Last month, I detailed the design and construction of the first, often called the “right” three gun-battery at Fort Sumter. With the start of the new year, Confederate engineers, at the urgings of the garrison commander Lieutenant-Colonel Stephen Elliott, began work on a second three-gun battery. In this case, the battery would occupy casemates on the north-west (some Confederate accounts cite this as the “west” face) or harbor facing side of the fort. Colonel D.B. Harris responded to Elliott’s request on this day (January 4) in 1864, with a letter to Brigadier-General Thomas Jordon (General Beauregard’s Chief of Staff):
I have the honor to state, in reply to Colonel Elliott’s communication of the 30th ultimo, that the preparations now being made for mounting guns on the west face of Fort Sumter imply no more capacity in the walls of the fort for resistance than did the mounting of the guns on the northeast face, which was recommended and ordered without any reference to exterior protection.
Captain Champneys, the engineer in charge of the fort to whom the order was given to prepare for mounting the last-named guns, was directed to report upon the practicability of protecting the embrasures of these guns, and he suggested an exterior iron shield, which was approved, with some slight modifications, and orders were given for its construction, which have not been carried into effect, as will appear from the accompanying report of Lieutenant Young, not for the want of iron plating (that was supplied by the Navy Department), but for lack of competent mechanics to do the work.
There is, however, no question it is desirable to protect the walls of the fort by a shield or crib-work, or both, and I will make the effort to have it done. I have already instructed Captain Johnson to make preparations, when he can conveniently do so, for the erection of crib-work to the right of the three-gun battery on the northeast face of the fort, and will spare no effort to do all that can be done for strengthening the fort in every available way, both inside and out.
Harris included correspondence from the previous November with respect to the iron shield for Fort Sumter’s new batteries. J.M. Eason & Brothers had declined producing an iron shield at that time, stating, “he did not approve of the plan and would not like to be responsible for its success; besides which he had undertaken work for the navy which absorbed his time and means.” Eason did agree to cut and drill iron that might be furnished.
The notion of an iron shield over a face of Fort Sumter reminds me of Colonel Joseph Totten’s work prior to the Civil War. After designing an iron shutter to cover the embrasures of coastal forts (such as Fort Sumter), Totten reported that placing a shield to cover the entire face of a fort might likewise offer a more resistant face to any potential adversary. But, as Totten pointed out, the cost of such arrangements were cost prohibitive. Such it was with the pre-war budgets, double so for the Confederates during the war years.
Even without the desired iron shield, Confederate engineers, namely Captain John Johnson and Lieutenant W.G. Young, began work. The layout incorporated exterior work done on the new wharf for the fort.
Recall the original fort layout included a wharf on the gorge (southwest) wall. With Federals on Morris Island, that face was obliterated. The new wharf was covered by the old northeast wall. It’s profile, which ran through the left three-gun battery, appeared in end-of-war Federal surveys:
As alluded to by Harris, the exterior face of this side of the fort was shielded by crib-work. While not apparent in the engineering diagrams, the woodwork shows up on wartime photographs:
So having gone from the key bastion defending Charleston harbor to barely an observation post, Fort Sumter was reconstituted to a formidable battery offering cross fire over the entrance channel. As we marvel at the Federal engineering prowess on Morris Island, a tip-of-the-hat is also owed to the Confederate engineers working the rubble at Fort Sumter.
(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 35, Part I, Serial 65, pages 504-5.)