Tag Archives: Fort Sumter

“Conformable to your request, six 100-pounder Parrotts will be loaned.”: Naval reinforcement for Fort Sumter bombardment

A subtle point made by Lieutenant-Colonel William Ames in his in-progress report on the Third Major Bombardment, on July 27, 1964, was the attrition rate of the heavy Parrott rifles.  These guns – the 6.4-inch (100-pounders), 8-inch (200-pounders), and 10-inch (300-pounders) – not only threw the greatest weight, but were more frequently used in the Third Major Bombardment than their smaller brothers.   The loss of one gun burst and two out of action for repairs put limits on the sustained rate of fire against Fort Sumter.  Another approaching limitation on the firing rate was the supply of ammunition.  Having expended over 6,000 rounds by month’s end, even the large stockpiles on Morris and Folly Island were drained.

If the pace of fire slackened, the Confederates would have more time to repair.  Major-General John Foster could not have that.  He wanted to knock the fort down.  More so, Foster wanted to increase the pace, if possible, by adding more guns to the bombardment.  Reluctant to wait for more shipments from the north, he inquired with Rear-Admiral John Dahlgren on July 30, 1864:

I have the honor to request the loan of six 100-pounder Parrott guns, to be placed in a new battery erected on Cumming’s Point. I also beg leave to say that I will avail myself of your offer of some 9-inch guns for the battery at Spanish Wells, and will send for them in a day or two. I shall be obliged to borrow of you the ammunition for these guns, as we have none.

Dahlgren, in the spirit of good joint operations, responded promptly:

Conformable to your request, six 100-pounder Parrotts will be loaned to you, and are at your disposal when it suits your convenience to send for them. I expected to have obtained the 9-inch guns from the Wabash, but she has left this port, and I have required on the Bureau for some. When they arrive I shall be glad to meet your wishes.

On paper there were “Army” and “Navy” models of these large Parrott rifles.  But the only notable difference between the models were the markings.  All Parrotts larger than 5.2-inch (30-pounder) had blade-type cascabels with breeching blocks.  Sight arrangements varied for mountings on ironclads, pivot batteries, or army siege carriages.  But those were fittings modified locally by artificers.  These were guns which Foster could put into battery without delay.

As for the 9-inch guns requested, eventually the Navy loaned some of those, as captured in a wartime photograph:

Unlike the Parrotts, the Dahlgren gun required a wooden carriage, seen here.  Looks rather out of place sitting on a wooden platform in the beach sand.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 35, Part II, Serial 66, pages 200-2.)

Grant killed! Withdraw from Petersburg! Sherman defeated at Atlanta!: Deserters say the darnedest things

The discipline of military intelligence requires a capable staff with the ability to analyze a wide body of information to determine an accurate situational picture.  All kidding about the oxymoron aside, military intelligence is vital to operations.  Armies that move without good intelligence end up on the History Channel for all the wrong reasons.

Now consider yourself one of the officers on Major-General John Foster’s staff at Hilton Head, detailed to look at reports and other information pertaining to Confederate activities.  On this day (July 28) in 1864, a report from Brigadier-General Alexander Schimmelfennig might have crossed your path.  Writing to Captain William L.M. Burger, Assistant Adjutant-General for the Department of the South, Schimmelfennig included a summary from interrogation of Confederate deserters:

I have the honor to report that on the night of the 25th to the 26th instant, 1 sergeant and 3 privates of the First South Carolina Artillery (Companies E and K) deserted from Fort Johnson and, crossing the marsh, were picked up by our boat infantry near Paine’s Dock.  In the way of general information they state that the news of General Grant’s being killed was first given by a deserter from our army, and afterward claimed to be extracted from the Northern papers. One of them had heard that Grant’s army had withdrawn from in front of Petersburg. From General Sherman the news of the 22d and 23d was that he had been severely repulsed and beaten after having attacked Atlanta, and that he had lost several thousand prisoners and twenty-two pieces of artillery. No news of interest is given with regard to the district.

So if you are analyzing information and this is your artifact, where do you start?  Grant’s dead?  Wouldn’t that have been in all the papers?  Great defeats at Petersburg and Atlanta?  Short of an alternative history novel, how could such stories take root?

