“The right angle of the fort has been cut away”: Progress report of Fort Sumter bombardment

On July 26, 1864, Major-General John Foster mentioned the need for a report on the progress of the Third Major Bombardment of Fort Sumter.  On the following day, Lieutenant-Colonel William Ames, 3rd Rhode Island Heavy Artillery and Chief of Artillery for the Northern District, Department of the South, provided that report.  Ames addressed his report to Lieutenant William B. Dean, Foster’s Assistant Adjutant General:

I have the honor to report the firing upon Fort Sumter as still continued with good effect. The points against which our fire has been directed are, viz: First, the angle formed by the junction of sea and gorge walls; second, the right (enemy’s) angle of the fort. The first-mentioned point has been much cut away, and, in my opinion, is the point against which the whole fire should be directed. The right angle of the fort has been cut away for about 8 or 9 feet. The progress made at this point, however, has been very slow.

Such was the measure of advance against Fort Sumter – 8 or 9 feet.  But the Federal gunners were obliterating a fort, practically brick by brick.

Ames then mentioned a good reason for the slow progress.

So many of the guns used in breaching have been disabled that I have ordered the fire of the remaining guns to be directed against the center angle. During this bombardment great inconvenience has been experienced from the premature explosion of shells, notwithstanding that all the projectiles fired were thoroughly examined before being filled, and the fuse plugs well covered with white lead previous to being screwed in; still these premature explosions take place. The plan of varnishing the interior surface of the shells, as recommended by R. P. Parrott, has not as yet been put into practice, owing to there being no varnish in the ordnance department. Twelve 30-pounder shells prepared in this way were fired without any premature explosions. This is not a fair trial, however, but as soon as varnish arrives from Hilton Head it will be more thoroughly tested.

Recall earlier in the year, Robert P. Parrott had forwarded his response to complaints about his guns. Parrott felt the friction between the rough interior of the shell and the powder, due to sudden movement when fired, caused these premature explosions.  So he recommended a layer of varnish, spread by rolling the empty shell around, would prevent these explosions.  Now the gunners on Morris Island were going to learn how to varnish the inside of shells.

Ames provided details about the guns disabled over the last week of firing – and note the numbers reference the battery numbers, and not registry numbers.  Four guns including one which burst:

The following guns have been disabled during the past week: No. 3 gun (200 Parrott), Fort Putnam, burst July 25 at the 1,300th round. No. 4 gun (200-pounder Parrott), Fort Putnam, requires a new vent. No. 3 gun (200-pounder Parrott), Battery Chatfield, ditto. No. 2 gun, 10-inch columbiad (colored battery), has had about 18 inches of its muzzle blown off by the premature explosion of a shell. This gun is still being fired, and will serve well for short range.

Notice the columbiad was serviced by USCT.

Ames planned to pull one 8-inch (200-pounder) Parrott to replace the burst gun.  But he required ordnance support to repair those with bad vents.  He also mentioned an additional 10-inch (300-pounder) Parrott and a 6.4-inch (100-pounder) Parrott that were not in place at that time.  He had no replacement smoothbore guns.

Tabulating the firing done since the start of the bombardment on July 7 through July 21, Ames stated:

The following number of projectiles have been expended in the bombardment of Fort Sumter from July 7 to July 21, inclusive:

Fort Putnam: 764 30-pounders, 1,183 200-pounders; total, 1,947.

Battery Chatfield: 363 100-pounders, 294 200-pounders, 173 300-pounders, 98 10-inch columbiad; total, 928.

Fort Strong: 1,146 100-pounders, 142 200-pounders; total, 1,288. Battery Barton: 729 10-inch mortars. Battery Seymour: 542 10-inch mortars. Thirteen-inch mortar battery: 91 13-inch mortars.

Number of rounds from each work: Putnam, 1,947 rounds; Chat-field, 928 rounds; Strong, 1,288 rounds; Barton, 729 rounds; Seymour, 542 rounds; 13-inch mortar, 91 rounds; total, 5,525.

Number and kind of projectiles: 764 30-pounders, 1,509 100-pounders, 1,619 200-pounders, 173 300-pounders, 98 10-inch columbiad, 1,271 10-inch sea-coast mortars, 91 13-inch mortars; total, 5,525.
Grand total, 5,525 projectiles.

Just two weeks of firing, as this did not count the week of July 22-27.  The rate was about 395 per day, or 16 ½ per hour.  The majority of these rounds – 3301 rounds – were fired from 6.4-, 8-, and 10-inch Parrotts.  He didn’t provide the breakdown of shells and solid bolts fired.  But figure roughly 263 tons of heavy Parrott projectiles hitting the fort over those two weeks of the bombardment.

And this was a minor theater of operation, mind you.

(Citation from OR, Series I, Volume 35, Part II, Serial 66, pages 190-1.)

Published by Craig Swain

"Historical marker hunter" and Civil War enthusiast.

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