Category Archives: 12pdr Guns

150 Years Ago: An inspection of the batteries on Sullivan’s Island

One aspect of the operations of Charleston that I like to present is the evolution of fortifications around the harbor (Federal and Confederate).  In my opinion, one should study such to appreciate the tactical aspects. Many authors will write on the subject as if a “battery” or “fort” was static and unchanged through the war, and thus representing a generic “unit” of force.  However, I would offer the level of detail offered in reports and correspondence during the war indicate the participants saw no small importance in the evolution of those defenses.  In other words, if the participants in 1864 thought it important to mention the different caliber of weapons, then 150 years later we should lend that aspect some manner of interpretation.

In the case of Sullivan’s Island, one can easily trace the evolution of the works from the very first days of the war, through improvements prior to the Ironclad Attack on Fort Sumter, changes after the fall of Morris Island, and all the way up to the fall of Charleston in 1864.  A report posted by Major George Upshur Mayo on March 29, 1864 provides one of several “snapshots” describing the works on Sullivan’s Island on that time line.  The entire report, including endorsements, is close to 3,000 words with three pages of tables, including a count of all munitions (the report appears in the ORs, Series I, Volume 35, Part II, Serial 66, pages 383-6).  For brevity, allow me to present portions of the main report with additional annotations where needed.  And for reference, these are the works in review:

Sullivans_Island_Batteries

Starting from the western-most battery:

Battery Bee, upon the western extremity, is not yet quite completed, though a number of laborers are engaged upon it. Its armament is in an effective condition, the guns all working well and protected by merlons. The magazines are dry and kept with neatness. The ammunition in them, as far as could be judged without examining each cartridge, is in good order; the implements new. There are three chambers which have no cannon, which, I presume, will be furnished when necessity or opportunity requires.

Mayo indicated Battery Bee included one 11-inch Dahlgren (salvaged from the USS Keokuk), four 10-inch columbiads, one 10-inch rifled columbiad, and one 8-inch columbiad. In the magazines were 241 11-inch shot, 97 11-inch shell, 671 10-inch shot, 435 10-inch shell, 50 10-inch grapeshot, 25 10-inch canister, 45 10-inch (rifled) bolts, 6 10-inch rifled shells, 338 8-inch shot, 134 8-inch shells, 30 8-inch canister, 124 11-inch cartridges, 626 10-inch cartridges, 180 8-inch cartridges, 2,496 pounds of common powder, 1,587 friction tubes, and 985 paper fuses.  Interesting, though, Mayo rated Battery Bee as incomplete even at this late date with open gun positions.

On to the next battery in the line:

Battery Marion, connected with Battery Bee, is neatly policed. The platform for the 7-inch Brooke gun has settled from its true position; the parapets in one or two places have a disposition to slide on account of the shifting character of the sand. Dampness begins to ooze through one place in the passage, not as yet sufficient to affect the ammunition, which is in good order.

Colonel [William] Butler complains of a defect in the powder sent from the naval ordnance bureau with or for the Brooke gun, saying experience has proven it to be defective in strength. To the eye it appears good; analysis can only disclose the reported defect. The same officer requests that efforts be made to procure for the guns in his command a small quantity of bar steel to repair the eccentrics of the columbiad carriages, which repairs, when necessary, can be made at the island. The battery is connected with Fort Moultrie by a sally-port.

Mayo tallied Battery Marion’s armament as three 10-inch columbiads, one 8-inch columbiad, and five 10-inch seacoast mortars; but he didn’t count the triple-banded 7-inch Brooke which was not mounted at that time.  In the magazines were 318 10-inch shot, 261 10-inch shells, 23 10-inch canister, 256 10-inch mortar shells, 125 7-inch rifle shells, 522 7-inch bolts, 16 7-inch hollow shot, 252 10-inch cartridges, 201 8-inch cartridges, 207 7-inch cartridges, 8,800 pounds of powder, 1,900 friction primers, and 600 paper fuses.

Mayo gave only a brief report on Fort Moultrie:

Fort Moultrie, next in order upon the island, has now no quarters inside, which gives a good parade within its walls. It is well protected by a system of traverses and the guns in effective condition. The magazine is in good order and neatly kept. In the rear of the fort are a number of broken canister, which might be removed for renewal to Charleston. The ammunition in good order.

