“Forty Parrott shells fired at fort to-day, 15 missed”: The Third Major Bombardment of Fort Sumter slows to a close

At 7:30 p.m on September 2, 1864, Captain Thomas A. Huguenin sent his routine summary report for the day from Fort Sumter:

Forty Parrott shells fired at fort to-day, 15 missed.

Routine was right.  For eight straight weeks Fort Sumter was under concentrated bombardment by Federal batteries on Morris Island.  Early in July, the shells came at faster rates and from large caliber weapons.  But by late August and into September, the Federal’s pace and weight of fire fell offFrom the first two weeks of the bombardment (July 7 to July 21) the average rate was just over fifteen rounds per hour, the majority of which were heavy caliber Parrott rounds.  Over the second pair of weeks (July 22 to August 2), the average hourly rate dropped to eleven and a half rounds.  Those weeks saw a larger portion of mortars and small caliber Parrotts used.  Between August 3 and August 14, the hourly average held somewhat steady at 11, but mortar and columbiad fires accounted for half of the total.  So with forty rounds during the day, added to the thirty-three Parrott shells fired overnight, on September 2, the Federal bombardment dropped to “minor bombardment” levels, if not “desultory firing” levels.

From the middle of August through the end of the month, Huguenin recorded the following tallies incoming to Fort Sumter (allow me to cite his reports, as opposed to providing a table, as his notations are incomplete):

  • August 16 – “Forty-two Parrott shells fired at the fort during the night, of which 22 struck; 58 mortar shells, of which 33 struck.”
  • August 18 – “Sixteen Parrott shells fired at the fort to-day, of which 11 missed; 56 mortar shells, of which 11 missed.”
  • August 20, 11 a.m. – “Twenty-six Parrott shells fired at the fort last night, of which 14 hit; 51 mortar shells, of which 31 hit.”
  • August 20, evening – “Nine Parrott shells fired at the fort to-day, of which 8 missed; 51 mortar shells, of which 11 missed.”
  • August 22 – “Thirty-four Parrott shells have been fired during the night, 9 of which missed; 42 mortar shells, 6 of which missed.”
  • August 23, morning – “The enemy fired 20 Parrott shells last night, 14 of which missed; also 23 columbiad shells, 11 missed.”
  • August 23, evening – “Thirty-six Parrott shells fired at the fort to-day, 22 of which missed; also 61 columbiad shells, 5 of which missed.”
  • August 25, morning – “Five Parrott shells fired at the fort last night, of which 4 missed; 27 columbiad shells, of which 5 missed.”
  • August 25, evening – “Thirty columbiad shells fired at fort to-day, of which 28 hit; 19 Parrott shells, of which 3 hit.”
  • August 26 – “Thirty-five columbiad shells fired at the fort last night, of which 16 missed; 18 Parrott shells, of which 9 missed.”
  • August 27 – “Eleven Parrott shells fired at the fort to-day, all of which missed; 35 columbiads, of which 3 missed.”
  • August 28 – “Eighteen Parrott shots were fired at the fort last night, of which 17 missed; 32 columbiads, of which 5 missed.”
  • August 29 – “Twenty-one Parrotts fired at the fort to-day, of which 15 missed; 40 columbiads, of which 9 missed.”
  • August 30, morning – “Ten Parrott shells fired at the fort last night, none of which struck; 29 columbiads, of which 7 missed.”
  • August 30, evening – “Twenty Parrott shells fired at the fort t0-day, of which 10 missed; 38 columbiads, of which 9 missed.”
  • August 31, morning – “Four Parrott shells fired at the fort last night, of which 3 missed; 31 columbiads, none of which missed; 1 mortar, which missed.”
  • August 31, afternoon – “Fourteen Parrot shots fired at the fort to-day, of which 7 missed; 27 mortar, of which 8 missed.”

For September 1, the totals were 34 Parrott shells, of which 14 missed; 41 mortar shells, with 17 missing. And as mentioned, September 2nd saw 77 total Parrott rounds both day and night, with 26 missing.   During second half of August, Huguenin reported two Confederates wounded, and also four negro laborers killed and nine wounded.  Life in the fort continued to be more dangerous for the laborers than for the soldiers.

