Fortification Friday: Applying what we know about fortification batteries

So we’ve defined and examined the different types of batteries used in field fortifications.  We know barbettes allowed the guns to fire over the parapet, while embrasures had the guns firing through the parapet.  And we also referred to rules for building platforms under the guns.

Lots of “book learning” but how does that apply out in the field?  Again, let us turn to one of the great primary sources we have for the Civil War – photographs!

First stop, a photo captioned “Company H, 3rd Massachusetts Heavy Artillery at Fort Lincoln”:

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Three Parrott rifles in view.  We’ll hold off discussing the 6.4-inch on the right.  It is the two 30-pdr Parrotts (correct me if I have the type wrong) in the center of view.  These are in barbette.  We see the classic layout as described by the textbook.  Note the raised earth, on which the engineers had platforms.  One platform for each gun, plus additional platform between the guns. Such leads me to consider this “beautification” of the works, to prevent a lot of wear and tear from foot traffic.  The parapet stands just higher than the axles of the carriages (siege carriages, by the way).  The gun on the left is at zero elevation (or at least darn close to it), with a few inches at the muzzle to clear the parapet allowing some declination… though without being there at that place and time, we don’t know for sure how much.  Lastly, note this battery one ramp directly behind the right side gun.  That is probably another ramp to the left of view (and there is likely another gun out of frame).  All in all a clean barbette battery.  Glad those heavies had time to keep the fort in order!

Now lets move over to Fort Richardson, where the 1st Connecticut Heavy Artillery had their guns firing through embrasures:

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Six guns in view here.  The one on the distant left looks to be in barbette, but the rest are embrasure.  Those on siege carriages sit atop platforms. The nearest is at the level of the fort’s parade.  Platforms for the siege gun on the far wall and that at the bastion (far distant right) are elevated at least a slight bit.  From the photograph’s angle, we cannot make out much of the embrasure’s details – the sole and other features are out of view.  But we do see a well cut opening.  The nearest gun and the next over (on a garrison/seacoast carriage) are situated so that the line of the bore is right at the interior crest.  Part of the muzzle is above the crest.  So the embrasure did not provide complete protection for the crew. Just enough, perhaps.

Now those are “garrison” troops well to the rear with plenty of time to make the fortifications look good.  How about those on the front lines who are busy sending over hot iron?  OK, how about Fort Brady, outside Richmond:

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Up front we have a big 6.4-inch Parrott firing through a well constructed embrasure.  Note the gabions and sandbags laid to reinforce the parapet.  And the parapet extends well above the line of the bore.  This crew had ample headroom…. but the embrasure is also rather wide.  Had we walked around the gun, we might find a shutter constructed in the embrasure to protect against sharpshooters.  Now this is not a field or siege carriage, but a wrought iron seacoast carriage adapted to the situation (and I think this gun is placed to cover an approach on the James… making it “seacoast” in function).  Note the shelf placed in front of the gun.  When hefting a 100 pound Parrott projectile, one needed a leg up… or two.

Behind that big Parrott are a couple of smaller brothers.  These also fire through embrasures.  We need to strain through the resolution to see the arrangements.  But there are platforms and the guns are given plenty of space to recoil.  All in all, this portion of the line looks well kept and orderly.  Almost like the crew knew they were to serve as an example 150 years later… yep!

A little less orderly, but still in good order, is a battery at Fort Putnam, on Morris Island:

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Another couple of Parrotts on siege carriages firing through embasures.   These were aimed at Fort Sumter.  They share a platform.  Notice again the gabions used to reinforce the embrasures.  What we clearly do not see are any shutters.  We know some batteries on Morris Island employed iron shutters for protection, though not present here.  The field piece on the far left appears to be a Napoleon.  It has no parapet, but is sitting on a platform.  It is my interpretation that field gun is situated to provide close-in defense, should the Confederates attempt a raid.  As such, it was there in part to be “seen” more so than to be used.  Sort of like an alarm-company sign on the front lawn.

Elsewhere in Fort Putnam, the field guns out for defense were given better protection:

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Talking about that on the left.  The gun is in barbette, though a stockade aligns to give more protection.  And of course to the right is another of those big Parrotts.  But this weapon is arranged to “super-elevate” beyond what the carriage was designed for.  Something seen often at Charleston in an effort to get maximum range out of the guns firing on the city or other points.  I call it out because, in a form follows function manner, the battery layout was altered from the textbook standards.  The gun fired over the parapet, but situated lower behind the parapet than a barbette battery.  In this case, the gunners were not concerned about direct fire.  Their iron blessings were sent indirectly to the target.

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