The first heavy breaching gun on Morris Island: 8-inch Parrott Rifle at Battery Hays

On July 25, 1863, Major Thomas Brooks offered this entry in his journal of operations on Morris Island:

Saturday, July 25. – Completed on the left the first emplacement for a heavy breaching gun (8-inch Parrott rifle). This gun was mounted to-day, and first fired on Sumter August 12. It was served from a bomb-proof magazine built expressly for it. When afterward employed against Sumter, it was designated as constituting a part of Battery Hays. Lieutenant [Patrick] McGuire, assisted by Lieut. James Baxter, New York Volunteer Engineers, superintended this work.

Brooks also noted this position was the last work of his direction on the left breaching batteries. Lieutenant Peter S. Michie took up much of the work on the left as Brooks’ attention was on the parallels and the batteries on the main part of Morris Island. The left side breaching batteries extended across several sand ridges in the marshes behind Morris Island. The position offered a deflection angle off the line of sight from the other batteries inside the siege lines.


Recall that Battery Hays was one of the original emplacements on Morris Island and was used in the bombardment on July 18. The battery included a left and right wing, with 20- and 30-pdr Parrotts.


The position of the 8-inch Parrott mentioned by Brooks is right of center in this cut of the map, where the creek snakes past. A roadway lead down the dune to the “Advanced Gun.” Here’s a close up view of that position.


The engineers provided a bomb-proof magazine behind the gun’s emplacement. The gun position was L-shaped, built upon a spit pushed out into the marsh. The engineers provided a profile of this position, with the line marked G-H on the map:


Would be nice to have a photograph of this position, don’t you think?

Wait… we do have a photograph…

In fact, we have two photographs…

These were taken by the team of Philip Haas and Washington Peale, who captured many scenes on Morris and Folly Island through the summer of 1863. Based on the angles of the view, the photographer must have stood either on the bombproof or just to the east of it. The tide is up and the marsh is full all around the position. The creeks meander through the tidal marsh. This is a great view of the landscape over which the armies fought, inch by inch, through the summer of 1863. As with so many of these wartime photos, the details seem to breathe life into a 150 year old moment in time.

At the time the photographers arrived, the gun was dismounted for movement elsewhere. Noticed just behind the gun is the pintle on which the carriage traversed. The carriage is gone but the gun remains up on blocks.


How I wish the photographer had stopped to frame the muzzle of this gun. There are eight surviving 8-inch Parrotts today, two of which are in the Charleston area. Wishful thinking, but perhaps this gun is one of the two?

The fellow behind the gun seems happy to be there.


On both sides of the gun are stacked projectiles. Looking to the stack on the right… are those about to fall into the marsh?


The noses of these projectiles have no fuse plugs. The Federals used solid, blunt-nosed bolts against Fort Sumter to great effect against the bricks. No doubt these are what’s left of the lot issued to this gun.

Looking to the earthworks, on each side of the embrasure are gabions filled with sandbags.


Other portions of the embrasure, probably including a mantlet or shield, are gone.

But speaking of sandbags, look at the crumbled corner to the left of the gun.


These were stacked with a layer of wooden planks. It appears there was a bomb-proof built under those sandbags.

In other places the sandbags show sings of wear. This position had been “used” by the time the photographers showed up.


My guess is Haas and Peale captured this scene in late September. Brigadier-General Quincy Gillmore reported the bombardments of August had “used up” the 8-inch Parrotts on Morris Island. He borrowed three from the Navy in September. Gillmore then ordered the worn out 8-inch Parrotts removed. Those which were still serviceable joined fresh guns mounted at the former Battery Gregg. So this photograph may capture a worn out gun being removed.

The other reason I figure this photo was taken in late September is what is in the background. That’s Fort Sumter showing the effects of the Federal bombardment through August and September.


The gorge wall and parts of the right face crumbled away. Not quite the obliteration seen in photos taken in 1865. Still an example of what the crews of the 8-inch Parrott had done with those blunt-nosed bolts.

To the right of Fort Sumter is what appears to be Battery Gregg. Perhaps just recently captured at the time the photograph was taken.


And looking further to the right, Battery Wagner is among the dunes on Morris Island.


Perhaps if you look really close into the misty background you can pick out houses and fortifications on Sullivan’s Island.

But look back at Fort Sumter and look really close at the parapet. That’s a flag flying over the fort.


If my estimate of late September 1863 is correct, that’s a Confederate flag. This photo captures a scene across an active front. A moment in time across the battle lines? Perhaps.


4 thoughts on “The first heavy breaching gun on Morris Island: 8-inch Parrott Rifle at Battery Hays

  1. […] Covering most of the lower half of the map, Battery Hays took up more space than any of the other batteries (either on the left or the parallels). Engineers built Battery Hays prior to the July 18 attack on Battery Wagner. At that time, the battery held seven 30-pdr Parrotts and four 20-pdr Parrotts. These were arranged in “left” and “right” wings. Why these were not separate named batteries, I could not say. Later work added a couple more 30-pdr Parrotts, and more importantly the 8-inch Parrott in the advanced gun position. […]

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