Category Archives: Parrotts

3,180 shots at Fort Sumter between August 3 and 14, 1864: Third Major Bombardment continues

On August 16, 1864, Lieutenant-Colonel William Ames, Chief of Artillery of the Northern District (Morris and Folly Islands), Department of the South, provided an in progress report for the Third Major Bombardment of Fort Sumter.  The bombardment, which started on July 7, was at that time in its sixth week.  Ames provided this tally for the ordnance expended:

I have the honor to report the following number of projectiles and guns as expended in the bombardment of Fort Sumter from August 3 to August 14, inclusive: Three 200-pounder Parrott guns; 304 30-pounder Parrott shells, 299 100-pounder Parrott shells(*), 772 200-pounder Parrott shells, 13 300-pounder Parrott shells, 219 10-inch columbiad shells, 1,465 10-inch mortar shells, 108 13-inch mortar shells; total, 3,180.

The Third Major Bombardment had exceeded both previous “major” bombardments in terms of duration.  But it remained behind the Second Major Bombardment in terms of number of shots fired at Fort Sumter.  The problem facing the Federals was the amount of ordnance on hand – both guns and projectiles.  Already the Army was forced to borrow from the Navy.  And the Army lost three 200-pounder (8-inch) Parrotts during the first half of August.

The breakdown of rounds fired also illustrates some changes in the type of fires.  Recalling Ames’ reports from July 26 and August 1 for comparison, consider the proportions.  First from the period from July 7 to July 21:

ShellsFired_July7_July22

More than half of the shots fired were from 100-pdr and 200-pdr Parrotts (that would be 6.4-inch and 8-inch for those who prefer the bore diameter designation… like me).  The mortars provided a quarter of the shots fired.  In the minorities were 30-pdr Parrotts, 300-pounder Parrotts, and the columbiads.

Then from July 22 to August 1:

ShellsFired_July23_Aug1

The mortars increased in proportion to nearly a third.  The 30-pdr Parrotts provided a quarter of the rounds fired.  Triple the number of 300-pdr (I mean 10-inch) Parrotts.  Four times increase in the proportion of the columbiad contribution.  And decreasing noise from the 100-pdrs and 200-pdrs.

And from August 2 to August 15:

ShellsFired_Aug2_Aug14

Now the mortars shouldered half the load.  The 200-pdrs fired nearly a quarter of the shots.  The columbiads sustained nearly the same ratio of shots fired.  But decreases from all the other Parrotts.  I’d love to see a breakdown of this on a day-by-day basis.  Furthermore, a similar breakdown, even if week-t0-week, for the other major bombardments would be interesting.

What these charts are demonstrating is the nature of the Third Major Bombardment. By the start of the second month of work, the Federals turned increasingly to vertical fires.  Some of the same reasons Federals at Petersburg brought up their mortars were at play.  Recall the Second Major Bombardment turned to mortars in the later part of November. However, the Third Major Bombardment of Fort Sumter was burning out resources faster than they could be replenished on Morris Island.

  • The “printed” official records indicate this as “200-pounder Parrott shells” but given the sequence and other information surrounding this report, I think that is a misprint and sh0uld read “100-pounder Parrott shells.”

(Citation from OR, Series I, Volume 35, Part II, Serial 66, page 241.)

 

August 10, 1864: Big guns going to… not Charleston… not Petersburg… but San Francisco!

Maybe this sesquicentennial stuff is limited to east of the Rocky Mountains and mostly even east of the Mississippi at that.  Yes, most of the Civil War was fought in what we’d consider today the “eastern” United States, with relatively little activity in the “west” of the modern definition.  But as all good Civil War buffs know, there was indeed activity in the western part of the country… and in particular California played a critical role in the Federal war effort.  There’s that four letter word – G-O-L-D.

Follow that gold, and the path led to San Francisco.

SanFrancisco1855Map

Or more specifically passage through the Golden Gate.  Today we think of this:

But during the Civil War, the Golden Gate looked like this:

SanFrancisco1859bMap

And this, looking over Fort Point at the narrows of the Golden Gate:

Fort Point was, at that time, the main defense of the passage.  Rushed to completion early in the Civil War, the work reflected military thinking of the pre-war era.  After three years of war, that Third-System brick fort was considered inadequate.  The fort’s designed armament consisted of older seacoast guns and pre-war Columbiads – and little of that was in place.  She lacked more powerful Rodman guns or large caliber rifles.  The pressing threat was steam powered Confederate raiders, which might make the passage before a few rounds were fired from the fort.  But the most dangerous threat was an ironclad like this one:

Stonewall-Kotetsu.jpg

Intended to be the CSS Stonewall, the ship had a interesting history beyond the Civil War… but that’s for another day.  Ironclads armed with powerful rifled guns cold stand in the channel and render Fort Point inert, with immunity from all but the largest cannons on shore.  And that threat came from both Confederate and possibly foreign flagged warships.  If the Europeans intervened in the Civil War, San Francisco was more likely a target than New York.

