Tag Archives: Fort Clinch

Batteries and forts of the Department of the South, June 1864

On June 8, 1864, First Lieutenant Charles Suter, of the Chief Engineer’s office, submitted a detailed report on the fortifications, and their armaments, throughout the Department of the South.  That lengthy report offers another point of reference with regard to the garrisoning and posturing in the department. So consider this sort of a “resource” post to refer back to in regard to the named forts and batteries.

Summarizing Suter’s report by district, the works listed were:

Northern District.

Morris Island (which I’ve discussed in detail before but some slight changes since April of that year):

FedBatteriesMorrisIsApr1864

  • Fort Putnam – three 100-pdr Parrotts, one 10-inch columbiad, four 30-pdr Parrotts, and two field pieces.
  • Battery Chatfield – one 300-pdr Parrott, two 100-pdr Parrotts, and four 10-inch seacoast mortars.
  • Battery Seymour – eight 10-inch seacoast mortars.
  • Water Battery – two 10-inch columbiads.
  • Battery Barton – two 13-inch seacoast mortars.
  • Fort Strong (old Battery Wagner) – one 200-pdr Parrott, five 100-pdr Parrotts, two 30-pdr Parrotts, six 32-pdr smoothbores, four 12-pdr smoothbores, and two 10-inch seacoast mortars
  • Fort Shaw – two 8-inch seacoast howitzers, five 8-inch siege howitzers, two field pieces, and two 10-inch siege mortars.
  • Battery Purviance – two 42-pdrs and two 30-pdr Parrotts.
  • Black Island battery – two rifled field pieces.

Folly Island (which I haven’t given due attention):

  • Fort Greene – two 30-pdr Parrotts, two 12-pdr gusn, two carronades, and two mortars.
  • Pawnee Landing – one battery with two 30-pdr Parrotts and a second with two 10-pdr Parrotts.
  • White House in center of island – one battery of two 30-pdr Parrotts and a second battery under construction to hold fourteen guns and four mortars.
  • Fort Delafield – two 42-pdr James rifles and three 32-pdr James rifles.
  • Fort Mahan – three 32-pdr James rifles.
  • Long Island battery – a fort with two 20-pdr Parrotts and a large infantry stockade.
  • Cole’s Island – two redoubts, but no artillery in place.
  • Kiawah Island – two redoubts, but with artillery removed.

Middle District

Discussed in an earlier post, though Suter offered more detail as to the armament than the April report.

HiltonHeadDistrictApril64

Hilton Head:

  • Fort Welles – seventeen guns, built to defend against land attack.
  • Fort Mitchel – at the time being dismantled (which was a concern for the Navy).
  • Line of entrenchments across the island.

Saint Helena Island:  Fort Seward with thirteen guns on the west side.  (Suter does not mention the signal station on the east end).

Port Royal Island (all centered around Beaufort):

  • Fort Duane – one 8-inch gun, one 32-pdr gun, four 18-pdr guns, two 24-pdr howitzers, and one 12-pdr howitzer.
  • Battery Burnside – two 8-inch guns, one 30-pdr Parrott, and one 24-pdr gun.
  • Battery Seymour (the second in the district) – two carronades.
  • Battery Saxton – three 8-inch siege howitzers.
  • Battery Brayton – one 10-pdr Parrott and one 24-pdr howitzer.
  • Battery Taylor – two 30-pdr Parrotts, one 10-pdr Parrott, and one 24-pdr gun.

Cockspur Island:

  • Fort Pulaski – Suter did not detail the armament, but much reduced from the year before.
  • Water Battery – two 10-inch columbiads and two 100-pdr Parrotts – used to block the Savannah River from any Confederate sortie.

District of Florida:

These reflected the reduced importance of Florida.

Fernandina: Fort Clinch and a small battery on the main island.  The Federals also maintained a blockhouse at Saint John’s Bluff.

Yellow Bluff: Two small works, one of which mounted a carronade.

Picolata: Block house with two 6-pdr guns.

Jacksonville:  The city was “surrounded by a line of inclosed works” and was the best defended in Florida:

  • Battery Hamilton – open work for field guns.
  • Redoubt Reed – three guns.
  • Redoubt Fribley – four guns.
  • Battery McCrea – platforms for field guns.
  • Battery Myrick – covering the railroad with platforms for guns as needed.
  • Redoubt Hatch – four guns.
  • Redoubt Sammon – three guns.
  • Fort Seymour (yes… three named works for Truman Seymour) – four guns.

