“Undoing the work and preventing further efforts”: Yes, another minor bombardment of Fort Sumter

After attending to the particulars after his son’s death, in the spring of 1864, Rear-Admiral John Dahlgren returned to his command of the South Atlantic Blockading Squadron outside Charleston with added incentive .  But he returned to a situation much changed from previous months:

General Gillmore had left, taking with him 20,000 men, and General Hatch was in command, with a balance of 14,500; though without direct instructions himself, yet he had seen those of General Gillmore, which ordered him to remain on the defensive, and he therefore felt obliged to do the same; moreover, the greatest number of men that he could collect from the fixed posts for any active purpose did not exceed 2,500 men.

Dahlgren still commanded a force with seven monitors and the USS Ironsides outside Charleston.  On May 10-12, 1864, Dahlgren convened a board of captains to discuss possible actions.  In a 7 to 2 vote, the captains advised against any attempt on Fort Sumter.  But looking at the recent improvements to Confederate defenses, the admiral wrote, “I felt desirous of undoing the work and preventing further efforts.”  With that in mind, orders were cut to bombard Fort Sumter again.  So for the eighth time since August 1863, the fort came under a concentrated bombardment.  This would become the “Sixth Minor Bombardment” for those keeping score.

The bombardment opened early on May 13 from the batteries on Morris Island.  In Fort Sumter, Captain Charles W. Parker reported:

… the enemy opened fire on the east angle of the fort shortly before 9 o’clock, and up to this time (10 o’clock) have fired 25 shots, 20 of which struck; firing continues.

By 1 p.m., monitors slipped down the channel and joined the Army’s guns.  And by 3 p.m. Parker added:

No particular cause for enemy’s firing; seems to be premeditated.  One 200-pounder and one 10-inch columbiad in Gregg, one 100-pounder and two columbiads in the middle battery are firing; also two monitors.

By 8 p.m., Parker talled 238 shots fired from the Morris Island batteries, with only 27 missing, and 180 shots, of which 43 missed, from the monitors.  One of the fort’s garrison lost a foot, but other than that, “Damage trifling in interior of fort.”  The Federal fires slacked as night fell.

That evening, Captain John C. Mitchel rotated in as the fort’s commander.  He observed 74 mortar shells fired at the fort that night, with 48 striking outside.  One of the fort’s garrison was slightly wounded.  Mitchel added, in a status report on May 14 around 11 a.m.:

The fire of the enemy is at the east angle and part of the sea face near it; the monitors are firing 15-inch, 11-inch, and , I believe, 200-pounder Parrotts; the land guns same as yesterday.  The engineer advises me to suggest that it would be greatly to our advantage if the fire of the enemy could be diverted by our batteries at Fort Johnson and Sullivan’s Island.

Major-General Samuel Jones concurred with Mitchel’s request, directing the batteries around Charleston to fire on Morris Island and the monitors.  So on May 14, a pattern of activity seen the previous fall re-emerged – with batteries on both sides joining into a general engagement.  At 8 p.m., Mitchel tallied 177 shots from the Army’s Parrotts, 98 shots from the Morris Island Columbiads, two shots from the mortars, and 70 shots from the monitors. And “one negro slightly wounded in the leg this afternoon.”

May 15 began, relatively speaking, quietly.  But Federal fires picked up through the day.  Although the total number of shots reported were only “80 Parrott shells, of which 23 missed.”  The bombardment would continue intermittently for several more days.  On May 16, the Federals added “144 Parrott shells, of which 33 missed; 22 columbiad shot, of which 3 missed; and 22 monitor shot, of which 4 missed.”  The fires targeted the east angle again.  In return, the Confederates struck the ironclads several times, “one of them evidently seriously injured; pilot-house torn to ribbons.”   On May 17, Confederates reported receiving 106 rounds from 30-pounder Parrotts.  And the bombardment concluded sometime late on May 18 with another 32 shots from the 30-pounder Parrotts.

I’m not sure as to the exact number of incoming rounds reported by the Confederates, but most authorities put the figure at 1140 rounds.  The Confederates lost one killed and four wounded.  Casualties were trivial compared to just one day at Spotsylvania, but an awful lot of gunpowder and iron for a “secondary theater” action.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 35, Part I, Serial 65, pages 209-12; Part II, Serial 66, page 483; ORN, Series I, Volume 15, pages 430-1.)


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