Huguenin’s observations indicate a significant number of the Federal shots went wide of the target.  One would think, given a year of operations in which to fine tune the direction of the guns, the Federal fires would be very accurate by August 1864.  On the other hand, there was less of Fort Sumter to aim at by the end of that month, and the Federals were focusing fires on specific portions of the fort.  And there was one other issue facing the Federals on Morris Island, alluded to by Brigadier-General Alexander Schimmelfennig

In his update of August 24, 1864, Schimmelfennig provided his tally of ammunition expended from August 16 to August 24:

The following is the number of shots fired by our batteries and by the enemy since my last report of the 16th instant: At Fort Sumter, total number of shots, 1,014; at the city we have fired within the last twenty-four hours fifteen 100-pounder shell. Previous to that there was no firing at the city, the 100-pounder being dismounted by reason of a broken carriage, and the powder that we had for the 30-pounder being so poor as not to throw a shell into the city. The enemy has fired from Sullivan’s and James Islands at our camps and front batteries 118 shells.  This fire has been responded to from Fort Strong.

He didn’t indicate if the poor powder affected the firing on Fort Sumter.  But the rate of fire over those days was down to less than five per hour.  On September 2, he added the tallies for August 24 through that date:

The firing from our front battery since my last report (nine days) has been as follows: At Fort Sumter, 936 shells; at the city, 298 shells. The enemy has fired during the same time from his batteries on James and Sullivan’s Islands 490 shells, which have been duly responded to from Fort Strong. The enemy has thrown mortar shells at Paine’s Dock for several nights last.

The firing rate dropped slightly to just over four per hour on average.  At the same time, the Confederates had increased their counter-battery fire somewhat.

On September 3, Huguenin recorded 31 Parrott shells through the night, and one negro laborer killed.  The following day the Federals fired 35 Parrott shells at the fort.  The Third Major Bombardment, as defined by Captain John Johnson, ended with that.   A few days of relative peace came before another “minor” bombardment resumed. So one might read the finish of one period and the start of another as subjective.  Regardless, for sixty straight days Fort Sumter endured one of the heaviest bombardments of the war.  And the only major change in the situation at Charleston was a relocation of rubble.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 35, Part I, Serial 65, pages 72-3 and 236-40.)



Firing on a flag of truce: An incident of war at Charleston, August 30, 1864

On the morning of August 30, 1864, the Third Major Bombardment of Fort Sumter was starting an eighth week.  The routine of that bombardment might be considered “skirmishing” with heavy guns.  They rattled… or more accurately, boomed … across the outer reaches of Charleston harbor at interval throughout the day.  At Fort Sumter, Captain Thomas Huguenin reported twenty Parrott shells and thirty-eight columbiad shells fired at the fort from Morris Island during the day.  The Confederate garrison on Sullivan’s Island received seventy-four shots from the Federals, and returned fifty-seven.  Lots of iron and gunpowder expended that day.  Yet, for all that noise, those shots were not the “story of the day.”

Earlier in the day, Rear-Admiral John Dahlgren sent a package of letters over to the USS Wabash, with instructions for delivery to the Confederates with a flag of truce at Breach Inlet.  Specific instructions were:

Give directions for the flag-of-truce boat to approach the inlet no nearer than 1½ or 2 miles, there to anchor and wait the arrival of a rebel flag-of-truce boat.

The vessel from which the boat is sent, as well as the boat, should show a flag of truce.

These were routine instructions for what had become commonplace.  The time established for the flag-of-truce was early evening, around 6 p.m.  But that day the commonplace was not uneventful, as Acting Ensign George McClure, the truce officer, related:

In obedience to your order I proceeded with a flag of truce in toward Beach Inlet. When within about 2 ½ miles of the beach I cast off from the Winona and pulled in toward the fort at Beach Inlet. When within about 1 ½ miles a shot was fired across our bow from the fort, when I immediately anchored. After waiting about an hour I noticed a boat sailing around from Fort Moultrie, and soon after steering toward us. It was, however, too far distant for me to distinguish whether it showed a flag of truce or not. It had not gone far before our forces on Morris Island commenced firing at it, and I noticed 2 or 3 shells explode directly over the boat. I soon after distinguished a small flag of truce, when I got under way and stood toward it under sail. On communicating I found the boat in charge of Lieut. R. Jones, of General Higgins’ staff. I delivered the packages to him. He complained very bitterly of our forces on Morris Island firing at him while on his way out. I told him I was very sorry anything of the kind had occurred, and hoped that everything would soon be satisfactorily explained. Our communication here ended, and I returned aboard ship.

