Tag Archives: Charleston South Carolina

“The enemy were shelling at midnight”: Federals continue bombardment of Charleston

After the Christmas Day bombardment of Charleston, Federal activity slacked a bit through the first week of the new year.  Confederate summary reports indicate around a dozen shells fired at the city on days the Federals were active.  Some days passed without any shots fired at the city.  But starting January 9, the Federal bombardment stepped up in number, if not weight.  From the Confederate Department Journals for those days:

January 9 – …. About 11 a.m., one of the batteries on Cumming’s Point opened upon the city with two guns, and at midnight was still firing slowly at intervals of about one-half an hour.

January 10 – As stated in yesterday’s journal, the enemy commenced shelling the city at 11 o’clock last night, firing at intervals of about thirty minutes. After 18 shots had been thrown they ceased at 6 a.m. One shell fell short and 9 failed to explode. … During the morning batteries on both sides remained silent, but at 3.25 p.m., the enemy opened on the city with three guns from Cumming’s Point, firing occasionally the three at the same time and again at intervals of from one to three minutes. Twenty-eight [shells] in all were thrown, when the enemy ceased at 4.35. Fifteen shells did not explode.

January 11 – …. During the night there was no firing whatever. … Until 3.35 p.m. the enemy’s as well as our batteries remained silent, when Battery Cumming opened with a light rifled gun upon the city and fired at rather longer intervals than usual until 9.58 p.m., by which time 88 shots had been thrown in the direction, but not into the city, as 85 fell short. This must have been an experimental trial. The result was very satisfactory to us. The shells used are said to have been of the kind known as Wiard shells. ..

January 12 – …. About 1.30 p.m., the enemy opened a vigorous fire upon the city with several guns at or near Battery Gregg, using shells similar to those fired yesterday, but with somewhat more effect. At midnight the bombardment was still progressing. By this time 138 shells had been fired, and of these 87 fell short. The fuses used with these projectiles appear to be of a better quality, as but few failed to explode. The damage done to the city, however, was inconsiderable.

January 13 -…. It is now determined that the light Parrott guns with which the enemy have for the past few days been shelling the city are situated at the foot of the scarp of the main work at Battery Gregg. As reported in yesterday’s journal, the enemy were shelling at midnight. This was continued the remainder of last night at regular intervals, and during this day they have maintained a steady bombardment of the city, firing about once every five minutes. At 12 midnight the bombardment is unabated, and up to this time 244 additional shells have been fired in the direction of the city, 112 of which fell short. Our batteries have remained silent. Not a single shot is reported to have been fired by them the entire day. The shells used by the enemy are very light–believed still to be the Wiard pattern.

January 14 – The bombardment has been incessant for the last twenty-four hours, and up to 12 midnight they had thrown 203 shells, 27 of which fell short. Fire at the corner of East Bay and Broad streets was observed at 11 p.m., and was extinguished in about an hour. To-day the enemy was observed moving the small Wiard gun from Battery Cumming and placing instead a larger one. ….

January 15 – …. Enemy continued to fire on the city from Cumming’s Point. Whole number [shells] fired, 189, of which 63 fell short, all of the first shots that came into the city falling in its southeastern corner, east of Meeting and south of Broad streets. At 3 o’clock the direction of fire was changed, and for the first time shells fell in the upper portion of the city in the neighborhood of the Second Presbyterian Church, its tower evidently being the point aimed at. One shell passed immediately over the church and fell in the rear of a lot in John street near Meeting. At 6 a.m., fire was caused by the explosion of a shell from battery on Cumming’s Point, in a building on Meeting street near Water street. The fire department succeeded in confining it to the one building….

The Confederate journals specifically call out a transition from heavy Parrotts to field gun caliber weapons – 30-pdr and 20-pdr Parrott rifles.  So while the number of shells increased, their average size decreased.

While the inventor Norman Wiard no doubt dabbled some with projectiles, I am not aware of any large production of shells attributed to any design of his.  I would suggest these were instead Hotchkiss shells.  But even there, I’m speculating, since the Confederate accounts offered no detailed descriptions.

