“How near can you put a shot to St. Michael’s church?”: Charleston bombardment continues

Activity on Morris Island during the middle days of November 1864 reflected stalemate that had existed practically since September 7 of the previous year.  The Federal batteries threw shells into Charleston in order to maintain the appearance of pressure on the city.  And as result  the heavy guns “skirmished” with each other across Charleston harbor.  Entries in the 3rd Rhode Island Heavy Artillery regimental history offer some of vignettes for the bombardments on November 14 and 15, 1864.  These indicate the daily affairs on Morris Island had evolved almost into a “sporting” air in spite of the dangers:

Nov. 14. Chaplain Hudson (New York Engineers), and friends from Beaufort, visited the front, and asked the privilege of pulling the lanyard of one of the guns firing on Charleston.  Of course such favors were granted. Naturally enough some of the ladies dodged a little as they let loose the thunder. When all had fired, Captain Barker said to Lieutenant Burroughs, “I’ve never fired myself; I think I’ll try it, that I may say as much as our visitors.”  Said the Lieutenant, “I’m afraid you will burst the gun.” “We’ll risk that,” answered the Captain. The gun was loaded. The Captain pulled, and, strangely enough, the gun flew in pieces, and also tore into splinters the gun-carriage, but fortunately inflicted no injury upon him or the bystanders.

The entry for November 14 continues with another story, which while not directly attributed to that date, likely happened around the time:

We must give another incident of expert gunning. General Foster came into Fort Putnam on an inspecting tour, and, while there, said to Sergt. George E. Hazen (Company M): “How near can you put a shot to St. Michael’s church? I should like to see you make a trial.” The sergeant said he thought he could come somewhere near it, and loaded, trained, and fired his piece.  Happily enough the shot went direct to its target, and struck the face of the town clock, cutting out the figure six. We therefore voted six for our gunner. We ought to add that this might not be done every time, and that all our gunners were superior in their work.

St. Michael’s, being a centerpiece of downt0wn Charleston, received a lot of attention from photographers and artists during the war.  Since the first time I read this passage, I’ve looked at photos taken after the fall of Charleston for corroborating evidence of this “expert gunning.”

From at least two different angles, no shot through the six appears.  Though we cannot see the other two faces in these views.

Recalling another visit from General Foster, the regimental history has this entry for the next day:

Nov. 15. Still fell the heavy strokes in front of Charleston. Generals Foster, Potter, and others, with visiting ladies, in two large ambulances, rode up to Strong and Putnam. As they neared the latter fort, the rebels, with ten-inch columbiads, opened from Moultrie, and one shot passed under one of the ambulances.  The tour of inspection was thus hastened and shortened. General Foster, in an irate mood, halted at Fort Strong and ordered Captain Barker to open all his heavy guns bearing on Moultrie, and send the ungallant rebels his warm compliments. The order was obeyed to the General’s satisfaction, for the gunners made splendid shots, cutting away the Confederate flag, and killing and wounding, as we afterwards learned, a number of the enemy; yet we burst two guns in the firing. Said the General: “That is the best firing I ever saw in my life.”

So over two days in a relatively inactive front, the Federals expended a large amount of ordnance and burst three guns.  Exhibitions of splendid gunnery, perhaps, but nothing more than skirmishing to ensure the Confederates would not further weaken Charleston’s defenses to aid other pressed sectors.

(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 282-3.)

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