For perspective, the map below roughly depicts the respective locations of the boats and the Federal batteries:


The incident took place between 6 p.m. and 8:30 p.m., by which time the Confederate boat reported back to Sullivan’s Island.

All’s well that ends well?  Not hardly. Fragments of shells had landed on a flag-of-truce boat.  The Confederates and the Navy, all the way up to Dahlgren, wanted to know why the Army would fire on a flag of truce.  So inquiries went forth over the following days.  On September 2, Brigadier-General Alexander Schimmelfennig, commanding the Federal troops outside Charleston, responded to Captain Joseph Green, commanding the blockade at Charleston:

I have the honor to acknowledge the receipt of your communication of the 31st ultimo, relative to the firing upon a flag-of-truce boat by my batteries. In reply allow me to respectfully inform you that my orders from Major-General Foster are to receive no flags of truce in this district, and that in compliance with these orders I have instructed my pickets and batteries, on the approach of a flag of truce, to warn its bearers back by firing twice over their heads and the third time to fire sharp. I must therefore beg that in case the naval forces wish to communicate by flag of truce they will notify me of the same beforehand; otherwise the occurrences of August 30 will certainly be repeated.

So there were actually several exceptions to the “routine.”  For starters, the Army had express orders not to accept any truces at Charleston, which Major-General John Foster had clearly communicated to the Confederates. So the gunners were naturally wary.  Of course, had the Navy offered a warning to the Army, that might have been different.

But another departure from the norm, alluded to in McClure’s report, was the point of departure of the Confederate boat.  Green emphasized that in his report to Dahlgren, saying “I would state that it is unusual for the rebel flag of truce to come from Moultrie Point to meet ours of [Breach] Inlet; they generally come from the Inlet.”

McClure also mentioned the Confederate boat had not identified itself clearly.  Only after shells burst did he see a “small flag of truce.”  Though none of the other officers echoed that back to the Confederates for an explanation.

In the end, this all boiled down to an incident of war.  There was no intent by either side to deceive.  If anything, the intentions by both sides to avoid being predictable (sending a boat from a different location and firing warning shots before asking questions) had resulted in an unpredictable situation. Still, no lives were lost.  Packages exchanged.  But the “routine” was disrupted.

In the defense of the Federal gunners, there were plenty of good reasons for them to fire upon any unidentified vessel making the way out of Charleston.  The logs from Sullivan’s Island for August 30 closed with this line:

A steamer run in and went up to the city at 1.15 a.m.

That would be the blockade runner Fox.

Yes, Charleston was still a port of call for those pesky blockade runners.  Sort of a good reason for the gunners on Morris Island to pay careful attention to anything moving out around Sullivan’s Island.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 35, Part I, Serial 65, page 252; Part II, Serial 66, pages 265, 268-9; ORN, Series I, Volume 15, page 652.)

“The enemy floated a torpedo down”: Federal attempts to blast Fort Sumter to bits

At the start of the Third Major Bombardment of Fort Sumter, Major-General John Foster had in mind a plan to level the fort by way of a large explosive device.  “As soon as a good cut is made through the wall,” Foster wrote to Washington on July 7, 1864, “I shall float down against it and explode large torpedoes until the wall is shaken down and the surrounding obstructions are entirely blown away.”

Seven weeks later, the desired “cut” was evident, but the torpedoes were yet to be employed.  Early in the bombardment, Foster called upon the Navy for support, as they were somewhat more experienced with floating demolition devices and torpedoes.  On July 21, 1864, the USS Nahant attempted to push an explosive laden barge into position.  But miscommunication and bad weather thwarted the attempt. After this failure, the Navy, particularly Rear-Admiral John Dahlgren, became disenchanted with the whole idea.

