Speaking Event: Rufus Barringer CWRT on October 19

I’m pleased to announce a speaking event scheduled for later this fall.  I’ll be speaking to the Rufus Barringer Civil War Roundtable, in Southern Pines, North Carolina.

Event details:

Subject: Siege and Reduction of Fort Sumter – story of three great
bombardments… and a lot of smaller ones!

Date: 7 PM, October 19, 2017.

Location: Southern Pines Civic Club, 105
S. Ashe St. Southern Pines, NC.

As readers well know, I love to discuss Fort Sumter.  In particular the lesser-followed stories that sort of get overlooked between the opening shots of the war and the ceremony at the end of the war.  In this case, I’ll focus on the Federal efforts to reduce Fort Sumter, by way of prolonged bombardment.

If you are in that part of the Carolinas, please consider stopping in!

Fort Sumter, April 1865 Photos, Part 3: Three sets of stairs

Last week we discussed the sallyport, or the entrance into Fort Sumter.  Let’s now consider the means by which that photographer made his way up to the top of the wall. Turning back to our “pre celebration” photo of Fort Sumter’s interior:


Looking close at the entrance way again:


How many ways do you see to the top of the wall?

There’s a set of stairs to the right of the sallyport.  There’s the ladders laying down to the right of that.  But there’s also a hidden set of stairs, covered up by the berm at the top – the interior stairs in this sector of the fort.  So, not counting those intrepid types who would just run up the berm, there were three options here.  For the photographer, one was unlikely (ladder), another presented problems handling equipment (internal stairs), thus leaving the open, external stairs laid against the berm of the wall.

An otherwise plain old set of steps:


Fifteen steps, if you count the block at the bottom.  Note also there is a break where a wider set, at top, fits over the narrower part.

We see these steps in many interior photos:


Don’t confuse.  There’s an additional set of stairs in this view.  A second, more elaborate, set added for those VIPs attending the April 1865 ceremony.

Looking closely, we see the break from another angle:


Obviously this photo was taken after the first (which I call FS1).  The dirt was cleared away from the lower part of the steps.  In fact, I’d probably say the entire lower section was picked up and reset.  The heavy beam used as the bottom step is not in view.  But one of the ladders is there.

And do take note of the fine workmanship of that second set of stairs.  Elaborate.  With handrails.  Probably was sanded to protect VIPs from wood splinters.  We’ll see these stairs in other photos.  So let’s save discussion for later.

But, we should ask if the first set of wooden stairs was put in place by the Confederates or Federals?  Well, the stairs do appear on the draft survey:


The Confederates would probably avoid having a light wooden structure such as those stairs exposed in the fort.  A lucky Federal shell might shatter it and spray deadly splinters all about the parade ground.

The Confederates did have reason to climb to the top of the wall.  Most importantly, the garrison’s flag was on this particular quarter for much of the siege.  But access was provided by the much safer internal stairway.  We see that structure along the profile section RS:


Again, note the dashed “ghost” of what the fort had looked like before the war.  We have, just inside the original fort’s wall, a couple of steps for what had been stairs up to the second tier.  With the wartime changes, those steps were covered by a berm.  A passage connected the galleries of the lower tier to the stairs, and thence provided access to the top of the wall… now rubble and dirt.  The opening at the top of the berm was reinforced by a frame and lined with gabions.  We see that in our photo… but just barely:


Earlier I was a bit confused about the location of this stairway, and mentioned the gabions in the background.  Those are directly over the external sallyport.  I don’t know what to call those, other than perhaps a bonnett (which we discussed last Friday).  Certainly in a position to protect the sallyport from stray fragments.  But also, perhaps, in a line to block enfilade fire on those internal stairs.

From the other view, the top of the internal stairs is a little more apparent:


Good little mountain howitzer right there in view!

Thinking again about the second set of stairs and the preparations for the ceremony, note the landing of the outside stairs, with an “entrance statement” complete with garnishing.  This photo had to be just a few days prior to the ceremony, with those decorative branches still green.  Note also the railings setup to prevent some poor VIP from falling over the side.  Yes, their safety was important… as they walked about a site full of unexploded shells!

