Does this work? Key for photos on Morris Island

About halfway through the posts on Morris Island, I realized the need to “show” the reader where I presumed the photo was taken.  After all, someone will give the high-resolution files another look and pick out details I missed.  All the more reason to start the conversation about exactly what is in frame.  So I’ve started a set of key maps to document my thoughts as to the camera locations.  Here’s my take on the second parallel photos:


The blue octagons are the locations of the camera.  Or at least by my reasoning.  The blue lines indicate the frame of view in the photo.  The links below correspond to the labels:

There are a few more photos of Battery Brown I have in the queue to discuss, so those labels will go in later.

So, what do you think?  From a presentation standpoint, does this work?  Are the graphics about the right size, or should I go with a “pinpoint” spot?  Please drop a note in the comments below.  I’ll finish up with the other key maps in turn.

Building up the fifth parallel for the final push on Battery Wagner

For August 30, 1863, Major Thomas Brooks offered a short entry in his journal:

The unfinished work of yesterday is in progress to-day. As the moon shines brightly to-night, and the enemy are firing constantly, no attempt was made to advance.

Lieutenant-Colonel Purviance, commanding Eighty-fifth Pennsylvania Volunteers, was killed during this tour of duty as commander of the special guard of the advanced trenches, by one of our own shells, which exploded prematurely.

Just a few days earlier, Brooks lamented, because of the inability to advance the siege lines. Now the operation appeared to be in a rut again. Having seized the ridge and opened the fifth parallel just a few hundred yards from Battery Wagner, the engineers encountered a new problem – moonlight. A full moon phase passed during the nights after the assault on the ridge:

  • August 27-28: 98% illumination. Moon rise 5:52 p.m. Set 5:31 a.m.
  • August 28-29: 100% illumination. Moon rise 6:31 p.m. Set 6:40 a.m.
  • August 29-30: 99% illumination. Moon rise 7:09 p.m. Set 7:47 a.m.
  • August 30-31: 95% illumination. Moon rise 7:47 p.m. Set 8:52 a.m.

While this allowed the Federals to see better during night operations, the light gave the Confederates a better view of the sap and any movement along the line. On the night of August 29, a well placed shell fired from Battery Wagner killed six in the advanced trenches. The advance of the siege lines would wait until darker nights.

While the Federals waited on the moon, they improved and expanded the fifth parallel.


This parallel offered wider spaces behind tall parapets. This became both staging point and battery. On the far left of the line, upon the ridge, a redan with a Billinghurst-Requa gun covered the front of the line. Along the main line of the parallel was a bomb-proof service magazine, a splinter-proof depot for the engineers, another splinter-proof shelter, and a large bomb-proof magazine. The profile of the later was recorded as line s-s’:


This magazine supported the main armament of the fifth parallel – mortars.  Four 10-inch siege mortars went on the center of the parallel. On the far right were three (some say four) 24-pdr coehorn mortars. Later three 10-inch siege mortars went into the left of the parallel. The siege mortars used the same platforms Brooks perfected on the earlier parallels. The proximity of these mortars to the target reduced the risk of friendly fire casualties.

Behind those mortar positions, the engineers placed another parapet. This allowed the infantry to move through the parallel without disturbing the mortar crews… or another way of looking at it, allowed them to avoid the dangerous concentration of gunpowder and shells. Such a “bypass” was not built on other sections of the line and reflected the need to rapidly move troops forward in support of a final rush towards the Confederate works.

On the far right, a large fascine parapet anchored the line on the beach. The structure was ten fascines wide and initially three high. The placement of the fascines allowed crews to move out onto the beach then into position to start the next siege approach line. Eventually another Billinghurst-Requa would occupy a position in that vicinity. But for the time being, the Federals were content to simply have the opening fortified in preparation for the next phase.

While not denoting major advances of the siege lines, Brooks’ report on August 30 was not the sullen entry recorded on the 25th. The Federals were compressing a coil of men and equipment. All they needed was a few dark nights to press forward towards their objective.

(Citation from OR, Series I, Volume 28, Part I, Serial 46, page 298.)

The Swamp Angel at 150

Last Saturday (August 24), Trenton, New Jersey rededicated the “Swamp Angel” in Cadwalader Park.  From New Jersey Online:

The massive, eight-ton cannon named Swamp Angel was memorialized in celebration of its 150th anniversary and a new marble plaque was unveiled at Cadwalader Park by members of the Camp Olden Civil War Round Table and Museum, Abraham Lincoln Camp 100, Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War and North Ward councilwoman Marge Caldwell-Wilson. (Full story.)

Rarely can we link a specific cannon to service with a particular unit.  In the case of the Swamp Angel, we can link it to a specific place, time, and event.  Prior posts have discussed the arrangements made for the Marsh Battery, construction of the battery, and a bit about the Swamp Angel’s use against a civilian target.  Let’s look to the damage and bursting of the gun, how it ended up in New Jersey, and give it a proper walk around.

