British and American rifles against Fort Sumter: The Naval Battery on Morris Island

Yesterday I mentioned, or more precisely cited Rear-Admiral John Dahlgren’s mention, of the Navy’s contribution to the siege batteries on Morris Island. Dahlgren placed a detachment of sailors, manning two 8-inch Parrotts and two 70-pdr Whitworth rifles, under Commander Foxhall Parker.

The Naval Battery lay to the left of Battery Reynolds on the first parallel. Work on those positions started on July 25, as Colonel Edward Serrell described in his report:

… two batteries were begun in the first line of works, which was now known as the first parallel, in which to mount four naval guns. Heavy parties were worked at night and, as far as practicable, during the day until these batteries were finished. They occupied the center of the line, and had two 200-pounder Parrott rifled guns and two 80-pounder Whitworth guns mounted in them.

Serrell credited Lieutenant James Baxter, though he was seriously wounded during the operation, with the work on the battery. The battery stood 3,980 yards from Fort Sumter; 2,590 yards from Battery Gregg; and 1,335 yards from Battery Wagner.

Serrell included a plan of these works in his report.


The layout matches, though not exactly, with that depicted by Major Thomas Brooks in his map of the siege lines.


Notice the angle of the gun platforms in Serrell’s plan compared to those in Brooks’ map. To settle this, let’s go to some photographs.

In this photo we see the two 8-inch Parrotts. Hard to tell if the platforms are angled to the left. If pressed, I would say not. Notice the carriages.


The Navy not only brought the guns ashore, but provided the carriages. Wood carriages, mind you, not wrought iron like the Army’s.

The marsh behind the battery, to the left of the frame, fixes the battery location. Do you see any sand crabs scurrying about?


On the left side of the works is what appears to be a splinter-proof, which could be the magazine shown on Serrell’s plan. But it appears to have collapsed… or was just never set upright.


Those two gentlemen have army garb. A shovel and other implements around them may indicate these fellows were part of a work detail maintaining the works.

But looking to the right, we see men in naval uniforms. Those are, beyond doubt, Parker’s sailors. Their gear hangs from stakes in the sandbags.


But this is “To the Sound of the Guns” and you came here to look at guns! So here’s one of those 8-inch Parrotts.


Good study of the naval carriage from the rear. Rollers allowed the carriage to pivot. I’ll save discussion of the carriage particulars for another day. But let me point out the fellow’s right foot rests upon the rear hurter of the carriage. The rollers are the rear transoms. The top portion of the rear rollers are seen just above the hurter. Those, fixed to the truck of the carriage, allowed controlled recoil. Notice the crew has posed for the camera, complete with a fixed, taught lanyard.

The gun to the right doesn’t have a lanyard, but we can make out details of the elevating screw and the rear sight. Overall a better view of the rear of the truck. Notice the tackle hooked to the rear.


And the guy on the right? His picture appears in the dictionary under “Navy Tar.” With a beard like that, you know he had some stories to tell. What you don’t see around this section is a lot of clutter. The ropes, tackle, and implements appear ready for use, or at least just set down from being used (like the ropes and pulley in the cropped section above). No bottles, trash, or refuse.

A couple of observers look over the works, perhaps calling up the next shot. Or perhaps determining the damage done by the last shot.


But let us look at the bottom of the frame at the details of the magazine below. A double layer of wood supports a layer of sandbags. There are canteens stuck in between the wood. And that is a good transition to the next photo ….


The same structure seen in the other photograph of the Naval Battery:

There’s a large sponge, probably for the Parrotts, laying against the magazine behind the battery. But what we see here in center frame are two 70-pdr Whitworths (I explained my justification for not using the designation 80-pdr in an earlier post.)

Look close at the writing on the carriage – “Rear Admiral S.F. DuPont // Port Royal // S.C. // For an 80 pdr. Whitworth Rifle.” Notice those tick marks under Rear-Admiral. Are those the number of shots fired?


The boots on the carriage cheeks and the disarray around this battery stand in contrast to those of the Parrotts.


The crew does not even appear interested in posing for the camera.

One fine detail that catches the eye – a Whitworth bolt laying in the sand.


Commander Parker recorded the Whitworths fired 222 solid projectiles, “of which 98 hit and 124 missed the fort.” One of these guns was disabled during the bombardment of Fort Sumter, as the bands slipped past the vent. Parker complained the shot often jammed in the bore. Brigadier-General John Turner, supervising the artillery during the bombardment, considered the Whitworths inaccurate and difficult to load. A ramming incident resulted in four killed sailors. After that the Whitworths remained silent. On the other hand, the Parrotts performed well. Parker recorded 703 shots, including 373 hitting Fort Sumter.

So we might say with a little patriotic spirit that the Yankee Parrotts out gunned John Bull’s Whitworths in on Morris Island. But these four guns were but a part of a larger, massive force oriented towards the Confederate stronghold at Fort Sumter. But a drop in the bucket of the rain of projectiles falling on that bastion starting in mid-August.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 28, Part I, Serial 46, pages 223 and 229. Naval OR, Series I, Volume 14, page 472.)

Published by Craig Swain

"Historical marker hunter" and Civil War enthusiast.

7 thoughts on “British and American rifles against Fort Sumter: The Naval Battery on Morris Island

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