Fort Sumter, April 1865 Photos, Part 2: The Confederate sallyport

What say let’s walk around Fort Sumter, as it was in the past… in April 1865.  Earlier I introduced this photo as capturing several key reference points, labeling it “FS1” for ease of identification:


In the first post in this series, I offered this as the camera location and point of view for FS1:


Keeping with the idea of “walking” the grounds as they were 150 years ago, let’s focus on that circle just right of center view.  That’s a sallyport built by the Confederates during the war.

For those unfamiliar with the layout, the original sallyport for Fort Sumter was on the gorge wall (at the bottom of the survey diagram, above).  That wall fronted Morris Island.  So it was the focus of the Confederate bombardment in April 1861.  Then later in the summer of 1863 the Federals started demolishing the gorge wall at long range.  By the end of the war, that wall was obliterated, barely resembling the pre-war form.  Profile A-B from the survey illustrates that very well:


Note the dashed lines standing tall just left of center.  That’s the “as constructed” profile of the gorge wall.  What remained was a debris pile, contained on the inner side by gabions, with an internal gallery.  No passageway remained.  Though I would point out, on the far left, the original stone wharf remained at the high water line.  (And parts of it are probably still there in the mud.)

So, with the gorge wall under fire and the passage destroyed, how did the Confederates enter and exit the fort?  They built a new sallyport, on the northwest wall.  That face was turned away from the Federal batteries and best protected from possible glancing blows.  Looking to the “left shoulder” of the fort from the 1865 survey:


Corresponding to the circled feature in the photo, we see the slit where the annotation “U” appears, for the internal entrance to the sallyport.   Turning to the lower-layer survey, more details emerge:


This passage leads out to a wharf.  Notice the passage is through the second embrasure from the corner.  The first embrasure was occupied by a gun covering the wharf.  The original fort wall remained on this quarter.  And immediately through the entrance, to the left and right are open galleries from the lower tier of the fort.  Confederates fashioned some rooms in this area, which we’ll return to discuss in a moment.  The line T-U refers to a profile diagram, with more details:


Again we see the “ghost” dashed lines representing the original fort profile.  Here the fort was cut down by Federal fires but the damage was not as severe compared to the gorge wall.  The Confederate wharf was built on piles extending directly out from the fort wall.  And we also see the galleries, from the original fort construction but re-purposed by the Confederates.  From those galleries, a tunnel passes under the debris into the fort’s parade ground.  This was the “front door” to Fort Sumter, from about August 1863 until probably the 1890s.

As this is an engineer’s survey, we might expect the dimensions to be in scale.  So what do we have as the width?  Well, sliding the diagram’s scale over to use as a ruler:


What?  About six to eight feet wide?

And the profile:


Almost ten feet?

Wouldn’t it be nice to have something in the photo to challenge those dimensions?   Oh… wait, we have that guy standing at attention on the fort’s parapet. Why not ask him to step down there…. A little crop, cut, and paste… and there he is:


OK… maybe this guy would go first in the next NBA draft.  Or maybe my photo manipulation is out of calibration.  On one hand, I can make the argument for a ten foot tall, eight foot wide passage there.  It would allow the garrison to move things like mountain howitzers about.  On the other hand, the Confederates would want that to be narrow, providing a small opening to guard against splinters of bursting shells.

Even if we go with the eight by ten passageway dimensions, that was somewhat confining.  Certainly not the way one wants VIPs and dignitaries and… an entire regimental band entering the fort on the day of celebration.  So in the later photos, such as those taken during the flag-raising, we see a set of steps going up and over the parapet:


Note that “VIP stairway” was in addition to the stairs going up the parapet that we see on the other photo.  The VIP stairs go up and over the parapet in a place leading directly to the wharf.  So everything fits – photos and surveys.

But if you arrive at Fort Sumter today, step off the boat, do you walk through the old Confederate sallyport?  No.  Here’s walkway up from the pier today:

Ft Sumter 3 May 2010 150

The left-most embrasure (bricked over) in this view is the casemate directly on the north (or left shoulder) corner of the fort.  Moving to the next over, let’s count … one sealed embrasure…. one completely removed … one open… a second open… then the doorway.  So five embrasures down from the corner.  How does that compare to the 1865 survey?  Let’s go to the draft version of the survey… for reasons you will understand in a moment:


“Box A” here is the wharf.  Note in the draft the extents of the wharf were… well it is a draft.  Moving from there, I’ve highlighted the passage as “Box B.”  Counting embrasures and galleries, we go to “Box C,” which is the corner gun position.  Now count one down from there – “Box D” – which is where a gun was positioned in the April 1865 survey, to cover the wharf.   So, we know the Confederate sallyport was through the second embrasure down the wall, which has the mouth completely removed today.  What’s in that spot now?  This:

Fort Sumter 4 Aug 11 1621

A concrete structure.  This was built up when the fort was re-built in the 1890s. In addition to Battery Huger, the Army setup casemates (what Civil War soldiers would call bombproofs) from which to control minefields setup around the harbor entrance.  Mines… you mean torpedoes?   Yes, those infernal machines again.  Here’s a close up photo:

Ft Sumter 3 May 2010 319

Of course that meant some other entrance was needed:

Ft Sumter 3 May 2010 152a

The short-story version of Fort Sumter’s sallyport changes, but by no means the complete detailed story.   The current entrance is not fancy, but certainly was better than that given in April 1865.  Going back to the call-out boxes in the draft survey diagram, I’ve highlighted the embrasure used by the present day entrance as “Box E”.

Recall that I mentioned some features were included on the draft that did not make it to the final diagram for the 1865 survey.  One of those appears just below the embrasure used by the modern entrance.  “Box F” is one of those:


A structure, which looks to be wood, placed outside the fort’s wall is labeled “kitchen.”  We even see a little smokestack on the upper-right of the kitchen’s roof.  That would have stood just to the right, as one enters the fort.  The kitchen was placed outside the fort, on a safe wall, to prevent an accident.  Certainly would not want a grease fire to spark a magazine explosion.  One of those magazines I’ve called out as “Box H” (see the full diagram above), which serviced the second three gun battery in the fort.

Notice also “Box G” here.  This is labeled “Telegraph Office.”  The main means of communicating between Charleston, Fort Sumter, and the other Confederate positions around the harbor was via telegraph.  Now days, this cannon occupies the spot:

Ft Sumter 3 May 2010 312

A 42-pdr Seacoast Gun Model 1845, banded and rifled, which we’ve looked at before.

So from keys offered in the photo, matched to features in the survey diagrams, we’ve walked into the fort, as it was in 1865, and identified a few important spots.  All of which you might stand on today when visiting the fort.


2 thoughts on “Fort Sumter, April 1865 Photos, Part 2: The Confederate sallyport

  1. Craig,

    I really appreciate the very detailed explanations of the features of the survey and look forward to your future posts on Fort Sumter! Thank You!

    Keith Chapman
    Civil War Round Table of Southwest Michigan

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