150 Years Ago: An inspection of the batteries on Sullivan’s Island

One aspect of the operations of Charleston that I like to present is the evolution of fortifications around the harbor (Federal and Confederate).  In my opinion, one should study such to appreciate the tactical aspects. Many authors will write on the subject as if a “battery” or “fort” was static and unchanged through the war, and thus representing a generic “unit” of force.  However, I would offer the level of detail offered in reports and correspondence during the war indicate the participants saw no small importance in the evolution of those defenses.  In other words, if the participants in 1864 thought it important to mention the different caliber of weapons, then 150 years later we should lend that aspect some manner of interpretation.

In the case of Sullivan’s Island, one can easily trace the evolution of the works from the very first days of the war, through improvements prior to the Ironclad Attack on Fort Sumter, changes after the fall of Morris Island, and all the way up to the fall of Charleston in 1864.  A report posted by Major George Upshur Mayo on March 29, 1864 provides one of several “snapshots” describing the works on Sullivan’s Island on that time line.  The entire report, including endorsements, is close to 3,000 words with three pages of tables, including a count of all munitions (the report appears in the ORs, Series I, Volume 35, Part II, Serial 66, pages 383-6).  For brevity, allow me to present portions of the main report with additional annotations where needed.  And for reference, these are the works in review:


Starting from the western-most battery:

Battery Bee, upon the western extremity, is not yet quite completed, though a number of laborers are engaged upon it. Its armament is in an effective condition, the guns all working well and protected by merlons. The magazines are dry and kept with neatness. The ammunition in them, as far as could be judged without examining each cartridge, is in good order; the implements new. There are three chambers which have no cannon, which, I presume, will be furnished when necessity or opportunity requires.

Mayo indicated Battery Bee included one 11-inch Dahlgren (salvaged from the USS Keokuk), four 10-inch columbiads, one 10-inch rifled columbiad, and one 8-inch columbiad. In the magazines were 241 11-inch shot, 97 11-inch shell, 671 10-inch shot, 435 10-inch shell, 50 10-inch grapeshot, 25 10-inch canister, 45 10-inch (rifled) bolts, 6 10-inch rifled shells, 338 8-inch shot, 134 8-inch shells, 30 8-inch canister, 124 11-inch cartridges, 626 10-inch cartridges, 180 8-inch cartridges, 2,496 pounds of common powder, 1,587 friction tubes, and 985 paper fuses.  Interesting, though, Mayo rated Battery Bee as incomplete even at this late date with open gun positions.

On to the next battery in the line:

Battery Marion, connected with Battery Bee, is neatly policed. The platform for the 7-inch Brooke gun has settled from its true position; the parapets in one or two places have a disposition to slide on account of the shifting character of the sand. Dampness begins to ooze through one place in the passage, not as yet sufficient to affect the ammunition, which is in good order.

Colonel [William] Butler complains of a defect in the powder sent from the naval ordnance bureau with or for the Brooke gun, saying experience has proven it to be defective in strength. To the eye it appears good; analysis can only disclose the reported defect. The same officer requests that efforts be made to procure for the guns in his command a small quantity of bar steel to repair the eccentrics of the columbiad carriages, which repairs, when necessary, can be made at the island. The battery is connected with Fort Moultrie by a sally-port.

Mayo tallied Battery Marion’s armament as three 10-inch columbiads, one 8-inch columbiad, and five 10-inch seacoast mortars; but he didn’t count the triple-banded 7-inch Brooke which was not mounted at that time.  In the magazines were 318 10-inch shot, 261 10-inch shells, 23 10-inch canister, 256 10-inch mortar shells, 125 7-inch rifle shells, 522 7-inch bolts, 16 7-inch hollow shot, 252 10-inch cartridges, 201 8-inch cartridges, 207 7-inch cartridges, 8,800 pounds of powder, 1,900 friction primers, and 600 paper fuses.

Mayo gave only a brief report on Fort Moultrie:

Fort Moultrie, next in order upon the island, has now no quarters inside, which gives a good parade within its walls. It is well protected by a system of traverses and the guns in effective condition. The magazine is in good order and neatly kept. In the rear of the fort are a number of broken canister, which might be removed for renewal to Charleston. The ammunition in good order.