UPDATE: A paragraph which I inadvertently deleted, but should be added back here.  Some of the fine points about the construction of that original set of stairs is worth examination.  The upper portion appeared to be anchored into the berm.  Thus making it somewhat permanent.  The lower portion, however, was held in place by placement within the uprights of the upper section and a set of cleats anchored to the heavy beam at the bottom.   It appears to me that lower section was configured as something which could be removed, stored, then replaced when needed.  Given that possibility, I’d think the stairs were built by the Confederates, with a lower section which was only put in place during quiet times (i.e. when the Federals were not bombarding).

Both sets of external stairs appear in the ceremony photos, often with lots of activity:


Here we see a blur of people descending to the parade ground.  To the right of that, four people are using the old steps as a viewing perch.  The one at the bottom is a Navy-type.  I conjecture he was a petty officer, finding a way to keep out of the crowd but still get a good view (as they are apt to do). At the top are three of civilians – two seated and one standing.  The standing man is in a convenient position for us to obtain a rough measure of the stairs:


His height covers five steps of the upper section, with him standing on the top step of the lower section.  Assuming him of average height… maybe a little over six feet perhaps… can we measure the stairs overall?


So maybe fifteen to eighteen feet?

Better still, we might also use that measure to address that question about the Confederate sallyport:


Standing-man’s measure compares favorably to others standing next to the gabion revetment beside the sallyport. We see a person standing there is roughly up the mid-point of the second row of gabions.

Circling back to the pre-ceremony photo, let’s apply that same measure:


Not necessarily scientific, but I would contend the entrance was much smaller than the survey would lead us to believe.  And, of course, that would also explain why the Federals built such an elaborate set of stairs for the VIPs.  Having those gray-headed dignitaries climb up and down steps was preferable.  Opposed having them crawl on their hands and knees through the passage.

One last note on that sallyport.  You see also a metal plate set up by Confederates to block that entrance.  A reminder  – this was Fort Sumter after it was pummeled by tens of thousands of shot and shell, over the span of a year and a half.  The gabions were not just there to prevent erosion, but to sustain a defensive structure exposed to the heaviest weapons devised at the time.

Fort Sumter, April 1865 Photos, Part 2: The Confederate sallyport

What say let’s walk around Fort Sumter, as it was in the past… in April 1865.  Earlier I introduced this photo as capturing several key reference points, labeling it “FS1” for ease of identification:


In the first post in this series, I offered this as the camera location and point of view for FS1:


Keeping with the idea of “walking” the grounds as they were 150 years ago, let’s focus on that circle just right of center view.  That’s a sallyport built by the Confederates during the war.

For those unfamiliar with the layout, the original sallyport for Fort Sumter was on the gorge wall (at the bottom of the survey diagram, above).  That wall fronted Morris Island.  So it was the focus of the Confederate bombardment in April 1861.  Then later in the summer of 1863 the Federals started demolishing the gorge wall at long range.  By the end of the war, that wall was obliterated, barely resembling the pre-war form.  Profile A-B from the survey illustrates that very well:


Note the dashed lines standing tall just left of center.  That’s the “as constructed” profile of the gorge wall.  What remained was a debris pile, contained on the inner side by gabions, with an internal gallery.  No passageway remained.  Though I would point out, on the far left, the original stone wharf remained at the high water line.  (And parts of it are probably still there in the mud.)

So, with the gorge wall under fire and the passage destroyed, how did the Confederates enter and exit the fort?  They built a new sallyport, on the northwest wall.  That face was turned away from the Federal batteries and best protected from possible glancing blows.  Looking to the “left shoulder” of the fort from the 1865 survey:


Corresponding to the circled feature in the photo, we see the slit where the annotation “U” appears, for the internal entrance to the sallyport.   Turning to the lower-layer survey, more details emerge:


This passage leads out to a wharf.  Notice the passage is through the second embrasure from the corner.  The first embrasure was occupied by a gun covering the wharf.  The original fort wall remained on this quarter.  And immediately through the entrance, to the left and right are open galleries from the lower tier of the fort.  Confederates fashioned some rooms in this area, which we’ll return to discuss in a moment.  The line T-U refers to a profile diagram, with more details:


Again we see the “ghost” dashed lines representing the original fort profile.  Here the fort was cut down by Federal fires but the damage was not as severe compared to the gorge wall.  The Confederate wharf was built on piles extending directly out from the fort wall.  And we also see the galleries, from the original fort construction but re-purposed by the Confederates.  From those galleries, a tunnel passes under the debris into the fort’s parade ground.  This was the “front door” to Fort Sumter, from about August 1863 until probably the 1890s.