Major-General Irwin McDowell, exiled to the Department of the Pacific (which was probably about as “cushy” a job as one might get in the Civil War, by the way), described the particulars of the Golden Gate passage from a military perspective in a letter to the Engineer Corps, in Washington, on July 27, 1864:

The charts of the harbor will show you the islands, the width of the channel, and depth of the water, but will not inform you of the prevailing winds which blow from the sea right into the gate; nor of the fogs which for a large part of the year enable vessels (as was the case when I arrived) to get quite inside before being seen. The Golden Gate is about as wide as the Narrows at New York, but the gate here opens right at once upon the broad ocean and not into a lower bay. On account of the width of the channel at the Golden Gate and the deep water at Lime Point, the work at Fort Point, about the size and kind of Fort Richmond, would be no barrier against steam vessels. Lime Point is a cliff with water at its base so deep and so swift that a lead has never (Captain Elliot, engineer, says) found bottom.

The point, which McDowell amply described, was that steamships could make a relatively fast passage, through deep waters and gain San Francisco.  And if timed right, fog and other factors would work against the defenders.

All of this was known by authorities in Washington.  In 1856 a survey of the terrain brought back numerous recommendations to fortify the bay. Those included additional batteries to supplement Fort Point and located on Alcatraz, Yerba Beuna, and Angel Islands, Point San Jose, and, most important to the Golden Gate, Lime Point opposite Fort Point.  I’ve highlighted some of those on a snip from the 1859 coastal survey map (which, by the way, indicates that someone had “cast a lead” into those waters to figure out the depth):

SanFrancisco1859aMap

By 1863, none of these options advanced far, as the Department of the Pacific lacked resources – chiefly heavy guns.  In August 1863, a board of officers suggested focused effort – and funding – for batteries on Lime Point, Point San Jose, and Angel Island, with the caveat that Lime Point would be a costly endeavor.  A year later, McDowell made the same comment about Lime Point:

To blast this cliff and build up a castle-work of masonry on the shelf is the labor of years at a cost of a million. It would not meet the existing emergency to do anything with it, and I would not in the present exhausted condition of the country advise its being even commenced.

However, McDowell offered another option:

 Within a few hundred yards seaward of Lime Point, between it and the light-house, is a little valley–a recess in the line of cliffs–where a water battery could be constructed in a few days, and which, if suitably armed and the overhanging heights properly occupied, would do all that could be done to give immediate strength to the first line of works. This valley is a couple of hundred yards farther off from Fort Point than is Lime Point, and should have heavy guns, some of them rifled.

McDowell went on to suggest other points, further into the harbor, where batteries were needed.  Somewhat like Beauregard at Charleston, McDowell wanted to build a ring of batteries to prevent any safe anchorage within the bay. But McDowell had much more, and deeper, water to cover.

Regardless of the placement of these batteries, McDowell needed guns.  On August 10, 1864, Chief Engineer Brigadier-General Richard Delafield responded to McDowell in regard to the defenses of San Francisco:

The effect of building and arming these batteries would be to bring a certain portion of the bay under fire which is not now under fire. But the vessels could find many other places to anchor, and still be out of reach of any batteries we might establish. A board of engineers has within a year considered the subject of additional defenses at San Francisco, and has come to the conclusion that it is best to bring a certain belt, or part of the harbor, through which all vessels entering it from sea must pass, under as heavy fire as practicable at the earliest day, in the first place, and after this is effected the subject of covering other portions of the bay with fire is to be undertaken in connection with floating defenses. This appears to me to be a prudent policy, and the most that we can undertake while our supply of ordnance suitable for these purposes is so very limited.

In short, he preferred to arm the Golden Gate.  Delafield went on to suggest imposing an administrative solution in the near term – forcing all foreign vessels to anchor at points under the existing defenses prior to entering the bay.

But help was on the way:

A due proportion of such ordnance as we have been able to obtain has heretofore been allotted to San Francisco, and, upon notice just received from the Ordnance Department that there are now some guns available for distribution, I shall ask to have sent to San Francisco the following: Three 15-inch guns, ten 100-pounder rifles, two 200-pounder rifles.

So in the middle of 1864, with commanders in active theaters such as Mobile Bay, Charleston, Petersburg, and Atlanta calling for heavy ordnance for use in siege operations, the Ordnance Department was to allocate fifteen of their largest and finest weapons to defend San Francisco.  And more such heavy guns would follow.  By the end of the Civil War, San Francisco would boast some of the heaviest coastal defenses in the Pacific.  Justifiably, after all.  It was the GOLDen Gate.

UPDATE:  I should point out, this image from 1908 demonstrates both the fears expressed in 1864 while at the same time the ultimate resolution of the military defense of San Francisco:

You must click and zoom in to get the full effect.  That’s the US Atlantic Fleet making a call at San Francisco in May 1908. No getting around it, the US needed a two ocean navy.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 50, Part II, Serial 106, pages 921-2, 936-7; Base maps used above are “From San Francisco Bay to the northern boundary of California,” 1855 and “Entrance to San Francisco Bay, California” Coastal Survey of 1859; “Stonewall-Kotetsu“. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.; other images from WikiCommons or Library of Congress collection, where linked. )

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.)