What interests me the most is the change from heavy caliber Parrotts to the field caliber weapons.  The purpose behind bombardment of Charleston, wrapped within arguably legitimate targeting of military and supporting facilities, was one of intimidation.  To that point, did it matter if the shell landing in Charleston weighed 100 pounds or 30 pounds?

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 35, Part I, Serial 65, pages 131-135.)

End of year summary from the 3rd Rhode Island Heavy Artillery

Last day of the year, so time for a little summary roll-up of the activities at Charleston, South Carolina for 1863.  The regimental history of the 3rd Rhode Island Heavy Artillery offered just such a roll-up, focused on material and labor expended:

In the siege operations in 1863, the returns showed that we expended twenty-four Parrott guns.  We also expended 46,175 sand-bags; about 500 wattle gabions; fifty iron gabions; seven sap-rollers filled with facines; three sap-rollers filled with cotton; 12,382 feet of boards and planks.  The saps approaching Fort Wagner, if in a straight line, would have exceeded a mile.  They were four feet wide and two feet deep.  Three-fourths of the work was executed in the night, and nine-tenths of it under fire of artillery and sharp-shooters.  The sap-rollers – nine feet long and four feet in diameter, weighing about 2,000 pounds – were moved about six inches at a time.  About one-half of the work was performed by colored troops.  About 200 men were engaged at a time; reliefs were frequent.  The more exposed work continued about fifty days, and we lost 150 men.

The regimental history did not provide  the number of projectiles fired.  I’d estimate that count, including Army and Navy gunfire fired at all targets around Charleston, would exceed 26,000 rounds.   Most of that firing occurred during the second major bombardment.  A significant portion of that total was fired from heavy caliber weapons.  Note also the character of the labor… and who performed the work.  And for all that expenditure of material and muscle, the advance towards Charleston had only gained one barrier island and silenced, but not destroyed, a single fortification.

Students of the Civil War will point out a similar summary might have been recorded for operations outside Petersburg and Richmond, or outside Atlanta, at the end of 1864.  Was the nature of warfare changing?  Or were certain features of warfare enhanced?

(Citation from Frederic Denison, Shot and Shell: The Third Rhode Island Heavy Artillery Regiment in the Rebellion, 1861-1865, Providence, R.I.: Third Rhode Island Artillery Veterans Association, 1879, page 207.)

Photo Analysis: Morris Island Ordnance Depot (Part I)

During operations on Morris Island, the Federals maintained a busy ordnance depot on the south end near Lighthouse Inlet.  If there was ever a place and time for an artillery-focused blogger to use a time machine….  Just imagine the “stuff” laying out on the beach – cannons, burst cannons, carriages, implements, projectiles, …. Short of a time machine, several photographs exist in which the lens turned that way.

One of those photos – the first in what I hope to make a series over – was taken by Samuel A. Cooley, the “Photographer of the Department of the South.”

[Unknown location. Wagons and camera of Sam A. Cooley, U.S. photographer, Department of the South] (LOC)

There’s his crew, with all the field equipment, camera, and a glass plate at the ready.  Cooley photographed scenes along the South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida coasts.  Cooley is most known for his photos of Fort Sumter after its capture in 1865.  From what I gather, Cooley’s photographic activities came to Morris Island in December 1863.  He maintained a studio there through the end of the war.  So this photo…

… might have been from anytime from that point on to the end of the war.  (The stereo-view is also digitized in the Library of Congress collection.)

For years I’ve been drawn to this photo because of the “stuff” scattered around in a semi-organized manner.  None of the neat stacks of equipment or carefully aligned rows – all indications of a real ordnance depot supporting an active campaign.  At times, I’ve entertained this depot was on Folly Island instead of Morris Island.  But the more I try to pin things down, the more elusive the confirmation is.  For now, I’ll settle and suggest this is a photograph of the ordnance depot on the south end of Morris Island.