Brigadier-General Alexander Schimmelfennig, in command of the forces in front of Charleston, continued with the plans as directed.  Using his special relation with the Admiral and other naval officers, Schimmelfennig received technical support while troubleshooting the torpedo clocks that timed the explosive device.  By the close of August, the explosive devices were ready for employment.  The first of these devices was a raft, filled with explosives and fitted with a torpedo clock.  It would be towed out to Fort Sumter and pushed into position.

Reporting on the first effort, which took place on the night of August 28, 1864, Schimmelfennig wrote:

On the night of the 28th ultimo, a pontoon-boat, fitted up for the purpose and containing about twenty hundredweight of powder, was taken out by Lieut. G.F. Eaton, One hundred and twenty-seventh New York Volunteers, boat infantry, and floated down into the left flank of Fort Sumter. The garrison of Sumter was alarmed before the mine reached them, and opened upon our boats with musketry, without, however, doing them any injury.

At 9:15 p.m. that night, Captain Thomas A. Huguenin, Confederate commander of Fort Sumter, reported the first torpedo attack. “The enemy floated a torpedo down from direction of [Fort] Johnson, which exploded near our wharf; no damage as far as ascertained yet.”  Huguenin went on to suggest the Federals had caught onto the Confederate passwords, perhaps alluding to how the Federals had gotten so close to Fort Sumter without any challenge.

Two nights later, the Federals tried again with different equipment:

On the night of the 31st ultimo six torpedoes, made of barrels set in frames, each containing 100 pounds of powder, were set afloat with the flood-tide from the southeast of Sumter with the view of destroying the boom.  They probably exploded too early and only injured perhaps two lengths of the links of the boom, which are now not visible.

At Sumter, Huguenin reported, on September 1, “The enemy again attempted to blow up the fort with a torpedo, but failed. The torpedo exploded about 300 yards off the east angle.”

Although picking at a weak corner of the fort, the means to place the explosive were faulty.  In the end, these Federal efforts came to naught.  So the long bombardment of Fort Sumter continued through September.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 35, Part I, Serial 65, pages 15, 74, 239, and 240.)

The “Great Escape Stories”: Federal prisoners picked up on the South Carolina coast

From a “150 years ago” perspective, there are lots of threads to follow concerning prisoners – the Charleston-Savannah sector of the war in particular.  Reviewing my notes last month, I figured that was a good topic to highlight in contrast to the Third Major Bombardment (as it becomes monotonous to see titles like “200 more shells fired at Fort Sumter!!!”).  As I weighed out the different threads – human shields, civilian prisoners, prisoner exchanges, and others – it dawned on me there was an angle which I’d not seen before.  That would be escaped Federal prisoners picked up on the coast of South Carolina.

Captain Joseph F. Green, commanding the blockade off Charleston, related one of the first such occurrences that summer on July 9, 1864:

On the night of the 7th instant, two men, representing that they belong to the Sixty-fourth New York Regiment, one to Company A and the other to Company F, were picked up by the Daffodil from a boat.

They state that they were captured before Petersburg. [Va.], on the 19th ultimo and escaped from the rail cars about 105 miles from Charleston, while in transit to some place of confinement in Georgia. They are desirous of returning to their regiment.

The Confederates could not afford to keep prisoners around Richmond, as they presented lucrative targets for Federal raids and were additional mouths to feed.  Such were the driving factors behind establishment of Andersonville prison.  Most of those prisoners went south on rail cars.  And with the poor state of Confederate railroads, likely those prisoners had several opportunities to slip away.

Several escaped prisoners came through Federal lines in the first days of August.  On August 1, the bark USS Ethan Allen posted in St. Helena Sound picked up three officers, as Acting Master Isaac A. Pennell reported:

They escaped from a train of cars, on the night of the 28th ultimo, while on the way from the prison at Macon, Ga., to Charleston S.C.

They gave their names as follows: First Lieutenants P.W. Houlihan and Walter Clifford, Sixteenth Regiment, U.S. Infantry, and First Lieutenant James Butler, Second Regiment, U.S. Infantry.

They inform me there were 600 United States officers in the train.  Among them was Lieutenant-Commander Pendergrast and about thirty other naval officers; also they inform me there was to be an attempt to capture the train the night they escaped. On learning of it I immediately sent the launch up Horn Creek, and went myself in the schooner Wild Cat up the Ashepoo River, 17 miles to the mainland, to rescue any of them that might have escaped, but saw no one.

