“A minor bombardment, the eighth and last of all”: More shells against Fort Sumter

Writing after the war, Captain John Johnson, Confederate engineer and historian, wrote this of the bombardment of Fort Sumter in September 1864:

The bombardment which had begun on the 7th of July, and continued with varying intensity, but without any real intermission, day and night through July, August, and the first week in September, is recorded as having lasted sixty days.  A minor bombardment, the eighth and last of all, ensued for a week longer…. It can, therefore, be truly said that the military interest of the Confederate defense of Fort Sumter came to its end with the close of this third grand bombardment.  No firing upon the fort but such as may be termed desultory occurred after September, 1864.

Before discussing the reasons Federals shifted attention away from Fort Sumter, let us consider the nature of this Eighth Minor Bombardment.  Captain Thomas A. Huguenin, commanding the fort, reported some 35 shells fired at the fort on the night of September 3-4.  After that no shells came at the fort until the night of September 6-7.   So a two day “pause” before resumption of fires.  In the morning of September 7, Huguenin reported, “Twenty-eight Parrott shells fired at fort last night, 7 missed.”  From there until the 22nd, he tallied the Federal fires:

  • Night of September 7-8 – 28 Parrott shells fired, 8 missed.
  • September 8 (day) – 25 Parrott shells fired, 8 missed.
  • September 11 – 140 Parrott shells fired, 28 missed.
  • September 16 – 36 Parrott shells and one mortar shell fired at the fort. Seven Parrott shells missed.
  • September 17 – 44 shots fired, 18 missed.
  • September 19 – 15 shots (from the Marsh Battery), all missed.
  • September 20 – 13 shots (again from the Marsh Battery), one hit.
  • September 21 – 70 shots fired, 15 missed.
  • September 22 – 15 Parrott shells fired, 9 missed.

During this period, Huguenin reported one private wounded, two negroes killed, and three negroes wounded – all on September 16.  We see again the heaviest loss among the garrison was to those laboring to repair the fort, and not among the soldiers defending it.  Statistically, this “minor bombardment” seemed loosely defined.  Assuming Huguenin’s reports were complete (and none were misplaced along the way), there were several pauses during September.

But, broadening the focus, there was a lot more big gun activity around Charleston harbor which was not focused narrowly at Fort Sumter.  Sullivan’s Island was an occasional target of Federal fires.  On September 6, Colonel Alfred Rhett, commanding the batteries there, reported 15 shots fired at Fort Moultrie. The Federals fired another ten on September 8.  Then on September 9, the Federals fired 127 shots at Sullivan’s Island, which elicited 51 shots in return from the Confederate batteries.

On the other side of the harbor, at Fort Johnson, Colonel John Black reported firing “Twenty-eight mortar and 24 columbiad shells” at the Marsh Battery on September 10.  In return the Federals fired 45 Parrott shells and six mortars at Battery Simkins and Fort Johnson that day.  September 11 also saw heavy firing in that sector with 28 Federal shots incoming and 32 Confederate shots outgoing.  The shots exchanged between Morris Island and James Island batteries continued through the month, but began to slacken.

So while the Federal fires did slacken all around, the “pauses” in fires at Fort Sumter were in part due to emphasis placed on other points around Charleston harbor.  Subjectively, I would re-assess the “Eighth Minor Bombardment” of Fort Sumter as more of a general engagement around Charleston.

(Sources – OR, Series I, Volume 35, Part I, Serial 65, pages 241-3, 252-3, and 256-7; John Johnson, The Defense of Charleston Harbor: Including Fort Sumter and the Adjacent Islands, 1863-1865, Walker, Evans & Cogswell Company, 1890, page 235.)

2 thoughts on ““A minor bombardment, the eighth and last of all”: More shells against Fort Sumter

  1. […] Warren Ripley, historian and newspaper writer who chronicled the history of the Charleston siege concurrent with the Centennial of the Civil War, considered September 18, 1864 as the last day of the last “minor” bombardment of Fort Sumter.  After that time, as Confederate engineer Captain John Johnson described, “No firing upon the fort but such as may be termed desultory occurred.…” […]

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