The enemy has fired during the same time from his batteries on James and Sullivan’s Islands 490 shells, which have been duly responded to from Fort Strong. The enemy has thrown mortar shells at Paine’s Dock for several nights last.

The firing rate dropped slightly to just over four per hour on average.  At the same time, the Confederates had increased their counter-battery fire somewhat.

On September 3, Huguenin recorded 31 Parrott shells through the night, and one negro laborer killed.  The following day the Federals fired 35 Parrott shells at the fort.  The Third Major Bombardment, as defined by Captain John Johnson, ended with that.   A few days of relative peace came before another “minor” bombardment resumed. So one might read the finish of one period and the start of another as subjective.  Regardless, for sixty straight days Fort Sumter endured one of the heaviest bombardments of the war.  And the only major change in the situation at Charleston was a relocation of rubble.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 35, Part I, Serial 65, pages 72-3 and 236-40.)

 

 

“During the last ten days my boats have made several excursions”: More raids on the Georgia coast, 150 years ago

During the last days of August and into the first week of September, 1864, the Federal Navy continued raids into the “Marshes of Glynn” … I could not resist that Sidney Lanier reference… in Glynn County, Georgia.  From August 26 to September 6, crew of the USS Braziliera, stationed off Brunswick in the Turtle River, took their launches out into the backwaters in search of salt kettles and other targets.  Acting Master William T. Gillespie summarized the actions:

During the last ten days my boats have made several excursions inland destroying salt works, consisting of 10 kettles of 700 gallons each, 12 kettles of 500 gallons each, 20 pans 4 feet by 6 feet, and 300 bushels of salt; liberating 30 negroes and 2 white families.

Took J.A. Lang and J.D. Denson, prisoners; they belong to the Third Georgia Militia.

The salt works were situated some 18 miles up Turtle River, on the creeks leading into Buffalo swamp. My officers and men have penetrated some 40 miles inland between the Altamaha and Satilla rivers, meeting no opposition excepting the militia. Credit is due my people for the energy with which these boat expeditions have been prosecuted. The enemy’s force now in this county amounts to 100 Confederate solders and 75 militia.

The range of Gillespie’s raids included Wilson’s Creek, nearly on the south branch of the Altamaha, down to White Oak River off the Satilla:

1864BrazilieraRaids1

The log extract from September 1 demonstrates the range and nature of the excursions:

September 1. – St. Andrew’s Sound – At 3 a.m. Mr. Bennett left the ship with three armed boats and crews to go on an expedition. Mr. Longstreet, Mr. Severns, and the pilot accompanied the expedition. At 6:40 saw three boats up Wilson’s Creek, supposed to be the expedition that left at 3 this morning. At 10:41 Messrs. Bennett, Longstreet, and the pilot returned on board with the first cutter. At 10:52 the whaleboat returned. At 11:52 Mr. Severns returned with the gig. At 7:30 p.m. sent the second cutter on an expedition up White Oak River in charge of Boatswain’s Mate woods.

Wood’s boat did not return until September 4, bringing a refugee with him.

These extracts, along with the reports of other raids along the coast that summer, the case could be made that southern Georgia was ripe for a major Federal incursion.  Certainly Rear-Admiral John Dahlgren alluded to such in his reports to Washington.  Major-General John Foster, in command of the Department of the South, looked for such openings earlier in the summer.  But by September, Foster was under orders not to open any offensive operations.

Was Brunswick a worthy objective?  Consider – today the Sidney Lanier Bridge at Brunswick passes over the entrance to one of the busiest ports on the US east coast.  I’d submit that answer was “maybe,” if someone was in need of a port on the Georgia coast.  And as we know, there was need of such later in the year.

(Citations from ORN, Series I, Volume 15, pages 648-9.)

 

“The amount of sickness in this command … is deplorable”: August 30, 1864 – Savannah needs quinine

On August 30, 1864, General Lafayette McLaws, commanding the District of Georgia, wrote to Major Charles Stringfellow, Assistant Adjutant-General for Major-General Samuel Jones in Charleston, in regard to a pressing matter in Savannah:

 I regret to state that the amount of sickness in this command has been and still is deplorable, and being aware of the great benefit of quinine as a prophylactic, strenuous efforts were made in the commencement of the season by my predecessor, Major-General Gilmer, and since his departure by the medical officer in this district, through the proper channels, for a supply of quinine for the District of Georgia, all of which have been totally unsuccessful. In the District of Georgia the medical officers have been unable to procure quinine even as a medicine, and officers and soldiers have been sick and suffering for the want of it, at times being entirely without any at all. Under such circumstances it is needless to add that it could not be used as a prophylactic. On the other hand the Third Military District of South Carolina has been superabundantly supplied, insomuch that within the past week, to alleviate the sufferings of officers and men in this district, I have ordered a transfer of 100 ounces to the District of Georgia. This last I bring to the attention of the major-general commanding to show that while one part of the command has had the benefit of this all-important preventative, another portion has, from some unexplained cause, suffered extremely for the want of it, even as a remedial. The requisitions for the quinine will again be made without delay, and should it be procured in sufficient quantities to be used as a prophylactic, I have little doubt that the health of the command will be much benefited.

In the 19th century, quinine was the only effective drug to counter malaria.  Derived from the bark of the cinchona tree which grew in Peru and Ecuador.

While some had attempted to smuggle seeds or seedlings out of those areas, for the most part in the mid-19th century those South American countries held a monopoly in the bark.  Thus the only means of acquiring the drug was by circumventing the blockade.

Notice that just 100 ounces was sufficient to meet the immediate for McLaws.  Such quantities came through the blockade as cargo on many runners.  But there were always worries that might not be enough to meet demands or be cutoff in the middle of the season.  In July, Jones ordered the purchase of 400 ounces of quinine on the market in Charleston.  But he ordered that supply regulated where supplies of medicated whiskey and “the infusion of indigenous bark was furnished.”  With manpower stretched thin already, the Confederacy could not afford to lose numbers to malaria in the summer of 1864.

Yes, disease was the major killer during the Civil War.  And if so, perhaps the dreaded mosquito did more damage to the armies in South Carolina and Georgia than any bullets or shells.  A few hundred ounces of quinine were just as important as hundreds of yards of breastworks, one might say.

(Citation from OR, Series I, Volume 35, Part II, Serial 66, pages 617-8.)