OrdDepotMap1

I’ve never seen any documentation that might narrow down the location to a specific spot on the map. To my knowledge, no diagrams of the ordnance depot exist.  So I don’t know where exactly to put the “star” to locate this photo.  Given that shortfall, I’ll present some of the clues I’ve found in the photo in hope that you readers might pick up the challenge.  I usually spend time looking for markings, flags, or other indicators of a unit designation.  With all that equipment in view, are there any markings?

Starting furthest back on the right, there’s this thing…

OrdDepot1A

That’s a heavy sling cart.  Just like the one on display today at Fort Pulaski.

Ft Pulaski 3 Aug 11 1336

Another set of those appears on the left side of the line:

OrdDepot1B

While offering no markings, the presence of those heavy sling carts indicates the Federals were handling heavy guns, like those big Parrotts.  So some corroborative evidence, but nothing definitive.  In between the sling carts are caissons and field forges more closely associated with field batteries.

OrdDepot1C

The only “mark” that stands out is an “8” with a laurel around it.  Again, nothing to narrow down to a particular unit.  Note, however, on the left the siege carriage limbers.  Again, corroboration that both field and siege guns were supported out of this depot.

Another way to narrow down the location is review of the background.  In this photo is a single story building, arranged as if a workshop.

OrdDepot1D

Only a few tents are in view.

OrdDepot1E

In the distant background are treelines.  Very typical coastal treelines of that time, with the base of the trees in silhouette.  Indicates some human activity which kept the brush clear.

OrdDepot1F

That might be Black Island.  If so, the even more distant treeline behind the workshop would be James Island and the Confederate batteries.

OK, with that swag taken to narrow down the photo’s location and orientation, let’s turn to the “stuff” in the foreground.  Lots of projectiles…. lots of types of projectiles…

OrdDepot1G

Some are easily identified as the Parrott Pattern.  There’s a strapped smoothbore projectile (don’t let the shadow fool you) in the stack.  And falling off the back looks to be a Brooke projectile with bourrelet (ring around the body just behind the ogive, or “nose”).

Looking at the other stack further up in the photo…

OrdDepot1H

More Parrott projectiles, but one of those to the left looks like a Hotchkiss with lead band standing out as an off-shade.

Between the stacks of shells are a few “litters,” or carriers used by the troops to move shells.

OrdDepot1I

These are laying upside down.  But in many photos of the batteries, these are sitting behind the guns, looking like short legged tables.

Just behind the carriers is this ratchet roller for use in handling the guns.

OrdDepot1J

I’m at a loss to find a photo with this particular part in use.  Looks like this one has lost one “tooth” at some point.

Other items in the foreground which draw the eye are rows of wrought iron carriages.

OrdDepot1K

These were the type seen frequently in photos of the Army’s Parrotts in position on Morris Island.  Certainly enough on hand to sustain a long campaign.  Other photos of the depot show these with a better view for details.  What I’d point out here is the difference between the inside of the traversing wheel (upper center) and outside (lower center).  The inside of the wheel had “spoke” reinforcements.

A nice row of 30-pdr Parrotts stood just behind the carriages.

OrdDepot1L

The sad part here is the resolution, even digitized, does not allow us to read the muzzle markings.  At least a battery’s worth of the 30-pounders there.  Later production, as there is no muzzle swell.  And these also appear to have the shorter trunnions, which don’t use all of the capsquare on the carriage. The shorter trunnions reflected the Federal preference for wrought iron carriages.

In front of those Parrotts were rails for wooden carriages.

OrdDepot1M

Again, evidence pointing to the use of captured Confederate guns.  And if you are looking for more evidence, look behind the Parrotts:

OrdDepot1N

Yes, an old carronade of the type used by Confederates as flank defense in Battery Wagner.  Maybe a 42-pdr?  Or 32-pdr? It appears to be mounted on a modified field carriage with no cheeks.  Now there’s a cannon with a story to tell!