150 Years Ago: A minor little bombardment of Fort Sumter

From September 9 through September 27, 1863, the Federal batteries on Morris Island remained, relatively speaking, quiet.  But for an occasional ranging shot or short exchange of fire, the Federals focused on building and improving what was Battery Gregg into Fort Putnam.  The same might not be said for the lines between Major-General Quincy Gillmore and Rear-Admiral John Dahlgren.

Back in July, the plan had been to land on Morris Island, claim Battery Wagner by (short) siege, reduce Fort Sumter, then support the Navy as it forced its way into Charleston’s harbor.  When the early failures in July lead to a dual siege in August, Gillmore had leaned heavily on the Navy for support. Now with Morris Island in hand and Fort Sumter a shell of its former self, Gillmore was ready for the Navy to take up the lead.  But Dahlgren saw things differently.  Having operated for an extended time in the summer months practically engaged every day, the ironclads were in need of refit and crews in need of rest.  The lax days of September provided a much needed rest.  However, Dahlgren was not ready to put his ironclads back into the fray.  Writing to Gillmore on September 26, he wanted a Federal flag on Fort Sumter first:

With Sumter in our possession, the obstructions ranging from that work to Moultrie, whatever they are, would be removable with no great trouble and little risk, and I should advance upon the next series of defenses with the least possible expenditure of means, and with the iron-clads in the best condition.

May I ask, therefore, when your batteries may be able to operate on Sumter, and whether I may depend on your driving the enemy out of it? I shall be glad to contribute any cannon you may need to complete your works.

Gillmore saw this as a new requirement added by the Navy and also, understandably, misunderstood the meaning of “drive the enemy out.”  At length he responded to call into question any operation assaulting Fort Sumter, concluding:

I am myself willing to attempt the removal or destruction of the outer line of obstructions, rather than sacrifice men in carrying a work that possesses no power to harm an iron-clad fleet that has already repulsed one naval assault from small boats, that would be held with difficulty at the present time if we possessed it, and which must fall into our hands whenever the naval part of the programme before Charleston is carried out.

The following day, Dahlgren responded, stiffly, to clear up the matter.  It was the musketry fire from Fort Sumter, he feared, which might disrupt efforts to clear obstructions.  He had only suggested another bombardment of Fort Sumter.  “No assault is in question. If the cannon will not do it, the remainder will be on my hands, though I may say that even an assault was not so remote from your calculations at one time.”  In response, Gillmore related that several rifled guns were in place on Cumming’s Point and five of the heavy Parrotts remained in the Left Batteries ready to support the Navy.  “It now is my time,” Gillmore wrote, “to play a subordinate part, and all the means under my control are at your disposal for that purpose.”

While this dialog between senior Federal leaders took place, Gillmore had indeed began a fresh bombardment of Fort Sumter.  Major Stephen Elliot in command of the Confederate garrison offered this journal entry covering the activities of September 28:

I have the honor to report that at a quarter before 2 yesterday land batteries, distant 2 1/3 miles, opened a slow fire upon this work, directed mainly upon the southwest angle. One hundred shots were thrown, of which 48 struck, 16 fell short, 36 passed over. A negro was killed. The damage to the work is not considerable. A monitor came up apparently to observe the effect of the practice. This morning the fleet retains the position and numbers of yesterday.

Over the next few days, more Federal projectiles sailed over the waters towards Fort Sumter.  On the receiving end, Elliot recorded these results:

  • September 28: 100 rounds fired with 48 hits
  • September 29: 95 rounds fired with 34 hits
  • September 30: 68 rounds fired with 45 hits
  • October 1: 129 rounds fired with 75 hits
  • October 2: 74 rounds fired with 44 hits
  • October 3: 95 rounds fired with 78 hits
  • October 4: six rounds fired with no results recorded

At the same time, the Confederates gave as good as they got.  From the batteries on James Island and occasionally from Fort Moultrie, the rebel gunners fired a total upwards of 700 rounds through October 4.  At times the Confederate fire outnumbered that of the Federals.  The journal of operations kept at the Department headquarters in Charleston noted for October 4:

Three hundred and seventeen shots have been fired by our batteries (Sullivan’s Island, Simkins, Cheves, and Haskell) since 6 a.m. yesterday.  The enemy have fired in the same time 136 shots.

However mixed in with that count were a substantial number of mortar shells fired at Black Island where the Federals were building new gun positions.  From Battery Haskell a 10-inch mortar firing a 10 pound powder charge required 26.5 seconds (give or take) to explode a few hundred feet above the Federal battery.

With the tapering off of Federal fires on October 4, Elliot made a survey of the damage:

The effect of the week’s bombardment has been to cut the top of the gorge wall slightly in one or two places, to dig holes in the parade, and to extend the breach in the north wall, and to give give indications of future reaches possible at some remote period.