On the night of August 23, Lieutenant Charles Sellmer, supervising a detachment of the 11th Maine Infantry, resumed the firing into Charleston.  After firing a few rounds, and experiencing some premature explosions, the crew encountered a serious problem with the gun, as recorded in the regimental history:

After the sixth shot the gunner called out, ‘I can’t get the priming wire down, sir!’ Examining the vent, it was found that the gun had moved in its jacket – the wrought-iron band shrunk around the breech of a Parrott gun! Although the priming wire would not go down, there was still sufficient space to ignite the charge with the primer.  The gun was injured beyond redemption; it might burst at any discharge.  In order to get all possible service out of it, Lieutenant Sellmer decided to fire the gun until it burst. The men were cautioned to go outside the battery at the command, ‘Ready,’ so as to be out of danger when it should burst. Number four, who discharged the gun, was given two lanyards tied together, that he might be protected by the epaulment.  In this way the service of the gun continued.  At the twentieth round fired that night, Lieutenant Sellmer desired to know the time of night, in order to calculate the rapidity of the firing.  Watch in hand, he placed himself on the left side of the gun, so as to see the time by the flash of the discharge.  He gave the command, ‘Fire.’  Instantly the whole battery was one sheet of flame.  The Parrott gun had burst.

Sellmer and three others were wounded with the bursting, but none were killed.  Sellmer received the worst of it, suffering a burst ear drum and having his hair, eyebrows, and mustache singed.  The gun burst at a point behind the vent, with the breech thrown back and the rest of the gun thrown forward, as seen in a wartime photo:

In his final report on the operations against Battery Wagner and Fort Sumter, then Major-General Quincy Gillmore included a diagram of the gun detailing the gun’s point of failure:


Just as described in the 11th Maine’s history, the break in the breech came just behind the vent.  Gillmore’s diagram indicated the band remained on the main portion of the gun, while the breech section broke out.  He also recorded the registry number and foundry number of the gun. The diagram above also compares well to a photograph – an incorrectly captioned photograph – found in the Library of Congress’ digital collection:

The photo shows the breech, to the left, with the cascabel just visible behind. The gun still has the band attached.  But before we conclude this is the Swamp Angel, I’d point out no markings are visible.  With so many burst Parrotts on Morris Island with similar failure patterns, proving this is the Swamp Angel, beyond doubt, would require more information.  But let’s just say this photo makes a good transition to the next phase of the gun’s story.

After examination by the ordnance officers and other interested parties, the Swamp Angel became just another bit of scrap metal.  The scraps were then sent north for sale. Charles Carr, of the Phoenix Iron Works of Trenton, New Jersey (no direct relation I know of to the Phoenix Iron Work of Phoenixville, Pennsylvania) purchased the Swamp Angel among other scraps. While waiting the smelter, someone working at the iron works recognized the gun.  With that, Carr preserved the gun.  Eventually the gun went to a memorial on the corners of North Clinton Avenue and Perry Street.  Lots of vintage photos on Trenton – notice the horse trough built into the original base.  The monument stood from 1877 to 1961.  At that time the city moved the gun to Cadwalader Park.

We can confirm the gun’s pedigree with a simple review of the muzzle stamps:

Trenton 14 Aug 10 373

The “No 6” is clear, as is “8 IN” for the caliber, “W.P.F.” for West Point Foundry and “A.M.” for Alfred Mordecai, the inspector.  Less clear is the weight stamp of 16,577 pounds, which is only partly seen in the damaged portion to the lower left.   The date stamp at the 2 o’clock position reads “1862.”  These are Army style stampings, ruling out this is somehow the Navy’s registry number 6.

The only other markings I noticed when visiting the gun was the inventor’s initials on the right trunnion – R.P.P. for Robert P. Parrott.

Trenton 14 Aug 10 379

The foundry number has long disappeared from the front sight base above the trunnion.

The breech was welded back on the gun in order to fit onto the monument base in 1877.

Trenton 14 Aug 10 380

But the band was removed, lost, or otherwise discarded.  Vestiges of the location the band joined the gun tube may be seen with a careful examination.

Trenton 14 Aug 10 384

And think, we know exactly the time and place that break was created.  An historical artifact, no doubt.

The cascabel lacks the block.   But otherwise it is a typical blade type used on the larger Parrotts.

Trenton 14 Aug 10 377

Looking down the line of sight, here Lieutenant Sellmer aligned the gun to a compass angle in the early hours of August 22.

Trenton 14 Aug 10 387

For comparison, this 8-inch Parrott at Fort Moultrie today is what the Swamp Angle looked like in service.

Fort Moultrie 3 May 2010 552

The missing band leaves it somewhat bare.  But it does show the underlying “ordnance shape” used by the large Parrotts.

Trenton 14 Aug 10 381

So there’s “No 6,” better known as the Swamp Angel.  Arguably one of the best documented cannons from the Civil War.  And one of the most famous guns used in the war.  Eight tons of Civil War history, immortalized in verse, sits today in a place of honor in Trenton.

(Citation from The Story of One Regiment: The Eleventh Maine Infantry Volunteers in the War of the Rebellion, Press of J. J. Little & Company, 1896, page 145.)