On this day in 1863, around 12:30 PM, the Federal batteries on Morris Island along with two monitors in the main ship channel, opened a massive bombardment of Fort Sumter. As detailed back during the sesquicentennial, that eruption marked the start of the Second Major Bombardment of the fort. Those “major” and “minor” bombardments, along with “desultory” bombardments, were defined by the Confederates on the receiving end. Though the periods track well with Federal operational accounts. And this “major” was indeed a rather substantial bombardment by any measure. Between October 26 and December 6, the Federals fired over 18,000 rounds at Fort Sumter. That’s not counting shots fired at other points in and around Charleston during the same period, which was no small number.
The following morning, subscribers to the Charleston Courier saw this lead on the second column of the front page:
Notice how this news was titled and categorized. This was the 108th day, going back to July 10, of the siege of Fort Sumter and for all practical purposes Charleston itself. This is a point I drive home in presentations about the war around Charleston. The siege of Fort Sumter was the longest battle of the war, running from the summer of 1863 through February 1865. And by extension, the campaign against Charleston was the longest of the war, if we take into account the blockade operations beginning in May 1861. The citizens of Charleston, the Confederates defending Charleston, and the Federals on Morris Island all counted those days.
The full article read:
News from the Islands.
One Hundred and Eighth Day of the Siege – Enemy Opened Fire
The enemy on Morris’ Island having completed his preparations, about half-past 10 o’clock, Monday morning, opened a vigorous fire from Batteries Gregg and Wagner, with seven guns mounted in the former and four in the latter, all of heavy calibre, being mostly two and three hundred pounder Parrotts. The heaviest fire was directed on Fort Sumter. Out of one hundred and eighty-eight shots fired from Morris’ Island at Fort Sumter during the day, one hundred and sixty-five struck the fort and twenty-three passed over. Two of the guns on Battery Gregg devoted their entire attention to Fort Johnson, which also received an occasional shot from Battery Wagner.
Forts Moultrie and Johnson, and batteries Marion, Simkins and Cheves, kept up a spirited reply. The firing on both sides ceased about dark. The enemy threw some ten or fifteen shots and shells from a twelve pounder Parrott, mounted on Gregg, at Battery Bee and Fort Moultrie, but did no damage. Two monitors, which rounded Cummings’ Point, were also engaged, and fired some ten shots at Sumter. No casualties to the garrisons or injuries to the works are reported at any of the forts or batteries.
The fire from Fort Moultrie and the batteries upon the advanced Monitors and the enemy’s works, was excellent, and it is believed did considerable execution. It was reported that one of the enemy’s guns burst in Battery Gregg early in the action Monday morning on the third or fourth trial.
The firing is expected to be renewed this morning. With the exception of the two Monitors engaged there was no change in the position of the fleet.
The newspaper report is noteworthy in the details. However, Federal sources insist the bombardment began around noon, and not earlier. And there is not mention of a burst gun on that day from Federal accounts (although, one is recorded as bursting the following day). Usually, and I doubt this day’s report was any exception, the Courier’s writers blended information obtained from Confederate officers along with what their reporters saw first hand. After all, the war was happening, day and night, right outside their windows.
On the other side of the battle line, the 3rd Rhode Island Heavy Artillery was very active, handling the big guns. From their regimental history:
Please notice the handling of one of those guns. The piece has just recoiled from the last firing, and is out of battery; it is instantly depressed to a level; up step the spongers; back and forth, with a rolling twist, goes the sponge, and it is withdrawn; up rises the great bag-like cartridge and is entered; quickly the rammers drive it home to the clean, moist, but warm chamber; stout men lift the great conical shell and pass it into the black lips of the monster; and again the rammers bend to their work and drive back the projectile upon the powder; now the gunners heave the piece into battery; the sergeant looks to and adjusts the training, right or left; now he turns to secure again his proper and exact elevation, and makes his allowance for windage; the primer is entered; the lanyard is attached, and the gunner, standing behind the traverse, waits order. The officer cries: “Ready! Fire!” Hold your ears. Note the smoke – an aerial maelstrom and cataract, with voice of an earthquake. See that black spot traveling on its parabolic journey. Ha! How smokes and tumbles the rebel wall. Up go the loyal cheers and the boys pat their gun.
This work would continue, shot after shot, day after day, through the first week of December. Some days the fire would slack to only a hundred or so rounds, particularly toward the first week of December. But in those early days of the Second Major Bombardment, the tallies often reached 900 or 1000 rounds a day.
Such was the start of a loud phase in a long battle.
(Citations from Charleston Courier, October 27, 1863, page 1, column 2; Frederic Denison, Shot and Shell: The Third Rhode Island Heavy Artillery Regiment in the Rebellion, 1861-1865, Providence, R.I.: Third Rhode Island Artillery Veterans Association, 1879, page 195.)