Beachfront comfort: Morris Island’s combination lookout, telegraph office, magazine and latrine

Let me take a turn away from the batteries and big guns and discuss a very important structure that stood just behind the second parallel, to the side of Battery Brown. All well and good to have those Parrott rifles pointed at Fort Sumter and Battery Wagner. Looking again at the close up of that section of the second parallel, there is a large bombproof magazine, annotated as “B.P.M.” to the far left-center of the snip:


Now this wasn’t just some ordinary old bombproof. Several things went on around it. You see “Look out”, “Telegraph off.”, and “Sink” around the B.P.M. A sink? Well actually, a latrine. Major Thomas Brooks described this layout in his July 28, 1863 journal entry, noting he “began a lookout of sand-bags on top of the large magazine, and a splinter-proof latrine, found to be necessary, on the west side.” Hey, when the soldiers had to *go*, they didn’t want enemy splinters interfering with their business!

The other facilities on the bombproof were built with command and control in mind. But at some point, Brigadier-General Quincy Gillmore had to control all those big guns. He maintained a headquarters on Folly island. There he could connect with the rest of his far flung command via signals and dispatch vessels, coordinate the flow of supplies and reinforcements for Morris Island, and still have some connection to the front siege lines. He did that last activity by way of a telegraph line running across Light House Inlet (saving that for another day) up to the second parallel. There a telegraph station in the bombproof could relay status reports and orders. If Gillmore required a quick review of progress, a lookout station on top of the magazine was conveniently close to the telegraph.

In his notes, Brooks described the structure built from a fame of “heavy timbers, sheeted with plank.” He added, “Sand-bags were used for revetting throughout.” Brooks provided detailed diagrams of the finished structure as part of his report:


The layout placed a lot of sandbags between the magazine and Battery Wagner. The telegraph office was sort of a wing off the main structure, but likewise well protected. The lookout steps ran up the south side of the bombproof. And, as mentioned, the sink… er… latrine worked into the west side of the structure.


Looking at the north-south line (or A-B on the overhead plan), notice the magazine lay low inside the structure. The lookout position and stairs had ample protection in the form of head-high sandbags.


The east-west line (C-D on the overhead) shows the extent of the internal constructs. The magazine had a vent to keep down temperatures. No comment on the lack of vent for the latrine.

While not a gun position, this main magazine/telegraph office/lookout/latrine was a structure worth a photograph.

Working from the right, there is the telegraph office, with a wooden sign indicating “Head Quarters.”


Sharp looking fellow there, who knew he was being “made famous” by the photographer. Beside him is a pole. If you look to the top of the pole, there’s a telegraph wire leading off towards the south end of the island.


I could venture a few guesses as to who the officer is here. Brigadier-General Alfred Terry? At any rate, he has something stuffed in his front pocket. Wish the resolution allowed us to see a word or two.

Looking to the left, a few officers and soldiers stand at the entrance to the magazine.


Appears to be a serious conversation there, with one fellow giving some explicit instructions. Or perhaps a staged scene?

What’s that at their feet? Looks like a stretcher.


Further left, a couple of men lounge on the lookout station.


Looking back to the right, we see the vent above the magazine. Sort of a birdhouse structure.


Back on the right, a corporal stands between a wheelbarrow and a couple of barrels.


And on the right, a barely recognizable soldier sits on the dune next to a cross-cut saw.


Lots of debris on the ground around the magazine – shells, cut logs, sticks, and other discarded items.


But this is what caught your eye, for sure. Yes, that is a torpedo, or as we’d call it today, an “improvised explosive device.”


What is that doing at headquarters? I’d venture a guess and say it was retrieved for examination. Notice the hole on the side facing the camera. Engineers would drill out a hole in these torpedoes, pour in water to make the powder inert, then clear them out.

Where is the fuse? Looks to me that was removed so someone could do some “product placement.” Sarsaparilla, or something stouter?


Lot of activity around the combination lookout, telegraph office, headquarters, magazine, and latrine. With time, however, that beachfront property eroded into the sea, lost forever save for this photo.