The fort’s armament at that time consisted of four 10-inch columbiads, two 8-inch rifled columbiads, one 32-pdr banded and rifled, two 24-pdr smoothbore guns, and one 10-inch seacoast mortar.  Munitions in the fort included 660 10-inch shot, 269 10-inch shells, 36 10-inch canister, 33 10-inch spherical case, 90 8-inch shot, 53 8-inch shells, 190 8-inch rifled bolts, 274 32-pdr shells, 120 32-pdr rifled bolts, 553 24-pdr shot, 83 24-pdr grapeshot, 89 24-pdr canister, 450 10-inch cartridges, 255 8-inch cartridges, 485 32-pdr cartridges, 168 24-pdr cartridges, 18,275 pounds of common powder, 130 pounds of rifle powder, and 4,510 friction tubes.

Continuing, Mayo reached Battery Rutledge:

Battery Rutledge in good order, with its ammunition dry and well cared for. The batteries from Bee to this one constitute one continuous parapet, well protected with traverses and spacious, well arranged bomb-proofs, and in some instances with amputating rooms for the medical bureau; these of course were not visited.

Battery Rutledge contained three 10-inch columbiads, one 10-inch columbiad rifle, and three 10-inch seacoast mortars.  The magazines contained 396 10-inch shot, 125 10-inch shell, 7 10-inch grapeshot, 26 10-inch canister, 11 10-inch caseshot, 58 10-inch rifled bolts, 22 10-inch rifled shells, 40 10-inch mortar shells, 126 6-pdr canister (fixed), 29 6-pdr (fixed) shot, 236 10-inch cartridges, 4,000 pounds of common powder, and 2,300 pounds of damaged powder.

Mayo did not include a narrative assessment of Fort Beauregard, but listed the armament as one 10-inch columbiad, one 8-inch rifled and banded columbiad, one 8-inch smoothbore columbiad, two 32-pdr banded and rifled guns, one 32-pdr smoothbore gun, two 24-pdr smoothbore guns, and three 8-inch seacoast howitzers.  In Fort Beauregard’s magazine were 106 10-inch shot, 3 10-inch canister, 416 8-inch shot, 111 8-inch shell, 79 8-inch grapeshot, 113 8-inch canister, 169 8-inch shell, 69 8-inch rifled bolts, 101 32-pdr shot, 12 32-pdr shells, 80 32-pdr grapeshot, 69 32-pdr canister, 166 32-pdr rifled bolts, 7 32-pdr conical rifled shot, 156 32-pdr rifled shells, 229 24-pdr shot, 156 24-pdr grapeshot, 2 24-pdr conical smoothbore shell, 130 24-pdr canister, 749 unfixed cartridges of various sizes,  1,800 pounds of common powder, 1,150 pounds of “Rodman” powder (presumably “Mammoth” powder), 200 pounds of damaged powder, and 1,529 friction tubes.

Mayo turned next to the four numbered, and unnamed, batteries between Forts Beauregard and Marshall.

Nos. 1, 2, 3, and 4, two-gun batteries extending along the south beach at an average distance of about 500 yards apart, covering the space between Forts Beauregard and Marshall and intended seemingly as a protection against boat assaults, are small open works with no traverses. There being no magazine in this cordon of works, the ammunition is kept in chests, exposed to the weather. Some of the chests need repairs and tarpaulins as a protection.

Mayo suggested improvements to the parapet of No. 1; mentioned a carriage in No. 3 that required repair; and damages to the parapet of No. 4. Mayo also suggested these works needed iron traverse circles to replace wood circles then in place.  Colonel Ambrosio Gonzales overruled, saying the 24-pdr guns should be mounted on siege carriages to allow redeployment where needed on the island.  Mayo noted the “disparity” in the ammunition for each of these batteries:

  • No. 1:  Two 32-pdr smoothbore guns, 104 32-pdr shot, 15 32-pdr shells, 77 32-pdr grapeshot, 78 32-pdr canister, 93 32-pdr cartridges, and 176 friction tubes.
  • No. 2: two 24-pdr smoothbores, 84 24-pdr shot, 100 24-pdr grape, 32 24-pdr canister, 69 24-pdr cartridges, 140 friction tubes, and 5 signal rockets.
  • No. 3: Two 32-pdr smoothbores, 34 32-pdr shot, 9 32-pdr shells, 48 32-pdr grape, 50 32-pdr canister, 46 32-pdr cartridges, and 49 friction tubes.
  • No. 4: Two 24-pdr smootbores, 88 24-pdr shot, 14 24-pdr shells, 111 24-pdr grape, 99 24-pdr canister, 29 24-pdr cartridges, and 41 friction tubes.

