How many guns did Charleston need? : Points one and two from Beauregard’s board

The board of generals assembled at Charleston in mid-March 1863 began their deliberations by reviewing the first two points of their charter:

  • Amount and description of heavy ordnance deficient or necessary for the efficient defense of the harbor.
  • The number and character of heavy ordnance called for and supplied since 1st June, 1862.

The board, consisting of Brigadier-Generals Roswell Ripley, S.R. Gist, and James Trapier, were well familiar with the guns and requisitions. Ripley and Gist were the district commanders of Charleston and James Island, respectively. Trapier held the post of “sub-district” commander under Ripley, in charge of the Sullivan’s Island defenses. In the report, the board put focus on the failure of the boom originally intended to span the harbor entrance and the weapons required to make good on that failure:

Much dependence was placed upon a chain and boom obstruction then being constructed by the order of that officer, which it was hoped and believed would successfully detain an attacking fleet under the fire of the heavy forts at the mouth of the harbor. About the 1st of October it was demonstrated that the chain and boom, upon which much labor had been expended, would prove a failure, and a communication from the chief of artillery to the Ordnance Department at Richmond, approved and indorsed by the commanding general, was forwarded, calling for fifty-one guns— 10-inch columbiads. … The number of guns which it was understood were to have been furnished under requisitions from Major-General Pemberton was ten 10-inch columbiads which, added to the requisitions last mentioned for the inner harbor, would include sixty-one 10-inch columbiads, with their ammunition, exclusive of a number of 10-inch seacoast mortars.

So the defenders needed sixty-one 10-inch columbiads. This number derives from adding the ten ordered by General John Pemberton during his tenure as commander to the fifty-one that Beauregard ordered after the boom turned out a failure.

While the board clearly preferred the 10-inch columbiads (though didn’t say as much), the report went on to discuss other weapons received for the defense of Charleston:

From the records of the ordnance officer of the First Military District it appears that since the 1st of June, 1862, there have been received seventeen. 10-inch columbiads, two 42-pounder banded and rifled guns, two 7-inch banded Brooke guns, two 12-pounder banded and rifled gun, and eight 10-inch sea-coast mortars. Considering that the 42-pounder banded and rifled and the 7-inch guns are equivalent to a 10-inch columbiad when they may be in certain positions, it appears that of the principal requisitions sent in there remains a deficiency of thirty-eight 10-inch columbiads still unfurnished. In addition to the guns received one 3-inch Whitworth and two 18-pounder Blakely guns have been received from importation. These and the 12-pounder rifled and banded are, however useful, not to be depended on for positive defense against such an attack as is contemplated.

So let me “pick” at those who swear by the Brooke rifles. The Confederate generals rated the 7-inch Brooke (oh, and the old 42-pdrs they banded and rifled) as only equal to the columbiads when in “certain positions.” I know… combat experience would change that tune!

In addition to the shortage of 10-inch caliber guns, the board looked to larger guns to further secure the harbor:

A strong additional security to this harbor would be a few guns of such caliber as it is believed the enemy will bring to the attack. Authority had been obtained some three months since to have one or more 15-inch guns cast at the Charleston Arsenal works. It is believed that most of the iron has been procured and that most of the appliances have been furnished, but from some untoward disagreement between the superintending mechanics and the ordnance officers the progress of the work has been delayed, if not indefinitely postponed. It will be be well, in the opinion of the board, that the work should be pressed forward as rapidly as may be, and that at least three guns of that caliber be furnished as soon as possible.

Yes you read that correctly – a Confederate 15-inch gun. But this is where the military needs exceeded the manufacturing capability. As seen with the long, deliberate development of the Rodman guns (and I am at fault here for not providing a similar narrative of the contemporary Dahlgren guns), such caliber weapons required advanced manufacturing techniques. The Charleston Arsenal could not just drop metal into a mold and expect the product to perform to standard. So I believe the ordnance officers were right to hold off investing precious gun metal into such an endeavor.

Before closing the discussion of the board’s response to points one and two, let me offer one of the attachments to the report:


The table lists, by date, the quantity and type of weapons supplied to Charleston. With the dates in hand, one can easily reference Tredegar receipts from the period. Looking to Tredegar records from September 1862, a long sheet of received ordnance mentions at least five pieces of heavy ordnance sent to Charleston. Tredegar delivered a 10-inch columbiad on September 20 (presumably the date Tredegar loaded the gun for shipment). Here’s the entry for that columbiad and its equipment:

Page 504b

A 10-inch columbiad, with the foundry number 1664, weighing 13,360 pounds, at a cost of $1068.80 – Confederate dollars that is. Tredegar also provided a carriage, hand spikes, priming wires, sponge, rammer, worm, and sights along with the big gun. All “sent to Charleston” that September.

So where is that gun today?

Well, Tredegar number 1664 has not moved far from it’s wartime post.

Fort Moultrie 3 May 2010 495

The gun occupies a center pintle barbette carriage at Fort Moultrie. It represents the “Confederate period” in the fort’s displays of seacoast artillery through the ages. Anecdotal evidence places the gun at Fort Moultrie at the end of the war. Post war it occupied a position over one of the fort’s access gates on a pedestal. When the National Park Service took over the fort, they remounted it on display – likely close to its wartime station.

The muzzle is too far over the fort wall for me to offer a good (and safely acquired) photo of the stampings. So the trunnion stamps will have to do for now.

Fort Moultrie 3 May 2010 499

At least ten other guns from Tredegar receipts match up with deliveries (give or take a few days) on the table provided with the Charleston board’s report. Several of those weapons are still at Charleston today. If only these “witnesses” of iron could speak to us about the battles fought at the mouth of Charleston harbor.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 14, Serial 20, pages 829-833.)