As this is an engineer’s survey, we might expect the dimensions to be in scale.  So what do we have as the width?  Well, sliding the diagram’s scale over to use as a ruler:


What?  About six to eight feet wide?

And the profile:


Almost ten feet?

Wouldn’t it be nice to have something in the photo to challenge those dimensions?   Oh… wait, we have that guy standing at attention on the fort’s parapet. Why not ask him to step down there…. A little crop, cut, and paste… and there he is:


OK… maybe this guy would go first in the next NBA draft.  Or maybe my photo manipulation is out of calibration.  On one hand, I can make the argument for a ten foot tall, eight foot wide passage there.  It would allow the garrison to move things like mountain howitzers about.  On the other hand, the Confederates would want that to be narrow, providing a small opening to guard against splinters of bursting shells.

Even if we go with the eight by ten passageway dimensions, that was somewhat confining.  Certainly not the way one wants VIPs and dignitaries and… an entire regimental band entering the fort on the day of celebration.  So in the later photos, such as those taken during the flag-raising, we see a set of steps going up and over the parapet:


Note that “VIP stairway” was in addition to the stairs going up the parapet that we see on the other photo.  The VIP stairs go up and over the parapet in a place leading directly to the wharf.  So everything fits – photos and surveys.

But if you arrive at Fort Sumter today, step off the boat, do you walk through the old Confederate sallyport?  No.  Here’s walkway up from the pier today:

Ft Sumter 3 May 2010 150

The left-most embrasure (bricked over) in this view is the casemate directly on the north (or left shoulder) corner of the fort.  Moving to the next over, let’s count … one sealed embrasure…. one completely removed … one open… a second open… then the doorway.  So five embrasures down from the corner.  How does that compare to the 1865 survey?  Let’s go to the draft version of the survey… for reasons you will understand in a moment:


“Box A” here is the wharf.  Note in the draft the extents of the wharf were… well it is a draft.  Moving from there, I’ve highlighted the passage as “Box B.”  Counting embrasures and galleries, we go to “Box C,” which is the corner gun position.  Now count one down from there – “Box D” – which is where a gun was positioned in the April 1865 survey, to cover the wharf.   So, we know the Confederate sallyport was through the second embrasure down the wall, which has the mouth completely removed today.  What’s in that spot now?  This:

Fort Sumter 4 Aug 11 1621

A concrete structure.  This was built up when the fort was re-built in the 1890s. In addition to Battery Huger, the Army setup casemates (what Civil War soldiers would call bombproofs) from which to control minefields setup around the harbor entrance.  Mines… you mean torpedoes?   Yes, those infernal machines again.  Here’s a close up photo:

Ft Sumter 3 May 2010 319

Of course that meant some other entrance was needed:

Ft Sumter 3 May 2010 152a

The short-story version of Fort Sumter’s sallyport changes, but by no means the complete detailed story.   The current entrance is not fancy, but certainly was better than that given in April 1865.  Going back to the call-out boxes in the draft survey diagram, I’ve highlighted the embrasure used by the present day entrance as “Box E”.

Recall that I mentioned some features were included on the draft that did not make it to the final diagram for the 1865 survey.  One of those appears just below the embrasure used by the modern entrance.  “Box F” is one of those:


A structure, which looks to be wood, placed outside the fort’s wall is labeled “kitchen.”  We even see a little smokestack on the upper-right of the kitchen’s roof.  That would have stood just to the right, as one enters the fort.  The kitchen was placed outside the fort, on a safe wall, to prevent an accident.  Certainly would not want a grease fire to spark a magazine explosion.  One of those magazines I’ve called out as “Box H” (see the full diagram above), which serviced the second three gun battery in the fort.

Notice also “Box G” here.  This is labeled “Telegraph Office.”  The main means of communicating between Charleston, Fort Sumter, and the other Confederate positions around the harbor was via telegraph.  Now days, this cannon occupies the spot:

Ft Sumter 3 May 2010 312

A 42-pdr Seacoast Gun Model 1845, banded and rifled, which we’ve looked at before.

