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.)


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