More night fire and mortars: Numbers show trends of fires against Fort Sumter

For November 22, 1863, Lieutenant-Colonel Stephen Elliott began his journal entry of activity with a tally of Federal shots directed at Fort Sumter the previous day:

Twenty-three rifled shots were fired yesterday, of which 7 missed, and 238 mortar shells, of which only 99 missed.  At night, 149 rifled shells were fired; 45 of these exploded, after passing the fort.

Those figures also appear in a table meticulously recording the number of shots fired at Fort Sumter, observed by the Confederates, broken down by source, day/night, and hit/miss.


That table is rather hard to read, even from the printed Official Records.  And there’s one discrepancy with the numbers for October 29 which adds eight more “misses” to the total.  I transcribed those numbers to an Excel spreadsheet if you have trouble reading them.

And with those numbers in Excel, there are all sorts of ways to run those numbers to shake out trends.  Let me avoid something akin to a sales performance briefing, and offer four charts that help define trends seen during the Second Great Bombardment of Fort Sumter.  Starting with the breakdown of the sources of these shots:


The green line, depicting shots fired from the Navy, indicates the Monitors ignored Fort Sumter after the first week of November.  That’s not to say the monitors were silent.  Instead most of monitor’s attention went towards Sullivan’s Island, particular when one of their own was grounded.  As for the Army’s fires, the blue line depicts the heavy rifle fire that fell on the fort during the first days of the bombardment.  After that the numbers tapered off, with a few peaks above 300 through November.  The number of mortar rounds fired increased through the middle of the month, then dropped off.

Here’s a breakdown of percentage shared among those three categories.  Again the green being the monitors, blue is the Army’s rifled guns, and the mortar’s contributions are in yellow.


We might throw out the last day of November and first of December, with the only firings from the mortars.  Likewise, December 5th and 9th saw only six shots from the rifled guns on each day.  I’ve dropped off December 27 and 31 from the tables, with only two rifle gun shots fired each day. Again, we see the Navy laid off of Fort Sumter after the first part of November, and the Army’s mortars took on a significant portion of the fires in the middle of the month.

But Elliott’s report called out significant Federal activity after dark.  So looking at the numbers of day and night fires:


Not a gradually sloping trend, but the Federals increased night activity after the first week of November.  For some days, night fires outweighed the days, particularly during the days mortars were the predominant weapons firing.


Some days, the Federals stayed up late and hurled a few hundred shells at Fort Sumter.  In fact, for the last three weeks of November, night fires constituted at least 20% of every day’s total (except for November 30 when only two of twenty-four mortar shells fired were at night).  Some days, nearly everything fired over was during night hours.

Number crunching reveals the Second Major Bombardment was more than just a resumption of the big Parrott rifles breaking up more of the bricks during the day.  The operation ran around the clock and included direct and “curved,” to use the period expression, fires.  And to be precise, the Confederates counted 19,006 of those from October 26 to December 11.

But keep in mind these numbers are sort of like looking at the Battle of Monte Cassino while ignoring the rest of the Gustav Line (if you follow that World War II comparison).  While the Federals were “roughing up” Fort Sumter, they were also firing on Confederate batteries on James and Sullivan’s Islands, in addition to sending shells into Charleston with regularity.

(Citation from OR Series I, Volume 28, Part I, Serial 46, page 640; Table data from page 649 of the same volume.)

Published by Craig Swain

"Historical marker hunter" and Civil War enthusiast.

3 thoughts on “More night fire and mortars: Numbers show trends of fires against Fort Sumter

  1. Very interesting. Have you (or do you know anyone who has) ever written about what the artillery shell supply chain looked like for these types of operations? It seems like a nontrivial manufacturing and material handling challenge.

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