“A quantity of iron was shipped by the steamer last night”: Scrap iron from Ft. Sumter

A recurring theme that I see with the Confederate war effort is the shortage of iron.  Territory lost early in the war, particularly in the western theater, cut into the supply sources for iron.  Manufacturing centers throughout the south limited output for want of iron.  In search of more supply, the Confederates turned to scrap iron to feed into the iron works.  Throughout the summer of 1863, authorities encouraged the garrison at Batteries Wagner and Gregg to recover spent projectiles.  Likewise the defenders of Fort Sumter collected scrap metal, no small amount of it projectiles from the long Federal bombardments, and sent it away to Charleston.  Lieutenant Colonel Stephen Elliott reported one such shipment in his daily log for January 12, 1864:

I have the honor to report that the thick weather will not permit an observation of the fleet this morning.  I was unable to discover the fourth monitor yesterday.  A quantity of old iron was shipped by the steamer last night; a 42-poundr lies ready for shipment when the flat shall be sent.

The Department’s journal offered a better description of the scrap, noting:

Last night a quantity of scrap iron, pieces of shells, &c., was brought to the city from Fort Sumter, and a 42-pounder smooth-bore, which has recently been disinterred from the ruins, lies on the berm ready for shipment….

One would assume the 42-pdr gun was buried during the first major bombardment of Fort Sumter that occurred the previous August.  And it was likely unserviceable.

Keep in mind this material was not being collected from someone’s junk yard or garage.  This was a removal of scrap iron from the front lines, under active bombardment and threat of attack.  Men were risking life and limb in some cases to collect up shell fragments and such.

The scrap iron from Fort Sumter went from there to be melted and reformed into useful implements of war.  Some of that iron probably returned to Fort Sumter in the form of defensive materials or braces used by Confederate engineers.  Photographs taken at the end of the war show prominent and numerous “I-beams” to support wire impediments at water’s edge on the destroyed faces of the fort.

And those photos from 1865 show several guns, big guns mind you, that were not recovered by Confederates.  The one in center view here is a bit of a mystery.  Let me spin that discussion off to a separate post this morning.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 35, Part I, Serial 65, pages 133, 179.)

Published by Craig Swain

"Historical marker hunter" and Civil War enthusiast.

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