150 years ago: The Second Parallel at 870 yards from Battery Wagner

On this day (July 24) in 1863 (or perhaps more accurately the night of July 23-24), Federal engineers opened the second parallel against Battery Wagner. This advanced the Federal lines some 480 yards.

Major Thomas Brooks, the lead engineer in the operation, worked two major projects. The first was to push forward siege lines against Battery Wagner. His second was to provision siege batteries to batter Fort Sumter. As he wrote in his journal:

The general commanding has decided to attempt the demolition of Fort Sumter, from positions now held by his forces, the nearest of which is about 2 miles from the fort. If this plan succeeds, it is understood that the navy will be able to occupy Charleston Harbor, thus investing Morris Island….

Brooks’ first actions in support of this plan came practically as the last shots of the failed assault of July 18 rang out. That night he’d supervised the conversion of defensive lines to serve as the first parallel against Battery Wagner. Batteries on the left side of Morris Island were easily reconfigured to support the bombardment of Fort Sumter. And Brooks further strengthened the lines on Morris Island to bar any Confederate interference.

On July 18 he began work on booms to block any boats from passing up the creek behind Morris Island. The engineers utilized 12-inch squared timbers left behind by the Confederates at a lumberyard after their retreat on July 10. Chains and kedge anchors secured the booms to the bank.


Brooks also designed a line of obstacles comprised of inclined palisading about 200 yards in front of the first parallel. The palisading was a line of pine posts, 4 to 7 inches in diameter, with sharpened ends, buried at a 45°. The engineers fabricated the palisades in panels with four posts and two braces.


Brooks provided detailed explanations of the labor required to prepare and place the palisading:

… a detachment of 24 skillful men will work to the best advantage in about the following proportions: For every 4 axmen felling and splitting timber, 12 men are required to carry the stuff an average distance of 200 yards to the rendezvous, 4 men to saw and sharpen it, and 4 men to make the panels and pile them up. This squad will make, if tasked, sixty per day, which equals two and a half per man employed. They require for this work five felling axes, two hammer hatchets, and a large cross-cut saw. One hundred and seventy-five to 200 pounds of 5 or 6 inch spikes will be used for every 100 panels made.

Four men can handle a frame readily, even when the stuff is green and water-soaked. Six panels made a load for a four-horse team. Two hundred men carried 100 panels 300 yards, dug the trench, and set them in three hours. Seventy-five men carried 40 panels 100 yards, dug the trench, and set them in fifty minutes. Sixty men carried 60 panels 50 yards, dug the trench, ans set them in one and a half hours.

The palisading in front of the first parallel extended roughly 100 yards in length between the beach and the creek behind Morris Island, in the vicinity of the first boom.

The boom and palisading in place, Brooks prepared for the second parallel. Confederate sharpshooters prevented the advancement during the day, or even during periods of bright moonlight. Instead, the engineers waited until darker hours:

A bright moon rendered the first part of the night too light to expose a large number of men, the enemy’s pickets being within 200 yards…. At about midnight, ground was broken….

The work crew consisted of 425 men from the 4th New Hampshire and 75 men from the 1st New York Volunteer Engineers. Brooks recorded a substantial amount of work completed on the parallel that night to include:

  • A parapet – 10 feet thick, 175 yards long – across the island conforming to a low ridge.
  • Placement of six field howitzers under Lieutenant G.V. Henry, Battery B, 5th US Artillery. These positions included platforms, embrasures, traverses, and splinter-proof magazines.
  • Another line of palisading, reinforced with wire entanglements.
  • Layout of a bombproof magazine behind the parallel.
  • Staging of materials for use in the next evening’s work.

On July 24, again out of respect for Confederate sharpshooters, the engineers did little work during the day. That night a crew dug out the boyaux, or communication trenches, between the first and second parallels. Other men extended the palisading as a refuse to the beach.


In time, the second parallel would become the main defensive line, with five batteries, three additional field pieces, and three Requa batteries. With the second parallel construction proceeding, the engineers had reduced the distance to Battery Wagner by about a third. But those last two-thirds were much more difficult to gain.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 28, Part I, Serial 46, pages 274-5 and 303-4.)

Published by Craig Swain

"Historical marker hunter" and Civil War enthusiast.

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