The last work on the line inspected by Mayo was Fort (or Battery) Marshall, at Breach Inlet:

Battery Marshall, at Beach Inlet, is as yet in an incomplete condition, though the guns are all in working order. A large bomb-proof, in addition to those already complete, has been commenced, upon which a force is now at work. One of the 12-pounders has wheels of different sizes, and in another the cheeks of the carriage are not upon a level. These two defects in these two carriages should be remedied. The magazines are in good order, and dry, as well as the ammunition, but roaches, by which they are infested, cut the cartridge-bags. It would therefore be as well to keep the powder in the boxes and barrels until a necessity arises for use, so that the bags may be preserved. I noticed the passage-way to one of the magazines much encumbered with shell. A room constructed for such projectiles is decidedly to be preferred.

Fort Marshall, at this time, included one 8-inch columbiad, one 8-inch shell gun, one 7-inch Brooke rifle, one 32-pdr rifle, two 12-pdr rifled guns, two 12-pdr smoothbores, one 4-inch Blakely on naval carriage, and three 8-inch seacoast howitzers.  The magazines, improper as they were, contained 95 8-inch shot, 225 8-inch shell, 71 8-inch grapeshot, 90 8-inch canister, 156 7-inch conical rifled bolts, 19 32-pdr shells, 12 32-pdr grapeshot, 16 32-pdr canister, 32 32-pdr rifled shot, 100 32-pdr rifled shells, 292 12-pdr shot, 124 12-pdr grapeshot, 124 12-pdr canister, 25 12-pdr conical rifled shot, 62 12-pdr conical rifled shells, 32 4-inch Blakely shells, 28 4-inch Blakely grapeshot, 21 4-inch Blakely canister,  866 cartridges of various sizes, 2,800 pounds of common powder, 500 friction tubes, 35 paper fuses, 190 Girardey fuses, and 92 McAvoy igniters.

Mayo went on to discuss Batteries Gary, Kinloch and Palmetto on the mainland. But to serve brevity in a post already beyond my preferred word count, I will save those for later.

Mayo expressed concerns about unmounted and unassigned guns on the island.  “A 32-pounder banded rifle not mounted is laying upon the beach,” he noted.  He also mentioned several 6-pdr field pieces not under any direct control of the battery commanders.  In general, Mayo felt the guns needed “lacquer and paint” to improve appearances and protect against the elements.  Lastly, he noted the presence of bedding in the magazines, but left that matter to the discretion of local commanders.

I plan, as part of my documentation of each individual work, to examine these batteries in detail.  So please check back for follow up posts in regard to specific arrangements in each fortification.


Captured at Fort DeRussy: A Navy trophy with the wrong inscription

On this day (March 14) in 1864, Federals under the command of Brigadier-General Andrew Jackson Smith attacked and seized Fort DeRussy on the Red River in Louisiana.  In terms of blood spilled, the action was one of the war’s smaller actions, with less than sixty total casualties.  But, with the fort in Federal hands, the lower Red River was open for the gunboats of Rear-Admiral David D. Porter.   The Friends of Fort DeRussy maintain a website (recently revamped website I would add) with many articles and resources about the battle.

There is one surviving “witness” of that battle, which now resides at the Washington Navy Yard:

WashNY 21 July 266

However the trophy inscription would lead you to believe this gun was not at Fort DeRussy during the battle on March 14, 1864.

WashNY 21 July 270

The inscription reads:

Army 32-pdr //Banded and Rifled by Rebels // Captured from them by // Admiral D.D. Porter // At Fort DeRussy // May 4, 1863

But that inscription is in error.   The Fort DeRussy website has an article explaining this error in great detail.   The short version of that story is the reference found in the naval reports (ORN, Series I, Volume 26, page 26), under a listing of “guns captured at Fort DeRussy water battery.”  Line six of that list is:

One 32-pounder U.S. rifled, marked W.J.W. No. 289. This gun is an old Army 32-pounder, rifled, with band shrunk on the breech.

The muzzle markings leave no doubt.  This is that particular gun.

WNY 10 Apr 10 304

The inspector’s mark, “W.J.W.” for William Jenkins Worth, appear at the top of the face.  The registry number, 289, appears at the bottom.

