“The south angle was the object of their aim”: Another minor bombardment of Fort Sumter

Through much of January 1864, the Federal guns on Morris Island focused on Charleston.  Their nine day bombardment of the city was the heaviest, in terms of shots fired, up to that time.  The gunners fired an occasional shot at Fort Sumter, mostly as a reminder of the range.  But as January came to a close, the Federal guns on Morris Island turned on Fort Sumter for another “minor bombardment.”  This commenced on the evening of January 28.  Reporting on January 29, Lieutenant-Colonel Stephen Elliott, commanding the fort’s garrison, observed:

I have the honor to report that at 9 o’clock last night the enemy opened on us with mortars from the middle battery, throwing by morning 123, of which 82 burst in and over the fort. Two Parrott shots also struck. I ordered the steamer to return to the city before her cargo had been entirely discharged, as she was in evident danger. No injury was done to the work and no casualties occurred. The firing continues this morning from guns. The thick weather obscures the fleet. A tug was lying very close in at daylight this morning; I think she could have been struck by Sullivan’s Island guns.

Later that day, Elliott added an additional report:

The fire is from three 10-inch columbiads, and a 30-pounder Parrott is directed at the south angle, where some open arches have been recently filled from the outside, and which we suspect they have seen. Work going on as usual, and no damage done.

By 11 p.m., he tallied the overall figures for incoming rounds and damage that day:

Shots fired from 10-inch columbiads, 8-inch Parrott, 6-inch Parrott, 40 and 30 pounder Parrotts at south angle, 156; 129 hit. Mortar shells fired, 13; 7 hit. Damage, trifling. Casualties, 1 man wounded in ankle.

The bombardment continued the next day, with Elliott noting “The south angle was the object of their aim; an hour’s work at dark repaired the injury it received.”  For the garrison, the high point of the day occurred at 3 p.m. when the flagstaff was shot away.

…it was first replaced upon a small and afterwards upon a larger staff by Private F. Schafer, Company A, Lucas’ battalion, who stood on the top of the traverse and repeatedly waved the flag in the sight of the enemy. He was assisted by Corpl. L. Bressentiam and Private Charles Banks, of the same corps, and by Mr. H. B. Middleton, of the Signal Corps, who is acting as adjutant of the post in the absence of the regular officer.

They were exposed to a rapid and accurate fire of shells. At the close of the scene Schafer, springing from a cloud of the smoke and dust of the bursting shell, stood long waving his hat in triumph. It was a most gallant deed, and the effect upon the garrison was most inspiring.

Although at a slower rate than fired during the heavy bombardments of the previous November, shells continued to fall through the last day of the month.  Elliott provided a full record of all incoming shots for the month in his routine reports:

FortSumterBombardmentJan1864

The spike in the numbers for those last four days of the month stand in contrast to only three days of very light firing earlier in the month.  Note that Elliott’s tallies provided in the daily reports often overlap reporting periods depicted in the table above.  So those looking to run the numbers need to shake them first.

The objective of this minor bombardment was, as Elliott observed, just to break up a section of the fort the Confederates had recently repaired.  That objective achieved, from the Federal perspective, all returned to normal… meaning skirmishing with heavy caliber guns and mortars.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 35, Part I, Serial 65, pages 183-186.)

“We don’t need their infernal old sharp-sticks at all.”: Colonel Gibbs airs grievances, January 29, 1864

Colonel Alfred Gibbs commanded the Reserve Brigade of the 1st Cavalry Division during the winter encampment of 1864.  His brigade picketed Rapidan River crossing points near Cedar Mountain and other points south of Culpeper.  This was part of the picket line established south of Cedar Mountain earlier in January. On this day (January 29) in 1864 he sent this report to division headquarters discussing the day’s activity:

Mitchell’s, January 29, 1864.

Captain Bacon,
Assistant Adjutant-General:

All quiet on the picket-lines except a few shots at Somerville Ford. The enemy continue the erection of breast-works and rifle-pits at that point. The brigade of infantry up on Cedar Mountain goes to Culpeper this morning, thus increasing my picket-line considerably.

Alfred Gibbs,
Colonel, Commanding Brigade.

Not mentioned in that brief report, Gibbs’ men had processed several Confederate deserters on that and the previous days.

Now that was the “official” report.  Appearing on the record is an “unofficial” report made from Gibbs to his commander, Brigadier-General Wesley Merritt, on the same day:

Hdqrs. Cavalry Reserve Brigade,
January 29, 1864.

Brig. Gen. W. Merritt,
Commanding First Division Cavalry, Culpeper:

Dear General: Since we have been deprived of the pleasure of judicially assassinating that deserter to-day, I shall endeavor to elevate my depressed spirits by literary composition. Now, general, when we were ruthlessly thrust out to the front, where we have since been kept at the point of the bayonet, we were promised a division of infantry to protect us. Well, they have never done it. These regiments of General Robinson’s have been in Culpeper all the time, and last night about 1 o’clock I was aroused from my nocturnal repose by General Robinson’s dispatch informing me that the Cedar Run brigade was to be withdrawn to-day, and that he wanted his pickets relieved by cavalry.

I understand that another division was ordered to relieve General Robinson’s, but mean time that division had erected a theater in town, and of course it could not be thought of that they should go to the front and leave the theater behind. Now, we don’t want their infernal old sharp-sticks at all, and I think we will be safer if they will withdraw the other brigade, so that if we are run back we won’t have to wait until they pack up their duds and skeedaddle back to their present position.

They have left 100 men as a guard to the four blind signal officers on Cedar Mountain. It is reported that some camp-fires were seen yesterday in the woods north and west of Thoroughfare Mountain; perhaps that will account for the brigade changing front to rear so suddenly. The patent-sight man yesterday took four shots while the enemy were firing at Somerville Ford, and says he hit two certain. Mr. Emmons, assistant adjutant-general, will communicate to you some views of mine with regard to the picket-line on our left, which I desire to have changed. Lieutenant Walker is still basking in the sunshine of beauty.

We still live, move, and have our being; somewhat muddy.

Very respectfully, yours,
Alfred Gibbs,
Colonel, &c.

If only we saw more of these “unofficial” letters….

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 33, Serial 60, pages 440-1.)