“with considerable annoyance to the garrison”: Fifth “minor” bombardment of Fort Sumter

On April 28, 1864, Federals on the northern end of Morris Island opened another concentrated bombardment of Fort Sumter.  This bombardment lasted for a week.  And if you are counting, according to Captain John Johnson this was the fifth minor bombardment of Fort Sumter by the Federal batteries.  This fifth minor bombardment consisted primarily of mortar fire.  As Johnson described, “…at the close of April, several days were distinguished by a novel discharge of mortars, eight or ten in number, firing in volleys, all together, at irregular intervals, and with considerable annoyance to the garrison.”

From the fort, Lieutenant-Colonel Stephen Elliott described the start of the bombardment in his daily report:

I have the honor to report that the enemy opened on the fort at 2 p.m., firing from two 10-inch and one 13-inch mortars.  Fired 51 shots, of which 28 missed.

Tallying shots fired on April 29, Elliott provided another short summary on the morning of April 30:

Two hundred and thirteen shells fired at the fort yesterday and last night; no injury.

He supplemented that tally the next morning:

Brigadier-General Alexander Schimmelfennig described the purpose of these mortar volleys in a report to Brigadier-General John Hatch:

The bombardment has been confined to shelling from our mortars at irregular intervals, and at the rate of about 4 an hour; occasionally by volleys from all the mortars. About one-half of the shells explode in or immediately over the fort. The result within the fort is not known, but the steamers have discontinued to ply between the city and Sumter at night. This firing has been ordered to prevent the enemy from carrying on the work of repair, which they have been doing to a considerable extent during the past month.

The 3rd Rhode Island Heavy Artillery manned those mortars, and we looked at their practice earlier this month.

April3_29_64_mortarFire

According to the Rhode Islanders, they fired 192 shells on April 29.  Much of the discrepancy between Elliott’s count and that of the Federals is explained by different time frames for the report observations.  Elliot said about a third of the Federal shells hit the fort.  The gunners contended 45% of their shots were good.   The Federals described the weather on April 29 as windy. They also noted several problems with powder and fuses.

As with the earlier mortar bombardment that month, most of the projectiles hurled at Fort Sumter came from Batteries Seymour and Barton.

MorrisIslandBatteries

The bombardment continued on through the first days of May, adding roughly 570 to the total count of projectiles fired at Fort Sumter during the war.  Elliott’s count by day was:

  • April 27 – Six shells bursting over the fort.  (prior to the recorded start of the bombardment, and perhaps ranging shots by the Federals.)
  • April 28 – 51 shells with 23 hits.
  • April 29 – 213 shells.
  • April 30 – 142 shells with 50 hits.  Another 25 fired after dark with 12 hits.
  • May 1 – 14 shells.
  • May 2 – 45 shells.
  • May 3 – 61 shells.
  • May 4 – 13 shells with 3 hits.
  • May 5 – all quiet.

During this period, Elliott recorded only one casualty in the fort – “one negro severely wounded.”

Based on observations of Confederate ironclads maneuvering and practicing in the harbor, Schimmelfennig directed a few shots at Charleston.  “The firing into the city is continued at the rate of 2 or 3 shots in twenty-four hours, at irregular intervals and in different directions.”  The Confederate response from the James Island and Sullivan’s Island batteries was not recorded by the Federals.

For the next week, Federals continued intermittent fire on Fort Sumter.  While making more noise and ensuring the Confederates felt the presence of the garrison on Morris Island, there is no indication these fires delayed any troop movements.  On the night of April 30-May 1, the Confederates successfully switched out the garrison, replacing companies of Brigadier-General Johnson Hagood’s brigade, which were tabbed for movement to Virginia.

Thus was the fifth “minor” bombardment.  Well over 500 shells fired.  Any other place in the war that might be a major engagement with appropriate battle honors.  At Charleston, it was just another incident in a long siege.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 35, Part I, Serial 65, pages 52-3, 205-6; John Johnson, The Defense of Charleston Harbor: Including Fort Sumter and the Adjacent Islands, 1863-1865, Walker, Evans & Cogswell Company, 1890, pages 206.)

One thought on ““with considerable annoyance to the garrison”: Fifth “minor” bombardment of Fort Sumter

Comments are closed.