The trunnion tells a little more of the weapon’s history.

WashNY 21 July 268

“I.M” and “C.F.” are John Mason and Columbia Foundry, respectively.  This weapon was cast across town in Georgetown, D.C.   On the other side, a sample scar cuts into the stamp showing the year of manufacture, which was 1834.

The gun was cast as a smoothbore 32-pdr Seacoast Gun Model 1829.  As with many obsolete weapons, during the war its owners rifled and banded the gun.

WNY 10 Apr 10 305

Seven grooves in what I consider a “sawtooth” pattern.  While no definitive markings or documentation pin this as a Confederate modification, the rifling and profile of the band lend to that conclusion.

WNY 10 Apr 10 307

The band extended over the breech face.  And it was built up with rings of wrought iron.  However the gun retained the ring over the cascabel.

WashNY 21 July 269

The gun itself offers an interesting study.  While I cannot firmly state the banding and rifling were done by Confederates, the physical attributes give that indication.  But where and who did the modifications?  Eason & Brothers in Charleston did such modifications.  But most of their work stayed in the Charleston or Savannah areas.  Tredegar also modified weapons along these lines.  Shops in Vicksburg and New Orleans had the capacity to do this work. Skates & Company, based in Mobile, Alabama, also may have done some modifications.  But all those sources remain speculative without firm documentation or some unseen mark under the paint of old 289.

As to the question raised in the article on the cannon about relocating the gun to Fort DeRussy (linked above), I’d say that would be an excellent “loan” should the particulars be worked out.  However, keep in mind this gun is now very close to its “birthplace,” if we can say such for a cannon.  It was, after all, cast a few Metro-train stops over in Georgetown.  Columbia Foundry was a vital weapons production facility for the early decades of the 19th century.  Perhaps some interpretation on that aspect of the weapon’s history would also serve the public.

150 years ago: Beauregard considers using his own “fire shells” against the Federals

On January 8, 1864, Brigadier-General Thomas Jordon, Chief of Staff for General P.G.T. Beauregard, wrote to Major-General Jeremy F. Gilmer, second in command of Confederate forces in Savannah, Georgia:

The commanding general wishes to know if some way cannot be devised for destroying the enemy’s dock-yards, machine shops, &c, at Scull Creek [sic], either by an expedition specially organized for the purpose or by long-range rifled 32-pounder used as mortars, firing “liquid-fire shells” at from 3 ½ to 4 miles’ range.

Back in November 1863, Beauregard alluded to his own incendiary shells in correspondence with authorities in Richmond.  At that time, he related, “I am in possession of a ‘liquid fire’ which will make the Yanks open their eyes whenever I commence using it against their encampments.”

The “liquid fire” referred to was a phosphorus mixture.  In the spring of 1863, Dr. James R. Cheves of Savannah received authorization to experiment with white phosphorus.  As the compound will ignite under some conditions in contact with air, packaging of the material in the shell was as important as promoting the ignition at the target.  By late August, he was ready to demonstrate his research. Cheves modified some 12-pdr shells, with the loading described in a report from Lieutenant-Colonel Charles Jones:

Having been placed under war water, they were filled with lump phosphorus, which, under those circumstances, immediately melts.  They were there upon transferred to cold water, and, upon the hardening of the phosphorus in each shell a cavity was bored out sufficiently large to receive the metallic tube, and also to admit a thin stratum of water around it after it had been hardened.  The cavity of the shell thus charged is kept filled with water, the metallic tube inserted, and its tightness insured by means of a washer of lead, quite thin, and the use of white lead in screwing in the screw-stopper to which the metallic tube is attached.

The presence of water prevented contact with air.  When readied for action, a bursting charge and fuse was placed in the metallic tube, and ignited as a standard fuse when fired.  Jones reported the results of the test against a stand of pines at White Bluff, outside Savannah:

The first shell was fired at a considerable elevation, exploding at a distance of perhaps 300 yards from the muzzle of the piece and evolving a burning cloud of phosphorus, probably not less than 30 or 40 feet in diameter, from which particles of ignited phosphorus descended, reaching the ground, and for some moments continuing in a state of ignition.

The other shells were fired with second-fuses, and were exploded at one time in a clump of green pines, the leaves of which were considerably scorched, although dripping with rain-drops from the recent shower…. In each case there was a similar evolution of a large cloud of burning phosphorus, while the large particles, falling to the ground, in some instances fired the grass and twigs to a certain extent, the combustion continuing for several moments after the explosion of the shell.