Lieutenant-Commander Austin Pendergrast was captured on the USS Water Witch in June.

Though Pennell failed to locate any more escaped prisoners that day, a couple more found their way to Federal lines further up the coast.  Brigadier-General Alexander Schimmelfennig noted this in an August 3 report:

Last night 2 persons in a boat coming out from Charleston were picked up by our picket-boats. They represented themselves as officers of the Third Ohio Volunteers, lately brought to Charleston and now escaped.  They give their names as B.C.G. Reed, Captain Third Ohio Volunteer Infantry; T.B. Stevenson, first lieutenant.  They state that there were 650 U.S. officers now confined in the jail at Charleston, lately brought there from Macon, Ga. Two other parties of prisoners, amounting to about 1,000, were starting for Charleston, but were, for some reason, not sent through.  My fire on the city will continue as before until I receive orders for the contrary.  These officers report that communication between Charleston and Atlanta has been interrupted since the 29th ultimo. They also state that a party of 60 U.S. officers effected their escape somewhere near Charleston, and will try to get through to our lines. I shall do everything possible on my front to meet and assist them, sending out parties on the Kiawah, Seabrook, and John’s Islands.

On the basis of these reports, Major-General John Foster and Rear-Admiral John Dahlgren urged their respective commands to search for more escaped Federals. But no more were reported through the middle of the month.  On August 6, the officers gave detailed statements of their experiences.

Houlihan and Clifford were captured at Chickamauga the previous fall. Butler was captured at Catlett’s Station in April 1864.  All three jumped from the train near the Combahee River. They described the conditions of Andersonville Prison:

 We were treated badly. No bedding, not enough to eat, only 2 quarts corn meal for five days, with 10 pounds bacon and ½ pint of sirup, 1 ½ pounds salt, and ½ gill rice, and same quantity of wormy beans. We built our own sheds from lumber given to us. We had to do our policing. We hear from 3 surgeons, who attended the men at Andersonville, that there are over 27,000 men at Andersonville in an inclosure of twenty-five acres; a portion is swamp. That 75 to 100 die per day. Saw 160 taken out and buried in one day. They have no shelter of any kind. They take away their blankets, overcoats, &c. One corner of the open field is the hospital with about 600 men in it. At present they have no medical attendance. In exchange they gave us $4.50 for $1 greenbacks. This was done officially.

Reed and Stevenson, of the Third Ohio, were captured in May 1863 near Rome, Georgia, in Colonel Abel Streight’s ill-fated raid.  They escaped in the train yards at Charleston, with the aid of negroes working there.  And the negroes arranged a boat to get them to Federal lines.

The negroes gave us good and reliable information. Although they are almost starving themselves, yet they would always give us enough. An old negro woman got us something to eat. I told her we had no money. She said, “The Lord God will pay me, massa, if you only get through.” Those who will depend on the darkies will be safe in attempting to escape.

There’s a couple of stories worth a movie script if you ask me.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 35, Part I, Serial 65, pages 69-70; Part II, Serial 66, pages 220-1; ORN, Series I, Volume 15, pages 563 and 615.)


Ask for IX-inch guns, you get XI-inch guns: Naval support for the Third Major Bombardment

Last week, I mentioned this gun that was put to use on Morris Island in the summer of 1864:

At the end of July, 1864, Major-General John Foster requested support from Rear-Admiral John Dahlgren to sustain the Third Major Bombardment of Fort Sumter.  In addition to asking for replacements for burst heavy Parrott rifles, Foster asked if the Navy might loan some heavy smoothbore guns.  Foster asked for IX-inch Dahlgrens, but his subordinate, Brigadier-General Alexander Schimmelfennig, felt XI-inch 0r XV-inch Dahglrens would be more suitable for the work.  While Schimmelfennig had a cordial relationship with Dahlgren, I don’t think he pressed the Admiral directly on the issue.  Likely, Dahlgren had more of the XI-inch guns on hand, as the IX-inch guns were heavily used by the smaller blockaders and the XV-inch guns were for the monitors.

