150 years ago: Captain Suess completes the surf battery

On a busy journal entry for August 11, 1863, Major Thomas Brooks, among the many items listed detailing work done on Morris Island, included a solitary line acknowledging completion of a unique structure:

Captain [John L.] Suess finished the surf battery.

The surf battery was an emplacement on the far right end (bottom of the map below) of the second parallel.


To understand what made this position unique, consider the shadings on the map. The dotted area at the bottom of this cropped section is beach. The extents indicate the extreme high and low tide water marks. The Federals remained concerned the Confederates might attempt to flank the positions with a night or early morning assault down the beach. So just as they anchored the works to the creek on the left of the parallel, on the right the engineers looked for a way to block the beach.

But if as anyone who has ever built a sand castle on the beach will attest, anything constructed on those sands is apt to be erased a few hours after completion. In this case, the Federal engineers looked to build a structure looking more like a board walk than a siege work:


Using piles and cribbing, the work extended from the vicinity of Battery Brown. The piles were seven inch diameter posts, driven about three and a half feet into the sand. The cribs were built with 6 to 12 inch diameter logs, anchored on the piles. Rope fastened the wood, as the engineers feared the noise of hammers would attract unwanted attention.

Brooks described the surf battery’s arrangement as part of Note No. 4 to his report of operations on Morris Island:

Its foundation was a strong crib, 32 by 36 feet, built of heavy logs fastened together with ropes. On this was spiked a platform of heavy plank, 30 feet front by 25 feet wide at the bottom, its surface just above the highest tides. On the front of this platform was built a sand-bag parapet 11 feet wide, 6 ½ feet high, and having a slope of 1 to 3 inside and 2 to 3 outside. At each flank of the battery was built a light sand-bag epaulement, containing a recess 2 by 2 by 3 feet, for ammunition.

Working from the diagrams provided, profile A-B shows the platform setup for three Billinghurst-Requa batteries on the land-side of the battery:


Later these were replaced by boat howitzers.

Looking at profile lines C-D and E-F, the walkway extending over the beach provided a breastwork for infantry.


Figure 8 (C-D) was the further out from the shore, and has higher crib work stack as a result.

At the far end of the battery was a position, complete with either sandbags or sod bricks (hard to tell from the diagram), for two field howitzers. The crib work spread the weight of this battery across a wide area of the beach.


The rear view shows two embrasures providing fields of fire directly up the beach. Not seen is another embrasure to the left, facing the shore and allowing the left most howitzer to fire across the ground in front of the howitzer battery in front of Battery Brown. These embrasures were the iron plate type constructed from the blockade-runner Ruby.

As constructed, the surf battery closed off any approach by way of the beach, covered the front of the second parallel, and offered support for the men in the trenches reaching forward to Battery Wagner. Of all the works on Morris Island, I would most like to see a high resolution photo of the surf battery. Unfortunately, I fear we only catch fleeting glimpses from a distance of this interesting structure. I’ll get to one of those photos in a later post.


(Citations and illustration from OR, Series I, Volume 28, Part I, Serial 46, pages 285 and 307-8.)