Jones concluded that the wet conditions prevented a larger fire during the tests. The obvious conclusion was these shells would have considerable effect on wooden structures or positions inside tree-lines.  “If exploded within the cavity of a vessel, their effects would be most disastrous.”

Page 13

Through the fall, Cheves continued to refine the application and to produce a stockpile of incendiary shells (12-pdr and 8-inch mentioned) and grenades.   The problem then became one of delivery.

Service Record Page 11

The portions of Morris Island within range of Confederate guns did not present very good targets for incendiary devices.  Save a lucky hit upon a magazine, the sand batteries were not vulnerable to fire.  The Federal camps on the south end of Morris Island or on Folly Island, on the other hand, did present targets for incendiary shells.  Likewise the complex of camps and buildings on Hilton Head also offered targets for these phosphorus shells.  But the problem was ranging those bases.

That in mind, on January 4, Beauregard authorized Colonel J.R. Waddy to experiment with rifled 32-pdr guns fired at extreme elevation:

The commanding general wishes you to make experiments in the city with the 32-pdr rifle intended for Battery Haskell, with a view to ascertain its range when used as a mortar.  The charge, which should be the smallest practicable, length of fuse, &c, must be determined for ranges from 2½ to 3½ miles. When in position at Battery Haskell, it will not be fired without orders from these headquarters.

But even with that extended range, the guns could not range all the desired targets.  The map below demonstrates a 3½ mile range, with a red arc, from Battery Haskell:


Within range of the 32-pdr rifle/mortar arrangement were the camps on the south end of Morris Island, the ordnance and engineer depot, camps on Little Folly Island, and Light House Inlet.  From the Confederate perspective, perhaps a chance to strike a blow directly against the troops firing on Charleston.  But this implied firing the weapon at maximum range towards camps inside sand dunes.  But one wonders about the effect of fires among all those ammunition crates in the Ordnance Depot.  And the 32-pdrs would not range Major-General Quincy Gillmore’s headquarters on Folly Island.

As for any position on Skull Creek, consider the most advance posting I can think of:


Again, the red arc demonstrates the maximum range specified.  Fort Mitchel falls in range, but that might be done with a direct fire weapon.  The important targets fell well out of range.  And this implies the Confederates could work under the noses of Federal pickets from Fort Mitchel.

While desiring to retaliate against the Federal bombardment of Charleston with “fire shells,” Beauregard simply lacked the weapons to reach the really good targets.

(Citations and sources: OR, Series I, Volume 28, Part II, Serial 47, page 340-42, 501; Series I, Volume 35, Part I, Serial 65, pages 504 and 513;

The Guns of Battery Wagner

The armament of Battery Wagner included a varied lot when compared to the predominately Parrott siege train on the Federal side of Morris Island. The assortment of Wagner’s guns reflected the sources drawn upon by the Confederates. Battery Wagner featured fifeteen gun positions and three mortar positions. Those are lettered here for clarity:


Major Thomas Brooks recorded the locations of guns in the battery at the time of capture. You’ll notice I skipped “F” because that location, of a broken gun, was not annotated clearly. Brooks skipped “J” in his records. So we have A to T with those omissions.

There were minor variations in the armament during the siege. And of course several of the weapons were disabled, some repaired, during the siege. Let me discuss these in order of the positions:

I don’t think this is an exhaustive listing. Additional 12-pdr and 32 pdr field howitzers and 32-pdr howitzers were listed in the fort’s armament at the start of the siege. Also add to this tally the guns in Battery Gregg which included 8-inch shell guns and a IX-inch Dahlgren.

These weapons saw heavy service during the seven weeks of siege operations. During some of the days of heaviest fighting, Brigadier-General Alfred Colquitt reported the following expenditures of ammunition from Battery Wagner’s guns:

  • August 29 – 32-pdr smoothbore guns fired 27 shell, one canister and one grapeshot; 32-pdr howitzers fired 20 shells; 12-pdr howitzer fired 99 case and 53 canister.
  • August 30 – 10-inch mortars fired 40 shells; 10-inch columbiads fired four shells; 8-inch seacoast howitzers fired 30 shells and eight grape; 32-pdr smoothbore guns fired 9 shells and one each of grape and canister; 12-pdr howitzers added 62 case, 44 shells, and 8 canister.
  • August 31 – 203 shots from guns and howitzers; 61 shells from mortars.
  • September 1 – 182 shots fired from all weapons.