The fort’s armament at that time consisted of four 10-inch columbiads, two 8-inch rifled columbiads, one 32-pdr banded and rifled, two 24-pdr smoothbore guns, and one 10-inch seacoast mortar.  Munitions in the fort included 660 10-inch shot, 269 10-inch shells, 36 10-inch canister, 33 10-inch spherical case, 90 8-inch shot, 53 8-inch shells, 190 8-inch rifled bolts, 274 32-pdr shells, 120 32-pdr rifled bolts, 553 24-pdr shot, 83 24-pdr grapeshot, 89 24-pdr canister, 450 10-inch cartridges, 255 8-inch cartridges, 485 32-pdr cartridges, 168 24-pdr cartridges, 18,275 pounds of common powder, 130 pounds of rifle powder, and 4,510 friction tubes.

Continuing, Mayo reached Battery Rutledge:

Battery Rutledge in good order, with its ammunition dry and well cared for. The batteries from Bee to this one constitute one continuous parapet, well protected with traverses and spacious, well arranged bomb-proofs, and in some instances with amputating rooms for the medical bureau; these of course were not visited.

Battery Rutledge contained three 10-inch columbiads, one 10-inch columbiad rifle, and three 10-inch seacoast mortars.  The magazines contained 396 10-inch shot, 125 10-inch shell, 7 10-inch grapeshot, 26 10-inch canister, 11 10-inch caseshot, 58 10-inch rifled bolts, 22 10-inch rifled shells, 40 10-inch mortar shells, 126 6-pdr canister (fixed), 29 6-pdr (fixed) shot, 236 10-inch cartridges, 4,000 pounds of common powder, and 2,300 pounds of damaged powder.

Mayo did not include a narrative assessment of Fort Beauregard, but listed the armament as one 10-inch columbiad, one 8-inch rifled and banded columbiad, one 8-inch smoothbore columbiad, two 32-pdr banded and rifled guns, one 32-pdr smoothbore gun, two 24-pdr smoothbore guns, and three 8-inch seacoast howitzers.  In Fort Beauregard’s magazine were 106 10-inch shot, 3 10-inch canister, 416 8-inch shot, 111 8-inch shell, 79 8-inch grapeshot, 113 8-inch canister, 169 8-inch shell, 69 8-inch rifled bolts, 101 32-pdr shot, 12 32-pdr shells, 80 32-pdr grapeshot, 69 32-pdr canister, 166 32-pdr rifled bolts, 7 32-pdr conical rifled shot, 156 32-pdr rifled shells, 229 24-pdr shot, 156 24-pdr grapeshot, 2 24-pdr conical smoothbore shell, 130 24-pdr canister, 749 unfixed cartridges of various sizes,  1,800 pounds of common powder, 1,150 pounds of “Rodman” powder (presumably “Mammoth” powder), 200 pounds of damaged powder, and 1,529 friction tubes.

Mayo turned next to the four numbered, and unnamed, batteries between Forts Beauregard and Marshall.

Nos. 1, 2, 3, and 4, two-gun batteries extending along the south beach at an average distance of about 500 yards apart, covering the space between Forts Beauregard and Marshall and intended seemingly as a protection against boat assaults, are small open works with no traverses. There being no magazine in this cordon of works, the ammunition is kept in chests, exposed to the weather. Some of the chests need repairs and tarpaulins as a protection.

Mayo suggested improvements to the parapet of No. 1; mentioned a carriage in No. 3 that required repair; and damages to the parapet of No. 4. Mayo also suggested these works needed iron traverse circles to replace wood circles then in place.  Colonel Ambrosio Gonzales overruled, saying the 24-pdr guns should be mounted on siege carriages to allow redeployment where needed on the island.  Mayo noted the “disparity” in the ammunition for each of these batteries:

  • No. 1:  Two 32-pdr smoothbore guns, 104 32-pdr shot, 15 32-pdr shells, 77 32-pdr grapeshot, 78 32-pdr canister, 93 32-pdr cartridges, and 176 friction tubes.
  • No. 2: two 24-pdr smoothbores, 84 24-pdr shot, 100 24-pdr grape, 32 24-pdr canister, 69 24-pdr cartridges, 140 friction tubes, and 5 signal rockets.
  • No. 3: Two 32-pdr smoothbores, 34 32-pdr shot, 9 32-pdr shells, 48 32-pdr grape, 50 32-pdr canister, 46 32-pdr cartridges, and 49 friction tubes.
  • No. 4: Two 24-pdr smootbores, 88 24-pdr shot, 14 24-pdr shells, 111 24-pdr grape, 99 24-pdr canister, 29 24-pdr cartridges, and 41 friction tubes.