Saint Augustine:  Fort Marion, the old Spanish colonial Castillo de San Marcos, stood as the only significant defense.

(Suter’s report is in OR, Series I, Volume 35, Part II, Serial 66, pages 117-119.)

150 Years Ago: Bricks for Fort Clinch… gathered by the “Sable Arm”

I’m a bit early with this sesquicentennial themed post.  But there are several events “stacked up” at the end of this month, furthermore the topic goes well with today’s holiday – Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.

Fort Clinch, near Fernandina Beach, Florida, protected the entrance to St. Mary’s River, bordering Georgia and Florida.  The five-million or so bricks of Fort Clinch have captured my attention on each visit to the site.  Even a casual observer notes the distinct line of colors in the brickwork.

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Fort Clinch – looking to the west end of the gorge wall

Most of the lower, grayer bricks are from the initial construction period and were drawn from local sources.  Although started in 1847, work proceeded slowly.  Even when Federals occupied the fort in March 1862, the work was still far from complete.  Authorities felt, even though the fort was a backwater in a backwater theater, Fort Clinch should be completed in order to shore up defenses along the coast.   Such efforts required bricks… and labor.

Project engineer Captain Alfred F. Sears began contracting “contraband” labor in 1862.  But he was short of bricks, with no available source on the barrier island.  The brickyard which had supplied the fort’s builders before the war lay some thirty miles upstream on the St. Mary’s River, behind Confederate lines.  With Sears’ urgings, an expedition formed in mid-January 1863 with the aim to secure the bricks.  It is easy to overlook this activity with much larger events occurring in the major theaters of war at around the same time.  Call them “raids” or “expeditions,” such forays occurred with regularity along the coastlines during the war.  What draws my attention to this particular expedition are the troops employed – the First (US) South Carolina Infantry.

The 1st South Carolina first formed, by order of General David Hunter, in the spring of 1862 from contrabands at Hilton Head.  Under political pressure, the regiment was disbanded.  But by November the regiment reformed under Colonel Thomas W. Higginson.  Despite the state designation, the regiment consisted of a number of escaped slaves from Georgia and Florida.  That factor worked in favor of the expedition.

Thomas Wentworth Higginson

Despite the military air of his portrait, Higginson was not a military man by training.  A minister and ardent abolitionist, Higginson hailed from Massachusetts.  Before the war he’d supported John Brown, going as far to say that slavery had to end even if it meant war.  And when war came, Higginson went as a Captain of the 51st Massachusetts.  His beliefs and reputation, despite his lack of experience, led General Rufus Saxton to offer command the 1st South Carolina to Higginson.

Higginson’s expedition left Beaufort, South Carolina on January 23.  The 1st South Carolina, consisting of 462 officers and men, loaded into three steamers.  As reports go, Higginson’s was one of the worst in terms of formatting.  In reciting the details, he failed to provide any specifics as to the routes taken or even dates of activities (although he did offer a chapter length account of the expedition in Army Life in a Black Regiment, published in 1870).  By February 1, the expedition returned to South Carolina.  He could report accomplishment of his primary objective – “I have turned over to Captain Sears about 40,000 large-sized bricks, valued at about $1,000, in view of the present high freights.”  Higginson went into great detail about the stores and supplies acquired, and in some cases left behind due to lack of transport.

But in a broader perspective, one might say the 1st South Carolina took away some bricks, but left behind something more important.  The expedition was among the first, if not THE first, operation involving black troops after the effective date of the Emancipation Proclamation.  That fact was not lost on Higginson:

The expedition has carried the regimental flag and the President’s proclamation far into the interior of Georgia and Florida. The men have been repeatedly under fire; have had infantry, cavalry, and even artillery arrayed against them, and have in every instance come off not only with unblemished honor, but with undisputed triumph.

Higginson reported a few slave families returned with the expedition.  But he didn’t figure the count of freed slave to be the measure of success at this stage of the war:

No officer in this regiment now doubts that the key to the successful prosecution of this war lies in the unlimited employment of black troops. Their superiority lies simply in the fact that they know the country, while white troops do not, and, moreover, that they have peculiarities of temperament, position, and motive which belong to them alone. Instead of leaving their homes and families to fight they are fighting for their homes and families, and they show the resolution and the sagacity which a personal purpose gives. It would have been madness to attempt, with the bravest white troops what I have successfully accomplished with black ones. Everything, even to the piloting of the vessels and the selection of the proper points for cannonading, was done by my own soldiers. Indeed, the real conductor of the whole expedition up the Saint Mary’s was Corpl. Robert Sutton, of Company G, formerly a slave upon the Saint Mary’s River, a man of extraordinary qualities, who needs nothing but a knowledge of the alphabet to entitle him to the most signal promotion. In every instance when I followed his advice the predicted result followed, and I never departed from it, however slightly, without finding reason for subsequent regret.

