Category Archives: Parrotts

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:

SCMarch_Feb16

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:

ShellsFired_July7_July22

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:

ShellsFired_July23_Aug1

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:

ShellsFired_Aug2_Aug14

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.)

August 10, 1864: Big guns going to… not Charleston… not Petersburg… but San Francisco!

Maybe this sesquicentennial stuff is limited to east of the Rocky Mountains and mostly even east of the Mississippi at that.  Yes, most of the Civil War was fought in what we’d consider today the “eastern” United States, with relatively little activity in the “west” of the modern definition.  But as all good Civil War buffs know, there was indeed activity in the western part of the country… and in particular California played a critical role in the Federal war effort.  There’s that four letter word – G-O-L-D.

Follow that gold, and the path led to San Francisco.

SanFrancisco1855Map

Or more specifically passage through the Golden Gate.  Today we think of this:

But during the Civil War, the Golden Gate looked like this:

SanFrancisco1859bMap

And this, looking over Fort Point at the narrows of the Golden Gate:

Fort Point was, at that time, the main defense of the passage.  Rushed to completion early in the Civil War, the work reflected military thinking of the pre-war era.  After three years of war, that Third-System brick fort was considered inadequate.  The fort’s designed armament consisted of older seacoast guns and pre-war Columbiads – and little of that was in place.  She lacked more powerful Rodman guns or large caliber rifles.  The pressing threat was steam powered Confederate raiders, which might make the passage before a few rounds were fired from the fort.  But the most dangerous threat was an ironclad like this one:

Stonewall-Kotetsu.jpg

Intended to be the CSS Stonewall, the ship had a interesting history beyond the Civil War… but that’s for another day.  Ironclads armed with powerful rifled guns cold stand in the channel and render Fort Point inert, with immunity from all but the largest cannons on shore.  And that threat came from both Confederate and possibly foreign flagged warships.  If the Europeans intervened in the Civil War, San Francisco was more likely a target than New York.

Major-General Irwin McDowell, exiled to the Department of the Pacific (which was probably about as “cushy” a job as one might get in the Civil War, by the way), described the particulars of the Golden Gate passage from a military perspective in a letter to the Engineer Corps, in Washington, on July 27, 1864:

The charts of the harbor will show you the islands, the width of the channel, and depth of the water, but will not inform you of the prevailing winds which blow from the sea right into the gate; nor of the fogs which for a large part of the year enable vessels (as was the case when I arrived) to get quite inside before being seen. The Golden Gate is about as wide as the Narrows at New York, but the gate here opens right at once upon the broad ocean and not into a lower bay. On account of the width of the channel at the Golden Gate and the deep water at Lime Point, the work at Fort Point, about the size and kind of Fort Richmond, would be no barrier against steam vessels. Lime Point is a cliff with water at its base so deep and so swift that a lead has never (Captain Elliot, engineer, says) found bottom.

The point, which McDowell amply described, was that steamships could make a relatively fast passage, through deep waters and gain San Francisco.  And if timed right, fog and other factors would work against the defenders.

All of this was known by authorities in Washington.  In 1856 a survey of the terrain brought back numerous recommendations to fortify the bay. Those included additional batteries to supplement Fort Point and located on Alcatraz, Yerba Beuna, and Angel Islands, Point San Jose, and, most important to the Golden Gate, Lime Point opposite Fort Point.  I’ve highlighted some of those on a snip from the 1859 coastal survey map (which, by the way, indicates that someone had “cast a lead” into those waters to figure out the depth):

SanFrancisco1859aMap

By 1863, none of these options advanced far, as the Department of the Pacific lacked resources – chiefly heavy guns.  In August 1863, a board of officers suggested focused effort – and funding – for batteries on Lime Point, Point San Jose, and Angel Island, with the caveat that Lime Point would be a costly endeavor.  A year later, McDowell made the same comment about Lime Point:

To blast this cliff and build up a castle-work of masonry on the shelf is the labor of years at a cost of a million. It would not meet the existing emergency to do anything with it, and I would not in the present exhausted condition of the country advise its being even commenced.

However, McDowell offered another option:

 Within a few hundred yards seaward of Lime Point, between it and the light-house, is a little valley–a recess in the line of cliffs–where a water battery could be constructed in a few days, and which, if suitably armed and the overhanging heights properly occupied, would do all that could be done to give immediate strength to the first line of works. This valley is a couple of hundred yards farther off from Fort Point than is Lime Point, and should have heavy guns, some of them rifled.

McDowell went on to suggest other points, further into the harbor, where batteries were needed.  Somewhat like Beauregard at Charleston, McDowell wanted to build a ring of batteries to prevent any safe anchorage within the bay. But McDowell had much more, and deeper, water to cover.

Regardless of the placement of these batteries, McDowell needed guns.  On August 10, 1864, Chief Engineer Brigadier-General Richard Delafield responded to McDowell in regard to the defenses of San Francisco:

The effect of building and arming these batteries would be to bring a certain portion of the bay under fire which is not now under fire. But the vessels could find many other places to anchor, and still be out of reach of any batteries we might establish. A board of engineers has within a year considered the subject of additional defenses at San Francisco, and has come to the conclusion that it is best to bring a certain belt, or part of the harbor, through which all vessels entering it from sea must pass, under as heavy fire as practicable at the earliest day, in the first place, and after this is effected the subject of covering other portions of the bay with fire is to be undertaken in connection with floating defenses. This appears to me to be a prudent policy, and the most that we can undertake while our supply of ordnance suitable for these purposes is so very limited.

In short, he preferred to arm the Golden Gate.  Delafield went on to suggest imposing an administrative solution in the near term – forcing all foreign vessels to anchor at points under the existing defenses prior to entering the bay.

But help was on the way:

A due proportion of such ordnance as we have been able to obtain has heretofore been allotted to San Francisco, and, upon notice just received from the Ordnance Department that there are now some guns available for distribution, I shall ask to have sent to San Francisco the following: Three 15-inch guns, ten 100-pounder rifles, two 200-pounder rifles.

So in the middle of 1864, with commanders in active theaters such as Mobile Bay, Charleston, Petersburg, and Atlanta calling for heavy ordnance for use in siege operations, the Ordnance Department was to allocate fifteen of their largest and finest weapons to defend San Francisco.  And more such heavy guns would follow.  By the end of the Civil War, San Francisco would boast some of the heaviest coastal defenses in the Pacific.  Justifiably, after all.  It was the GOLDen Gate.

UPDATE:  I should point out, this image from 1908 demonstrates both the fears expressed in 1864 while at the same time the ultimate resolution of the military defense of San Francisco:

You must click and zoom in to get the full effect.  That’s the US Atlantic Fleet making a call at San Francisco in May 1908. No getting around it, the US needed a two ocean navy.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 50, Part II, Serial 106, pages 921-2, 936-7; Base maps used above are “From San Francisco Bay to the northern boundary of California,” 1855 and “Entrance to San Francisco Bay, California” Coastal Survey of 1859; “Stonewall-Kotetsu“. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.; other images from WikiCommons or Library of Congress collection, where linked. )