“Two hundred and seventy-three shots fired to-day”: Pace of bombardment picks up at Fort Sumter

As mentioned in a post earlier this week, the Third Major Bombardment of Fort Sumter began on July 7 th… or July 8th…1864, depending on who’s reports you prefer to follow.  After sending some desperate messages on July 7, Captain John C. Mitchel at first reported less intense fire on July 8 at 11:35 a.m.:

Fire of the enemy not quite so rapid as yesterday. They ceased firing about 12 o’clock last night, and did not recommence until daylight.  Twenty shots fired during the night; 4 missed. There is another gun of large caliber mounted at Wagner this morning.

But by 8:30 p.m., his closing report for the day indicated a significant increase of fire:

Three hundred and forty-six shots fired since daylight; 20 missed. Fire continued slowly from 30-pounder Parrotts.  The smallest favors in the shape of laborers thankfully received.  The monitors have been loading up, apparently with ammunition.

July 9th, this day 150 years ago, Mitchel first reported at noon with a tally of 52 shots during the night and “firing about as rapid as yesterday.”  He also indicated a new heavy Parrott was in place and firing from Morris Island.  Later that evening he offered a closing report for the day:

Two hundred and seventy-three shots fired to-day; 27 missed. The gun mounted at Gregg last night is a 200-pounder.  A gun mounted at middle battery to-day supposed to be a 100-pounder. Slow firing from 30-pounders now going on.

So just as with the first bombardment of Sumter the previous summer, the Parrott rifles were the stars in the show.

During the night of July 9-10, 76 shots were fired, mostly mortars, with 28 missing.  But Mitchel reported the death of one of the garrison – Private M.D. Howard of the Gist Guard.  Later that evening, Mitchel provided the day’s report, indicating a drop in the weight of fires:

One hundred and sixty-four shots fired at fort t0-day; 17 missed; most of them from 200-pounder guns in Gregg and middle battery [Fort Chatfield]. The picket monitor fired 3 shots at fort just after daylight this morning; 2 missed.

An explanation for the slackening fire comes in Major-General John Foster’s report to Washington on July 12, which I quoted in the earlier post.  Foster’s intent at first was to simply set back the Confederate efforts to restore the fort’s defensive arrangements.  That initial goal accomplished, Foster allowed the gunners some rest while engineers examined the fort – from a distance of course – to determine the best approach for the next round.  Foster intended to cut through all the lower embrasures and casemates.  He wanted to leave the fort “thoroughly demolished.”

Between the 7th and the 10th, the Federals fired 1,389 rounds at the fort, according to tallies given by Confederates in the fort.

  • July 7 – 380 fired during the day, 16 at night; 42 missed – total 438.
  • July 8 – 326 fired during the day, 40 fired at night; 32 missed – total 398.
  • July 9 – 246 fired during the day, 49 fired at night; 57 missed – total 352.
  • July 10 – 147 fired during the day, 25 fired at night; 29 missed – total 201.

But this was just the opening stanzas of a much longer song played through the summer of 1864 … using thousands of whistling projectiles and bursting shells.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 35, Part I, Serial 65, pages 221-222.)

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