June 29, 1864: “three out of five shots smote the castle” – bombarding Castle Pinckney

Well, not really a “castle” castle in the strict sense of the word.  Rather this castle:

Fort Sumter 4 Aug 11 1688

Castle Pinckney. The moniker “castle” applied to a few Second System era fortifications, more harbor defense than seacoast defense.  Castle Clinton in New York has a similar distinction.  Although the fort figured prominently in the events of 1861, being one of the first installations captured by the secessionists, Castle Pinckney did not see much combat action.  It was tucked away deep in the throat of Charleston Harbor, on the Cooper River side, out of position to effectively fire on the Federal ironclads or batteries.

By the summer of 1864, its main value was as a part of the last line of defenses – the circle of fire, as laid out by General P.G.T. Beauregard the previous year – in the event the Federal ironclads stormed into the harbor.  And even then, Beauregard considered it “nearly worthless” as a defense.  But regardless, the Confederates maintained a battery there.   Armament consisted of two 10-inch columbiads and one 42-pdr rifled and banded gun.

Although the fort’s armament could not range out to the Federal batteries on Morris Island, the same was not true with respect to the Federal guns.


For the most part, because Castle Pinckney was low on the priority list, the gunners on Morris Island paid it little attention.  But on June 29, 1864, they did take time to send over a “calling card,” as related in the regimental history from the 3rd Rhode Island Heavy Artillery:

June 29. Lieutenant [John E.] Burroughs trained a 200-pounder Parrott upon Castle Pinckney, distant about three and a fifth miles, and Sergeant [Samuel] Spooner with three out of five shots smote the castle. We dropped our shells into Charleston whenever we pleased; but the size of the castle made it the smallest armed target that we had selected; and its occupants, feeling that they were exempt from our regards, and safe, were sitting and strolling about on the work.  Our magnificent shots produced among them an indescribable excitement.  From that hour the work began to undergo a change, and soon, by sand-bags and timbers, it became transformed into quite a solid earthwork.  Yet it was never regarded as a point of vital military importance.

Thus with five 200-pdr shells, Lieutenant Burroughs compelled the Confederates to use valuable resources and labor to fortify a position that probably didn’t require fortification in the grand scheme of things.  All prompted after a “smote” of the castle.

As a follow up to a post I made some time back, efforts to preserve Castle Pinckney are moving forward. The Castle Pinckney Historical Preservation Society has plans to open the site for limited public access by 2018.  Their website offers many documents pertaining to Castle Pinckney’s history and current efforts to preserve the site.

(Citation from 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, pages 252.)

Published by Craig Swain

"Historical marker hunter" and Civil War enthusiast.

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