This brief action by the Federals became known as the “first minor bombardment” of Fort Sumter.  Instead of the 5,009 projectiles fired in the week of August 17-23, the Federals sent over just 567, by Confederate counts, in this “minor bombardment.”  Part of the reason for the anemic showing was the ongoing efforts to shift guns and build new works. But also factoring into operations at this time, Gillmore faced a long sick-call roll.  Department wide returns for the month of September closed with some 5,438 sick, out of a total present 28,831 troops present.  That’s nearly 19% across the Department.  On Morris Island alone, 2,246 were listed as sick, leaving only 8,734 present for duty.

Looking at the timing of Federal correspondence, I’ve always been inclined to see this bombardment as an effort by Gillmore to let Dahlgren know the Army was ready to resume operations.  A point of honor, perhaps.  So while the two combatants exchanged iron, the senior Federal leaders exchanged verbal barbs.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 28, Part I, Serial 26, pages 140, 626 and 627.; Serial 27, pages 97-8 and 100-1, and page 102 for Department of the South’s returns for September.)

150 years ago: Railroads west to Tennessee

If you read the monuments at Gettysburg for the Eleventh and Twelfth Corps, specifically the battle honors of the regiments, you will notice a lot of western place-names listed along with the great eastern battlefields.  Most recall this is due to the transfer of the two corps in the fall of 1863 to reinforce the besieged Army of the Cumberland at Chattanooga.  We often wave our hand over the map to explain this movement, but forget this was a herculean effort of strategic mobility.

Earlier in the season, the Confederates shifted part of General James Longstreet’s Corps to northern Georgia using some sixteen different railroad lines.  The first of those troops left the station in Orange, Virginia on September 8 or 9, 1863.  The lead elements of the force arrived in Georgia in time for the battle of Chickamauga.  But it is a misconception to say the movement was complete at that time.  Significant combat force remained on the trains or at the depots on September 20, and baggage would arrive only in the weeks following the battle.

Now it was time for the Federals to demonstrate their rail lines.  As reports from the battle trickled into Washington, President Abraham Lincoln, Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, and others debated the best way to reinforce Major-General William Rosecrans’ (for the moment) Army of the Cumberland at Chattanooga.  On paper, Major-General Ambrose Burnside was close by at Knoxville.  But in reality the terrain did not allow for a rapid march, particularly where provisions were scarce and Confederate raiders were thick.  Likewise the movement of 20,000 troops from Vicksburg, Mississippi, under command of Major-General William T. Sherman, looked easy on paper but was not easily conducted on the ground.

The solution offered was to move two corps from the Army of the Potomac in Virginia out by rail to Tennessee.  Though some cautioned the movement would require over a month. But such estimates were largely based on pre-war experience.  Stanton and the railroad men felt the move could be done with much more speed, if properly organized.  Orders went out on September 24 to Major-General George Meade to release the Eleventh and Twelfth Corps for movement.

Initially, the Eleventh was to use Bristoe Station and Rappahannock Station.  But after organizing the rolling stock and coordinating troop movements, Major-General O.O. Howard loaded his troops at Manassas Junction (with artillery going on the trains at Alexandria).  The Twelfth loaded at Brandy Station.   And there was some counter-marching required in order to keep this movement of troops out of sight from the Confederate observers on Clark’s Mountain.

To reach Chattanooga, the troops started their journey on the Orange & Alexandria (O&A) at some of the war’s most important rail junctions.  The trains then would move, by way of Washington, to Baltimore and switch to the B&O for a westward leg. Reaching the Ohio River at Benwood, the troops were to ferry (later move by pontoon bridge) across to Bellaire, Ohio where they would board trains on the Central Ohio Railroad and make the run to Columbus, Ohio.  Next the troops would switch to the Indiana Central and move to Indianapolis.  There the plan called for another transfer onto the Jeffersonville, Madison, and Indianapolis Railroad for a trip to Jeffersonville, Indiana.  Another ferry ride would put the troops in Louisville, Kentucky where they would take the Louisville & Nashville Railroad (L&N).  In Nashville the troops would board trains for their last leg on the Nashville & Chattanooga Railroad (N&C).  The closest terminus would be Bridgeport, Alabama.  All told the troops would transit eight states, plus the District of Columbia, and cross four major rivers (the Ohio and the Potomac twice), in their journey of 1200 miles.

Leading this movement effort was a mix of civilian and military officials.  Stanton coordinated with John M. Garrett of the B&O, Samuel M. Felton of the Pennsylvania Railroad, H.J. Jewett of the Central Ohio, James Guthrie of the L&N, and several others with connecting rail lines.  And on the military side, Colonel Thomas Scott (who was more a War Department official with military rank) supervised the operation.  There was at times friction with Colonel William Innes, who supervised Rosecrans’ railroad department.  But Stanton’s directives brushed aside any disagreements.

While planning the move on September 23, Stanton forwarded inquiries to Brigadier-General Jeremiah T. Boyle in regards to the L&N:

Please ascertain and report to me immediately:
1. How many men can be transported by employing the whole rolling stock of the road from Louisville to Nashville, enumerating the number of cars of every description that could be employed?
2. How many hours it usually takes to make the trip from Nashville to Louisville, and at what rate of speed?
3. Is the road from Nashville to Chattanooga the same gauge as the road from Louisville to Nashville, so that cars can go direct from Louisville to Chattanooga, and what time does it take from Nashville to Chattanooga?
4. If the gauge of the roads is different, what is the supply of rolling stock on the  [Nashville] and Chattanooga road?

