150 years ago: British observers on Morris Island

On this day (April 1) in 1864, three British officers visited Morris Island to observe and report on Federal activities.  The 3rd Rhode Island Heavy Artillery regimental history recorded the occurance:

April 1. Three distinguished English cousins, as a commission from John Bull to inquire into our strange military operations, by permission of our Secretary of War, visited us on Morris Island, and studied, as best they could, our work.  These sons of Mars and of Johnny were Lieutenant-Colonel Galmay and Captain Alderson of the British Army, and Captain Goodnough of the Royal Navy.  Our visitors looked over our front, gazed on our guns – albeit we did not reveal the best pieces under Putnam that played on Charleston and were that day silent – then dined, drank, chatted with our shoulder-straps, and retired with some new artillery problems in their heads.

The three officers were Lieutenant-Colonel Sir Thomas Lionel Gallwey, Captain Henry James Alderson, and Captain James Graham Goodnough.   Gallwey was an officer in the Royal Engineers and a member of the Ordnance Select Commissions at the time.  Alderson was an officer in the Royal Artillery, who’d seen action in the Crimean War.  If his paintings are any indication, Alderson was familiar with settings very similar to that on Morris Island.


Captain Goodnough, as indicated by the Rhode Islanders, was a career naval officer.  He also saw service in Crimea.  As a noted expert on gunnery, he was a natural selection for the military commission visiting Charleston.  (The Australian Dictionary of Biography includes a sketch on Goodnough, to include his death after a mortal wound from a poison arrow.)

Gallwey and Alderson did submit an official report from their observations during the Civil War, titled “Report upon the Military Affairs of the United States of America.”  I’ve never found a copy of that report for review.  While I’ve seen it referenced in secondary sources, none have quoted the report directly.  Their view on American weapons and tactics, particularly given the experience in Crimea, would be of interest.    But as the men of the 3rd Rhode Island kept their “best pieces” away from the inquisitive eyes of these emissaries of John Bull, the British officers only received a limited view of the operations. So the British report, while offering a measure of American technical and tactical advances, might also demonstrate how good the average solder was at keeping military secrets.

(Citation from Frederic Denison, Shot and Shell: The Third Rhode Island Heavy Artillery Regiment in the Rebellion, 1861-1865, Providence, R.I.: Third Rhode Island Artillery Veterans Association, 1879, page 239.)




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