“The small number of artillerists now in the department”: The artillery of the Department of the South, Spring 1864

Major-General John G. Foster assumed command of the Department of the South on May 26, 1864.  Foster served at Charleston (specifically Fort Moultrie) before the war, had been second in command at Fort Sumter when the war started, but spent much of the next two years in North Carolina.  Foster was familiar with Charleston… and with making do with small garrison forces along the coast.

Among the first actions Foster took was an inquiry about the status of artillery within the department, with a focus on the field artillery.  On this day (May 29) in 1864, Foster’s Chief of Artillery, Colonel Charles R. Brayton of the 3rd Rhode Island Heavy Artillery, provided a report:

Sir: In accordance with instructions of yesterday from department headquarters, I have the honor to submit the following report of the condition of my department and the requirements necessary to make the same effective.

The effective light artillery within the department consists of three batteries, stationed, equipped, and armed as follows:


Batteries B and F, Third New York Artillery, have sufficient men for six pieces, to which number it is intended to increase them when horses can be obtained. Company G, Second U. S. Colored Artillery, is recruiting at Hilton Head and numbers upwards of 110 men. It is intended to arm this battery with six 12-pounder howitzers. In the manner above mentioned it is intended to increase the light artillery within the department to twenty-four pieces, which will allow a six-gun battery for each district. Required to horse the different batteries, each increased to six pieces, 250 horses suitable for artillery purposes. The remaining necessary material can be obtained from the ordnance department when required.

The light batteries served in the shadow, you might say, of the larger guns on Morris Island.  But as chronicled last year, the light guns provided support during operations on Morris Island.

After the siege, the batteries played a prominent role in the Florida Expedition in the winter of 1864.  But with the departure of the Tenth Corps, just three batteries remained.  At strength, but in need of horses. These were important assets for the department, providing mobile support for threatened points and any expedition inland.

The weapons listed – two 3-inch Ordnance Rifles, four Napoleons, four Wiard rifles, and four 12-pdr howitzers – is not complete, I think.  There is ample evidence a large number of light field guns and howitzers remained either in the fortifications or in storage.  One indicator of these “extra” weapons is the plan to outfit Company G, 2nd USCT with six howitzers.  And if I may, does that not say something about the acceptance of the USCT in the department?  Manning artillery, particularly field artillery, was judged a complex, mentally demanding job.  Recall the “smart ones” from West Point usually got into the artillery.

Brayton continued, reporting on the status of the heavy artillery at different locations in the command:

The heavy artillery forces within the department consist of ten companies of the Third Rhode Island Artillery, with an aggregate strength of 800 men. Five companies are stationed on Morris Island, in charge of the important forts and batteries, assisted by sufficient details from the infantry to serve the offensive guns constantly when required, and the defensive ones in case of an attack.  The mortar batteries on Morris Island are necessarily without full reliefs on account of the small force on the island. The batteries on Folly Island, which are purely defensive, are served by details from the infantry, instructed by non-commissioned officers from the artillery.

With regard to the manning of these batteries, keep the distinction in mind between the “offensive” batteries on Morris Island’s north end and the “defensive” batteries further south, down to Folly Island.  As reported, many of the latter were manned by infantry.  But it was the “offensive” batteries which seemed to have all the action:

Thirty shells are thrown into Charleston daily from the Morris Island batteries, directed at different portions of the city, and a slow mortar fire at different times opened on Sumter, with a view to prevent the mounting of mortars on the terre-plein. The armament of the different works in the Northern District are in good condition, and those on Morris Island ready at a moment’s notice for offensive or defensive operations. Weekly reports of all firing, changes in garrisons, bursting of guns, with full history of same, together with accounts of the firing of the rebels, are required from the chief of artillery of this district.

Further down the coast, Beaufort, Hilton Head, and Fort Pulaski also had heavy artillery mounted, but lightly manned:

The different forts and batteries at Beaufort are in charge of companies of the Twenty-sixth U. S. Colored Troops, under the instruction of non-commissioned officers from the artillery. The armaments of these works are well cared for and ready for defensive purposes.

Four companies of heavy artillery are stationed at Fort Pulaski and one at Hilton Head; the latter company is now instructing the First Michigan Colored Volunteers in artillery with a view to have them serve such works in Hilton Head District which cannot be manned by the artillery.

The armaments of the works in this district are well taken care of. The details to serve as artillery from the infantry have not such opportunities for drill as I desire on account of heavy fatigue work now going on. Detachments from the artillery at Pulaski are serving on the armed transports May Flower, Thomas Foulkes, Plato, and Croton.

Yes… the Army had some gunners trained to fire from ships.

Rounding out the department’s artillery, Brayton discussed the garrisons in Florida:

Fort Clinch, at Fernandina, is garrisoned by companies of the One hundred and fifty-seventh New York; the forts at Saint Augustine by detachments from the Seventeenth Connecticut Volunteers; the different batteries at Jacksonville by details from the Third U. S. Colored Troops.

Again, details from the infantry, including USCT, filled in where the Army lacked artillerists.  And this overall shortage of gunners factored into Brayton’s conclusions and recommendations:

The departure of the Tenth Army Corps left us with infantry garrisons, many of which were wholly ignorant of their duties as artillerists; non-commissioned officers and privates from the artillery have, however, been distributed as instructors, so that the different garrisons are in fair condition as regards drill. Copies of General Orders, No. 88, from War Department, relative to the care of field-works and their armaments, have been distributed to the different officers in charge of forts and batteries and provisions of the order required to be observed. The small number of artillerists now in the department renders it necessary that every available man should be on duty with his special arm, and as many are detailed as clerks, orderlies, teamsters, boatmen, bakers, and attendants in hospitals, I would respectfully request that all detailed men from the light and heavy artillery be ordered to join their companies, and that no details for any purpose, other than in the line of their duty, be made from the artillery.

Brayton did not mention, however, the employment of rockets and boat howitzers which had been of particular use in front of James Island.  Those weapons were, as with other artillery weapons in the department, manned by infantry.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 35, Part II, Serial 66, pages 105-6.)

Published by Craig Swain

"Historical marker hunter" and Civil War enthusiast.

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