We took Fleetwood Hill. Brandy Station win!

I had the pleasure of attending Governor Bob McDonnell’s press conference today announcing some $2.25 million from the Virginia Civil War Sites Preservation Fund applied to battlefield acquisitions.

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The grants applied to preserve some 1,265 total acres on twelve battlefields – Appomattox Court House, Ball’s Bluff, Beaver Dam Creek (Mechanicsville), Cedar Creek, Chancellorsville, Deep Bottom, Kelly’s Ford, Malvern Hill, Rappahannock Station, Second Manassas, Sailor’s Creek, and as my friend Eric Wittenberg announced earlier, Brandy Station.

An article from Leesburg Today offers details about the governor’s speech (and part of the speech is posted to YouTube).  The governor cited what he called the “Three E’s of Preservation” – education, environment, and economy.  We have ample examples of those here in Virginia, especially in the middle of the sesquicentennial.   The 1,265 acres added this year by way of the state program raises the total to 4,587 acres all time.

But the big news, as far as I am concerned, was that one recipient of grant money under this program was Central Virginia Battlefields Trust.  And that money was applied to the purchase of Fleetwood Hill at Brandy Station.

Over a year ago, I was among those calling to take advantage of the property’s listing on the market.  The price seemed high, almost out of reach.  But the Civil War Trust worked to secure grants, and several individuals worked behind the scenes to secure large donations.  All the pieces came together.   That ground, which has been called the most fought over hilltop in Virginia, if not the Civil War…

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… is now on the list of lands set aside for preservation.  Soon, we’ll be able to walk that high ground to appreciate what those 150 years ago contested.  There’s a little work to do, not the least of which will be dealing with the modern structures, but all in time.

Brandy Station 2013 is a win!

The biggest rifle: 10-inch Parrott in Battery Strong

If Batteries Reno and Stevens were somewhat “same old, same old,” then Battery Strong was a one-off solution.

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Battery Strong stood roughly 20 yards to the left and behind Battery Stevens.  What made Battery Strong different from the others on in the breaching batteries was its armament – a single 10-inch (300-pounder) Parrott Rifle.  That weapon was the largest gun, in terms of caliber, fired on Fort Sumter.  Indeed, it was the largest rifle employed by Federals anywhere during the Civil War.

Anticipating the need for a heavy breaching weapon for use against Fort Sumter, Brigadier-General Quincy Gilmore requested a 10-inch Parrott on July 13, 1863.  The gun was at New York at the time and arrived in South Carolina sometime in early August.  Lieutenant Peter Michie laid out Battery Strong starting on August 12, constructing an elevated battery, “protected from James Island rebel batteries, and have full command of the channel from a little to our left of Fort Sumter, seaward.”   A profile of this battery appeared in the maps provided with the Official Reports, along the line A-B on the main map (above):

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Michie faced a daunting task, from an engineering perspective:

Having no experience to guide me in the construction of a battery for a gun of such a caliber, and knowing its value in the eyes of all, it is not surprising that every precaution was taken to guard it from every possible accident. Being also unaware of the effects of its discharge in reference to its disturbing influence on the ground in its immediate vicinity, and fearful that, with such a mobile and shifting material as sand, the ordinary revetments would not withstand its discharge, great precautions were taken to counteract every supposable effect.

Michie offered these dimensions for the battery:

  • Height of crest of parapet above marsh at high tide – 20 feet
  • Height of crest of parapet above gun platform – 12 feet
  • Height of barbette above platform – 5 feet
  • Thickness of parapet at top – 18 feet
  • Thickness of barbette at top – 25 feet
  • Radius of epaulement at base – 12 feet
  • Interior slope ratio of 3 to 1
  • Distance from center pintle of carriage to foot of interior slope – 7 feet, 3 inches
  • Magazine – 10 foot long, 15 foot deep, 6 foot interior height.

Michie had sandbags laid on top of the dunes to form the parapet and epaulement.  After laying sandbags to a thickness of two feet, the engineers laid another foot thickness of marsh sod.  This arrangement proved durable against the rains and also reduced the sand blowing about the battery.  Notice also the “terrace” in front of the battery, formed by sand thrown forward during the construction of the position.

But a serious issue, alluded to in the quote above, arose with the embrasures and footings in front of the gun. After trying several arrangements, the engineers settled on the same setup found to work with the smaller Parrotts. “The single cheek of the embrasure was revetted with gabions, and the sole or barbette was laid with fascines, everything else tried being unable to withstand the powerful blast of the piece.”

The size of projectiles required a variation when compared to other batteries on Morris Island.  “For facility in loading, steps were arranged to lead to a box or trough in front of the muzzle, and sunk in the parapet, which permitted 4 men to stand while lifting the shell into the piece.”  And those were 250-pound shells, mind you.

The range from Battery Strong to Fort Sumter was 4,345 yards.  The 10-inch Parrott reached that target with an elevation of 13° 30′ and a 26 pound charge.  The range to Battery Gregg was 2,950 yards.  And that to Battery Wagner was 1,900 yards.

Troops from the 7th Connecticut Infantry manned the big gun, under direction of Captain Sylvester Gray of that regiment.  Some of those troops appear in the three photos taken of the battery with the big Parrott.

This is one of the most widely reproduced photos from Morris Island (and probably ranks among the most often seen Civil War photos, period).  The first thing that catches the eye is that broken muzzle.  I’ll get to that story in turn, but the short version is a shell burst prematurely near the muzzle.  The crew chipped the cracked metal away from the muzzle, leaving that rough face.  The gun continued to give good service until yet another premature explosion put it out of action. A replacement 10-inch Parrott arrived after September, adding its weight to subsequent operations against Charleston.

Note the sod bricks on the epaulement to the right.  The crew demonstrates the other practical use for a 10-inch Parrott – providing some shade from the sun on a hot South Carolina day.  In another view the crew stood away from the front of the gun.

The structure in the foreground is the lower lip of the embrasure.  A different view, from the interior of the battery, captured the big Parrott in profile.

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Fine study of the wrought iron, center-pintle carriage.  But also note the fascines and steps in front of the gun. And again, notice the sod bricks on the epaulement in the background.

One other structure at Battery Strong mentioned by Michie was a bombproof for use by the signal and telegraph operators.  He described it briefly as 11 feet square.  I think, but have not confirmed, that this photograph from the Haas & Peale collection is that bombproof:

In his report, Michie mentioned several other engineers who helped construct Battery Strong, giving credit to Lieutenant Patrick McGuire, Sergeant Lionel Anyan, and Sergeant Samuel Clark, all from the 1st New York Engineers.  The battery was an accomplishment of improvisation, given the lack of experience to guide the team.  As such “practical and useful ideas” were at a premium during the construction of Battery Strong (and elsewhere on Morris Island, as we have seen.)

Let me pause with the story of this big Parrott firing from Battery Strong, and promise to pick it up later as part of the discussion of the bombardment of Fort Sumter.

Photo CreditsLibrary of Congress digital collection, reproduction numbers  LC-DIG-cwpb-04726LC-DIG-cwpb-04727, and LC-DIG-cwpb-04724.   Hagley Museum and Library, Haas & Peale collection, 300-pdr Gun.

CitationsLieutenant Michie’s report, OR, Series I, Volume 28, Part I, Serial 46, page 338.