We might write this off as Higginson championing his abolitionist aims. However, he was right in some regards.  The President’s proclamation, now a war aim, depended upon the Army and Navy for successful enforcement.  But likewise, the Army and Navy needed the “Sable Arm” in order to prosecute the war.  The Army needed more Corporal Suttons.

A year or so later the 1st South Carolina became the Thirty-third United States Colored Troops.  Such completed the transition of this pre-Emancipation Proclamation regiment.  But Fort Clinch remained incomplete, needing more bricks.  Eventually bricks shipped down from the north allowed the completion of the major portions of the wall. Their composition stood out as a distinct line compared to the locally produced bricks.

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Several colors of Bricks in the Fort Clinch Wall

But this came at a time when brick fortifications were just not worth maintaining.  After decades of neglect and intermittent military activity, the fort received the attention of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) in 1934.  The CCC and later the State of Florida restored the brickwork, adding newer bricks where needed. The end result is a patchwork of colors in the wall.

Perhaps a standing, physical metaphor for us to consider?

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Interior of Fort Clinch

(Colonel Higginson’s report appears in OR, Series I, Volume 14, Serial 20, pages 195-198.)

Not your average Ordnance Rifle: Interesting gun from Fort Clinch

Fort Clinch, Florida, on the northern tip of Amelia Island, is a great diversion for Civil War enthusiasts (and beach-goers).  Among the attractions is a 3-inch Ordnance Rifle, which was setting on the fort’s parade ground during my visit last summer.

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Parade Ground at Fort Clinch

There’s no doubt Phoenix Iron Company produced this gun, as all the stamps are there.

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Right Trunnion of #650

The muzzle has the registry number 650.  The registry number puts this gun in the “later batches” of Ordnance Rifles.  However, as I’ll show below, conforms to the “middle batches” of the type.

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Muzzle of 3-inch #650 at Fort Clinch

Normally that would be worth explaining all by itself (as it “tests” the groupings I’ve offered for the gun types).  But I also need to mention the bore… or lack thereof.

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Smoothbore where there should be rifling

The bore is clean, relatively speaking, indicating very limited if any actual service.  I’d even speculate the bore out was done to reline the gun. But why one would do that is beyond me.  The gun has worn surfaces all over and not something I’d want to restore for shooting.

And take a closer look at those surfaces.

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Breech of Fort Clinch Ordnance Rifle

Perhaps a little rusting pealed back the machine smoothed surfaces.  What appears around the breech are layers of metal.  And a nicely bouched vent stands in contrast with the otherwise rough surface.

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Rear Sight of Fort Clinch Gun

The barrel’s surface shows even more details of the layering of metal.

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Wavy lines on the barrel

Almost as if someone sliced laterally through the upper layers of a fruit roll-up!   Phoenix made this gun using Reeves’ rolling technique.   A line around the rimbases may be the seam left when those were welded onto the barrel.  Maybe the lines are due to poor quality control in production.  Or perhaps just enough rust ate away at the surface to reveal what lay beneath.

Taking a closer look at those, notice the “N.J.” where usually we see a “U.S.” acceptance mark.

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Trunnions, Rimbases, and Acceptance Mark

And there’s a hole for the auxiliary sight, indicating this is a “middle batch” Ordnance Rifle.   This gun has a lot of explaining to do!

First off there are several surviving Ordnance Rifles with the N.J. stamp.  Clearly New Jersey purchased some of the guns (after all Phoenixville is not far across the Delaware River).  Three of those guns with N.J. stamps have duplicate registry numbers with survivors with U.S. acceptance marks – 649, 650 (here), and 651.  The U.S. guns are in a set received in November 1863.

So here’s my speculation.  Perhaps number 650 was among a set initially stamped at Phoenix Iron Company, but for some reason the ordnance officers rejected it.  The “wavy lines” may provide a clue, indicating some irregularities.  Later the New Jersey militia, not being as picky as the U.S. Army, might have purchased this gun at a cut rate.  Such might explain the auxiliary sight, which by my estimates was discontinued in March 1862, as well as the duplicate registry numbers.

But again, that’s just my speculation.  Regardless, the 3-inch Ordnance Rifle at Fort Clinch offers in interesting study to say the least.