Battle of the Bands, part 2: Comparison between Tredegar, Macon, and authentic Parrotts

When discussing Parrott rifles, we really have to focus on the bands.  The bands over the breech end of the cannon are what make the Parrott a Parrott, by type.  Without the band, the Parrott would simply be a gun of cast-iron that generally followed the Ordnance Shape in exterior arrangements.  One that would be prone to bursting.  And thus something not likely to have seen much service.  On the other hand, with the band in place, at least the field gun calibers were actually reputable weapons… relatively speaking.

And it is important to understand the variations of these bands. Some time back I highlighted the difference between the authentic, original Robert P. Parrott-designed, and West Point Foundry produced, guns and those “knock offs” from Tredegar. The Tredegar weapons had longer and thicker bands.  This was due to construction techniques.  In brief, the original, patented, Parrott design called for a single bar to be heated, formed into a spiral, then placed onto the breech (and turned as it cooled).

On the other hand, Tredegar lacked the lavish facilities of West Point Foundry (and one might also say was aloof to some of the advancement in metalworking… but that’s a complex story). So when “copying” the Parrott for Confederate orders, Tredegar modified the technique to construct the band.  In short, Tredegar constructed a set of wrought iron rings or hoops.  When heated, those slipped onto the breech and were butt welded together.  As the rings cooled, they shrunk down onto the breech. Please note the basic technique was similar for Tredegar’s Parrott copies and larger weapons to include Brooke Rifles.  These butt welded bands were not as strong as the spiral welds from West Point Foundry.  So Tredegar allocated more metal to compensate.

As indicated above, Tredegar’s work was aimed at replicating the features of the northern weapon.  Those copies were based on examples purchased just prior to the war (notably by Virginia) and others captured early in the war.  One would suspect the features employed for this replication would be passed directly to other vendors producing Parrott-type rifles for the Confederacy, such as Macon Arsenal.

But such presumption should be given a “field test” with study of surviving pieces.  And the place to do that is along Confederate Avenue at Gettysburg.  There we find a pair of 20-pdr Parrotts from West Point, although a “Navy” weapon with breeching shackle attached:

Gettysburg 13 May 2012 147

A pair of 20-pdr Tredegar Parrotts:

Confederate Ave 30 Jan 10 179

And, recently returned to the field, a pair of 20-pdr Parrotts from Macon Arsenal:

Gettysburg 020

(Yes, I should have stood to the right side of that Macon gun there… but Jim, I’m a blog writer, not a photographer!)

Measuring the length of the bands on these three, starting with the original, Yankee Parrott:

Gettysburg Sept 10 001

Just over 16 inches.  I call it 16 ¼ inches overall.

Now the Tredegar Parrott:

Gettysburg Sept 10 030

Substantially longer. I would call it 21 ¼ inches overall.

And finally, back (on the road) to the Macon gun:

Gettysburg Sept 10 020

Hold the phone there!  Look close at that tape:

Gettysburg Sept 10 022

Despite the “wiggle” in my tape, we have something shorter than the other two.  I call it 15 ¾ inches, round about.  So with three quick measures, we can throw out the presumption about Macon’s products just being straight copies of the Tredegar guns.  Of course, you could probably deduce that by noting the clearance of the band on the standard NPS reproduction carriage.

But is the Macon band thicker, by chance, for compensation?  Let’s start, for a baseline, back at the Federal Parrott:

Gettysburg Sept 10 003

Since the band edge is rounded off, we have to eye-ball this a bit.  I call it at just over 1 ½ inches.  I’ve seen secondary sources state this should be, precisely, 1.625 inches.  But we are “in the field” and the 1 ½ inch measure will be OK for now.

Moving to Tredegar’s product:

Gettysburg Sept 10 028

I’d say this is just about the same thickness.  Just over 1 ½ inches.  Though there are secondary sources that credit the Tredegar band on 20-pdrs as being 2 inches thick.  Let me take an assignment here to survey all surviving Tredegar 20-pdrs at Gettysburg for comparison.  But for now, we have the 1 ½ inch measure to work with for our purposes.

Now back to Macon:

Gettysburg Sept 10 025

So you don’t have to strain the eyes too much, I had a second measure where I fiddled with the ferule a bit measuring the second of the pair:

Gettysburg Sept 10 014

Clearly in both cases the measure is LESS than 1 ½ inches.  Substantially so.  I’d call it 1 9/32 inches.

But you may have noticed that my ruler was “set up” off the actual barrel a bit.  That’s because on both Macon Parrotts there is a “lip” or ring between the band and the barrel.  Let’s look close:

Gettysburg Sept 10 015

The clearance on the first Macon Parrott is tighter, but on the second there is a clear separation between this lip and the other components of the gun.  This is also clearly not a supplemental or inner band.  My first thought was this lip was the remainder of some fitting that limited the advancement of the band during construction.  But the more I looked at the lip, it appeared to be threaded.

And that, perhaps, would explain the different dimensions of the band. Speculation here, only, as no source I know of corroborates this. Perhaps Macon Arsenal threaded the bands onto the breech.  Such also might explain the “scuffs” that appear on the guns today.  If the bands were threaded, perhaps Macon felt the construction imparted additional strength over the butt welded bands and thus reduced dimensions.  But again, I’m only speculating here based on appearances.

By all means, don’t just accept my speculation here.  Go visit the guns and make your own observations. Then circle back to discuss!

Overall, let me offer this table for field measures of these three sets of Parrott rifles:


I would point out the measure taken in the field for both Confederate guns differs from printed secondary references.  So more “field trips” are warranted for conformation.

One other measure to share…. looking at the bore of the Macon rifle:

Gettysburg Sept 10 024

The bore size corresponds to the 20-pdr caliber, properly, at around 3 ¾ inch, in the books supposed to be 3.67 inches.  Notice the well defined rifling.  This piece likely did not see much service.  In all likelihood, the weapon was delivered in the spring of 1864, going to a location in Georgia.  Given the outcome of that summer’s campaign, quite possible this 20-pdr was captured, and spent the rest of the war in some Federal depot.

Wonder what story this gun would tell if allowed to speak?

A rare pair from Georgia: Confederate 20-pdr Parrotts, Macon Arsenal

Back in the summer, the folks at Gettysburg put a pair of 20-pdr Parrotts back out on the field.  I’m a bit behind in my writing assignments… and it is cold outside… so let me post some summertime photos to warm you up a bit:

Gettysburg Sept 10 027

The location is Captain Robert Stribling’s Battery (the Fauquier Artillery) along West Confederate Avenue. The battery manned two 20-pdr Parrotts and four 12-pdr Napoleons at the time of the battle.  And what we see here are a pair of 20-pdr Parrotts representing the battery at this position. This pair is somewhat unique among surviving weapons, being the only such (that I know of) produced by Macon Arsenal.

Recall Macon Arsenal included one of the government-run foundries setup by the Confederacy. The arsenal is most known for the production of 12-pdr Napoleons.  But the arsenal also produced a small number of iron guns, following the layout of the Parrott rifle system.  In the past, I’ve mentioned a 10-pdr Parrott which is suspected to be from Macon. Arsenal records indicate a handful of 20-pdr and 30-pdr Parrotts were also produced.  Of, probably, five 20-pdr Parrotts produced by Macon, we have these two survivors.  So you can say these had a good survival rate… or be thankful to have two survivors out of such a small production run.

Unlike the 10-pdr at Chancellorsville, there is no doubt as to the origin of the 20-pdrs:

Gettysburg 024

Right there on top – “Macon Arsenal”.  The other stampings read “1864” for the year of production (perhaps matching to April or May in arsenal records); “1660” is the recorded weight, in pounds; “No.1” is the foundry number; and “E.T.” for either the inspector or other official making acceptance.

The gun’s mate has similar markings, but a fair bit clearer:

Gettysburg Sept 10 023

Note the differences here with the weight being 1664 pounds and the foundry number of 3. We also see the rifling – five right handed spiral grooves.

Gettysburg 025

Do watch for the wasps there.

Working our way back from the muzzle, we see a clamp of sorts around the end of the chase, just short of the muzzle swell:

Gettysburg 023

That on No.1 appears to be aligned, while that on No.3 is askew after 150 years of handling. The band itself is a fraction over 1 inch in width:

Gettysburg Sept 10 010

As seen on the right, what appears to be a square pin goes through the strap.  Presumably this is what remains of the front sight. The open end of the strap is fixed by a bolt (seen above).  The other side is hinged:

Gettysburg 035

That is on No.3, where the strap is askew, where the hinge is easier to view.  Notice, to the right, you don’t see the pin that might be the front sight.  This strap is apparently both out of alignment and upside down.

Looking at the barrel itself, thanks to a fresh coat of paint we can see a lot of surface details.

Gettysburg 037

The casting seam may be traced right back through the shoulders to the band.  And very little turning was done to smooth the surface.  This would not pass the Federal inspections but was determined as sufficient for Confederate needs.  Turning just added to the processing time and gave picky inspectors something to fret over… in J.R. Anderson’s opinion, at least.

And we get back to what makes this a Parrott, the band:

Gettysburg 032

I’ve taken the time to collect some rough field measurements.  But I wish to save those for a post comparing the bands of Federal, Tredegar, and Macon Parrotts of this caliber.  That in mind, we’ll save full discussion of the band arrangement for later.  But do note the slight radial line visible about a quarter the way up from the breech.  That may be a trace left over from butt-welding the rings constituting the band.  Also notice a scuff mark just in front of the band. Perhaps a vestige of the work to force the bands onto the barrel?  Or yet another result of bad handling?

Looking at the breech, we see arrangements for the rear sight at the top position:

Gettysburg 021

Just seems like a lot of inherent inaccuracies built in with that front sight on a strap.  But then again, this isn’t a sniping rifle.

Notice the casting seem down the face of the breech.  And we also see a dent in the knob.  Battle damage or mishandling? Probably the latter.

Here is a better view of the rear sight area:

Gettysburg 033

And again we see “scuffs” near where the band is attached over the barrel.

It is good to see these old guns back on the field after many years absence.

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Many thanks to those who work restoring these guns and the organizations that aid the park service in this regard.  Very good work with these two rare guns.  And it is good to see them on the field instead of stuffed in a museum. Better to have them on the field, in spite of the risk due to weathering and wear. Cannons were made to point out over a battlefield.  And though these two could not possibly be Gettysburg veterans (due to the date of manufacture), they stand in well in place of those that were.

Fortification Friday: Applying what we know about fortification batteries

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

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

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


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

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


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

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


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

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

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


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

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


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

For Sale: Fifty Batteries of Field Artillery, Complete!

There are hundreds of artillery enthusiasts right now looking at their check book balances, just in case…. No, I’m not selling artillery, but in 1870 the Ordnance Department was:


This advertisement appeared in the October 29, 1870 edition of the Commercial Advertiser (New York).

This is like a dream list for collectors.  Thousands of muskets, carbines, and pistols along with accouterments and ammunition.  Then the artillery… “50 Batteries of Field Artillery, complete, with ammunition.” This quantity was deemed surplus and to be sold for disposal.  As detailed in the paragraph that followed:

Bids will be entertained for any one, or all of the foregoing lots.  The bids to specify the price offered for the Arms with Ammunition, for Accoutrements by them-selves. The bids for Artillery will be for Batteries complete, with Ammunition; so much for a Battery of light 12-pounders, and so much for a Battery of Parrott 3-inch Rifle Guns, or for Batteries and Ammunition separately.

Yes, it was a different time… one could just buy a whole battery of artillery with ammunition without so much as a photo ID.  Send a bid in the mail to Alexander B. Dyer.  If your prices are good, the good Chief will accept the offer.

But what would you do with a battery of artillery?  In 1870 there was very little interest in Living History or “reenacting” the Civil War (some might argue the war was still being “enacted” even at that late date).  One might post the battery on the lawn to intimidate neighbors.

But fifty batteries?  That’s enough for an army!  And that might be what some had in mind:


This ad appeared on the same day (October 29, 1870) in the New York Herald. It is mostly coincidental, I think, the Ordnance Department ad ran the same day as Starr & Frazier’s.  I suspect one source for Starr & Frazier’s batteries was from an earlier sale, by the Navy:


You read that correctly, 390 guns, 354 carriages, and over 95,000 projectiles.  A lot of iron for sale!  And this lot includes the 20- and 30-pounders calibers that Starr & Frazier offered.

Let me run some numbers for you on Parrotts and their production.  Might be a little boring, but follow the numbers here:

  • Number of 10-pdr (2.9-inch bore) Parrotts produced for Army contracts during the war – 276 guns.
  • Number of 3-inch bore Parrotts produced for Army contracts during the war – 279 guns.

So an aggregate total of 555 Parrott rifles in the 2.9-inch and 3-inch caliber range. One quirk to the caliber, however. We know that 119 of the 2.9-inch rifles were taken in hand for conversion to 3-inch.  I’ve written on that before. If we need a refresher, drop a line.  But long story short, none of those 119 guns survive today… as far as we know.

Keep in mind those are “Army contracts.”  As we well know there were many Parrotts produced for state or other customers in the early days of the war.  The ad from the Army does not break down the number of Parrotts and Napoleons for sale.  But fifty batteries is somewhere between 200 and 300 guns, depending if those were assessed as four or six gun batteries.  You see, that sale might account for a rather large portion of the Army’s wartime-purchase Parrott rifles.

The numbers for the Navy for the advertised calibers:

  • 20-pdr Parrott rifles on Navy registries – 336.
  • 30-pdr Parrott rifles on Navy registries – 407.

Of those two calibers, a total of 743.  And of that total, we see the Navy selling off 390… more than half…. in 1870.

But wait… there’s more….Was there some event, perhaps, in 1870 that may have generated a market for Parrott rifles?  Um… well there was this:


The Franco-Prussian War erupted in mid-1870.  And the newspapers indicate indeed France was very interested in those Parrott rifles.  Rather accusatory, in May 1871 the Daily Albany (New York) Argus ran:

The radical administration of Washington and the majority of their organs throughout the country, have expressed the most profound sympathy for Prussia in the recent war.  Grant went so far as to congratulate the Emperor William on the near resemblance between the institutions of Germany and the United States. While loud in the expressions of love and admiration for the Germans, they were busily engaged in sending arms to the French.

So… our government worked both sides of the street?  Tell me something new.  What is interesting are the details and “naming of names” in the Argus article. The Remington arms company was singled out for providing $14 million to the French that included over 200,000 sand of arms.  The article did not single out a specific source, but indicated “50 Parrott batteries, six guns each” were sold to the French.

That’s a good, round number – 300 guns.  And it is a rather convenient correlation to those being sold in the fall of 1870.  Just soak that a bit…Those were not all 10-pdrs, and some 20-pdrs were mixed in.  But regardless that is a significant number of weapons taken from the US and boxed up for shipment to France.

And I want to ensure you catch that qualification… this is the number “sold” to France, but not necessarily the number delivered. The Daily Albany Argus later reported, on February 16, 1872, that some of the sales to the French fell through:

Another large contract with which the French Government found special fault as involving fraud… .  From General Dyer’s statement of sales, it appears that the [C.K.] Garrison purchase from the war department was 26 guns, Parrott batteries, with 10,000 rounds of fixed ammunition. This by contract, was to have been delivered in 35 days from the 24th of December, 1870. Afterward the French Government refused to pay on the ground that the contract was not performed in time, and that the charges were exorbitant.  The French authorities claim they were charged at the rate of $15,000 for batteries that cost $1,000.

Hey, war-profiteering mark-up of fifteen times the cost is somewhat reasonable (don’t get me to going on the rates the French charged in 1917, OK? They didn’t give away those Chauchat machine guns, don’t you know.).

Clearly, however, we have a link between the Ordnance Department ad of October 1870 and the sales of Parrotts to the French.  And that connection was rather evident to many on Capitol Hill in 1871… and Dyer was soon sworn in for testimony.  Had there been a 24/7 news cycle, the story might have dominated the media for a week or so.  But it was, after all, a minor affair in the end.  As there are some nice technical details thrown around, the record is interesting, to me at least, for that discussion.

In closing, let me circle back from the 19th century politics… because darn it, this is “To the Sound of the Guns” not “Fancy Politicians” blog.

Consider there are somewhere between 115 and 120 surviving Parrotts of the 10-pdr/3-inch calibers.  Again, that’s counting guns with a “US” acceptance, and not considering those with New York, Pennsylvania, or Navy acceptance marks.  Subtract that surviving number from the quantity of guns purchased on Army contracts during the Civil War (555).  That gives us roughly 435 to 440 Parrotts that were “lost” to scraping or other means over the last 150 years.  Of that number, I ask, how many ended up in France?  And of those that might have reach France, do any survive today?

Swords into Plowshares,Spears into Pruning Hooks… and Parrott Shells into Wrecking Balls…

The disposition of ordnance after the Civil War has always fascinated me.  The Federals produced enough cannon and projectiles to fight a couple of wars.  Add to that mountains of weapons and ammunition captured from the Confederates.  In short, enough to carry the nation through several wars… provided that no advances in technology rendered the stockpile obsolete… which, well, is pretty much what happened.

The large quantity of obsolete cannon and projectiles was a boon, somewhat.  We have some surviving cannon on the battlefields, in front of courthouses, and in cemeteries across the land as result. In a few cases, those weapons were resold to other nations.  However, reading newspapers from the second-half of the 19th century, it seems rumors of such weapons sales far outnumbered actual sales.  Surplus dealers were another outlet for disposing the obsolete ordnance.

Most notabe was Francis Bannerman IV, who amassed a fortune reselling anyone desirous of old Army equipment.  A browse through one of Bannerman’s Catalog offers tantalizing deals… a dozen decades after the fact.  Imagine Sharps Carbines for a couple bucks!  Or an original Gatling gun complete with carriage!

While rare in number, heavy ordnance appeared in the pages of Bannerman’s, indicating the Army occasionally disposed of large projectiles as scrap.  So what would one do with a large caliber shell?  Well aside from sitting it out on the front porch to impress visitors…

Well, a notice in the New York Evening Post from March 15, 1875 alludes to one other, more practical, use for a heavy shell:

A 500-pound Parrott shell, lately used for breaking iron in Peekskill, was filled with water which froze solid and burst the shell into three pieces, although the iron was upwards of three inches thick.

A 500 pounder?  The 10-inch Parrott, among the heaviest used in the Civil War, only rated 300-pounder.  Well assuming the weight is not some typographical error and assuming the type of projectile is properly attributed to Parrott, that leaves a question.  There were 12-inch Parrott projectiles produced for heavy rifle tests. The bolts for such rated as 600-pounders.  So it is not hard to figure the shell in the same caliber being lighter at 500 pounds… give or take.  Just a swag that might substantiate the story.  But that’s just me being a cannon-guy trying to get all technical.

What’s important is someone was using a very large projectile to break up iron!  Presumably filled with water to add more force to the impact.. as if a 500 pound conical mass of iron needed more “umph!”  Oh, and that water froze, expanded, and cracked the shell, ending its useful second life.  From shell to wrecking ball to scrap… such is the life-cycle for a Parrott shell… one enormously large Parrott shell, mind you.



Sherman’s March, February 16, 1865: “I instructed him not to fire any more into”… Columbia

If you ask me, Battery H, 1st Illinois Light Artillery should be among the most recognized artillery formations of the Civil War. The battery served in many important campaigns of the war and played critical roles in several major battles.  Armed with 20-pdr Parrott guns, this volunteer battery saw action at Shiloh (those big guns in Grant’s Last Line), Vicksburg, Chattanooga, Atlanta (where the guns were lost and recaptured on July 22, 1864), and the march to the sea.  Captain Francis DeGress was the battery commander from the summer of 1862 onward, so the unit was commonly referenced in reports by his name.  And yes, the battery hauled the heavy 20-pdrs, which artillerists such as Brigadier-General Henry Hunt shunned, on light-order marches across Mississippi, Georgia, South Carolina, and North Carolina.  If we could ever determine a surviving example from those allotted to the battery, those Parrotts would be among the most storied cannons from the Civil war.   Consider, those 20-pdrs fired on Vicksburg, Atlanta, Fort McAllister, Savannah, and, on February 16, 1865, Columbia, South Carolina.  The State House still bears the scars from DeGress’ guns:

More Battle Damage on the State House

A map of Major-General William T. Sherman’s dispositions on February 16, 1865 might simply have a solid line from Granby to a point above Columbia on the Broad River, simply saying “Sherman.”  At no time since early January were all the columns so contracted:


In brief, the Right Wing moved, Fifteenth Corps leading, from positions near Granby forward to find bridges over the Congaree burned.  From there, Second Division of the corps leading, engineered a crossing of the Saluda and reached the Broad River before nightfall.  The Seventeenth Corps trailed, but went into camp along the Congaree opposite Columbia.  The Twentieth Corps concentrated behind the Right Wing.  And the Fourteenth Corps moved in from Lexington and took position to cross the Saluda River near Mount Zion Church.  The Cavalry Division moved to Lexington, with advances towards Wise’s Ferry.

Thus Sherman’s entire march force covered an area roughly eleven miles by six miles.  This disposition allowed Sherman to threaten entry into Columbia at several points, and if need be even continue flanking to the north.  Such compelled the Confederates to withdraw.  That’s the macro-view of the movement for February 16.  For the micro-view, let me focus on the advance of Major-General William Hazen’s Second Division, Fifteenth Corps, with the Ninth Illinois Mounted Infantry, detached from the Seventeenth Corps, assisting.

Throughout the night prior, Hazen’s division suffered from considerable Confederate artillery firing from positions outside Columbia.  Hazen reported the loss of one officer killed and two wounded from this firing (keep this in mind for later).  On the morning of February 16, Hazen advanced his skirmish line to find the Confederate positions from the day before abandoned.  Just after daylight, the skirmishers reached the Congaree Bridge, finding it burned by the retreating Confederates.  By 8 a.m. Hazen had his division alined along the river, and was exchanging fire with Confederates on the opposite bank.  At this time, DeGress’ battery deployed and began countering Confederate artillery and sharpshooter fire.  (And I’ll return to DeGress in a moment.)

At 11 a.m., orders from Sherman, passed down through Logan, directed Hazen to move to a bridge over the Saluda near Saluda Factory.  The lead of this advance was Colonel Theodore Jones’ First Brigade of the division, specifically the 13th Ohio and 57th Illinois.  Reaching the Saluda, Jones found the bridge there also burned.  But that did not stop the movement, as Jones later reported:

The Thirtieth Ohio and Fifty-fifth Illinois were crossed in pontoon-boats, and drove the enemy over the crest of the first ridge, where they remained, covering the working party until the bridge was completed. The rest of the brigade then crossed over the bridge.

Once again, the leading elements of a Federal advance had effected, engineered, a crossing and avoided delays.  The advance continued, wheeling onto the Broad River and the bridges into Columbia from the west, as Jones continued:

The command “forward” was then given to the skirmishers, who advanced, driving the enemy with great rapidity across Broad River, the enemy burning the bridge. The brigade then went into camp; distance marched, eight miles.

With darkness, the Federals halted, with preparations to throw a pontoon bridge over the Broad River the next morning.  Hazen reported three wounded in the day’s action.

