150 years ago: Fort Sumter “reduced to infantry outpost”

On the evening of August 23, 1863, the Federal breaching batteries against Fort Sumter ceased firing.  The pause marked the end of the “first bombardment” of the fort during the Morris Island campaign.  Summarizing the bombardment, Brigadier-General Quincy Gillmore wrote:

The barbette tier of the work was entirely destroyed. A few unserviceable pieces, still remaining on their carriages, were dismounted a week later. The casemates of the channel fronts were more or less thoroughly searched by our fire. We had reliable information that but one serviceable gun remained in them, and that pointed up the harbor toward the city. The fort was reduced to the condition of a mere infantry outpost, alike incapable of annoying our approaches to Fort Wagner or of inflicting injury upon the iron-clads. The enemy soon after commenced removing the dismounted guns by night, and not many weeks elapsed before several of them were mounted in other parts of the harbor. The period during which the weakness of the enemy’s interior defenses was most palpably apparent was during the ten days subsequent to the 23d of August.

From a surface examination, Gillmore had accomplished what he had set out to do – reduce Fort Sumter.  The fort could not fire in support of Battery Wagner.  Nor could it oppose any approach of the Federal Navy.  Gillmore provided this summary of the firing on Fort Sumter:


Of over 5,000 projectiles fired, by Gillmore’s observation 49% hit the fort on the targeted walls.  That tally does not count the projectiles landing on the fort’s parade ground, going into the walls on the north sides, or other areas of the fort.  Nor does that tally does not include projectiles fired by the Navy’s ironclads and gunboats.  The verb “reduced” implies the target has lost it’s structural integrity.  Again, from a strict sense of the word, that’s what was done.

On the receiving end of these fires, Captain John Johnson described the impact of those rounds in detail.  Prior to the bombardment, when Federal batteries were ranging Fort Sumter, Johnson recorded damage done by an 8-inch bolt:

The crater opened in this old masonry was but three feet in diameter and one and a half feet deep, but beyond the crater the projectile had penetrated three feet four inches, this making the total penetration on the slant line of fire, nearly 40º, equal to four feet ten inches. The measuring-rod was stopped by the base of the shot itself, imbedded in and nearly quite through the wall, which is here five feet thick.


The accompanying drawing illustrates the penetration to good effect.  It also shows the use of cotton and sand to back up the fort’s walls.

Multiply that damage by nearly 2,500 times.  Ends up looking something like this:

The Library of Congress entry for this photo indicates the date of this photo was August 23, 1863.  That would mean the photographer was standing somewhere around Battery Gregg.  Unless the Confederates obliged and allowed Haas and Peale to venture through the lines, I think that date is incorrect.

Likely at some point the archives attributed the photograph date based on this illustration from Gillmore’s official report:


See the similarity?


I’ve found some details in that photo which I’ll save for a post tomorrow.  But the one detail to keep at the fore is the flag on the left.  Reminds me of this grainy view from the Advanced Gun at Battery Hays:

Setting aside the photo analysis for the moment, let me offer up the “other side” of the numbers.  The Confederates recorded the number of projectiles fired at Fort Sumter in daily journal entries:

  • August 17 – 919 fired, 455 hits outside, 218 hits inside, 266 misses.
  • August 18 – 876 fired, 452 hits outside, 244 hits inside, 180 misses.
  • August 19 – 780 fired, 408 hits outside, 241 hits inside, 131 misses.
  • August 20 – 879 fired, 408 hits outside, 296 hits inside, 175 misses.
  • August 21 – 943 fired, 465 hits outside, 259 hits inside, 219 misses.
  • August 22 – 604 fired, 203 hits outside, 216 hits inside, 185 misses.
  • August 23 – 633 fired, 282 hits outside, 210 hits inside, 141 misses.

The aggregate totals recorded by the Confederates were 5,634 projectiles fired at Fort Sumter, of which 4,357 hit the fort in one way or another while 1,297 missed.  Those numbers, of course, included those fired by the Navy.  An incredible weight of metal no matter how you measure it.

However, while weight of metal may have reduced Fort Sumter in one sense, it had not rendered it indefensible.  The Confederates could still use that bastion as a bulwark against the Federals.

(Citations and sources:  OR, Series I, Volume 28, Part I, Serial 46, pages 23, 601, and 611-616;  John Johnson, The Defense of Charleston Harbor: Including Fort Sumter and the Adjacent Islands, 1863-1865, Walker, Evans & Cogswell Company, 1890, page 117;  Photo credit: Library of Congress collection, LC-DIG-cwpb-04743.)

The March on Washington passed through Morris Island 100 years earlier

As I left work yesterday, there was a flurry of activity around the National Mall, Freedom Plaza, open spaces in Federal Triangle, and elsewhere.  A lot of preparation for an anniversary observance – 50th Anniversary of the Civil Rights March on Washington.

