Fort Johnston Photo Analysis, Part II: 10-inch Confederate Columbiad and Fort Sumter

On Friday I opened this series by placing five photos of Fort Johnson, overlooking Charleston harbor, in context with surveys conducted at the end of the war.


There are five more photos I will bring up later.  And those look at the fort from the interior.  For now, let me focus on the exterior photos looking across the water battery.  Best start with the first, or FJ-1 on my chart above.


The obvious eye-catcher is the 10-inch Confederate Columbiad in the foreground.  Great study of the columbiad as mounted in barbette.


As mentioned in the earlier post, you can see the damage done by Confederate axes in order to render the weapon at least temporarily out of service.  Zooming in, you can see individual hacks on the wood:


The rear of the columbiad offers a view of the elevating mechanism.  Note the base for the rear sight on the knob.


Lots of implements around the position.  Some broken but most in good condition.  Apparently the Confederates, having no need for 10-inch Columbiad implements, just left them behind with the gun.

Unfortunately, the only markings visible from this angle are those on the left trunnion:


That gives the date of manufacture as 1862 or 1863.  Not much help as Tredegar and Bellona Foundries produced many guns of this type during those years.

But there may be a way to identify the weapon, if among surviving pieces.  Notice the rough line just in front of the point of taper, at the rear of the reinforce.  Also notice a rough line in front of the sight mass and trunnions.


J.R. Anderson’s preference to leave the guns un-turned with rough exteriors may aid us 150 years later.  There is a 10-inch Columbiad across the bay in the Confederate section of Magnolia Cemetery which has a similar set of rough lines:

Charleston 4 May 10 210

This is Tredegar foundry number 1678, cast on October 13, 1862.  The lines are indicative of casting seams, where parts of the cast met.  Guns using the same molding pattern would exhibit similar lines.  So this is not definitive, but tentative.  Just raises the possibility of finding a surviving gun in the wartime photos.

Looking beyond to the other guns (which we’ll discuss in turn), we also see the berm that was Fort Johnson’s rampart:


You can see the texture here in great detail.  Almost to the point that layers of sod can be counted.  We lose something here with the black and white photo.  This appears to us as a bland, but sharp, earthwork.  But was the grass green in April 1865?

Other implements stand in front of the fort’s walls.  This is a siege limber. Likely used with the 8-inch siege howitzer further up in the photo.


In front of the columbiad is a cannister round.  Notice the rivets up the side:


Other debris is hard to identify.  Is that an auger laying out on the sand?


Or just a section of rope?

Further up the line, there are another couple of canister rounds placed in front of the fort:


We’ll get to the 8-inch howitzer later on, as it appears for better study in FJ3.  For now, let’s consider those three posts in the waters beyond:


There is a break in that line of posts about mid way through the distance to Fort Sumter. Then a couple more:


During the long siege of Fort Sumter, the Confederates ran a telegraph line to the fort.  But most sources indicate that was submerged.  Aside from possible ranging points or navigation aids, perhaps these were used to anchor the submerged telegraph line.

This side of Fort Sumter was one unfamiliar to the Federals in the spring of 1865:


Most of their observations came from the side fronting Morris Island and the breaching batteries.  This profile indicates how effective those batteries were.  The old dock, which extended from the gorge wall, is just a dike extending from the ruins.  The new dock, built by the Confederates, extends from the harbor face wall, on the left of this snip.  You can make out the lighthouse, which had been erected by the Federals shortly after the fall of Charleston.

The mechanics of the photography come into play here a bit.  We see several blurs that were vessels in motion.  Not focused enough to make out any details, other than the masts of the vessel on the right of the fort.


Yes… it’s water… and constantly in motion.  So for the time of exposure, all we have is a level plain over the waters between the forts.  We don’t know if the waters were choppy or placid that day.  But we do see a thin white line extending across the photo.  Reminds me of the foamy channel of water that forms as the tide is running out.

As with all these photos, there are a wealth of details as we zoom down.  For many decades, we could see these photos in books but not examine those details very well.  Now, thanks to digitization of the original negative, we can see these photos for all their blemishes and treasures.

I’ll continue this set with more detailed examinations of the photos of Fort Johnson.

Published by Craig Swain

"Historical marker hunter" and Civil War enthusiast.

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