On August 5, 1864, Foster wrote to Schimmelfennig to announce the Naval “reinforcements” for the Third Major Bombardment:

Admiral Dahlgren has declared his willingness to lend six 11-inch guns, with carriages, implements, and the requisite officers, crew, and ammunition. The guns are to be landed by the navy at Light-House Inlet, and will be transported to their positions by the army. It is recommended, however, that at high tide the scows used for carrying the shells be run up as high as possible on the beach near the battery and the shells be thrown overboard, so that they can be picked up at low tide by the wagons and taken into the battery. Four 100-pounder Parrott guns will be sent up also as soon as transportation can be had. I will borrow from the navy some 100 and 200 and 300 pounder ammunition, and send it up at the same time, if possible.

Six XI-inch Dahlgrens and four 100-pdr Parrotts to add their weight to the bombardment falling on Fort Sumter. And the Army would receive ammunition to refresh their depleted stocks.  Notice how these would be delivered:  directly over the beach. In fact, dropped on the beach to be retrieved at low tide!  And I do like the use of the verb “borrow,” as if the Army intended to give those shells back.

Foster used the same letter to discuss the ongoing investigation of the failed raid on Fort Johnson.  But after briefly touching upon that matter, he turned to the care of ordnance used in the bombardment.  Referencing the ordnance report from the end of July, he wrote:

I likewise inclose an official copy of the ordnance report from your command, with indorsements thereon, and your attention is invited to indorsement from Lieut. John R. McGinness, chief of ordnance, who states that there is a good supply of lacquer on hand, and that he even used some himself when up there, instructing the men how to lay it on.

The report of the chief of artillery for the Northern District states that the suggestions of R. P. Parrott have not as yet been put into practice. You will cause an investigation to be had in this matter at once, and ascertain with whom the fault of this negligence lies, and have orders issued immediately to lacquer the shells, as per instruction given by Lieutenant McGinness, chief of ordnance, Department of the South, when in your district. The officer who is responsible for this negligence should be punished.

Lieutenant John McGinness complained the interior of the shells were not varnished as recommended by the weapon’s inventor.  And he leveled blame on the artillerists:

As soon as received, Captain Parrott’s letter to the major-general commanding, recommending that the interior of his shells be coated with lacquer or varnish, a copy was made and forwarded through the ordnance office, Morris Island, to the chief of artillery Northern District. An abundance of lacquer has long since been sent to Morris Island and the ordnance officer has been directed to send a supply of it to the batteries. A portion of the 12 shells herein mentioned were varnished by my own hands. I stood over the man until he had completed the balance, and I venture to say that had I not done so even this small number would not have been tried. Why were there not more varnished by the officer commanding the work (Putnam), as plenty of material remained, and give the suggestion a fair trial? I requested the chief of artillery that morning, after I had these shells varnished, to have others prepared in the same way, using lacquer. I respectfully submit that too little interest is manifested by the commandants of batteries in the working, care, and management of their guns, and that this fact more than any other accounts for the great number of guns burst at the front. Too much is expected of ordnance officers.

McGinness felt the artillerists should take an interest to ensuring their ordnance was properly prepared… and not assume the ordnance officers were handling those details.  It’s the little things, such as a light coat of varnish, that spell the difference between a shell sent to a precise point in the rubble that was Fort Sumter and a premature explosion damaging the gun and possibly killing the gunners.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 35, Part II, Serial 66, pages 192 and 216-7.)



“This leaves only one breaching gun… that can be used”: Report on The Third Major Bombardment

On August 1, 1864, Lieutenant-Colonel William Ames provided an update on the progress of the Third Major Bombardment of Fort Sumter, adding to his report covering the period up to July 22:

I have the honor to state that since my last report of July 22, the firing upon Fort Sumter has been continued. The fire from guns of Fort Putnam has been directed at a point on the gorge wall to the left of the old breach. The fire from Battery Chatfield has been directed at the center of the sea-wall. This change in the point against which the fire was directed was made in accordance with orders from department headquarters. The breach in gorge wall has been cut or combed off for about 7 feet. The sea-wall has been cut down for about 5 feet. The breach, however, is not yet practicable.

Basically, the gunners on Morris Island were “walking” their fires across the gorge wall of Fort Sumter.  And “walking” very slowly and methodically over the span of days.  But for all that work, there was no breach at that time.