So why would I bring that up on a Civil War blog?  Oh, yes the whole Civil-War-to-Civil-Rights theme.  If you have read this blog for long, you know I have some concerns about how that theme is presented in, if you want to call it such, “pop history.”  In the effort to try to summarize a complex topic into a short paragraph, or even one sentence, there is a great disservice to history.  And even when given ample space to explore the complexity of the topic, historians often botch the job.  See for instance the performance (yes, let’s call it what it was) of Doris Kerns Goodwin at Gettysburg on June 30 of this year.  The failing there, as with so many of the Civil-War-to-Civil-Rights efforts is the reluctance to look at the details – what I call the mechanics – of how Civil Rights were advanced during, through, and as a reaction to the Civil War.  Instead, we tend to see what I’ve called a “bad grafting” of the two lines.  Again, as with Goodwin talking for nearly an hour and only mentioning “war” in the context of her anti-war activity in the 1960s.

A reason, but not the only reason, the Civil-War-to-Civil-Rights theme escapes capture into a single passage is because the advance of Civil Rights was, and is, one of increments.  It involves bus seats, lunch counters, pay scales, and other smaller points that tend to build the larger change.  Martin Luther King’s speech on August 28, 1963 did not directly change practices, but rather it changed minds.  Many minds then were inspired to press changes, small and large.  Such is the story of Civil Rights.  But King’s speech came at a time when the crucible of the times, a combination of social and international pressures, laid bare many issues of equality in the nation.

The same was true of the times 100 years prior to King’s speech.  There’s a wealth of primary source materials which we can draw upon to better illustrate this Civil-War-to-Civil-Rights theme, and show those incremental advances.  But most often that requires a great deal of context, offered by the writer, and understanding, assumed by the reader, when coming to grip with this complex theme.  Indeed, both subject lines in their own right are complex themes, making the confluence even more so.  Both deserve study, in and out.  We need to delve into those details.  We should look at examples where the war forced authorities, military and civilian, to address inequality and thus in some increments advance Civil Rights by establishing precedence.

Crystal N Feimster, mentioned one of those in her recent New York Times Disunion blog post, “Rape and Justice in the Civil War.” (And of course expands upon that in her book.)  As the war progressed, the military leaders had to deal with situations where soldiers took advantage of the recently freed slaves. In particular, rape of former slaves.  The application of the Lieber Code in those cases forced authorities to view African-American women, formerly slaves, as humans deserving equal protection under the law.  Not exactly a sweeping change that is easily explained in a single sentence.  To understand it at all, we need to delve into the Lieber Code and why it existed at all.   And to see that, we have to take up a lot of questions about situations on the front lines of the war.

Another example, closer to my themes of late on this blog, comes from Morris Island.  Brigadier-General Qunicy Gillmore issued General Orders No. 77 on September 17, 1863.  Section I of that order read:

It has come to the knowledge of the brigadier-general commanding that the detachments of colored troops detailed for fatigue duty have been employed, in one instance at least, to prepare camps and perform menial duty for white troops. Such use of these details is unauthorized and improper, and is hereafter expressly prohibited.

Commanding officers of colored regiments are directed to report promptly to these headquarters any violations of this order which may come to their knowledge.

Labor equality?  In 1863? Yes, 100 years before the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.  No, we can’t go so far to say Quincy Gillmore was a “drum major.”  But someone out there on Morris Island in the summer of 1863 would qualify.

That order was the result of specific situations on Morris Island.  My blog postings of late have chipped away at the context of those situations, by looking at the details of the work done.  What I really need to do to better weld the connection here is highlight the nature of the fatigue details employed… or in short identify who was building what sections of the trenches at what time.  In some cases, that is well documented.  For instance the engineers noted the work of the 3rd US Colored Troops on the fourth parallel.  But in other cases the source material is hard to come by.  No excuse, because that’s the sort of quest which drive historians to perfection.  And I accept that challenge.

And the fatigue detail order is not a singular example from Morris Island.  The campaign abounds with examples of Civil-War-to-Civil-Rights – the trial of prisoners of the 54th Massachusetts, handling of runaways from the Confederate work details, integrated teams working in the trenches of Morris Island, general Confederate dealing with the USCT, and more.  (To the point one has to wonder, “where’s the book?”)

If we are going to bring up waypoints on the journey of Civil Rights, then we have an obligation to discuss why those are waypoints to begin with.  We must examine the ground on which that waypoint is placed.  And along with that the line of march between that and the next waypoint. Doesn’t matter if we are talking about the Emancipation Proclamation, the Buffalo Soldiers, the 93rd Infantry Division, the Tuskegee Airmen, Jackie Robinson, or, as we are today, the March on Washington.

Civil-War-to-Civil-Rights should not just be some compulsory blurb in the line of public interpretation.  We should put some weight to that story.