Fort Johnson Photo Analysis, Part IV: A wartime photo of a surviving cannon, a rare 10-inch Columbiad

The next stop on this virtual tour of wartime Fort Johnson, outside Charleston, South Carolina, is the photo designated FJ3:


The location of this photo is plotted with that designation on the diagram below:


I love this photo.  Mostly because of that scene-stealing cannon right up front:


I’ve blogged a bit about this particular weapon and shared its history at length.  One thing I would add to that, since we are pointing out the connection of this rifled 10-inch Columbiad to Fort Johnson, is another photo from the collection of the Charleston Museum.  This large columbiad remained at Fort Johnson well after the war before being moved to Fort Sumter for display.

When I first read Warren Ripley’s Artillery and Ammunition of the Civil War, the story of this weapon captured my fancy.  It was a piece of history that I could see in a wartime photo and then, after a ferry ride over to Fort Sumter, actually touch.  So from there started a lasting appreciation for the story of Charleston’s long Civil War siege.

This being a digitized copy of the negative, once again we see the fine-grained details:


Again we see the result of Confederate details, who chopped at the carriage.  We can see individual hack marks and chips hanging loose.  Notice the bolts, square nuts, washers, and plates.  This was a pre-war pattern carriage, built by the Confederates – likely in Charleston – during the war.

Another effort to render the weapon ineffective for at least the near term was the removal of the truck wheels.


Another detail that stands out in this photo are the blemishes and dents on the gun’s reinforcing band:


If you look at the same spot today, some of those, particularly the circular mark, stand out to the sharp eye:


However, with all the scuffs, blemishes, and scratches from the last 150 years, the band is far from the relatively “clean” look it had in 1865.  The photo above was taken in 2011.  The columbiad received some maintenance and treatment recently, so I’m interested to see it again… maybe those scratches have more stories to tell.

Looking to the muzzle, we see a tall blade sight on the lip:


This was due to the need to provide a fixture above the line of sight over the large breech bands.

Turning from the big gun, we see an 8-inch Model 1841 Siege Howitzer looking out towards Morris Island.


This is a crisp study of the weapon and carriage.  Looking closely at the breech:


There’s an interesting marking to the left of the knob. That appears to be a range table of sorts.  We also see the number “7” at the top.  The January 1865 report listed no weapons of this caliber assigned to Fort Johnson.  I suspect this howitzer was from the South Carolina Siege Train.  But it could easily have been one assigned to the other batteries on James Island.  I’ve tried in vain to link the number on the breech to wartime documents.

Behind the howitzer appears to be an ammunition chest.  In front of it, or at least next to the right wheel, is a tampion.  And to the other side of the wheel is a canister round:


More canister are stacked on the foot of the works:


Looking past the howitzer, we see the posts in the harbor:


Again, I have speculations as to the reason for these posts.  And my leading speculation is in regard to the telegraph line to Fort Sumter.

Speaking of Fort Sumter, there it is again:


In this image, we can see more details of the dock and second three gun battery.

Further to the left of frame is the shoreline of Sullivan’s Island:


Before leaving this photo, let us look at the foreground… and I do mean ground:


Remember this was taken in the spring of 1865.  I can make out grass and weeds growing here.  Again, let’s consider the natural colors which should replace the grey-scale.

Even more of the growth on the berm behind the columbiad:


Fort Johnson needed some Roundup!

But there is something to say about those weeds.  Those are “growth” and coming at the end of a long war.  No longer “frowning” works that bristled against the threat of attack.  Instead, we see nature taking over the works of man and beginning to transform them from the wartime appearance.

Next, we will go a few steps beyond the columbiad and look back along the gun line from the other side.

Published by Craig Swain

"Historical marker hunter" and Civil War enthusiast.

One thought on “Fort Johnson Photo Analysis, Part IV: A wartime photo of a surviving cannon, a rare 10-inch Columbiad

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