So from keys offered in the photo, matched to features in the survey diagrams, we’ve walked into the fort, as it was in 1865, and identified a few important spots.  All of which you might stand on today when visiting the fort.

Fort Sumter photos after the fire – Intro to a series

Back during the sesquicentennial period, the “home stretch” from January to April 2015 offered a formidable challenge as I blogged through anniversary events (and attended quite a few).  There were simply too many things that I felt deserved attention.  In that rush of postings, several events did not get full, detailed, and deserving treatment.

One of those was the flag raising at Fort Sumter on April 14, 1865.  Reflecting those busy sesqui days, I posted twice that 150th anniversary … while preparing to head into D.C. to attend events at Ford’s Theater that evening.  So while I did get off a sesquicentennial post about Fort Sumter that day, it was somewhat short… and not to my satisfaction.  I had stacked up material for several posts with the intent of “walking around” Fort Sumter using wartime photographs, much as was done earlier for Morris Island and later for Fort Johnston.  But sesquicentennial buzz turned to post-sesquicentennial cool-down…. well … I shouldn’t make excuses… I just got a bit lazy!

So let’s go back and have another look at April 14, 1865:


This is one of a set of photos taken inside Fort Sumter of the flag raising ceremonies. Let me label this one “FSC1” for “Fort Sumter Ceremony #1.”  Being more of a “fort and cannon” type, I’m not overly excited about naming names and identifying celebrities there.  Other bloggers did some of that during the sesquicentennial, so I’ll just refer you over their way.

To me, these photos of the ceremony are the “gateway” into a look back in time.  From these we can see what Fort Sumter looked like in that moment.  And using that view, we can start pinpointing structures and features which do not exist today  – that is the temporary structures erected just for the ceremony and remains left behind by the Confederates.

There are two important sets of paper documentation which should be used to unlock the information in these photos.  The first is a survey of the fort made by Federal engineers shortly after its recapture.  We have, on file with the Library of Congress, high resolution copies of the draft survey:


And the final product, included with Brigadier-General Quincy Gilmore’s report:


While I like using the latter, as it renders well, there is unfortunately a binding seam right down the middle.  Please don’t let that distract.   The former, the draft survey, is also useful as it calls out details not carried over to the final.  And there are several other diagrams and scrap views that are included with the set.  Overall, these provide us a very detailed examination of Fort Sumter, as it existed in February 1865.  There were some alterations made by the Federals between that survey and April.  But those were minimal.  Those changes were generally of two types.  Some of these were functional repairs, such as restoring the lighthouse (which was really just a light mark…) and placing the flagpole.  Other changes were temporary, as part of the ceremony preparation.  And those changes are readily apparent when comparing the survey with the photos.

As you probably noticed, we have two plans and several elevations to work with here.  Mahan would be happy.  It is the plan in the center that is most applicable to photo analysis, as it is the “as seen from above” view, as opposed to a cut-away layer:


Again, that pesky seam right down the side!  Note the “star and line” running out from the center.  That’s a north seeking arrow.

The second major set of documentation we need to consult is from the 20th century.  In 1933 the National Park Service established the Historic American Building Survey (HABS) with the mission to “…document achievements in architecture, engineering, and landscape design in the United States and its territories through a comprehensive range of building types, engineering technologies, and landscapes….”  And that collection of documents, photos, and other materials is also in the Library of Congress’ online resources.  Among the buildings surveyed was Fort Sumter (and, to be proper, this was not just one survey… but an ongoing project which continues to gather information about the structure).

As anyone who has visited Fort Sumter is quick to point out, the fort changed significantly between 1865 and 1933.  The most visible change occurred in the 1890s when the Army decided Fort Sumter was still an important post for the defense of Charleston. So Battery Huger went up in the middle of that historic fort.  The HABS captured those changes in detail, allowing us easy comparison back to the 1865 survey.  Furthermore, the HABS survey then allows us to pinpoint where something was at in relation to what the fort looks like today.

One of the HABS survey diagrams which is most useful, as it lines up with the 1865 survey well, is the “roof” plan:


Here we have a stylistic compass rose on the upper right, allowing orientation.