Compared to the Federal siege guns, the non-uniform armament of Battery Wagner offered few long range weapons. A couple of columbiads, often just one serviceable, offered token resistance against the Federal ironclads. At the same time a motley array of short range weapons were employed to “sweep” the approaches to the fortification. The carronades, howitzers, and mortars in Battery Wagner were much feared by those building the approach lines in front of the Confederate works.

Batteries in the Marshes: The Defenses of Savannah, Part 2

Continuing from yesterday’s post, I’ll first turn to the improvements to the fortifications directed by General P.G.T. Beauregard in October 1862.

Although after his initial, but brief September 1862 inspection, Beauregard considered the defenses well placed, after the detailed inspection in October, he found many issues with gun placement in the works.  Beauregard called for repositioning of guns in almost all the existing major fortifications.  In addition he cited poor magazine and traverse placement in several of the batteries.

Those “tuning” chores in order, Beauregard ordered several new batteries erected.  To produce a cross-fire against any threat from Whitemarsh Island, he ordered a three-gun battery built at Greenwich Point on St. Augustine Creek. Turning again to the map, that battery is depicted in green and those from the earlier date in yellow (and remember the base map depicts fortifications as they existed in December 1864, so don’t jump ahead with this story and ignore the red and blue markings!)


Notice how the guns from Carston’s Bluff, Greenwich Point, and Thunderbolt sealed off any approach from Whitemarsh Island.

Further south, Beauregard wanted a battery on Rosedew Island to cover the Little Ogeechee River. And to further protect the causeway leading south to this extended line, he directed the formation of a siege train and additional works on Isle of Hope. The later, along with another three-gun battery, would help cover the approaches from Skidaway Island.


Rosedew Island is just left of center, again in green.  The Isle of Hope fortifications extended at different points from the center-right, upwards.  I’ve depicted two locations on opposite ends of the island.  However I am not sure exactly where the three gun battery, named Lake Bluff Battery, was located (UPDATEDon’t know why I overlooked this name.  Lake Bluff Battery – as noted in the table below, was located on the Altamaha River well southwest of Savannah.  The battery was an isolated and remote defense, but is of interest to those who like the obscure stories!  Look for a follow up post.).

Beauregard also directed a series of signal stations – Genesis Point, Rosedew Island, Beaulieu, Isle of Hope Causeway, Thunderbolt, Carston’s Bluff, Fort Jackson, Fort Boggs, and in Savannah.

But with regard to the guns in the forts, Savannah continued to make do with what was available after the harder pressed sectors received their allocations.  I’ve not located any returns for January or February 1863, but Major General Benjamin Huger provided a well detailed inspection report dated March 31, 1863. I derive the table below from that report.


Not listed here are several field guns, including rifled guns, listed in the fortifications.  The value of these guns was protecting land-side approaches to the forts, not defending the waterways.  The siege train employed for the Isle of Hope consisted, in March 1863, of four 8-inch siege howitzers, two 4-inch Blakely rifles, and one 20-pdr Parrott.  Also not listed above were a couple of Confederate ironclads – the CSS Georgia (although just a floating battery) and the CSS Atlanta – to supplement the land defenses.

Huger also provided a sketch indicating the facings of the guns along the Savannah River.


Clearly the Confederates had the Savannah River tied up nicely.  Further south, the works along the Ogeechee, Little Ogeechee, and Vernon Rivers required more attention.  If Savannah were to remain an option for blockade runners or commerce raiders, the Confederates had to control those waterways.


Looking at events 150 years ago, it was the battery at Genesis Point, by this time called Fort McAllister, which was receiving the attention of the Federals.  As noted above, the fort was armed with one 10-inch columbiad, one 8-inch columbiad, one 42-pdr gun, three 32-pdr guns, one 32-pdr rifle, and one 10-inch mortar.

Ft McAllister 5 May 10 073
Reproduction Columbiad at Fort McAllister

Those seven guns (and one mortar) would soon duel with Federal ironclads.

