Fort Johnston Photo Analysis, Part VI: A look across the front of the fort, keys to the interior

This morning, let us continue the virtual walk in front of Fort Johnson, as it stood in the spring of 1865.  Our next, and last stop outside the fort, is here:


I have labeled this photo’s location as FJ5 on the diagram below:


This perspective gives us a wide view of the entire front of Fort Johnson, from the epaulement to the left of the water battery all the way over to the howitzer in front of the far right of the line.  As this is an “end of war” view, might be good to offer perspective of the alterations done over the four years.  While I don’t have a photo to reference, we can look back at the diagram produced by Captain Truman Seymour (later Major-General, and someone very much connected to the operations around Charleston during the war) in February 1861.


This drawing, from the perspective of Fort  Sumter, shows the east end of James Island.  I’ve included the wharf and other structures in this snip of the original to demonstrate that James Island was a “happening” place before the war.  Many buildings associated with the fort, to include barracks.  And a lot of other structures standing behind.  Later wartime photos and drawings show that area devoid of buildings, as they were soon replaced by earthworks.

Before the war, Fort Johnson was more of a barracks than fort.  But at the onset of the secession crisis, state authorities ordered works established there to confront Fort Sumter.  By February of 1861, this is what Seymour saw through the glasses:


The barracks is to the far left.  The white building in the center of this crop is, if my memory serves, a quarantine hospital.  There were also some customs related buildings at the point.  The main focus here would be the battery.  Seymour plotted a work with three embrasures.  As he noted, and as we discussed regarding the arrangement in 1865, those guns faced Charleston’s inner harbor and not directly at Fort Sumter.

Seymour also provided a plan of the fortifications around Fort Johnson, as he saw them in 1861.


Compare this to the survey from 1865.  Speaking of that survey, since the FJ5 photo gives a wide view of the fort, consider the perspective as related to the profiles in the 1865 survey:


The location of the camera would be to the left, just above the high water mark, on Section 1.  On Section 2, the camera would be on the right of the profile, also near the high water mark.

We can also triangulate the location of the photographer for FJ5 based on items seen in the photo, compared to FJ4.  One of the mortars seen in FJ4 appears at the foot of the camera stand in FJ5:


My suspicion is this particular mortar is among several shipped from Richmond to Charleston during the war.  So I’ve looked all over the photograph for anything that might be a mark associated with Tredegar.  But in vain… had only the photographer been kind enough to catch a better glimpse of the trunnion.  A reference line, running between the vent and ear, is plain to see:


But not a single weight stamp or foundry number visible.

Other items that aid with location identification are the beams near the wharf:


So we should be able to sort out where the camera stood for FJ4, by looking back at the fort.  My guess, since FJ4 was slightly elevated, is that the photographer placed the camera on the ammunition chest behind the siege howitzer, or at least over it:


Of course that would require the photographer to be tripping all over the howitzer while servicing the camera.  The least he could have done is write down the registry number, you think?

The perspective of FJ5 allows us to take in Fort Johnson’s outer works as a whole.


We can still see the “bricks” that made up the works.  But those now appear somewhat sharper than in the other, closer, photos.

The United States flag flies over the fort, after its four year absence.  We’ll narrow down the location of the flag pole based on views of the interior later in this series.


The last berm, or epaulement, protected the battery from flanking fire from the left.  That protection was in place should Federal ironclads gain the harbor or Federal land forces get behind the works on James Island or even to the neck of Charleston.


We see the fort was designed to stand firm even if the situation collapsed elsewhere.

The only time the fort was directly tested by the Federals was on the nights of July 3 and 10, 1864.  Those were not in strength and repulsed.

Looking to the extreme foreground, we see a mix of gravel, dirt, wood, and shells that made up the fill in front of the fort:


This artificial bluff was improved during the war, adding to the fort’s defensive arrangements.

Before leaving this view, let me focus for one shot on the Brooke Rifle:


Notice the wooden barrel that sits in front of and to the right of the gun.   We’ll see that barrel again … as we step inside Fort Johnson in the next series of photo analysis posts.

Published by Craig Swain

"Historical marker hunter" and Civil War enthusiast.

3 thoughts on “Fort Johnston Photo Analysis, Part VI: A look across the front of the fort, keys to the interior

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: