Category Archives: Columbiads

Fort Johnston Photo Analysis, Part V: Looking across the fort from the east… and maybe a Rebel Ram?

Our next stop on this look at Fort Johnson, as it was in 1865, takes a few steps around that 10-inch Rifled Columbiad and looks back at the face of the works from the east side:


I’ve labeled the location where this photo was taken as FJ4 in the diagram below:


You can see from the two green lines extending from the octagon, FJ4 offers a different perspective of the fort.   The view is slightly elevated.  Based on the perspective of the 10-inch Rifled Columbiad, the camera must have been over, or at least adjacent to, the 8-inch siege howitzer seen in FJ3.

As with many of these photos, there were duplicates made as part of a stereo view.  The Library of Congress has both digitized.  Here’s the second of the set, which is somewhat worse for the wear in some ways… yet more detailed in others:


There’s our old friend in the foreground.


One detail that stands out better in this view is the finish of the metal:


The cannon is in sharp focus, so what do we make of the scruffy looking finish here?  I think we are seeing brush lines from a coat of paint or lacquer applied to the metal.  We may also be seeing tarnish or rust over that finish.

Oh, and earlier I mentioned the missing truck wheels… well while snipping from the photo last night, I noticed for the first time….


So after removing the trucks, the Confederates laid them in the gun pit?  Or was this the first step as the Federals dismounted the gun for movement?  I’m still thinking the former.  The Federals never moved this weapon from Fort Johnson.  So why bother pulling off the truck wheels?  A small puzzle of the sort that prompts me to keep looking at these photos… hopefully you share that foible.

The negative is a bit damaged, but we can still see the details of the barrel placed beside the cannon:


Implements, such as this maneuvering bar, remain in place about the columbiad:


Looking behind at the walls of Fort Johnson, this view, more than the others, gives away the construction technique used for the earthworks:


Perhaps that is because this particular face was oriented towards the harbor mouth and thus caught more of the weather.

Looking down that line, this is the view that causes hearts to flutter over on the blackpowder artillery forum:


A Brooke Rifle, two Confederate columbiads, and three mortars. Wouldn’t you like to have those in your back yard?

And this guy “owned” them as of April 1865:


No sack coat.  Just his shirt, suspenders, trousers, and brogans.  Sleeves rolled up.  Must have been warm that spring day.

Looking beyond our friend at the Brooke, there is a team of horses and a sling cart.


Keep in mind the location of that sling cart.  It shows up in other photos.  I’d speculate that the sling cart was most recently employed to move one of the mortars now laying at the waterfront.


These have the distinctive profile of the 10-inch Seacoast Mortar, Model 1840.   No weapons of that type were in Fort Johnson when the Confederates left Charleston.  However, Battery Simkins, just southeast, had three.  So these could be the three mortars from Battery Simkins, which were very, very active against the Federals on Morris Island during the siege of Charleston.

To the right of the mortars are a couple of large beams.


These show up in the perspective of FJ5, which I’ll look at next.  So these are important placemarks in the photo. Otherwise, it is a stack of wood… very large pieces of wood.

But let’s look beyond those mortars and wood beams to see what is in Charleston Harbor:


No vessels waiting in the “roads.” But there is what appears to be a smoke stack and debris.  So what is that?

When the Confederates left Charelston, a number of vessels were scuttled or left derelict.  Three ironclads were scuttled in the direct vicinity of Fort Johnson – CSS Palmetto State, CSS Charleston, and CSS Chicora.   Of the three, the Chicora lay closest to Fort Johnson’s wharf and jetty.   Describing that wreck, Rear-Admiral John Dahlgren wrote, “The Chicora alone is visible in any part, and that only a few inches of the casemate at low water.”  I think it is safe to assume that if the casemate was barely at water level, the smokestack was above water.  The Coast Survey team did not annotate the location of the Confederate ironclads on their survey of the harbor.  So we cannot put a name on that wreck, at least to satisfy my standards.  But the smokstack is in the right place to be the remains of the Chicora.

Looking beyond that interesting wreckage, we see the distant shoreline.


This should be parts of Charleston proper and the inner harbor.  But the lens did not capture many details.  At some points on the horizon, we can just make out buildings and piers:


But as you can tell from the small size of this cropped area, the digitized copy degrades to pixels as we zoom down further.   Disappointing, as that would be another interesting study.

Let me close out this stop by returning to our friend at the Brooke:


This gentleman posed like this for at least a couple of moments, knowing his image would be captured on glass plate.  He knew that the photographer was recording him, standing in front of those Confederate guns, as a small testament to the triumph of Federal arms in the Civil War.  This isn’t a stiff, parade-ground pose.  His body is relaxed.  As mentioned above, his dress is very casual, more so that of one on a work detail than a guard or escort.   He has one hand tucked in the waist, and the other as a prop against the Brooke.

But I sense something stern about his facial expression.  Maybe it is the thought of hefting all those heavy mortars, as he marks time until the return home.  Or maybe he just wanted his “war face” preserved to impress those viewing his pose 150 years later.

3,180 shots at Fort Sumter between August 3 and 14, 1864: Third Major Bombardment continues

On August 16, 1864, Lieutenant-Colonel William Ames, Chief of Artillery of the Northern District (Morris and Folly Islands), Department of the South, provided an in progress report for the Third Major Bombardment of Fort Sumter.  The bombardment, which started on July 7, was at that time in its sixth week.  Ames provided this tally for the ordnance expended:

I have the honor to report the following number of projectiles and guns as expended in the bombardment of Fort Sumter from August 3 to August 14, inclusive: Three 200-pounder Parrott guns; 304 30-pounder Parrott shells, 299 100-pounder Parrott shells(*), 772 200-pounder Parrott shells, 13 300-pounder Parrott shells, 219 10-inch columbiad shells, 1,465 10-inch mortar shells, 108 13-inch mortar shells; total, 3,180.

The Third Major Bombardment had exceeded both previous “major” bombardments in terms of duration.  But it remained behind the Second Major Bombardment in terms of number of shots fired at Fort Sumter.  The problem facing the Federals was the amount of ordnance on hand – both guns and projectiles.  Already the Army was forced to borrow from the Navy.  And the Army lost three 200-pounder (8-inch) Parrotts during the first half of August.

The breakdown of rounds fired also illustrates some changes in the type of fires.  Recalling Ames’ reports from July 26 and August 1 for comparison, consider the proportions.  First from the period from July 7 to July 22:


More than half of the shots fired were from 100-pdr and 200-pdr Parrotts (that would be 6.4-inch and 8-inch for those who prefer the bore diameter designation… like me).  The mortars provided a quarter of the shots fired.  In the minorities were 30-pdr Parrotts, 300-pounder Parrotts, and the columbiads.

Then from July 23 to August 1:


The mortars increased in proportion to nearly a third.  The 30-pdr Parrotts provided a quarter of the rounds fired.  Triple the number of 300-pdr (I mean 10-inch) Parrotts.  Four times increase in the proportion of the columbiad contribution.  And decreasing noise from the 100-pdrs and 200-pdrs.

And from August 2 to August 14:


Now the mortars shouldered half the load.  The 200-pdrs fired nearly a quarter of the shots.  The columbiads sustained nearly the same ratio of shots fired.  But decreases from all the other Parrotts.  I’d love to see a breakdown of this on a day-by-day basis.  Furthermore, a similar breakdown, even if week-t0-week, for the other major bombardments would be interesting.

What these charts are demonstrating is the nature of the Third Major Bombardment. By the start of the second month of work, the Federals turned increasingly to vertical fires.  Some of the same reasons Federals at Petersburg brought up their mortars were at play.  Recall the Second Major Bombardment turned to mortars in the later part of November. However, the Third Major Bombardment of Fort Sumter was burning out resources faster than they could be replenished on Morris Island.

∗The “printed” official records indicate this as “200-pounder Parrott shells” but given the sequence and other information surrounding this report, I think that is a misprint and sh0uld read “100-pounder Parrott shells.”

(Citation from OR, Series I, Volume 35, Part II, Serial 66, page 241.)

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.

“Ninety-five tons of loyal complements”: Bombardment of Charleston continues

The last I detailed the Federal bombardment of Charleston was in relation to increased bombardments in the middle of January 1864. Through the end of January, Confederate observers recorded 990 projectiles reached the city, with an additional 533 falling short. The average, considering days on which no shots were fired at the city, was 49 per day counting hits and misses.

The Federals increased the pace in February.  A March 4, 1864 report from Colonel Alfred Rhett, commanding the Fifth Military District (which encompassed the city of Charleston itself) provided the number of projectiles observed fired at the city for each day:


The totals for February 1864 were 964 fired into the city and 763 falling short.  For that month, the average per day increased to 59.5 rounds per day.  And the figures provided in the table do not count shots fired at other targets around the harbor.  A table from the 3rd Rhode Island Heavy Artillery’s regimental history lists the weapons in Fort Putnam with their assigned targets, ranges, elevation, fuse settings, powder charge, and shell charges:


UPDATE: Forgot to add – the range given here for Battery Lamar appears to be in error.  I estimate the range to be around 8500 yards.  Perhaps the typesetter mixed up “8” with “3” when transcribing.

Guns at positions 1 and 2 in the fort bore directly on Sullivan’s Island and Fort Sumter.  Their most distant target was the channel in front of Mount Pleasant at 3500 yards… or nearly two miles.  Those two 30-pdr Parrotts were these two familiar subjects:


Two larger 8-inch Parrotts in positions 3 and 4 also pointed at Sullivan’s Island.  But the mountings allowed traverse to fire on Fort Johnson, though not on Charleston.

A 10-inch Columbiad in position 5 also fired on Forts Johnson and Sumter, in addition to other targets on James Island.  The most distant of those targets was two miles away.  I believe the photo below shows that gun.  There is a sign to the left of view that appears to have a number “5.”


A 6.4-inch Parrott in position 6 also fired on James Island along with Castle Pinckney some three miles distant:


In position number 7, a 30-pdr Parrott could train on Mount Pleasant, Castle Pinckney, and, importantly, Charleston.  The range to Charleston was a remarkable 7440 yards, or 4.2 miles.  And this was at a 40° elevation with 3¾ pounds of powder.  I’ll come back to discuss this gun a bit more further down in this post.

Position number 11 contained a 6.4-inch Parrott that fired upon Charleston and “Ram on stocks” – again, I should mention, a military target. Range to Charleston was the same 7440 yards.  The gun elevated 38° and used ten pounds of No. 7 grade powder to reach the city.  The weight of the shell was 101 pounds.  The projectile took over thirty seconds to reach its target in Charleston.

Lastly, a 3.67-inch Wiard gun in position number 12 also fired on James Island and Charleston.   However a notation below the table indicated “This last did not reach” in relation to the 7440 yard range to Charleston.  As the gun fired a much lower powder charge compared to the 30-pdr Parrott, one could expect less performance from the field piece.

I don’t know of any wartime photographs that capture details of Charleston as seen from Morris Island.  However a color drawing does show an artist’s rendition of the view:

In the mid-range of this view are Battery Simkins and Fort Johnson.  Beyond are the ship masts and church spires of the “Holy City.”

In regards to the 30-pdr in position number 7, that weapon burst during the bombardment that winter.  But not before it fired a remarkable number of rounds:

The famous gun, in its life, for firing on Charleston was No. 7.  It was expended on the 4,606th round, having thrown ninety-five tons of loyal compliments to the Charlestonians, expedited by nine tons of patriotic powder.

The ordnance officers recorded the fragmentation of the gun after it burst:


The gunners of the 3rd Rhode Island went on to say more about this gun:

We must add another word of this famous thirty-pounder that so splendidly pounded the cradle of secession.  From the time it was mounted – Jan. 10th – its carriage playing and recoiling on a peculiar chassis of long, elastic timbers, it was fired, on average, once in about twenty minutes, day and night (sometimes once in twelve minutes), til it burst March 19th, making it, on account of its elevation, range, destructive work, and long life, the most remarkable gun on record.  Its fragments were carefully collected and put together, and after it had received suitable inscriptions ending with these words, “Expended on Morris Island under Col. Charles R. Brayton, Chief of Artillery,” it was sent to West Point for study and for preservation.  On the 15th of January it fired 237 shell, 216 being good shots and striking the city fairly.  In its whole life it fired 4,257 good shots, 259 tripped, ten fell short, and eighty were premature explosions.

Folks, let me pause for a moment of silence.  Cavalrymen speak lovingly of their horses.  And infantrymen will caress their musket.  I submit this is the artillerman’s emotional attachment to their iron.  The endurance of the gun, compared to that of the Swamp Angel, or other large Parrotts used on Morris Island, stands in contrast.  The 4,606 rounds fired from 30-pdr, registry number 193, were a substantial portion of the 3,250 rounds fired at Charleston itself in January and February 1864.

One last note on that particular gun position in the fort.  Photographic evidence suggests that after it burst a larger Parrott replaced it:

Notice the “7” just below the super-elevated 6.4-inch Parrott in the photo above.

The guns at Fort Putnam were not the only weapons bearing on Charleston’s defenses.  But those guns did the lion’s share of the work.

(Citation from 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 238.)

“The position itself is a strong one…”: A call to improve the defenses of Georgetown, SC

By the winter of 1864, Georgetown was the only seaport of significance on the South Carolina coast that didn’t have Federal land batteries directly impeding blockade-runner access.  Winyah Bay offered refuge for blockade-runners, even if Georgetown had no direct rail links to the interior.  And upstream from Georgetown was a Confederate Navy Yard at Mars Bluff.


But remarkably, the Federals and Confederates had paid this sector very little attention.  Blockaders patrolled the approaches to Winyah Bay.  And a few Confederate defenses, none with more than a 32-pdr gun, protected the channels.  But Brigadier-General James Trapier, commanding South Carolina’s Fourth Military District, wanted to change that.  Writing on January 26, 1864, he cited the growing importance of Georgetown, Winyah Bay, and the Mars Bluff yard to the Confederate war effort:

Hdqrs. Fourth Military Dist. of South Carolina,
Georgetown, January 26, 1864.
Brig. Gen. Thomas Jordan,
Chief of Staff, &c., Charleston, S.C.:

General: The Confederate navy-yard at Mars Bluff, Peedee River, is assuming daily greater and greater importance.

Already has there been nearly completed there a vessel of war of some magnitude, which it is computed will be ready for sea in about two months. It is contemplated, as I learn, to build others, and it seems probable that important additions to our Navy will continue to be supplied from this yard as long as the war may last.

The President alludes to it in his annual message, and its growing importance will naturally attract the attention of the enemy.

It is my duty, therefore, to invite attention to the fact that the only defense for this navy-yard consists in the battery (White) which guards the entrance to Winyah (upper) Bay, and such a defense as might be extemporized by riflemen and field batteries upon the banks of the river. I need not refer to the armament of Battery White; the commanding general of course is aware of its weakness. The position itself is a strong one, and with a proper artillery and a sufficient infantry support might be rendered almost, if not absolutely, impregnable.

In view of the fact that it covers a naval establishment of growing importance, and the additional fact that this may become a harbor of resort for steamers running the blockade and possibly the only one that may some day be left to the Confederacy–and that the Waccamaw, Peedee, Black, and Santee Rivers (all of which are also covered by Battery White) will, if adequately protected, yield an amount of subsistence sufficient for the support of 50,000 men, I hope I shall not be considered importunate in thus again inviting the attention of the commanding general to the subject. To me it seems one of no mean importance.

I am, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
J. H. Trapier,
Brigadier-General, Commanding.

Trapier made a strong case for reinforcing this key defense within his district.  (And I’m playing a little loose here with the title of the post, but figured “Georgetown, SC” is more easily recognized by the reader than “Mars Bluff Navy Yard,” “Peedee River,” or “Winyah Bay”.)  Battery White, which he referred to, stood at a narrow point at the upper end of Winyah Bay (lower part of the map below).


The layout and profile of the battery was impressive (and remains so even today).

White Battery 5 May 10 363

Ditch in front of Battery White

The work directly covered the channel.

White Battery 5 May 10 354

Winyah Bay from Battery White

Though with only a handful of cannons, some of which carried Royal markings of colonial-era weapons, the battery was not armed to contest any serious Federal effort.

Georgetown 2 May 10 310

British 32-pdr gun from Battery White, now in Georgetown

Unfortunately, General P.G.T. Beauregard could only endorse the request, with his approval, pending some quantity of guns to go around:

Inform General Trapier that the views expressed in this letter meet with my entire approval, but I regret that I have neither the force nor the guns to send at present for the defense of that important point of the department. If some Brooke guns could be obtained from the Navy Department, I would be happy to put them in position, but the effort to obtain some for the defense of Charleston from the comparatively useless gun-boats in that harbor has so signally failed that I consider it useless to make another attempt for Winyah Bay.

In short, if the Confederate Navy thinks their yard and the harbor at Georgetown is important, they needed to mind its defenses…. and worry less about the leaky ironclads at Charleston.

Eventually, Trapier would get some attention on this matter. A couple of 10-inch Columbiads would arrive to bolster the defenses.

White Battery 5 May 10 382

10-inch Confederate Columbiad at Battery White

But that was months away.  In the interim, Winyah Bay, Georgetown, and the navy yard at Mars Bluff, remained exposed.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 35, Part I, Serial 65, pages 546-7.)

Confederate Single Banded “Army” Brooke in Fort Sumter photo?

I mentioned the gun in this photo earlier today:

The photo was taken near the end of the Civil War after Confederates evacuated Fort Sumter and Charleston.  Otherwise the cameraman would have been subjected to no end of harassment from Morris Island’s batteries.  It is attributed to George Barnard.  The same gun appears in at least one other photo taken at that time in the same location outside the fort.  And it is far too large to be a “prop” that Barnard moved around.

So the reasonable assumption is this gun was left in the debris by the Confederates, after it fell from the fort during one of the many bombardments of Fort Sumter.  Looking at the background from the close up photo (the one used at the top of this post), the location of Sullivan’s Island provides a datum point to suggest the location of the gun.


If my triangulations are correct, the photo was taken at what was the southern corner of the fort.  As the most exposed corner, that bastion was obliterated by Federal bombardments, reduced to rubble early by the close of 1863.  Both photos show the obstructions placed by Confederates to impede landings.


There are the chevaux-de-frise mentioned in an earlier post:


The closest stake has wire wrapped around it.


But let me focus on the gun.  The exterior shape is suggestive of Brooke Rifles.  Perhaps this is a function of the photo’s perspective, but the gun’s chase has the cone shape typical of Brooke Rifles.  The trunnions, rimbases, and sight base are also similar to those features seen on surviving Brooke Rifles.


Compare to a single banded 7-inch Brooke from the CSS Atlanta, now displayed at the Washington Navy Yard:

WashNY 21 July 296

The photo resolution allows close examination of the band… and the rust pitting. This band was built up with at least five “hoops” welded together.  That number of hoops was the same recorded for early production Brooke 7-inch rifles with single bands.


Notice the water seepage between the last two bands.  This may indicate some damage, which would be in the area of the vent.

There were two 7-inch Brookes in Fort Sumter at the time of the April 1863 ironclad attack.  Later in the summer, one of those Brookes suffered damage during firing, resulting in a crack near the vent.  Speculative at best, but something which should be considered, and which might explain why the Confederates just left the gun outside Fort Sumter.

The gun has all the appearances of a Brooke Rifle … right up to the breech:


The breech appeared to have a “mushroom knob” of the type common on new pattern columbiads (as designed before the war by Thomas J. Rodman to better handle the strain when handling these large guns).  Several surviving Confederate columbiads have the mushroom knob.  In fact, if you look over the gun in the foreground, there’s a Confederate columbiad, with just such a mushroom knob, also in the rubble.


But no surviving Brookes have mushroom knobs.  One explanation I would advance here – this is an “Army” Brooke.  In an earlier post, I noted that two Brookes arriving at Charleston in February 1863 were described by Tregedar as “Army Rifles” and on delivery receipts as “Brooke rifles.”  For some time I’ve assumed the “Army” attributes included a split knob and ratchet bar as shown on surviving plans from Confederate Navy records:

But with the photograph in mind, I’d suggest the breach face of those “Army Brookes” were similar to contemporary Confederate columbiads – mushroom knob with ratchets sunk into the breech face.

A detail question from the details of a photograph.

Beauregard to Gorgas: “I prefer that we should try the experiment on our enemy…”

Throughout 1863, General P.G.T. Beauregard authorized programs to convert both 8-inch and 10-inch columbiads into rifled guns for the defense of Charleston.  These modifications did not receive the full blessing of those in Richmond.  In fact, Colonel Josiah Gorgas, Confederate Chief of Ordnance, voiced concerns in a letter to Beauregard in November 1863.

Beauregard wisely waited until January 9, 1864 to respond, explaining he delayed “until I could carefully reconsider my preconceived views and subject them to the test of actual experiment.”  He went on to say while the 10-inch rifles had not been tested in action, the 8-inch rifles had been fired in anger… a lot.

Your letter alludes chiefly to the 10-inch gun, but as your objections and conclusions must apply equally to the 8-inch as to the 10-inch, I must acquaint you that an 8-inch gun, rifled and double banded, in position at Fort Moultrie, has been fired through some four or five different engagements, in all over 100 times, with shell weighing over 100 pounds and bolts 140 pounds, with most satisfactory results, giving a greater range with the same charges and less elevation than the smooth-bore, with shell and shot of less than half the weight. The gun is uninjured, and there is no apparent reason why it should not last a long time.

He went on to say General Roswell Ripley considered the gun his best on Sullivan’s Island and “and in action has an immediate effect upon the enemy’s iron-clads, which always try to avoid it.”

Fort Moultrie 3 May 2010 490

Beauregard continued:

This having proved a success, three others of the same kind have been prepared and placed in position in the harbor batteries, but owing to the limited supply of projectiles a thorough test has not been applied. The charges used have been 8 pounds and 10 pounds of coarse-grained powder, and the range shows these to have been sufficient to give full velocity to the projectiles for distances of 1,000 yards.

The reported experience demonstrated that higher powder charges did not offer any significant gain in range or velocity.  And Beauregard added, perhaps to make a point about the Ordnance Department’s products, that a Brooke rifle at Fort Sumter, fired with fifteen pounds of powder at an elevation of 18º had suffered a cracked vent.  The surviving Brooke 7-inch rifle at Fort Sumter was thereafter fired with reduced charges, of 10 pounds, with better results.  Beauregard quoted a report from Ripley claiming the gun had, with a 23º elevation, achieved a range of four miles to strike in the Federal camps on Folly Island (that being in the days before Fort Sumter was bombarded by the Federals).  In Beauregard’s view, this field experience trumped the instructions sent out by those in Richmond.

Fort Moultrie 3 May 2010 568

In regard to his modified rifles, Beauregard built a case for their acceptance:

If the rifling and banding of the 8-inch and 10-inch columbiads is to be abandoned I consider it fortunate for Charleston that I have four of the former in position instead of the like number of smoothbore 8-inch guns, which abundant experience here has demonstrated to be almost ineffective against iron-clads….

As long, therefore, as we can get equal or greater ranges with the same elevations and charges with the rifled as with the smooth-bore guns and throw projectiles of more than double the weight with increased accuracy, it would seem advisable to continue the alteration of these guns of the same patterns and dates.

The principle of the Blakely gun has not been tried as yet with these columbiads, because they do very well when fired according to the ordinary method; but by the application of the principle I should hardly deem it jumping at a conclusion. Would it not be better than remaining in statu quo?

I cannot believe that it would have been advisable to wait for the elucidation of the matter by the United States Ordnance Bureau, from their trials with 10-inch guns at West Point, for we may depend upon it that if successful the first we shall know of the fact will be the transfer to Morris Island and continuance of their experiments on ourselves by heavy batteries of this description of ordnance…

And, then he went for the kill:

I prefer that we should try the experiment on our enemy rather than let him test it on us. Fas est ab hoste doceri is a good axiom in war, but not exactly in the way you propose.

Fas est ab hoste doceri  – that is “it is right to learn even from an enemy.”  And Beauregard was tired of “learning” about the effectiveness of the Federal heavy guns as he watched them bombard Battery Wagner, Fort Sumter, and Charleston itself.

And he could not help but offer one more jab saying  “The guns selected for this purpose were captured at Forts Moultrie and Sumter in April, 1861, of the very best iron, and superior to those now manufactured by the Ordnance Department of the Confederate States.”  And remember, it was Beauregard who had recommended Gorgas for the position heading the Ordnance Department, back in the spring of 1861!

Beauregard closed his argument saying, “I do not say that these rifled and banded 8 and 10 inch guns are the best that can be made of their calibers, but, in my belief, they are the best we can get in the present condition of our manufacturing resources.”

Fort Sumter 4 Aug 11 1601

And those rifled guns Beauregard mentioned would serve at the front of Charleston’s defenses for the remainder of the war.  In terms of investment of money and resources, one could carry Beauregard’s argument to say those were the best weapons in the city’s defense.

(Citation from OR, Series I, Volume 35, Part I, Serial 65, pages 513-516.)