All well and good, you say, but with all those people in the way in the ceremony photos, we don’t get a nice, clean view of the fort’s structures.  Well, here’s the key to unlock the door:


We mostly see this photo mentioned because of the presence of another photographer (yea… paparazzi of 1865!) on the other side of Fort Sumter.  But this gives us a look across the parade ground of Fort Sumter without all the ceremony clutter.   Let me call this one “Fort Sumter 1” or in short hand “FS1″The “keys” here are the berm or crest to the left of frame; a set of gabions on the parapet; the stairs to the right of that entrance; and the chimney-like structure in the foreground.  Let’s circle those in red on FS1:


Using those, we can start matching to the 1865 survey:


Let’s zoom in on one of those red circles as it will give us a very precise idea as to the camera’s location. This is the chimney area on the survey:


What we see in the photo is a column of bricks.  What we see on the survey is a small square.  However, if we look to the middle of that snip, we see an elevation runs through that portion of the fort, along the line E-F.  Here’s that elevation:


So… yes… those are chimneys.  And we have a photo of that section of the fort taken in the spring of 1865:


A great photo with all sorts of things to talk about.  But for now let’s just call it a supporting exhibit.  We’ll walk through this photo later. If we can pinpoint which chimney is in the foreground of FS1, then we have a pretty good idea of where the camera was located.  Given the spacing of the chimneys, and more importantly the “curve” of the gabion line to the side of the chimney in FS1, I think we are looking for the left-most in the photo above.  If we go with that, here’s how the photo lines up with the 1865 survey:


In other words, the photographer was on the south-east wall, atop the bombproofs.  The camera was oriented to the west.  We can then account for the passageway to the Confederate docks, the crest on the west corner, and other features.  And… if we take that over to the HABS diagram we can start talking about where to stand today:

FS1LocatorHABS So the camera was somewhere around about the top of the stairways on the east corner of the fort. Near abouts there: Ft Sumter 3 May 2010 267

Suffice to say, the view from that point today is obscured by Battery Huger. But the flagpoles are in view:

Ft Sumter 3 May 2010 268

Now that we know where the camera was pointed, we can start picking out key features that will appear in other photos.  So… follow this down to that big hunk of iron in the middle of the parade ground, circled in yellow:


On closer examination….


A Confederate Columbiad. The long trunnions, paired with the mushroom cascabel, gives this away. I count eight ratchets, leading to a tentative identification as a 10-inch Columbiad. There were certainly plenty of those around Charleston in 1865. And there are a few still there today. Might we be seeing a cataloged survivor? And we see that Columbiad in several other photos of the fort’s interior.




Sort of hard to move a 13,500 pound cannon, even for a ceremonial flag raising.
That cannon didn’t just have a “front row seat”… it WAS a front row seat.  In some of the ceremony photos, we can see a break in the crowd where that columbiad sat.  Certainly an appropriate trophy to display at a ceremony marking the victory at Fort Sumter.

Aftermath of Hurricane Matthew: Forts survive storm surge; unearthed ordnance

Like many, I have monitored the news from the southeast as Hurricane Matthew over the last few days.  Friends and relatives living in and around the storm’s path all report they are fine and recovering.  The storm left behind a trail of damage and destruction, with over 300 reported deaths in Haiti alone and ten reported in the U.S.

But it could have been much worse.  The eye passed some 20 to 25 miles offshore of Tybee Island.  Later the center of the storm passed thirty miles eastward of Charleston before making landfall further up the coast near Cape Romain, not far from where Hurricane Hugo made landfall in 1989.  While Hugo was rated at category 4 when making landfall, Matthew was falling from category 2 down to 1 before reaching the coast.  Still the track covered a large section of coast from Florida to North Carolina.  As such, we see a lot of familiar place-names in news reports.

From Savannah, footage shows flooding at Fort Pulaski.  At first this appears dramatic… particularly from the view of the reporter (… who’s not yet visited the fort):


Yes, the fort is completely isolated, with a significant portion of Cockspur Island under water.  As of this writing, there are no on-site reports.  So we don’t have a full assessment.  But from this view, we can see the interior of the fort was not flooded.  A tree in the interior has fallen and the demilune is wet, but the casemates appear dry.  Relatively that is.  The video didn’t give a close view of the lighthouse further downriver.  Hopefully within a few days the water will drain off… and hopefully any damage is minor.  And this is largely due to the careful placement and construction of the fort. General Joseph Mansfield deserves much credit for the fort’s survival… 170 years after the fact!