The following morning, Boyle responded that the L&N could transport 3,000 men a day, requiring sixteen hours to cover the 185 mile distance.  The L&N connected to the N&C in Nashville, but Boyle was unable to determine the rates for that last leg of the trip.  Military campaigns of the last eight months had used up and badly damaged the N&C, but with repairs, Boyle felt the lines could support 4,000 men.

Contrary to some statements you hear today, the Federal railroad lines were not uniform gauge.  An alternative route crossing the Ohio at Cincinnati and using the Covington & Lexington Railroad was considered.  However, the president of that line warned of the different gauge of track between Lexington and Louisville.  Later, the War Department would spend an estimated $38,000 to rectify this issue.  Another modification to the rail lines was the laying of connecting track in Indianapolis to allow cars to switch over, instead of having the troops disembark.

On September 25, the first troop cars passed through Washington as the first of nearly three days of nearly continual movement through the city.  Some 390 B&O railcars sent down the O&A allowed for rapid transition in Baltimore.  By September 28 the first troop trains reached Indianapolis.  A day later those lead elements prepared to recross the Ohio River into Kentucky at Louisville.  On September 30, four trains arrived in Nashville with the lead elements of the Eleventh Corps.  Within a few days, the bulk of the Eleventh Corps arrived at Bridgeport, where they looked over the Tennessee River at the broken bridge which prevented their transit to Chattanooga.

A few days later, the troop movement was complete with the two corps ready to assume operations in what would become the Chattanooga Campaign.  Historian Thomas Weber summarized the movement:

By October 3, the first regiments of the 11th Corps began arriving at their base camp 26 miles from Chattanooga.  October 6, the last regiment passed through Indianapolis, and by October 8, the troop movement was complete.  In 14 days, 23,000 men had moved 1,233 miles, an accomplishment not to be surpassed during the war …. The baggage of the two corps, including horses, wagons, ambulances, and commissary, moved west over the same route during the first two weeks of October…. Thus the complete transfer of men and equipment took only about three weeks, a time so far under the general estimate that it must have greatly surprised Halleck and Lincoln.

Indeed, the movement put two veteran corps in a place that left the Confederates concerned.  More than the bickering among generals, I would submit the rapid movement of the Eleventh and Twelfth Corps contained the Confederate gains in September 1863.

And as a side note, this is perhaps the only post narrative that one might mention “Brandy Station” with “Louisville” and “Bridgeport.”  More than anything, this troop movement shows how interconnected the theaters of war really were.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 29, Part I, Serial 48, page 147; Thomas Weber, The Northern Railroads in the Civil War: 1861-1865, Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1952, page 186.)

Reed’s Bridge preservation effort: Chickamauga 2013 almost complete!

With all the activity of late, I almost forgot to highlight a preservation effort by the Civil War Trust at Chickamauga.  The effort targets 109 acres around the site of Reed’s Bridge, where the battle’s first actions took place on September 18, 1863.  As the historical articles on the Trust’s site indicate, this was an important clash that framed one of the war’s great battles.  The action involved Federal cavalry under Colonel Robert Minty (the best cavalryman you’ve never heard of) and Confederate cavalry under Brigadier-General Nathan Bedford Forrest.  Among the units deployed was the Chicago Board of Trade Battery, which was one of the best horse artillery batteries of the war.  Some time back, Don wrote a nice post on the actions of the 4th US Cavalry in the fighting at Reed’s Bridge.

All good historical background and justification to preserve the site.  As the Trust’s site also notes, the veterans recognized the significance of Reed’s Bridge and wanted it in the park’s original boundaries.  That didn’t happen.  So now over 100 years after the formation of the park, we have an opportunity to re-address that shortfall.

In recent days the Trust has announced they have made significant progress towards preserving Reed’s Bridge. The original price tag was $1.4 million.  But as explained in Jim Lighthizer’s introduction to this effort, grants have set this up as a 10-to-1 donation match:

…thanks to a matching grant of $700,000 from the federal American Battlefield Protection Program, and wonderful grant from the Williams Family Foundation of Georgia, another generous grant from the Lyndhurst Foundation in Chattanooga, plus additional major gifts from other local organizations such as our friends at the Georgia Battlefields Association and a former member of our Board of Trustees…

… we already have $1,260,000 in matching funds lined up and ready to go – which gives us fully 90% of the total funds needed.

If you and I can raise the final 10% – just $140,000 – to leverage and unlock this tide of matching money, we will save the most important unprotected ground at the biggest and arguably one of the most important battlefields of the entire Civil War.

Now, the Trust is reporting they are only $23,000 short of their goal. Once again, the Trust is closing in on a significant preservation purchase.  I urge you to consider contributing to this worthy effort.