Looking at Fort Sumter: 150 years ago

Let’s take in this photo of Fort Sumter and examine a bit closer:

This is from the Library of Congress collection, reproduction number LC-DIG-cwpb-04743. The mark on the lower left indicates this is also part of the Haas & Peale set which you are by now familiar with.  Earlier I mentioned my doubt the date given in in the metadata for this photo.  If this was taken on August 23, 1863, then a lot of things had to happen for the photographers to setup… not the least of which a flag of truce for the team to walk out on the battlefield.

Let me counteract the slant to the photo to show Fort Sumter without you having to adjust the monitor.


This is looking at the fort with the gorge wall on the left and the east facing of the fort to the right.  Here’s the orientation:


Notice the north seeking arrow to the right.  If you turn that arrow around, the camera is on the north end of Morris Island.

Before we get too far, lets look close at that flag on the left.


Reminds me of a Conrad Wise Chapman’s painting of the fort:


Maybe that is the Second National “Stainless Banner” over Fort Sumter?

Looking to the left side of the view, the parapet on the barbette tier is worse for the wear, missing its crown.


Looks as if someone is standing on the fort’s footings, perhaps a sentry or an engineer reviewing the damage.  Another figure on the parapet wearing a white shirt appears to be working.

Further right are the remains of the fort’s old wharf.  By the summer of 1863 that was no longer in use, as Federal artillery made it untenable.


On the top profile of the fort is what appears to be one of the fort’s remaining watch towers along with the silhouette of a gun in barbette.


Only after the first bombardment were guns replaced on the barbette tier facing the main entrance to Charleston.  So this is one hint which may help date the photo.

Further down on the fort, there are mountains of rubble.  Large blocks were visible even at the range of the photographer from the fort.  But I think the range was too great to see projectiles.


The interior brickwork was exposed at the juncture of the gorge and east face walls.  Look closely to the lower right.


See that blurry object?


I think that is a Confederate “revised pattern” columbiad, with the breech in the center of that crop, one of the trunnions to the left of center, and muzzle pointed back towards the fort’s rubble.  Several photos from 1865 show such guns in similar positions in the rubble.

Above that blurry object, the interior arches where the two walls meet are in open air.


Further right, more breaches in the wall expose parts of the casemates of the east wall.


Some of those breaches match with descriptions of damage done after August 23.  Again, a hint as to the possible date the photo was taken.

On the far right side of the fort is the corner where the east face and northeast face meet.


The background of these photos often reveal clues as to the photograph’s location and date.  Here we see houses on Sullivan’s Island.


And… what in the name of John Ericsson is that?


I think this is a structure on the wharfs of Sullivan’s Island, perhaps a shed, which fools the eye.  I cannot imagine a monitor working that far into the channel in wartime.  Furthermore, I doubt the deep draft of the monitors would allow docking at Sullivan’s Island.

Other locations on Sullivan’s Island look to be the bomb-proofs of Battery Bee.


There are hints and pointers that lead me to conclude this photo was taken sometime after September 7, 1863.  This is, I think, the most telling.


A bayonet stuck in the sand.  Behind it is nothing but water.  If this photo were taken anywhere but Cummings Point, we’d see marsh and beach behind.  And the only way a northern photographer was going to Cummings Point was after the Federals had occupied all of Morris Island.

“The saddest day of the siege” of Battery Wagner

Writing about the operations outside Charleston is a daunting task.  There’s simply too many topics to touch upon.  I might spend days with nothing more on the blog than posts about Morris Island – which is what I’ve done for the last month or more!

Let me start by saying that yes, the “first bombardment” of Fort Sumter ended on August 23.  But then let me say that the bombardment of Fort Sumter didn’t end that day.  It only slacked.  From the journal entries kept by Colonel Alfred Rhett in Fort Sumter, while clearly the weight of projectiles falling on Fort Sumter dropped down, the Federals were not ignoring the fort:

  • August 24 – 150 fired, 112 hits outside, 14 hits inside, 24 missed.
  • August 25 – 175 fired, 62 hits outside, 36 hits inside, 77 missed.
  • August 26 – 130 fired, 45 hits outside, 45 hits inside, 40 missed.
  • August 27 – 4 fired, all missed.
  • August 28 – 6 fired, 3 hits outside, 3 missed.
  • August 29 – No firing.
  • August 30 – 634 fired, 322 hits outside, 168 hits inside, 144 missed.
  • August 31 – 56 fired, 34 hits outside, 5 hits inside, 17 missed.
  • September 1 – 382 fired, 166 hits outside, 95 hits inside, 121 missed.
  • September 2 – 38 fired, 12 hits outside, 9 hits inside, 17 missed.

Both Federal and Confederate accounts, however, consider August 17-23 as the “first bombardment of Fort Sumter” phase, while that from August 24 forward marked a period of focus on Battery Wagner.  The surge of fire on August 30? For several days Rear-Admiral John Dahlgren prepared to make the long desired run into Charleston harbor.  For several days bad weather, reports of guns remounted on Fort Sumter, poor coordination, and delays just getting all the pieces together kept that sortie in check.  Finally set for the morning of August 31, the Army directed shots to break up the week’s worth of repairs done by Rhett’s men.  However, the weather again delayed the planned ironclad attack.

If Fort Sumter enjoyed a noisy “slackening” of fires from the Federal guns, Battery Wagner received the full wrath of those guns.  Sensing a point of diminishing returns with continued punishment of Fort Sumter, Gillmore made a tactical shift starting on August 24.  Starting that day, Federal batteries focused fires to keep the guns in Battery Wagner silent and, with some of the larger guns, attempt to breach the bomb-proofs providing shelter to the Confederates.

To really make this work, Gillmore needed the siege mortars much closer to the Confederate works.  But when the positioning of the fourth parallel fell a bit short of the desired line, the Federals spent several days just gaining leverage.  On the ground, or shall I say beach, the Federals faced a cross fire as they tried to move their siege lines forward.  With every move of the sap, fires from Battery Wagner, Battery Gregg, James Island, and occasionally even a defiant Fort Sumter focused on the work details. In his journal, Major Thomas Brooks lamented on August 25:

This has been to me the saddest day of the siege.  Less has been done in existing works than on any other; no advance has been made, nor does any seem possible.  Something besides spades and sharpshooters will have to be tried.  The troops seem to be resting from the labor and excitement of demolishing Sumter, and do not yet take much interest in the operations against Wagner.

Although on the calendar, Brooks and his compatriots were past the “dog days” of summer, I doubt that helped much with the spirits.  The break that Brooks looked for came on August 26, and was indeed something more than spades and sharpshooters.  I’ll take that up tomorrow.

For now, I want to consider the difference between this drawing:


And this photo:


And perhaps how that “slackening” fire listed above might explain any discrepancies, while at the same time helping to better determine when the photo was taken.

(Citations and sources:  OR, Series I, Volume 28, Part I, Serial 46, pages 26, 295, and 616-21.)