Further up the coast, Forts Sumter and Moultrie were also within the storm’s path.  The forts closed and prepared to weather the storm:

No work as of this writing about the status of those forts.  So we are in “wait and see” mode. The storm surge crested to 9.29 feet at Fort Sumter at it’s peak.

However, Fort Sumter is in the news feeds due to a post-storm finding down the coast at Folly Island.  Erosion from the storm unearthed a pile of what appear to be shells:


Later reports added, “Authorities announced Sunday night that a number of the cannonballs were detonated by the Air Force and a small amount of them would be transported to the Naval Base.”

I don’t want to “Monday morning quarterback” here.  As I’ve said in the past, handling explosive ordnance is something we must… MUST … allow the experts to manage.  Some will offer, from a safe distance, these were fully inert.  Maybe so.  Maybe not.  “We” were not there, and don’t know all the details.  The individuals on the scene made a risk assessment and deemed action necessary.  We should accept their decision as the call to make.  All I would offer is that EOD teams, such as those called upon to respond at Folly Island, should have access to as much information on Civil War ordnance as possible to further aid their decisions.  Far better to incorporate what is known about the subject into their (EOD) policies and procedures than to openly criticize them for being cautious.  This hurricane killed at least ten here in the US.  And over 600,000 died in the Civil War.  We should not rush to add more to either grim tallies.

The value of this find was not with the actual shells themselves, but rather the context of the location. This site appears to be on the northern end of Folly Beach. Several Federal batteries stood in that area, guarding Lighthouse Inlet (and in July 1863, were used to support landings on Morris Island).  Archaeological surveys of the area have documented well some of the battery locations (as the gentleman in the video notes, the location was known by locals as a place where fortifications stood).  Hopefully this find will add to that knowledge.  Given the location, on eroded beach, it appears sufficient effort was made to document that context.  Perhaps this will spur further archaeological examinations in the area.

153 years ago today – First shots in a 3500 ton bombardment, 78 week siege of Fort Sumter began

One of the oft overlooked, yet very significant, artifacts in Fort Sumter is a projectile lodged in the interior wall:

Fort Sumter 4 Aug 11 1575

I believe this is a Parrott bolt.  (Though I hope if it is a shell, the projectile was properly disarmed!)  Very likely one of thousands (tens of thousands…) that were fired by Federal batteries on Morris Island, or perhaps the ironclads on station nearby, at Fort Sumter during the long siege of Fort Sumter.

At dawn on August 17, 1863, 153 years ago today,  an 8-inch Parrott rifle on Morris Island fired a shot at dawn on August 17, 1863, 153 years ago today a massive bombardment of Fort Sumter.   Major-General Quincy Gillmore reported over 145 tons of shot, bolt, and shell followed that shot during the next ten days.  The bombardment continued, unrelenting, until September 2.

The objective of the bombardment was to reduce Fort Sumter.  “Reduce” being a military term to indicate the fort’s firepower was reduced, and thus Fort Sumter would not be able to defend itself or interfere with Federal operations.  There are many ways to soft-chew that objective.  At the start of the bombardment, Fort Sumter had 38 large caliber cannon and two mortars.  By September 2, Fort Sumter had but one 32-pdr gun operational, in the northwest casemate covering the harbor side.  So there was some “reduction” accomplished in the conventional military sense of things. But several factors outside the military rule book came into play.  And Fort Sumter remained, even reduced to an “infantry outpost”, a barrier to Federal operations.  Thus the first major bombardment of Fort Sumter resulted in a stalemate.


But… this was only the first round.  The bombardment of Fort Sumter resumed in late September with a minor bombardment, with freshly captured batteries on the north end of Morris Island.  And with those new batteries registered, on October 26 the Federals began forty-one days of constant bombardment – day and night.  Throughout 1864, this pattern continued.  Six minor bombardments took place in the winter and spring months of 1864.  One more “major” bombardment blasted the fort from July 7 through September 4, 1864.  And finally, one more minor bombardment, the eighth such, over September 6-18, 1864, represented the last sustained effort to reduce the fort.  And that does not include what Confederate observers called “desultory firing” aimed at Fort Sumter almost every day.