Hazen’s aggressive advance put the Federals on two fronts against Columbia, but not yet in Columbia.  Again, Sherman was not interested in storming the defenses to gain the city.  Putting a premium on any loss of life, at least in the Federal ranks, Sherman was content to pressure the Confederates into conceding ground.   And a Confederate high command focused more on keeping an army in being, over retaining any control over geographic points, was content to give Sherman the city.

But back to DeGress and his 20-pounders.  Lieutenant-Colonel William H. Ross, Chief of Artillery for the Fifteenth Corps, described the deployment of DeGress’ guns that morning:

February 16, it was found necessary to put a battery in position on the extreme left in order to command rebel batteries, which were shelling the main road leading to the main bridge over Congaree River, and in order to accomplish this it was necessary to run the blockade of the rebel batteries, which I ordered and which was gallantly performed by this battery, Captain De Gress leading the column in sections. The position was gained without casualties; firing commenced and the rebel batteries silenced. Major-General Howard then ordered one section of this battery placed in the road at west end of bridgeway over Congaree River, commanding the main street in the city of Columbia in which the rebel cavalry were moving. The street was briskly shelled and made untenable.

The initial deployment of the guns, as indicated by both Hazen and Ross, was to counter Confederate batteries firing from the opposite shore.  After silencing the Confederate artillery fire, DeGress turned on the depots and other military targets within range.  Around that time, Sherman himself came up to take a look at Columbia from the same position occupied by DeGress:

Captain De Gress had a section of his twenty-pound Parrott guns unlimbered, firing into the town. I asked him what he was firing for; he said he could see some rebel cavalry occasionally at the intersections of the streets, and he had an idea that there was a large force of infantry concealed on the opposite bank, lying low, in case we should attempt to cross over directly into the town. I instructed him not to fire any more into the town, but consented to his bursting a few shells near the depot, to scare away the negroes who were appropriating the bags of corn and meal which we wanted, also to fire three shots at the unoccupied State-House. I stood by and saw these fired, and then all firing ceased. Although this matter of firing into Columbia has been the subject of much abuse and investigation, I have yet to hear of any single person having been killed in Columbia by our cannon. On the other hand, the night before, when Woods’s division was in camp in the open fields at Little Congaree, it was shelled all night by a rebel battery from the other aide of the river. This provoked me much at the time, for it was wanton mischief, as Generals Beauregard and Hampton must have been convinced that they could not prevent our entrance into Columbia. I have always contended that I would have been justified in retaliating for this unnecessary act of war, but did not, though I always characterized it as it deserved.

While DeGress’ firing on the city, specifically, ceased, the artillery fire in general continued against Confederate cavalry and sharpshooters, well into the afternoon. Major-General Frank Blair, who’s Seventeenth Corps moved up to the position, noted, “The enemy’s sharpshooters kept up an exceedingly annoying fire from the opposite bank of the river, which compelled us to open upon them and the city with artillery.”  While DeGress’ guns relocated to Hazen’s sector, other Federal batteries arrived to continue firing against the Confederates in Columbia. The Twelfth Wisconsin Battery fired 31 rounds that day.  Company H, First Missouri Light Artillery added 135 rounds.  While there is no breakdown, DeGress fired 110 rounds from both positions occupied during the day.  And batteries of the Seventeenth Corps no doubt added their weight.

It is said in some circles that DeGress fired upon the city with no justification.  What is clear, even before we get to Sherman’s post-war memoirs, is that the Confederates made Columbia a military target starting the night before and continuing through the 16th.  Quite the contrary, one would be hard pressed to explain why the Federals would not have fired on Columbia that day.

The final play for Columbia would wait until the next day.  But Sherman had already posted orders in regard to the occupation of the city.  A passage in Field Orders No. 26 read:

… occupy Columbia, destroy the public buildings, railroad property, manufacturing and machine shops, but will spare libraries and asylums and private dwellings.

That was the written intent.

(Citations OR, Series I, Volume 47, Part I, Serial 98, pages 287, 372, 379; William T. Sherman, Memoirs of General Sherman, Volume 1, New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1889.)

(Photo credit: Bill Coughlin, August 9, 2013, Courtesy HMDB.)

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.)