Federal Forts and Batteries on Morris Island, Spring 1864

After the fall of Battery Wagner in September 1863, records of Federal works on Morris Island lack the superb documentation seen throughout the summer siege operations.  In stark contrast to the detailed engineering reports and diagrams, far fewer maps, profiles, or descriptions exist for the fortifications re-purposed for the longer operations from October 1863 to the end of the war.  One of the few descriptions passed by way of official reports came into the record on April 6, 1864.  In a very lengthy report from Colonel William W. H. Davis, commanding on Morris Island, several paragraphs enumerated the fortifications on the island and explained the work done to maintain and improve those works.  As for the works, Davis covered all those on Morris Island and behind it in the marsh:

On Morris Island, including the little work on Black Island, there are ten forts and batteries, namely:

No. 1. Fort Strong, mounting twenty-one guns and mortars, ranging from 12-pounder field pieces to the 200-pounder Parrott, with a garrison of 4 officers and 132 men.

No. 2. Fort Putnam, mounting ten guns, ranging from a 12-pounder howitzer to a 200-pounder Parrott, with a garrison of 5 officers and 100 men.

No. 3. Battery Chatfield and 10-inch columbiad battery, the former mounting two 100-pounder and one 300-pounder Parrotts and the latter four 10-inch sea-coast mortars and two 10-inch columbiads.

No. 4. Battery Seymour, Battery Barton, and 13-inch mortar battery, the former mounting four 10-inch sea-coast mortars, the second the same as the first, and the third two 13-inch mortars. The garrison is composed of 2 officers and 39 men.

No. 5. Fort Shaw, mounting two 10-inch siege mortars and two 8inch sea-coast howitzers, with a garrison of 3 officers and 159 men.

No. 6. Battery Purviance, mounting two 42-pounders smooth-bore and two 30-pounder Parrotts, with a garrison of 1 officer and 49 men.

No. 7. On Black Island there are mounted on the little work one 12-pounder Wiard gun and one 12-pounder howitzer, with 1 officer and a detachment of 10 men to take charge of the guns.

On the map, those forts and batteries appear so:

FedBatteriesMorrisIsApr1864

Battery Chatfield often appears as “Fort Chatfield” on wartime maps.  And like many of the Federal works, the new owners often referred to the old Confederate names in correspondence.  The Confederates, of course, continued to prefer those old names.

Also notice the mix of weapons in those forts – heavy Parrotts, columbiads (some no doubt captured Confederate types), smaller Parrotts, seacoast guns, and mortars.  The guns on Black Island served only for defense by this stage, with the heavy guns aimed at Charleston long since removed. The Wiard rifle could, if needed, reach the Confederate lines on James Island, however.

Outside of the listing cited above, Davis mentioned the old Marsh Battery, where remains of the Swamp Angel were still laying about:

I should have mentioned at the proper place that the Swamp Angel was dismantled during the month of March and the two 10-inch mortars in position there were removed. The ordnance officer is now engaged removing the pieces of the 200-pounder Parrott which burst in that battery during the bombardment last summer.

In addition to the fortifications, the garrison of Morris Island maintained pickets and made boat patrols to prevent any raids or surprises.

A close watch is kept on the movements of the enemy on the neighboring islands and in Charleston, and I receive a report at night of what has taken place during the day. Five hundred men, with the proper number of commissioned and non-commissioned officers, are sent to the front every evening at sundown and remain on duty for the night under the direction of a general officer of the day and a field officer of the trenches. They are posted at Strong, the batteries above (both sides of the island being picketed between Strong and Putnam), and at the left batteries. I have also placed sentries on the eastern beach as low down as the Beacon House, where a constant guard is maintained day and night. In addition to this the boat infantry, in thirteen picket-boats, sentinel the harbor of Charleston every night. With this precaution it seems impossible for an enemy to approach without our getting notice in time to prepare to repel him. I believe the night duty, both on land and water, to be performed with commendable vigilance. The picket-boats are also stationed between Black Island and Secessionville, and there is one on duty every night in the creek 500 yards in advance of the Swamp Angel, toward Battery Simkins, on James Island.

Backing up a bit, before listing the fortifications, Davis provided details of the work done in the previous month to both repair and improve the works on Morris Island:

The officer in charge of the engineers reports the following amount of engineer work done on the forts and batteries on Morris Island, during the month of March’ At Fort Putnam about 30 yards of palisading, washed away by the high tides, have been reset and the damage done by the enemy’s fire to the slopes and magazines repaired. At Battery Chatfield the inclosure of palisading has been completed and the gates put up; revetment around magazine to the 300-pounder and mortar batteries has been repaired; sand ridge in front of gun No. 2 has been graded and a flag-staff has been put up. The embrasure of gun No. 2 has been enlarged so as to allow it to fire on Moultrie; a platform for morter shells has been laid; the platform to 100-pounder has been raised and leveled; the embrasure of the 300-pounder has been enlarged so as to enable it to fire on Sumter and timbers have been put under them.

At Fort Shaw the slopes have been graded and dressed with manure; two gates have been put up and the sand ridge north of the fort has been graded.

The work on Fort Putnam and Battery Chatfield is now completed. A number of stockades are still to be set at Fort Shaw and the grading of the sand ridge north of it completed. The stockades are cut at Kiawah Island and await transportation.

I’m sure the defenders of Fort Shaw enjoyed the manure used to dress the slopes there.

Even as the Federals transitioned to a defensive posture across the Department of the South, plenty of offensive firepower remained on Morris Island in the spring of 1864.  And the Federals would send ample reminders over towards Fort Sumter and Charleston throughout the year.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 35, Part II, Serial 66, pages 41-3.)

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