150 years ago: “… a number of Hale’s War Rockets were thrown from Dixon’s Island…”

For his journal entry on April 15, 1864, Major Edward Manigault noted an uncommon, though not too unusual, weapon employed by the Federals:

At about 5 P.M. a Yankee Gunboat came up the Stono and Commenced Shelling our advanced Pickets about Legare’s Overseer’s House. At the same time a number of Hale’s War Rockets were thrown from Dickson’s [Dixon's] Island at the Stations occupied by the pickets and a force of probably 200 men was thrown forward from “Horse-Shoe Island” on to Bottany Island. Our Pickets, however, maintained their ground and the enemy soon retired.

Some of the Rockets thrown were picked up. The entire Case included a recess on the side for the escape of gas generated by the Burning Composition, also an opening at the rear end for escape of Gas. These Rocket cases empty, I judged to weigh about 18 pounds.

The cases were entirely of cast iron, the head rivetted on to the body post.

These were not the Congreve Rockets cited in the “Star Spangled Banner.”  Rather, as Manigault indicates, these were the type refined by British inventor William Hale and introduced in the 1840s. The 1861 version of the Ordnance Manual described these:

The war-rocket used in the military service is made after Hale’s patent. It consists, 1st. Of a sheet-iron case lined with paper and charged with rocket-composition. 2d. Of a cast-iron cylindro-conoidal head, with a small cavity communicating with the bore of the rocket, and pierced with three holes, oblique to the surface, for the escape of gas.  3d. Of a wrought-iron plug welded into the rear end of the case, and having a hole in its axis for the escape of gas.

The rocket is driven forward by the escape of gas through the hole in the rear end, and a motion of rotation around its axis is given to it by the escape of gas through the holes in the head, whereby its direction is preserved without the use of a directing-stick.

The composition is pressed solid in the case by means of a powerful press, and the bore of the rocket is drilled and reamed out to the proper size.

The sixes of rockets are indicated by the interior diameter of the cases. The two sizes used are the two-inch and three-inch.

Hale refined the rocket several times, with the main variation being the placement and shape of the vent or hole for propelling gas.  An 1866 patent carries this illustration:

HaleWarRocket

Compared to the War of 1812 Congreve Rocket, Hale’s rocket lacked the stabilizing stick on the rear of the rocket.  The illustration below, from John Scoffern’s Projectile Weapons of War, 1858, compares Congreve’s, Hale’s, and an ordinary signal rocket:

HaleCongreveRockets

While not a “debut” of the rocket as a weapon, the use outside Charleston was a rare employment.  A few days later, Brigadier-General Alexander Schimmelfennig wrote a very complementary report about the operational tests with rockets (including that of April 15).  Schimmelfennig requested more rockets.  I’ll continue with the “rocket’s trail” in a post discussing that request in a few days.

(Citation from: Edward Manigault, Siege Train: The Journal of a Confederate Artilleryman in the Defense of Charleston, edited by Warren Ripley, Charleston: University of South Carolina Press, 1986, page 140;  The Ordnance Manual for the Use of the Officers of the United States Army, Philadelphia, J.B. Lippincott & Company, 1862, page 314.)

Seddon to Lee: “… the importance of depleating the population of Richmond…”

As the capitals of warring parties and major cities in a very active theater of operations, Richmond, Virginia and Washington, D.C. were at the same time rear areas and front lines.  The populations of both cities swelled. Some due to increased labor demands, but more so as refugees of war sought shelter.  Military camps and hospitals added to the number of people present.  In the case of Richmond, add to that the extensive prisoner holding facilities.   For the Confederate government, the large concentration of people in Richmond – military, civilian, prisoner, and refugee – presented a problem.  The logistics of simply keeping Richmond supplied rivaled that of a field army.

On April 12, 1864, General Robert E. Lee wrote Secretary of War James Seddon and related concerns about the population in Richmond.  Specifically, Lee expressed concerned about how Richmond might be evacuated, should such contingency arise:

No arrangements that our foresight can suggest or our means accomplish should be neglected, and while every exertion should, and I doubt not will, be made to insure our success, we should not be unprepared for unfavorable results, and neglect precautions that may lighten any calamity that may befall us.

Lee called out the number of prisoners, Federal deserters, and paroled Confederates then in Richmond, which he saw as groups to immediately remove from the Confederate capital.  Seddon responded to Lee on April 14, 1864:

General: I have the honor to acknowledge your letter of the 12th instant, just received, and to thank you very sincerely for the valuable suggestions it contained. They fortify me by the might of your authority in the convictions of policy entertained and the line of action I had adopted, to some extent, in pursuance of them. The most earnest efforts are being made to command the full resources for transportation of the railroad lines, and I have not hesitated to stop passenger trains whenever by so doing Government freight could be increased or expedited. The officer in charge of railroad transportation has been sent out, and is now absent on a mission, with all the power the Department could confer, to secure the fullest concert of action and the employment of all the means that could be commanded for transportation. The Piedmont Railroad is being pressed to early completion, but, unfortunately, the recent floods oppose embarrassing impediments, which may delay it two weeks longer than I confidently anticipated. I still hope it may be completed in the early part of next month.