In short, what started on this day in 1863 was for all intents the longest continual battle in the Civil War.   Historian Warren Ripley estimated the combined weight of these bombardments to be in excess of 3,500 tons.  All that in roughly a year and a half of siege operations against a fort of about 2.5 acres in size.*  The effort was at times part of a major push by the Federals to capture Charleston.  Then at others little more than a demonstration to distract from other fronts.  But this siege drug on from August 17, 1863 right up to the fort’s capture on February 18, 1865.

And that storm started on this day in 1863.

Note: By way of comparison, starting on the morning of November 20, 1943 the U.S. Navy fired about 3000 tons of projectiles on the island of Betio, roughly 290 acres, as part of the Battle of Tarawa.  In the span of eighty years, technology increased the size and lethality of artillery.  And at the same time, technology increased the need for such weighty bombardments.

Fortification Friday: Gabion revetments for field fortification

No April Fools today… we have some serious stuff to discuss as Fortification Friday resumes.  Revetments is our subject, and thus far we’ve looked at those of sod, and those using pisa, fascine, and hurdle constructions.  The next type to consider used gabions.  Some time back, I discussed gabions as relating to the Civil War and modern applications, but that need be revisited with Mahan’s take in relation to field fortifications.

Gabion revetment.  The gabion is a round basket of cylindrical form, open at each end, its height is usually two feet nine inches, and diameter two-feet.

Mahan referenced Figure 25 to illustrate the gabion:



The lower section shows the gabion in vertical profile.  The upper portion looks on from above.  You see the basket form with the “two feet, nine inch” stakes.  From above we see concentric circles, or hoops, of a form that is made when constructing the gabion:

To form a gabion, a directing circle is made of two hoops, the difference between their radii being such, that, when placed concentrically, there shall be about one-and-three-quarter inches between them. They are kept in this position by placing small blocks of wood between them, to which they are tied with packthread.  The directing circle is laid on the ground, and seven or nine pickets, about one inch in diameter and three feet long, are driven into the ground between the hoops, at equal distances apart; the directing circle is then slipped up midway from the bottom, and confined in that position.  Twigs half an inch in diameter, and as long as they can be procured, are wattled between the pickets, like ordinary basket work; when finished within about one-and-a-half inches of the top, the gabion is placed with the other end up, the directing circle is taken off, and the gabion is completed within the same distance from the other extremities of the pickets. The wicker work at the two ends is secured by several withes, and the ends of the pickets being brought to a point, the gabion is ready for use.

And that is how you build a gabion.  Implied as a prerequisite is the time needed to gather all those half-inch diameter twigs.

With the gabion prepared for use, where do we put it on the works?  Figure 26 demonstrates a gabion in the profile:


The right end of this diagram is used to discuss obstacles later in Mahan’s text (back in the 19th century, woodcut diagrams were expensive to reproduce, don’t you know).  So we need to focus on the left:


Mahan wrote:

The gabion revetment is seldom used except for the trenches in the attack of permanent works, where it is desirable to place the troops speedily under cover from the enemy’s case shot and musketry.  When used for field works, a fascine is first laid partly imbedded blow the tread of the banquette; the gabion, which is placed on end, rests on this, so as to give it the requisite slope; it is filled with earth, and the parapet is raised behind it, and another fascine is laid on top, and in some cases two.

I’ve added annotations for the fascine anchors required within this arrangement.

We see a gabions often in wartime photos.  Those from Fort Sumter catch my attention most (as one might presume).  By the later half of the war, Fort Sumter was for all practical purposes a permanent seacoast fortification turned into a field fortification.  And we see gabions in use all across the interior.


Notice those gabions that appear to be partially constructed …  deconstructed, or at least empty… in the foreground.  We don’t see fascines on top of the gabions, when seen in profile:


Part of this is explained by the specific application.  In the case of the photo above, there is a planking on which the gabions in the foreground are stacked.  That planking is the top of the entrance to a gallery.  If the top fascine is used, we might assume it to be buried well.  But I see no evidence of such.

Moving past gabions, we still have several sorts of revetments to discuss – next up are plank and sandbag revetments…. oh the excitement builds….

(Citations from Dennis Hart Mahan, A Treatise on Field Fortifications, New York: John Wiley, 1852, page 39-40.)