Ft McAllister 5 May 10 049
Reproduction 32-pdr Gun at Fort McAllister

(The referenced reports and orders appear in OR, Series I, Volume 14, Serial 20, pages 657-60 and 853-8)

Batteries in the Marshes: The defenses of Savannah, Part 1

Now if you consider the Charleston area a backwater by the middle of the Civil War, then maybe Savannah, Georgia qualifies as an eddy. But just as Charleston saw considerable activity in January 1863, the combatants in the Savannah sector were restless. Yesterday “Seaman Rob” provided a look at the ironclads bombardment of Fort McAllister, an operation taking place 150 years ago this week. Allow me to address the “land” side of activity in that theater.

After the fall of Fort Pulaski, activity around Savannah tapered off. Mostly garrison routine with a few patrols and blockade activity. The inactivity was partly due to limited forces arrayed. Any serious move against Savannah required more Federal troops, perhaps three times the number committed. And on the other side, the Confederates barely had enough troops to maintain the works.

However that is not to say Savannah lacked importance. The port remained an option for blockade runners. Even though Fort Pulaski denied access to the Savannah River, other routes allowed secretive blockade runners to slip in and out. The map below highlights the location of Wassaw and Ossabaw Sounds, with Savannah in the upper center (and Fort Pulaski on the upper right).


The map above is from the Official Records Atlas. It is a color version of a map drawn up at the war’s end and depicts fortifications in place at the time Major General William T. Sherman captured Savannah in December 1864. So keep that in mind when looking at the installations indicated in red and blue.

It was possible for ocean-going ships to work down from the port of Savannah, through St. Augustine Creeek and the Wilmington River, to reach Wassaw Sound. Lighter draft vessels could work the waters inshore of Sidaway Island to reach Ossabaw Sound. Furthermore, blockade runners could take shelter in the Ogeechee River (meandering across the lower left of the map) behind a well placed Confederate battery. (And I would add that all of the waterways named here are part of the modern Intercoastal Waterway.)

Notice also the proximity of the Atlantic and Gulf Railroad which, through several junctions, connected Savannah to Macon and Florida. Like many railways in the Confederacy, this became an important supply line. Reports during the war indicated vessels drawing up to 13 feet of draft could reach the railroad where it passed over the Ogeechee River, if well piloted.

Ft McAllister 5 May 10 127
Ogeechee River, just upstream from the Railroad Crossing

But not only were those waterways havens for blockade runners, they also offered up avenues for Federal raiders. The problem facing the Confederates was, with limited forces, the need to cover a vast area filled with tidal marshes. In September 1862, the Military District of Georgia counted only 8,371 present for duty.

Conversely, the problem for the Federals was how to move past those marshes and get to firm ground for maneuver. The Federal Navy couldn’t move up the rivers without ground support. And there simply was no “ground” from which to support! And like the Confederates, the Federals lacked the force to do much campaigning. An October 1862 return tallied only 12,837 present for duty throughout the entire Department of the South (covering South Carolina, Georgia, and north Florida).

Shortly after taking command of the Department of South Carolina and Georgia at the end of August 1862, General P.G.T. Beauregard began an inspection tour. He visited Savannah on September 21, 1862, but time constraints prevented a detailed review. He returned a month later in October for a very thorough inspection of Savannah’s defenses. This section of the map depicts the defenses immediately east of Savannah, extending south from the Savannah River. The fortifications indicated in Beauregard’s October report are depicted with yellow boxes (again, keep in mind that the base map depicted the works existing in December 1864).


The Savannah River defenses centered on a line roughly three miles downstream from Savannah. Beauregard considered Fort James Jackson, dating to the War of 1812, “a very weak work.” Battery Lee, just downstream, was better sited and armed. A battery across the marsh on Carston’s Bluff protected the back of Fort Lee. Across the river from Fort Jackson was a “Naval Battery” on a low island in the river (later named Fort Tattnall). Battery Lawton on Barnwell Island completed the line. Fort Boggs, just outside Savannah, provided another layer of river defense. Batteries near the waterfront and on Hutchinson Island provided close defense of the river-port.

To the south, the lone work defending the Wilmington River was Thunderbolt Battery. Very little covered St. Augustine Creek, which connected the Wilmington and Savannah Rivers. And St. Augustine Creek also lead back east to the waters behind Tybee Island, in close proximity to Fort Pulaski. However, while this offered a path for Federal advances, there was precious little ground for the Federals to stage for an attack across St. Augustine Creek towards Savannah. The Federals had patrolled Whitemarsh Island, the most suitable for Federal needs. But even there the marshes prohibited any direct move across to Savannah.