Ames then reported on the status of the guns used in the operation, starting with two more disabled guns in the last three days:

On July 30, No. 4 gun, Fort Putnam (200-pounder Parrott), was disabled, a crack appearing on right upper quarter of gun and extending from under re-enforce to left trunnion. This gun has fired 573 rounds. August 1, No. 4 piece, Battery Chatfield (300-pounder), was disabled, about 24 inches of muzzle being blown off. This gun has fired 1,200 rounds. The carriage was not injured, so that the reserve 300-pounder can be at once mounted in its place. There are, with the exception of 30-pounder Parrotts, no reserve guns on hand at ordnance yard.

As mentioned in yesterday’s post, Major-General John Foster recognized the shortage of guns and had already inquired with Rear-Admiral John Dahlgren to secure replacements.  But Ames pointed out, the Army needed more than just guns:

The following are the breaching guns in works at the front that bear on Fort Sumter, viz:

Fort Putnam, one 200-pounder Parrott, serviceable; two 30-pounder Parrotts, no projectiles.

Battery Chatfield, one 200-pounder Parrott, vent closed; one 100-pounder Parrott, vent closed.

Columbiad battery, two 100-pounder columbiads; no projectiles.

This leaves only one breaching gun in works at front that can be used to-day on Fort Sumter.

Only one!  Foster’s bombardment could not be sustained with just one breaching gun.

Ames went on to include a detailed summary of the firing since the last report:

Since July 21 the following number of projectiles have been fired at Fort Sumter, viz:

  • From Fort Putnam:
    • 200-pounder shells – 497
    • 30-pounder shells – 854
  • Battery Chatfield:
    • 300-pounder shells – 362
    • 100-pounder shells – 353
  • Battery Barton, 10-inch mortar shells – 557
  • Battery Seymour, 10-inch mortar shells – 392
  • Columbiad battery, 10-inch columbiad shells – 266
  • 13-inch mortar battery, 13-inch mortar shells – 52
  • 300-pounder Parrott Shells -362
  • 200-pounder Parrott Shells – 479
  • 100-pounder Parrott Shells – 353
  • 30-pounder Parrott Shells – 854
  • 13-inch mortar shells – 52
  • 10-inch mortar shells – 949
  • 10-inch columbiad shells – 266

Total – 3,333

Notice the change with respect to the majority of the projectiles used. Where as during the first two weeks of the bombardment, the heavy Parrotts fired the majority of the rounds, by the last week of July that workload shifted to the lighter Parrotts and mortars.  The Federals were expending ammunition and guns at a barely sustainable rate.  Thus the weight of fires decreased over that time.  The rate of fire decreased from 16 ½ per hour to about 12 ½.  And the number of heavy shots decreased by about 25% over the weekly rate seen earlier in the month.

Brigadier-General Alexander Schimmelfennig added his endorsement to this report:

The firing into the city and the bombardment of Fort Sumter have been continued as ordered….

The enemy replies to our fire occasionally from his works on James and Sullivan’s Islands. The enemy’s fatigue parties still show themselves around Fort Johnson, Battery Simkins, and the works around Secessionville.

Somewhat hum-drum summary for what was a heavy and active bombardment of the fort where the war began some three years earlier.  In addition to his endorsement, Schemelfennig would called for “11 and 15 inch Dahlgren guns” from the Navy to supplement the Parrotts.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 35, Part II, Serial 66, pages 207-8.)

Grant killed! Withdraw from Petersburg! Sherman defeated at Atlanta!: Deserters say the darnedest things

The discipline of military intelligence requires a capable staff with the ability to analyze a wide body of information to determine an accurate situational picture.  All kidding about the oxymoron aside, military intelligence is vital to operations.  Armies that move without good intelligence end up on the History Channel for all the wrong reasons.