This report raises the question of how accurate information from deserters was, in general.  Looking at this particular incident, I wonder about the nature of these deserters.  Were they simply fed up with the situation and deserted?  Perhaps lesser quality soldiers who received some “encouragement” to leave (every command has at least one sergeant who it could do without)?  Or were these men sowing stories deliberately under some deception plan?  No way of saying without knowing names and other details.  But I would lean towards the first possibility. (And don’t think that because I only list three, there were not more possibilities there!)

So what would that say about information from these deserters?  Put more than a grain of salt to anything they say.

In the same paragraph, however, Schimmelfennig continued with the reports from the deserters.  And now offered details about the Confederate activities on James Island:

I seem to have about the same troops on my front that I had before the late movements on James and John’s Islands. The deserters state that the fatigue parties seen around Johnson and Simkins are not engaged in putting up any new works, nor inclosing or in any way changing the old ones, but merely in carrying on the usual repairs. They also state that the enemy are constantly expecting an assault of Fort Sumter as well as another attack on Johnson. At Fort Sumter the garrison of about 250 men is considered capable of holding it. At Fort Johnson five companies of heavy artillery are behind the breast-works every night, one to serve the guns, the other four used as infantry; one company of Black’s cavalry regiment also reports at Fort Johnson for duty every night.

Given the rather outrageous items in the first half of the paragraph, do any of these details carry weight?

Schimmelfennig continued in his report to provide a second paragraph.  The information in that paragraph lacks direct attribution, but we can assume included some information from deserters along with information derived from other sources.   And there are lots of details therein:

On Thursday last, the 21st instant, Captain Mitchel, of the First South Carolina Artillery, who has for some time past been in command of Fort Sumter, was killed by a shell from our batteries. The garrison at Fort Sumter is reported not to have been relieved for a month past, owing to our heavy bombardment. One of our deserters was at Fort Pringle during our late operation on Stono, and states that the fire of the navy was very destructive. All the heavy guns, with the exception of one smooth-bore, were disabled. A 7-inch rifled Brooke, which they brought there during the action, was no sooner placed in position than it was dismounted by our fire. The bomb-proof of Pringle proved very poor, our balls penetrating to the wood-work. They had heard the loss on James Island estimated at 200 killed and wounded. Another of the deserters, who was at Fort Johnson when we attacked it on the morning of the 3d, reports that almost all the troops had been taken away from there on the 2d; that until nearly morning of the 3d there were not more than 40 or 50 men in Johnson. About 2 a.m. of the 3d, the two companies of the First South Carolina Artillery, who only had been sent as far away as Legaré’s Point, were ordered back to Johnson, and arrived in time to repel the attack. Even with these two companies they say there were not more than 200 men, if as many, in Johnson and Simkins, and that if our whole force had landed they might undoubtedly have taken the two forts. These deserters are well fed and clothed but report that the troops have not been paid for the last seven months, and there is much dissatisfaction among them. They heard that our general and field officers confined in Charleston are in a house at the corner of Broad and Rutledge streets, near Chisolm’s Mill.

Looking back 150 years, and knowing what we know now, some of these details are accurate.

So, put your “intelligence analyst” hat on here.  How do you separate the “Grant was killed” from “Mitchel was killed” information?

(Citation from OR, Series I, Volume 35, Part II, Serial 66, pages 196-7.)

“The right angle of the fort has been cut away”: Progress report of Fort Sumter bombardment

On July 26, 1864, Major-General John Foster mentioned the need for a report on the progress of the Third Major Bombardment of Fort Sumter.  On the following day, Lieutenant-Colonel William Ames, 3rd Rhode Island Heavy Artillery and Chief of Artillery for the Northern District, Department of the South, provided that report.  Ames addressed his report to Lieutenant William B. Dean, Foster’s Assistant Adjutant General:

I have the honor to report the firing upon Fort Sumter as still continued with good effect. The points against which our fire has been directed are, viz: First, the angle formed by the junction of sea and gorge walls; second, the right (enemy’s) angle of the fort. The first-mentioned point has been much cut away, and, in my opinion, is the point against which the whole fire should be directed. The right angle of the fort has been cut away for about 8 or 9 feet. The progress made at this point, however, has been very slow.

