Photo Analysis: Morris Island Ordnance Depot (Part I)

During operations on Morris Island, the Federals maintained a busy ordnance depot on the south end near Lighthouse Inlet.  If there was ever a place and time for an artillery-focused blogger to use a time machine….  Just imagine the “stuff” laying out on the beach – cannons, burst cannons, carriages, implements, projectiles, …. Short of a time machine, several photographs exist in which the lens turned that way.

One of those photos – the first in what I hope to make a series over – was taken by Samuel A. Cooley, the “Photographer of the Department of the South.”

[Unknown location. Wagons and camera of Sam A. Cooley, U.S. photographer, Department of the South] (LOC)

There’s his crew, with all the field equipment, camera, and a glass plate at the ready.  Cooley photographed scenes along the South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida coasts.  Cooley is most known for his photos of Fort Sumter after its capture in 1865.  From what I gather, Cooley’s photographic activities came to Morris Island in December 1863.  He maintained a studio there through the end of the war.  So this photo…

… might have been from anytime from that point on to the end of the war.  (The stereo-view is also digitized in the Library of Congress collection.)

For years I’ve been drawn to this photo because of the “stuff” scattered around in a semi-organized manner.  None of the neat stacks of equipment or carefully aligned rows – all indications of a real ordnance depot supporting an active campaign.  At times, I’ve entertained this depot was on Folly Island instead of Morris Island.  But the more I try to pin things down, the more elusive the confirmation is.  For now, I’ll settle and suggest this is a photograph of the ordnance depot on the south end of Morris Island.


I’ve never seen any documentation that might narrow down the location to a specific spot on the map. To my knowledge, no diagrams of the ordnance depot exist.  So I don’t know where exactly to put the “star” to locate this photo.  Given that shortfall, I’ll present some of the clues I’ve found in the photo in hope that you readers might pick up the challenge.  I usually spend time looking for markings, flags, or other indicators of a unit designation.  With all that equipment in view, are there any markings?

Starting furthest back on the right, there’s this thing…


That’s a heavy sling cart.  Just like the one on display today at Fort Pulaski.

Ft Pulaski 3 Aug 11 1336

Another set of those appears on the left side of the line:


While offering no markings, the presence of those heavy sling carts indicates the Federals were handling heavy guns, like those big Parrotts.  So some corroborative evidence, but nothing definitive.  In between the sling carts are caissons and field forges more closely associated with field batteries.


The only “mark” that stands out is an “8” with a laurel around it.  Again, nothing to narrow down to a particular unit.  Note, however, on the left the siege carriage limbers.  Again, corroboration that both field and siege guns were supported out of this depot.

Another way to narrow down the location is review of the background.  In this photo is a single story building, arranged as if a workshop.


Only a few tents are in view.


In the distant background are treelines.  Very typical coastal treelines of that time, with the base of the trees in silhouette.  Indicates some human activity which kept the brush clear.


That might be Black Island.  If so, the even more distant treeline behind the workshop would be James Island and the Confederate batteries.

OK, with that swag taken to narrow down the photo’s location and orientation, let’s turn to the “stuff” in the foreground.  Lots of projectiles…. lots of types of projectiles…


Some are easily identified as the Parrott Pattern.  There’s a strapped smoothbore projectile (don’t let the shadow fool you) in the stack.  And falling off the back looks to be a Brooke projectile with bourrelet (ring around the body just behind the ogive, or “nose”).

Looking at the other stack further up in the photo…


More Parrott projectiles, but one of those to the left looks like a Hotchkiss with lead band standing out as an off-shade.

Between the stacks of shells are a few “litters,” or carriers used by the troops to move shells.


These are laying upside down.  But in many photos of the batteries, these are sitting behind the guns, looking like short legged tables.

Just behind the carriers is this ratchet roller for use in handling the guns.


I’m at a loss to find a photo with this particular part in use.  Looks like this one has lost one “tooth” at some point.

Other items in the foreground which draw the eye are rows of wrought iron carriages.


These were the type seen frequently in photos of the Army’s Parrotts in position on Morris Island.  Certainly enough on hand to sustain a long campaign.  Other photos of the depot show these with a better view for details.  What I’d point out here is the difference between the inside of the traversing wheel (upper center) and outside (lower center).  The inside of the wheel had “spoke” reinforcements.

A nice row of 30-pdr Parrotts stood just behind the carriages.


The sad part here is the resolution, even digitized, does not allow us to read the muzzle markings.  At least a battery’s worth of the 30-pounders there.  Later production, as there is no muzzle swell.  And these also appear to have the shorter trunnions, which don’t use all of the capsquare on the carriage. The shorter trunnions reflected the Federal preference for wrought iron carriages.

In front of those Parrotts were rails for wooden carriages.


Again, evidence pointing to the use of captured Confederate guns.  And if you are looking for more evidence, look behind the Parrotts:


Yes, an old carronade of the type used by Confederates as flank defense in Battery Wagner.  Maybe a 42-pdr?  Or 32-pdr? It appears to be mounted on a modified field carriage with no cheeks.  Now there’s a cannon with a story to tell!

Published by Craig Swain

"Historical marker hunter" and Civil War enthusiast.

3 thoughts on “Photo Analysis: Morris Island Ordnance Depot (Part I)

  1. Ran across this photo in a book I was browsing and remembered your post questioning whether this particular depot was on Morris Island or Folly Island. Maybe this can offer you another lead to follow. Best of luck, I enjoy your series greatly.
    Charles Hunt

    Hopefully this photobucket link works. If not, the text with the photo claims that Cooley actually took this photo on Hilton Head Island, not Morris.

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