Now consider yourself one of the officers on Major-General John Foster’s staff at Hilton Head, detailed to look at reports and other information pertaining to Confederate activities.  On this day (July 28) in 1864, a report from Brigadier-General Alexander Schimmelfennig might have crossed your path.  Writing to Captain William L.M. Burger, Assistant Adjutant-General for the Department of the South, Schimmelfennig included a summary from interrogation of Confederate deserters:

I have the honor to report that on the night of the 25th to the 26th instant, 1 sergeant and 3 privates of the First South Carolina Artillery (Companies E and K) deserted from Fort Johnson and, crossing the marsh, were picked up by our boat infantry near Paine’s Dock.  In the way of general information they state that the news of General Grant’s being killed was first given by a deserter from our army, and afterward claimed to be extracted from the Northern papers. One of them had heard that Grant’s army had withdrawn from in front of Petersburg. From General Sherman the news of the 22d and 23d was that he had been severely repulsed and beaten after having attacked Atlanta, and that he had lost several thousand prisoners and twenty-two pieces of artillery. No news of interest is given with regard to the district.

So if you are analyzing information and this is your artifact, where do you start?  Grant’s dead?  Wouldn’t that have been in all the papers?  Great defeats at Petersburg and Atlanta?  Short of an alternative history novel, how could such stories take root?

This report raises the question of how accurate information from deserters was, in general.  Looking at this particular incident, I wonder about the nature of these deserters.  Were they simply fed up with the situation and deserted?  Perhaps lesser quality soldiers who received some “encouragement” to leave (every command has at least one sergeant who it could do without)?  Or were these men sowing stories deliberately under some deception plan?  No way of saying without knowing names and other details.  But I would lean towards the first possibility. (And don’t think that because I only list three, there were not more possibilities there!)

So what would that say about information from these deserters?  Put more than a grain of salt to anything they say.

In the same paragraph, however, Schimmelfennig continued with the reports from the deserters.  And now offered details about the Confederate activities on James Island:

I seem to have about the same troops on my front that I had before the late movements on James and John’s Islands. The deserters state that the fatigue parties seen around Johnson and Simkins are not engaged in putting up any new works, nor inclosing or in any way changing the old ones, but merely in carrying on the usual repairs. They also state that the enemy are constantly expecting an assault of Fort Sumter as well as another attack on Johnson. At Fort Sumter the garrison of about 250 men is considered capable of holding it. At Fort Johnson five companies of heavy artillery are behind the breast-works every night, one to serve the guns, the other four used as infantry; one company of Black’s cavalry regiment also reports at Fort Johnson for duty every night.

Given the rather outrageous items in the first half of the paragraph, do any of these details carry weight?

Schimmelfennig continued in his report to provide a second paragraph.  The information in that paragraph lacks direct attribution, but we can assume included some information from deserters along with information derived from other sources.   And there are lots of details therein:

On Thursday last, the 21st instant, Captain Mitchel, of the First South Carolina Artillery, who has for some time past been in command of Fort Sumter, was killed by a shell from our batteries. The garrison at Fort Sumter is reported not to have been relieved for a month past, owing to our heavy bombardment. One of our deserters was at Fort Pringle during our late operation on Stono, and states that the fire of the navy was very destructive. All the heavy guns, with the exception of one smooth-bore, were disabled. A 7-inch rifled Brooke, which they brought there during the action, was no sooner placed in position than it was dismounted by our fire. The bomb-proof of Pringle proved very poor, our balls penetrating to the wood-work. They had heard the loss on James Island estimated at 200 killed and wounded. Another of the deserters, who was at Fort Johnson when we attacked it on the morning of the 3d, reports that almost all the troops had been taken away from there on the 2d; that until nearly morning of the 3d there were not more than 40 or 50 men in Johnson. About 2 a.m. of the 3d, the two companies of the First South Carolina Artillery, who only had been sent as far away as Legaré’s Point, were ordered back to Johnson, and arrived in time to repel the attack. Even with these two companies they say there were not more than 200 men, if as many, in Johnson and Simkins, and that if our whole force had landed they might undoubtedly have taken the two forts. These deserters are well fed and clothed but report that the troops have not been paid for the last seven months, and there is much dissatisfaction among them. They heard that our general and field officers confined in Charleston are in a house at the corner of Broad and Rutledge streets, near Chisolm’s Mill.

Looking back 150 years, and knowing what we know now, some of these details are accurate.

So, put your “intelligence analyst” hat on here.  How do you separate the “Grant was killed” from “Mitchel was killed” information?

(Citation from OR, Series I, Volume 35, Part II, Serial 66, pages 196-7.)