The last work on the line inspected by Mayo was Fort (or Battery) Marshall, at Breach Inlet:

Battery Marshall, at Beach Inlet, is as yet in an incomplete condition, though the guns are all in working order. A large bomb-proof, in addition to those already complete, has been commenced, upon which a force is now at work. One of the 12-pounders has wheels of different sizes, and in another the cheeks of the carriage are not upon a level. These two defects in these two carriages should be remedied. The magazines are in good order, and dry, as well as the ammunition, but roaches, by which they are infested, cut the cartridge-bags. It would therefore be as well to keep the powder in the boxes and barrels until a necessity arises for use, so that the bags may be preserved. I noticed the passage-way to one of the magazines much encumbered with shell. A room constructed for such projectiles is decidedly to be preferred.

Fort Marshall, at this time, included one 8-inch columbiad, one 8-inch shell gun, one 7-inch Brooke rifle, one 32-pdr rifle, two 12-pdr rifled guns, two 12-pdr smoothbores, one 4-inch Blakely on naval carriage, and three 8-inch seacoast howitzers.  The magazines, improper as they were, contained 95 8-inch shot, 225 8-inch shell, 71 8-inch grapeshot, 90 8-inch canister, 156 7-inch conical rifled bolts, 19 32-pdr shells, 12 32-pdr grapeshot, 16 32-pdr canister, 32 32-pdr rifled shot, 100 32-pdr rifled shells, 292 12-pdr shot, 124 12-pdr grapeshot, 124 12-pdr canister, 25 12-pdr conical rifled shot, 62 12-pdr conical rifled shells, 32 4-inch Blakely shells, 28 4-inch Blakely grapeshot, 21 4-inch Blakely canister,  866 cartridges of various sizes, 2,800 pounds of common powder, 500 friction tubes, 35 paper fuses, 190 Girardey fuses, and 92 McAvoy igniters.

Mayo went on to discuss Batteries Gary, Kinloch and Palmetto on the mainland. But to serve brevity in a post already beyond my preferred word count, I will save those for later.

Mayo expressed concerns about unmounted and unassigned guns on the island.  “A 32-pounder banded rifle not mounted is laying upon the beach,” he noted.  He also mentioned several 6-pdr field pieces not under any direct control of the battery commanders.  In general, Mayo felt the guns needed “lacquer and paint” to improve appearances and protect against the elements.  Lastly, he noted the presence of bedding in the magazines, but left that matter to the discretion of local commanders.

I plan, as part of my documentation of each individual work, to examine these batteries in detail.  So please check back for follow up posts in regard to specific arrangements in each fortification.

Ye Olde English Gun… on Sullivan’s Island!

You may have seen this wartime photo of the Sullivan’s Island defenses before.

The photo shows two guns in Fort Marshall. The caption from the Library of Congress states this is the northeast angle of the fort. The photo was one of many taken of the defenses of Charleston in 1865 after the Federals occupied the city.

Let me go all Garry Adelman for a bit. There’s a Brooke single banded rifle (I think) on the left. But it is hard to glean any details from the photo. On the right, the closer gun, is a siege gun. And that gun is a bit more interesting, if you are trying to match surviving guns to wartime photos.

oldEnglishGunFtMarshalla

Nice study of a siege carriage, with a few implements as props. The size and mounting are the type used for 12-pdr siege guns. But notice a few particulars about this gun. There’s a breech loop over the knob. There’s a band over the breech. And there’s something like ornamentation on top of the barrel over the trunnions.

oldEnglishGunFtMarshallb

Well, well! That’s just like this gun:

Charleston 4 May 10 181

Yes, one of the old English 12-pdrs banded and rifled by the Confederates. The gun, as mentioned earlier, is on display at the Old Powder Magazine in Charleston. A refresher from the walk around provided, that particular gun’s trunnions, cascabel, and breeching loop are missing, with only scars on the metal. But that royal seal is on the top of the barrel.

Charleston 4 May 10 187

Certainly similar guns. But there were several old English guns converted to rifles by the Confederates. Without some definitive marking to work from (alas those missing trunnions!), I can only suggest the surviving gun was at Fort Marshall.

One other detail from the photo that I’d call attention to. Look at the ammunition stored in a little hut to the side of the gun.

