Protecting the second parallel: the howitzer battery on Morris Island

Before getting started on this post, let me first thank readers Jeanette and Mark who helped locate some of the Haas & Peale photographs that are missing from the Library of Congress online digital collection. Let me also extend thanks to the folks at the Hagley Museum and Library for allowing use of those images.

Earlier when discussing Battery Brown on the second parallel, I mentioned a four howitzer battery to its front. That howitzer battery provided defensive firepower while the Federal engineers worked on the main breaching batteries. Looking at the appropriate section of Major Thomas Brooks’ map of the siege lines, the howitzer battery is just left of center in the snip below:


Brooks offered a profile of Battery Brown and the howitzer battery, this along the line marked a-a’ on the map above:


In addition, he offered a profile of the far left of the howitzer battery, showing the location of the magazine for those field pieces. This profile is along the line of b-b’ on Brooks’ map:


While the other batteries required substantial magazine space, the howitzer battery could get by with space for a few chests. So the engineers built a magazine for ready use rounds out of barrels neatly tucked under the sandbags of the main parallel works. To the front is walk-space for the infantry. That front revetment included more sandbags, a sod facing, and stakes driven down at an angle.

Why all these elaborate works? Recall the second parallel became the “main line” of defense. Those works had to hold any Confederate spoiling attack on the breaching batteries. The center-piece of that defense were four 12-pdr field howitzers of Lieutenant Guy V. Henry’s Battery B, 1st U.S. Artillery.

Do we have a photo of those howitzers? Sure do! The Hagley Museum and Library has in their collection of Haas & Peale photographs, one showing all four of Henry’s howitzers:


As with the other photos taken that summer by Haas & Peale, this one deserves careful examination.

Two of the howitzers are ready to fire, with lanyards taught. Here’s the second howitzer from the right.


And this one is on the far left.


In both cases the prolonge is in position on the stock. As is the handspike.

The other two howitzers are being readied for action. On the second from the left, the number 3 man has his thumb on the vent. The number 1 man appears to be ramming a round.


The gunner is sighting the piece. On the howitzer to the far right, the gunner is likewise getting the piece lined up. The number 3 man in this case is on the handspike.


Just conjecture on my part here. But if this were a staged photo, why not have all four howitzers poised for a volley? There seems to be much activity throughout the battery. Almost as if the the photographers caught the men doing real work! The range from the howitzers to Battery Wagner was under 800 yards. The maximum range for a 12-pdr Field Howitzer Model 1841 was 1072 yards. Maybe Battery B was covering the work on the forward parallels by throwing a few shells.

The battery position appears generally well kept, for a position exposed on the beach that is. A pile of debris to the rear of the howitzers appears to be a tarp and some broken shipping boxes. I think the cans on the right are just that – cans.


The battery’s parapet has the mix of sandbags and gabions seen on other photos of the Morris Island works.


To the rear of the battery is a pile of what looks like busted gabions.


I see a story line, though not a headline grabber. Gabions, like any other component of the earthworks, require maintenance. This was part of that maintenance, with engineers directing details to replace what weathered and broke.

I do wish we had a better angle to the left to see what the barrels used for the magazine looked like.


And some fellow is standing in the way.

Another interesting aspect to this photo is in the right foreground.


Just a puddle, yes. But a reminder that Morris Island was not far above sea level. The high tides, spring tides in particular, flooded over the Federal lines making the work that much harder. Life was not a beach on Morris Island that summer.