I am thoroughly convinced of the importance of depleting the population of Richmond, and have, on more occasions than one before the reception of your letter, urged on the President the exercise of his influence and authority to accomplish the removal of the population, so far as they could be spared from the necessary work of the city. Such steps have not as yet been taken, for the difficulties and embarrassments attending it must be acknowledged to be of a very grave character. It is next to impossible to make, by the action of the Government, adequate provision for the shelter and support of the numbers which would then be thrown homeless and indigent upon the country, and even those who had means of self-support would find it very difficult to obtain accommodation and supplies. Refugees have begun to be regarded with less of sympathy than of apprehension, for they are looked upon as diminishing the means and increasing the privations of the communities to which they may flee. Still, I fear necessity requires that, to a considerable extent, the removal of the useless population from the city should be attempted, for without such measure I do not see the possibility of accumulating the requisite reserve of supplies to enable us to meet partial reverse and bear brief interruption of communication.

The prisoners of the enemy and our own paroled men are nearly all removed, and the rest will speedily follow. The hospitals and work-shops will be cleared of all who can be spared, and such machinery and stores as are not of immediate necessity I have directed to be prepared and gradually removed. It will be difficult to induce either the people of the city or our officers to make the requisite exertions and sacrifices which a prudent precaution demands, for they repose such confidence in the valor of our troops and the generalship of their commanders as to be incredulous of approaching danger. Still, I hope your counsels and the influence of the Department will not be wholly without avail in inducing the “efforts, self-sacrifice, and labor, until the crisis has been safely passed,” which a prudent forecast of all contingencies demands.

Experience of the past and a just reliance on our means of defense, employed with the skill and energy which have heretofore guided us, may well entitle us to expect, under the blessing of Heaven, deliverance from the worst efforts of our malignant foes: but we should not be the less prepared to be grateful and happy in triumph for having realized our danger and arranged to meet and repair the consequences of a reverse.

Very truly, yours,
James A. Seddon,
Secretary of War.

Sedden’s response indicated that some Confederate authorities had recognized the issue and were acting.  Relocating prisoners further south did provide some relief.  But to some degree, relocating the wartime population of Richmond was akin to bailing the ocean.

There is an irony here, somewhat.  As Seddon observed, the population of Richmond became increasingly dependent upon the government as the war entered its fourth year.  Yet the Confederacy was ill-equipped, by virtue of its philosophy of government, to respond to that dependency.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 33, Serial 60, pages 1277 and 1279-80.)

“No quarter will be shown to the negro troops whatever”: Confederate threat to Columbus, KY

In the spring of 1864, Colonel William H. Lawrence commanded a garrison at Columbus, Kentucky built around eight companies of Lawrence’s 34th New Jersey Infantry. Like many other similar posts in west Tennessee and Kentucky, the garrison’s duties were relatively quiet compared to the front lines of the war.  While earlier in the war, Columbus was a critical point of defense along the Mississippi River (though most of the fighting around the town was on the Missouri side), after the river-port’s fall to the Federals it was just another backwater of the war which required a garrison.

But with Major-General Nathan Bedford Forrest’s raid into west Tennessee and Kentucky that spring, Columbus, like many other garrisons in the region, was suddenly part of an active sector of war.  On the morning after the fall of Fort Pillow, a column of Confederates commanded by Brigadier-General Abraham Buford approached Columbus.  At around 6 a.m., as was the practice of Forrest’s raiders that spring, Buford sent a message over to Lawrence under a flag of truce:

Headquarters Confederate Forces,
Before Columbus, Ky., April 13, 1864.
The Commanding Officer U.S. Forces, Columbus, Ky.:

Fully capable of taking Columbus and its garrison by force, I desire to avoid the shedding of blood and therefore demand the unconditional surrender of the forces under your command. Should you surrender, the negroes now in arms will be returned to their masters. Should I, however, be compelled to take the place, no quarter will be shown to the negro troops whatever; the white troops will be treated as prisoners of war.

I am, sir, yours,
A. Buford,
Brigadier-General.

Lawrence took stock of his situation.  His garrison was in fortifications, though not well maintained or armed fortifications.  However, laying in port at Columbus was the steamer L.M. Kennett loaded with a battery of artillery and a detachment of infantry.  Lawrence also knew another steamer was due in that day with another 1,500 troops.  So Lawrence sent his reply:

Headquarters of the Post,
Columbus, Ky., April 13, 1864.
Brig. Gen. A. Buford,
Commanding Confederate Forces before Columbus, Ky.:

General: Your communication of this date is to hand. In reply I would state that, being placed by my Government with adequate force to hold and repel all enemies from my post, surrender is out of the question.

I am, general, very respectfully,
WM. Hudson Lawrence,
Colonel 34th New Jersey Volunteers, Commanding Post.

With his bluff called, Buford departed Columbus having put up little more than a light skirmish.  Columbus would not be a Fort Pillow nor a Union City.

Consider the words of Buford’s surrender demand and the context.  Particularly with Fort Pillow in mind.  I find it hard to accept a “the troops just got out of hand” explanation, sometimes advanced about Fort Pillow, in that light.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 32, Part I, Serial 57, page 553.)