About half-way through posting notes about the “guns of Fort Sumter,” I started looking for a way to best relate how the guns were employed and where they stood in the fort. Well since this is a “web page” the solution seemed rather apparent – take one of the sketches out of the Official Records and overlay a link map to the posts about the guns.
Here’s Captain John Foster’s enclosure from March 27, 1861, depicting the arrangement of the guns. If you scroll over the gun positions, you’ll see links to the posts.
This diagram speaks directly to the strengths and limitations of the fort’s armament. Only the barbette and 1st tiers were armed for action in April 1861. The second tier was still incomplete when South Carolina seceded. One 32-pdr was mounted for experiments, but later removed. The defenders closed embrasures of the second tier as best possible.
The gorge wall, on the bottom of the diagram, was the most vulnerable face of the fort. The Cummings Point batteries on Morris Island sat south of the fort and bore almost directly on the gorge wall. From batteries there, the Confederates used three 8-inch columbiads, two 42-pdr guns, and the Blakely rifle for breaching.
At first glance, the 10-inch columbiads on the gorge angles could counter those Confederate batteries. However, Foster indicated modifications were required to allow the west-most columbiad to bear on Cummings Point. Furthermore, during the bombardment Major Robert Anderson opted to not man the barbette tier guns. This effectively restricted the Federal’s weight of fire on the Cummings Point batteries to two 32-pdr guns and one 42-pdr (which had been moved between March 27 and April 12).
To the north of Fort Sumter, across the channel, was of course Fort Moultrie. Ten 32-pdrs and the two 42-pdrs in the 1st tier bore on Sullivan’s Island. But these faced the weight of one IX-inch Dahlgren, seven 8-inch columbiads, two 8-inch seacoast howitzers, four 42-pdrs, five 32-pdrs, and four 24-pdrs (although the last three types were of limited value due to range).
The four columbiads on the parade field mounted as mortars offered perhaps the best “might have been” response. The three 8-inch columbiads trained on Morris Island could have caused great trouble for the Confederate gunners. But with the combined effect of a dozen (or more) mortars and shells from Sullivan’s Island, the columbiads were too dangerous to man.
When the war of words gave way to the cannon blasts on April 12, ballistics, weight of shot, range of shell, and angle of fires determined the course of the war’s first battle.
Next up, the Confederate batteries.