“Forty Parrott shells fired at fort to-day, 15 missed”: The Third Major Bombardment of Fort Sumter slows to a close

At 7:30 p.m on September 2, 1864, Captain Thomas A. Huguenin sent his routine summary report for the day from Fort Sumter:

Forty Parrott shells fired at fort to-day, 15 missed.

Routine was right.  For eight straight weeks Fort Sumter was under concentrated bombardment by Federal batteries on Morris Island.  Early in July, the shells came at faster rates and from large caliber weapons.  But by late August and into September, the Federal’s pace and weight of fire fell offFrom the first two weeks of the bombardment (July 7 to July 21) the average rate was just over fifteen rounds per hour, the majority of which were heavy caliber Parrott rounds.  Over the second pair of weeks (July 22 to August 2), the average hourly rate dropped to eleven and a half rounds.  Those weeks saw a larger portion of mortars and small caliber Parrotts used.  Between August 3 and August 14, the hourly average held somewhat steady at 11, but mortar and columbiad fires accounted for half of the total.  So with forty rounds during the day, added to the thirty-three Parrott shells fired overnight, on September 2, the Federal bombardment dropped to “minor bombardment” levels, if not “desultory firing” levels.

From the middle of August through the end of the month, Huguenin recorded the following tallies incoming to Fort Sumter (allow me to cite his reports, as opposed to providing a table, as his notations are incomplete):

  • August 16 – “Forty-two Parrott shells fired at the fort during the night, of which 22 struck; 58 mortar shells, of which 33 struck.”
  • August 18 – “Sixteen Parrott shells fired at the fort to-day, of which 11 missed; 56 mortar shells, of which 11 missed.”
  • August 20, 11 a.m. – “Twenty-six Parrott shells fired at the fort last night, of which 14 hit; 51 mortar shells, of which 31 hit.”
  • August 20, evening – “Nine Parrott shells fired at the fort to-day, of which 8 missed; 51 mortar shells, of which 11 missed.”
  • August 22 – “Thirty-four Parrott shells have been fired during the night, 9 of which missed; 42 mortar shells, 6 of which missed.”
  • August 23, morning – “The enemy fired 20 Parrott shells last night, 14 of which missed; also 23 columbiad shells, 11 missed.”
  • August 23, evening – “Thirty-six Parrott shells fired at the fort to-day, 22 of which missed; also 61 columbiad shells, 5 of which missed.”
  • August 25, morning – “Five Parrott shells fired at the fort last night, of which 4 missed; 27 columbiad shells, of which 5 missed.”
  • August 25, evening – “Thirty columbiad shells fired at fort to-day, of which 28 hit; 19 Parrott shells, of which 3 hit.”
  • August 26 – “Thirty-five columbiad shells fired at the fort last night, of which 16 missed; 18 Parrott shells, of which 9 missed.”
  • August 27 – “Eleven Parrott shells fired at the fort to-day, all of which missed; 35 columbiads, of which 3 missed.”
  • August 28 – “Eighteen Parrott shots were fired at the fort last night, of which 17 missed; 32 columbiads, of which 5 missed.”
  • August 29 – “Twenty-one Parrotts fired at the fort to-day, of which 15 missed; 40 columbiads, of which 9 missed.”
  • August 30, morning – “Ten Parrott shells fired at the fort last night, none of which struck; 29 columbiads, of which 7 missed.”
  • August 30, evening – “Twenty Parrott shells fired at the fort t0-day, of which 10 missed; 38 columbiads, of which 9 missed.”
  • August 31, morning – “Four Parrott shells fired at the fort last night, of which 3 missed; 31 columbiads, none of which missed; 1 mortar, which missed.”
  • August 31, afternoon – “Fourteen Parrot shots fired at the fort to-day, of which 7 missed; 27 mortar, of which 8 missed.”

For September 1, the totals were 34 Parrott shells, of which 14 missed; 41 mortar shells, with 17 missing. And as mentioned, September 2nd saw 77 total Parrott rounds both day and night, with 26 missing.   During second half of August, Huguenin reported two Confederates wounded, and also four negro laborers killed and nine wounded.  Life in the fort continued to be more dangerous for the laborers than for the soldiers.

Huguenin’s observations indicate a significant number of the Federal shots went wide of the target.  One would think, given a year of operations in which to fine tune the direction of the guns, the Federal fires would be very accurate by August 1864.  On the other hand, there was less of Fort Sumter to aim at by the end of that month, and the Federals were focusing fires on specific portions of the fort.  And there was one other issue facing the Federals on Morris Island, alluded to by Brigadier-General Alexander Schimmelfennig

In his update of August 24, 1864, Schimmelfennig provided his tally of ammunition expended from August 16 to August 24:

The following is the number of shots fired by our batteries and by the enemy since my last report of the 16th instant: At Fort Sumter, total number of shots, 1,014; at the city we have fired within the last twenty-four hours fifteen 100-pounder shell. Previous to that there was no firing at the city, the 100-pounder being dismounted by reason of a broken carriage, and the powder that we had for the 30-pounder being so poor as not to throw a shell into the city. The enemy has fired from Sullivan’s and James Islands at our camps and front batteries 118 shells.  This fire has been responded to from Fort Strong.

He didn’t indicate if the poor powder affected the firing on Fort Sumter.  But the rate of fire over those days was down to less than five per hour.  On September 2, he added the tallies for August 24 through that date:

The firing from our front battery since my last report (nine days) has been as follows: At Fort Sumter, 936 shells; at the city, 298 shells. The enemy has fired during the same time from his batteries on James and Sullivan’s Islands 490 shells, which have been duly responded to from Fort Strong. The enemy has thrown mortar shells at Paine’s Dock for several nights last.

The firing rate dropped slightly to just over four per hour on average.  At the same time, the Confederates had increased their counter-battery fire somewhat.

On September 3, Huguenin recorded 31 Parrott shells through the night, and one negro laborer killed.  The following day the Federals fired 35 Parrott shells at the fort.  The Third Major Bombardment, as defined by Captain John Johnson, ended with that.   A few days of relative peace came before another “minor” bombardment resumed. So one might read the finish of one period and the start of another as subjective.  Regardless, for sixty straight days Fort Sumter endured one of the heaviest bombardments of the war.  And the only major change in the situation at Charleston was a relocation of rubble.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 35, Part I, Serial 65, pages 72-3 and 236-40.)

 

 

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