Such was the measure of advance against Fort Sumter – 8 or 9 feet.  But the Federal gunners were obliterating a fort, practically brick by brick.

Ames then mentioned a good reason for the slow progress.

So many of the guns used in breaching have been disabled that I have ordered the fire of the remaining guns to be directed against the center angle. During this bombardment great inconvenience has been experienced from the premature explosion of shells, notwithstanding that all the projectiles fired were thoroughly examined before being filled, and the fuse plugs well covered with white lead previous to being screwed in; still these premature explosions take place. The plan of varnishing the interior surface of the shells, as recommended by R. P. Parrott, has not as yet been put into practice, owing to there being no varnish in the ordnance department. Twelve 30-pounder shells prepared in this way were fired without any premature explosions. This is not a fair trial, however, but as soon as varnish arrives from Hilton Head it will be more thoroughly tested.

Recall earlier in the year, Robert P. Parrott had forwarded his response to complaints about his guns. Parrott felt the friction between the rough interior of the shell and the powder, due to sudden movement when fired, caused these premature explosions.  So he recommended a layer of varnish, spread by rolling the empty shell around, would prevent these explosions.  Now the gunners on Morris Island were going to learn how to varnish the inside of shells.

Ames provided details about the guns disabled over the last week of firing – and note the numbers reference the battery numbers, and not registry numbers.  Four guns including one which burst:

The following guns have been disabled during the past week: No. 3 gun (200 Parrott), Fort Putnam, burst July 25 at the 1,300th round. No. 4 gun (200-pounder Parrott), Fort Putnam, requires a new vent. No. 3 gun (200-pounder Parrott), Battery Chatfield, ditto. No. 2 gun, 10-inch columbiad (colored battery), has had about 18 inches of its muzzle blown off by the premature explosion of a shell. This gun is still being fired, and will serve well for short range.

Notice the columbiad was serviced by USCT.

Ames planned to pull one 8-inch (200-pounder) Parrott to replace the burst gun.  But he required ordnance support to repair those with bad vents.  He also mentioned an additional 10-inch (300-pounder) Parrott and a 6.4-inch (100-pounder) Parrott that were not in place at that time.  He had no replacement smoothbore guns.

Tabulating the firing done since the start of the bombardment on July 7 through July 21, Ames stated:

The following number of projectiles have been expended in the bombardment of Fort Sumter from July 7 to July 21, inclusive:

Fort Putnam: 764 30-pounders, 1,183 200-pounders; total, 1,947.

Battery Chatfield: 363 100-pounders, 294 200-pounders, 173 300-pounders, 98 10-inch columbiad; total, 928.

Fort Strong: 1,146 100-pounders, 142 200-pounders; total, 1,288. Battery Barton: 729 10-inch mortars. Battery Seymour: 542 10-inch mortars. Thirteen-inch mortar battery: 91 13-inch mortars.

Number of rounds from each work: Putnam, 1,947 rounds; Chat-field, 928 rounds; Strong, 1,288 rounds; Barton, 729 rounds; Seymour, 542 rounds; 13-inch mortar, 91 rounds; total, 5,525.

Number and kind of projectiles: 764 30-pounders, 1,509 100-pounders, 1,619 200-pounders, 173 300-pounders, 98 10-inch columbiad, 1,271 10-inch sea-coast mortars, 91 13-inch mortars; total, 5,525.
Grand total, 5,525 projectiles.

Just two weeks of firing, as this did not count the week of July 22-27.  The rate was about 395 per day, or 16 ½ per hour.  The majority of these rounds – 3301 rounds – were fired from 6.4-, 8-, and 10-inch Parrotts.  He didn’t provide the breakdown of shells and solid bolts fired.  But figure roughly 263 tons of heavy Parrott projectiles hitting the fort over those two weeks of the bombardment.

And this was a minor theater of operation, mind you.

(Citation from OR, Series I, Volume 35, Part II, Serial 66, pages 190-1.)