Mortars at night against Fort Sumter: Another “minor” bombardment

Although not at the rate seen the previous fall, shot and shell still fell around Charleston as the spring season arrived.  Federals on Morris Island continued what is best described as “harassing fire” on Fort Sumter.  Usually no more than a handful of mortar or Parrott rifle rounds.  But on the afternoon of April 3, the pace of fire picked up.  Reports from Lieutenant-Colonel Stephen Elliott, the fort’s commander, reflected this increase.  His report on the morning of April 3 noted the previous night’s activities:

Fort Sumter, April 3, 1864.
Sir: Eight shots were fired while the obstructions were being taken in before daylight this morning; 6 struck, but did no damage, No further change.

Later, after dark, he sent another report:

Fort Sumter, April 3, 1864.
Enemy commenced firing slowly from two mortars at 5 o’clock this afternoon.

And the following morning, he offered this summary:

Fort Sumter, April 4, 1864.
Sir: I have the honor to report the firing continued up to 5 a.m. There were 66 mortar and 1 Parrott shell fired at the fort, of which 57 struck. One negro killed; no injury done to the work.

A “minor” bombardment for Charleston.  Yet anywhere else, that many heavy projectiles would have solicited more than a few casual lines in a report.  Elliot’s carried a humdrum tone.  On the other side of the channel, the Federals might have contested his round count.  The 3rd Rhode Island Heavy Artillery reported firing 80 shots that day from two 10-inch mortars:


The table includes figures for fires on April 29, which I’ll turn to at the appropriate time.  The 3rd’s regimental history described the weather at the time as calm.  The two mortars firing on April 3 were in Battery Seymour, just outside Fort Chatfield.


Given the Federal mortarmen knew better what they fired, I go with 80 shells fired, propelled by 490 pounds of powder, to a range of 1,800 yards.  Seventy five of those hit Fort Sumter with five falling short.  Yet, for all that effort, no serious damage to the fort and only one casualty – one of the laborers at that.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 35, Part I, Serial 65, pages 199-200; 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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