Further to the south of Savannah, very little covered the waterways and tidal marshes. Beauregard reported only two works – a battery at Beaulieu and a another battery at Genesis Point (later named Fort McAllister).


Here again, marshes kept the Federals at arms length. Skidaway Island might serve as a base for attacks inland – but only if a commander found a way through the tidal flats and marshes.

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Ogeechee River at Fort McAllister

Beauregard included an inventory of the guns located in the forts defending Savannah from seaward approaches. (Beauregard also detailed the western, or land, defenses of the city, where 37 siege guns, howitzers and carronades were present.)


As with Charleston, the majority of ordnance on hand was older, obsolete 32-pdr guns. But Savannah had only five rifled guns. Recall that Fort Pulaski had forty-six guns at the time it fell, including five 10-inch columbiads, nine 8-inch columbiads, three 42-pdr guns, twenty 32-pdr guns, and two 4.5-inch Blakely rifles. Certainly iron Beaureagard wished he had back in the winter of 1863.

Beauregard was not just concerned about the number of guns defending Savannah. He also no less than 29 actions – ranging from improved magazine placement to plans for removal of women and children at Federal approach – required to better defend the city. I will look at some of those actions taken through January 1863 in the next post.

(Beauregard’s reports are found in OR, Series I, Volume 14, Serial 20, pages 633-4, 645-648, and 657-60.)

150 years ago: Rifled guns defending Charleston

Recently I mentioned Confederate efforts to arm and equip the batteries defending Charleston, South Carolina in the winter of 1862-3. On this day (January 23) in 1863, Colonel Ambrosio J. Gonzales, Chief of Artillery and Ordnance for General P.G.T. Beauregard’s department, filed a report detailing the rifled guns in South Carolina and the ammunition available for those guns.

The report included a table similar to this one, with the title “Approximate statement of rifled guns in South Carolina”:


In the remarks section below the table, Gonzales explained the disposition of a handful of other weapons in the department:

Besides the within rifled guns there are in Georgetown, S.C.. two 12-pounder banded rifled guns, received from Richmond and two 6-pounder rifled Blakely guns.

In Georgia there are one 32-pounder rifled, one 30 pounder Parrott, two 24-pounder Blakely and a few field 6-pounders. There are in Florida, as far as is known, a few 3-inch rifled guns.

Thus all told, Gonzales tallied over seventy guns. Almost half of the total were field gun caliber weapons. Those were of little use against the Federal fleet, which was seen as the most dangerous threat. Indeed, none of these guns were larger than 7-inch caliber (42-pdr).

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42-pdr Seacoast Gun, Banded and Rifled, at Fort Sumter

Even more troubling for Gonzales was the lack of projectiles for the guns. From the totals offered in the table, the guns had an average of forty rounds each. Fine if you are an infantryman planning to skirmish for an hour or so. But not enough for a fortification defending the entrance to one of the Confederacy’s major seaports. Gonzales, and his commander, desired nearly four times that amount to defend the southern coasts:

Colonel Gorgas is most earnestly requested to provide the promised 150 rounds per each of the above guns, and above all to send the projectiles for the 12 pounder and 6-pounder bronze, the 20-pounder Parrott, the ammunition for which was not sent with the guns from Richmond, although packed and addressed in the presence of Major Alston, and the 3.67 caliber guns.

Recall that earlier in the month, Colonel Joshia Gorgas agreed to supply projectiles. But at the same time he’d cautioned against converting too many smoothbores to rifles, due to limited projectile supplies.

Gonzales’ report references several less common artillery types. Mentioned are imported Whitworths and Blakelys. Perhaps the “weaker” Parrotts were of Confederate manufacture. Although I would point out the lone rifled 18-pdr gun reported in September 1862 does not appear on Gonzales’ list.

But the “12-pounder old English siege (rifled)” ?

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12-pdr English Gun at Charleston’s Old Powder Magazine

At least one of those is still in Charleston – banded and rifled. This artifact, cast during the reign of King George II, is among the oldest cannon used in the Civil War. And certainly the oldest weapon taken in hand for modification. That, I say, is deserving of a separate post!

(Gonzales’ report and citations are taken from OR, Series I, Volume 14, Serial 20, pages 754-5.)