“The enemy were shelling at midnight”: Federals continue bombardment of Charleston

After the Christmas Day bombardment of Charleston, Federal activity slacked a bit through the first week of the new year.  Confederate summary reports indicate around a dozen shells fired at the city on days the Federals were active.  Some days passed without any shots fired at the city.  But starting January 9, the Federal bombardment stepped up in number, if not weight.  From the Confederate Department Journals for those days:

January 9 – …. About 11 a.m., one of the batteries on Cumming’s Point opened upon the city with two guns, and at midnight was still firing slowly at intervals of about one-half an hour.

January 10 – As stated in yesterday’s journal, the enemy commenced shelling the city at 11 o’clock last night, firing at intervals of about thirty minutes. After 18 shots had been thrown they ceased at 6 a.m. One shell fell short and 9 failed to explode. … During the morning batteries on both sides remained silent, but at 3.25 p.m., the enemy opened on the city with three guns from Cumming’s Point, firing occasionally the three at the same time and again at intervals of from one to three minutes. Twenty-eight [shells] in all were thrown, when the enemy ceased at 4.35. Fifteen shells did not explode.

January 11 – …. During the night there was no firing whatever. … Until 3.35 p.m. the enemy’s as well as our batteries remained silent, when Battery Cumming opened with a light rifled gun upon the city and fired at rather longer intervals than usual until 9.58 p.m., by which time 88 shots had been thrown in the direction, but not into the city, as 85 fell short. This must have been an experimental trial. The result was very satisfactory to us. The shells used are said to have been of the kind known as Wiard shells. ..

January 12 – …. About 1.30 p.m., the enemy opened a vigorous fire upon the city with several guns at or near Battery Gregg, using shells similar to those fired yesterday, but with somewhat more effect. At midnight the bombardment was still progressing. By this time 138 shells had been fired, and of these 87 fell short. The fuses used with these projectiles appear to be of a better quality, as but few failed to explode. The damage done to the city, however, was inconsiderable.

January 13 -…. It is now determined that the light Parrott guns with which the enemy have for the past few days been shelling the city are situated at the foot of the scarp of the main work at Battery Gregg. As reported in yesterday’s journal, the enemy were shelling at midnight. This was continued the remainder of last night at regular intervals, and during this day they have maintained a steady bombardment of the city, firing about once every five minutes. At 12 midnight the bombardment is unabated, and up to this time 244 additional shells have been fired in the direction of the city, 112 of which fell short. Our batteries have remained silent. Not a single shot is reported to have been fired by them the entire day. The shells used by the enemy are very light–believed still to be the Wiard pattern.

January 14 – The bombardment has been incessant for the last twenty-four hours, and up to 12 midnight they had thrown 203 shells, 27 of which fell short. Fire at the corner of East Bay and Broad streets was observed at 11 p.m., and was extinguished in about an hour. To-day the enemy was observed moving the small Wiard gun from Battery Cumming and placing instead a larger one. ….

January 15 – …. Enemy continued to fire on the city from Cumming’s Point. Whole number [shells] fired, 189, of which 63 fell short, all of the first shots that came into the city falling in its southeastern corner, east of Meeting and south of Broad streets. At 3 o’clock the direction of fire was changed, and for the first time shells fell in the upper portion of the city in the neighborhood of the Second Presbyterian Church, its tower evidently being the point aimed at. One shell passed immediately over the church and fell in the rear of a lot in John street near Meeting. At 6 a.m., fire was caused by the explosion of a shell from battery on Cumming’s Point, in a building on Meeting street near Water street. The fire department succeeded in confining it to the one building….

The Confederate journals specifically call out a transition from heavy Parrotts to field gun caliber weapons – 30-pdr and 20-pdr Parrott rifles.  So while the number of shells increased, their average size decreased.

While the inventor Norman Wiard no doubt dabbled some with projectiles, I am not aware of any large production of shells attributed to any design of his.  I would suggest these were instead Hotchkiss shells.  But even there, I’m speculating, since the Confederate accounts offered no detailed descriptions.

What interests me the most is the change from heavy caliber Parrotts to the field caliber weapons.  The purpose behind bombardment of Charleston, wrapped within arguably legitimate targeting of military and supporting facilities, was one of intimidation.  To that point, did it matter if the shell landing in Charleston weighed 100 pounds or 30 pounds?

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 35, Part I, Serial 65, pages 131-135.)

2 thoughts on ““The enemy were shelling at midnight”: Federals continue bombardment of Charleston

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