OldEnglishGunFortMarshallc

Grape, canister, and either solid bolts or shells. There’s more of the first two types than the later. That, of course, gives some indication as to the intended use of this weapon – to sweep the beaches and dunes of any attackers on foot. And speaking of beach, look at all that sand piling up next to the projectiles.

You can almost feel the sand between your toes just looking at that photo.

But why would the photographer chose this particular setting? Don’t get me wrong, I like a good cannon photograph. But what attracted the cameraman’s eye when he setup this particular shot?

Some “olde English iron”: British smoothbores rifled for Confederate service

The other day I mentioned this rifled gun currently resting outside the Old Powder Magazine in Charleston, South Carolina:

Charleston 4 May 10 181

12-pdr English Siege Gun, Banded and Rifled by Confederates

There is little doubt as to the weapon’s vintage. The royal monogram on the top is that of either King George II or King George III .  In other words, likely a weapon that pre-dated the Revolution and therefore the United States.

Charleston 4 May 10 187

Monogram – King George II or III – on Gun

The gun appears to have several bands welded together.  Such was common practice among Confederate shops, both in Charleston and Richmond.

Charleston 4 May 10 184

Band on 12-pdr Gun

However the knob was removed from the gun, either during the alterations or later handling.

Charleston 4 May 10 193

Breech Profile of Banded and Rifled 12-pdr

The gun’s muzzle remained unaltered.

Charleston 4 May 10 185

Muzzle Profile of English 12pdr

A look down the bore shows the other alteration done by the Confederates – rifling.

Charleston 4 May 10 186

Bore of Rifled and Banded English 12-pdr

I count seven grooves, but with all the deterioration that’s more of a guess.  The bore is a bit larger than standard 12-pdr gauge.  But that may be explained by the machining required for rifling.

Also at the Old Magazine is a similar 12-pdr that remained, at least on the exterior, unaltered.

Charleston 4 May 10 188

12-pdr English Gun at the Magazine

The breech of this gun retains the knob and ring.  Although proper fitting for naval use, the practice from the 18th century into the 19th century called for similar fittings on seacoast guns.

Charleston 4 May 10 191

Breech profile of unaltered 12-pdr

An obstruction blocks the bore.  So while certainly not “banded” this gun could be “rifled” … or not.

Charleston 4 May 10 189

Muzzle profile of unaltered 12-pdr

Neither gun has trunnions.  Those may have been broken off to disable the guns or damaged during handling.  Since markings on the trunnions often provide additional details of the gun’s origin, that leaves a gap in the precise identification.

The guns measure around nine and a half feet long.  That places them in the 34 cwt class for the caliber.  While comfortable identifying Civil War artillery, I’m more of a dabbler when it comes to colonial era weapons.  So I’ll save the exact designation for those who know that time period well.  However, the tally of a “12-pounder old English siege (rifled)” in the list of guns at Charleston in January 1863 certainly makes this a Civil War piece.  In April of that year, another report indicated one 12-pdr “Old English siege, rifled, banded” and four “Old English siege, rifled, not banded” were among the weapons deployed in the Department of South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida.

Apparently the Confederates found modification of these old guns acceptable.  On August 15, 1863, one of the unbanded but rifled guns was sent back to the Charleston Arsenal to receive a band.  At the same time a smoothbore of the same type was at the arsenal, presumably for modification.  The old English 12-pdrs appear again in correspondence dated that October, with favorable mention from Colonel Ambrosio J. Gonzales:

The rifled 12-pounder gun [Major John Barnewll] mentions at Royal’s is very old, but reported as a very good gun.  It is one of those long 12-pounder English siege guns, recommended by me to the commanding general to be banded, which was then approved.

So at least the artillery chief and his commander, General P.G.T. Beauregard, saw value in the old guns.  At the time, the ordnance officers may have held these guns in higher esteem as they were cast using older methods.  The “hot blast” techniques introduced in the 19th century left many questions about iron guns.  In some eyes, the “older” guns were indeed “better”.  These guns, perhaps veterans of earlier wars, were therefore selected for modification – rifling, and in some cases banding.

While not anti-ironclad guns, they were dispersed to the outer fortifications around Charleston to cover waterways and other approaches to the city.  Proving once again even an old gun can have some “bite” left in it.

(Citation from OR, Series I, Volume 28, Part II, Serial 47, page 415.)