150 Years Ago: The South Carolina Siege Train goes to the range

I hesitate to even post this. Not because the topic is troublesome. Rather because the tedious presentation of the supporting “artifact.” Apologies in advance for the large, scrolling table below.  That is a summary of practice fires by the South Carolina Siege Train, commanded by Major Edward Manigault, conducted in January 1864.  The summary table was complied from five tables transcribed from Manigault’s journal by historian Warren Ripley, and included in the book Siege Train.

The site of the practice shooting was just west of Fort Pemberton. Over five days – January 15, 20, 23, 28, and 30 – the gunners fired 30-pdr Parrotts and 8-inch siege howitzers.  After the questionable performance of the guns on Christmas Day at Legareville, no doubt the crews needed the time on the guns. The target was a 40 feet long by 7 feet high wooden target.  The range started at 700 yards, but was later extended to 1158 yards.  Manigault’s journal includes some statements about the weather on those days.  But nothing precise like temperature or air pressure.

Poor range estimation was considered a contributing factor to the Legareville debacle.  So with the guns on this firing line, the battery officers were told to make estimates of the range before it was paced off.  The estimates varied somewhat, and no doubt that became a skill those officers refined in later weeks.

Results of the shooting were mixed – and that is perhaps being generous.  The gunners fired 56 shots over those five days.  Of those, only seven were described as going “through” the target.  Other shots were short, wide, and mostly long.  Fuses behaved erratically.  And a few of the Parrott shells were seen to wobble in flight, suggesting problems with the sabots.  One might say that after five days on the range, the gunners needed more practice but could also do with improved fuses and projectiles. Looking at the number of overshoots, one wonders if the Confederate cannon powder was too strong in this sampling.

If the practice was not perfect, at least those tables (consolidated here) offer a measure of how the weapons performed.  Outside of Ordnance Department tests, detailed reports as this are somewhat rare.  The two types of weapons employed on the range – 30-pdr Parrotts and 8-inch siege howitzers – show up at  live fire events from time to time.  So perhaps some of those gun owners have similar records that might compare.

Data for this table complied from:   Edward Manigault, Siege Train: The Journal of a Confederate Artilleryman in the Defense of Charleston, edited by Warren Ripley, Charleston: University of South Carolina Press, 1986, pages 109, 111, 112, 114, and 116.


Sorry for the scrolling!