“A volley of at least eight mortars” to put out the calcium light on Morris Island

After all the activity of Christmas Day at Charleston, both sides remained idle.  Both sides considered plans to remove the 8-inch howitzers left at Legareville.  Otherwise December 26th with little activity.  The Federals resumed the bombardment of Charleston starting around 3 a.m. on the 27th with five shells.  The Confederates responded with nine shots at the offending guns, without success.  Firing from Cumming’s Point resumed around 9 a.m. on the 28th with five more shots aimed at Charleston.  But the Confederates let this barrage pass.

Our batteries did not, as usual, respond.  They remained silent the entire day, and it was not until 9.30 p.m. that a gun was fired on our side.  At this time the enemy’s calcium light at [Battery] Gregg being reflected on the channel, Batteries Bee, Marion, Rutledge, the Brook gun battery, Moultrie, Cheves, and Simkins opened a brisk fire with a view to extinguish it.  At 10.40, the light being no longer visible, our batteries ceased.

The following is a summary of the shots fired by us in the last twenty-four hours: Moultrie, 35; Bee, 17; Brooke gun battery, 22; Rutledge, 10; Cheves, 28, and Simkins, 34.

Out on picket duty in the Main Ship Channel, Lieutenant-Commander John L. Davis on the USS Montauk observed:

… the enemy opened fire on Cumming’s Point with mortars and rifle guns from Sullivan’s and James Island batteries at about 9:30 o’clock.  The firing from Sullivan’s Island commenced with a volley of at least eight mortars.  The enemy continued their fire until about 10:30.  At intervals during the night rockets were sent up from Moultrie.

Just another day of heavy artillery exchanging fire at Charleston, continuing the pattern from before Christmas.  With some spikes along the way, this skirmishing with heavy caliber weapons continued into the new year.

But consider the practice of fire from the Confederates.  The batteries on Sullivan’s Island fired mortars in volley.  As seen during earlier attempts to extinguish the Federal lights, the gunners were given azimuths and distance  information based on triangulation.  The use of volley fire from the mortars implies coordination to achieve the maximum effect of those weapons.  This is the practice of fire associated with early 20th century wars.  So for those building up the old “Civil War was the first modern war” argument, here’s another brick for you.   However, the counter-argument here is that mortar volley failed to hit the intended target.  Seems the technology was not up to the practice of fire in this case.  After all, these were smoothbore, black-powder 10-inch mortars.

Davis continued in his report to note that “At 2:30 out batteries commenced firing rifle guns; fifteen projectiles were thought to have been fired at the city, also a small number in reply to batteries on James Island.”   The Confederate journal recorded, “As usual, Batteries Cheves, Simkins, Marion, and Rutledge responded to the fire of the enemy, and closed shortly after the enemy ceased firing.”

No rattling of musketry in the night at Charleston.  Rather the booming of heavy guns with their shrieking projectiles seeking landfall.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 28, Part I, Serial 46, pages 186-7; ORN, Series I, Volume 15, page 211.)


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