The Christmas Bombardment of Charleston

The Christmas of 1863 will long be remembered by those who passed the day in the City of Charleston….” said the writer at the Charleston Mercury.  Reporting on the Christmas Morning bombardment of the city, the Mercury reporter detailed:

For hours before the eastern sky was streaked with the first grey tints of morning, the cold night air was rent by other sounds than the joyous peals from the belfry and the exploding crackers of exhilarated boys.

At one o’clock, a.m., the enemy opened fire upon the city.  Fast and furiously were the shells rained upon the city from five guns – three at Battery Gregg, one at Cummings’ Point, and one at the Mortar Battery.  The shelling was more severe than upon any former occasion, the enemy generally throwing from three to five shells almost simultaneously.  Our batteries promptly and vigorously replied to the fire, but without their usual effect in checking the bombardment, which was steadily maintained by the Yankees during the remainder of the night and all the following morning, until about half-past twelve o’clock.  Up to that hour no less than 134 shells had been hurled against the city. – There was no more firing until about five o’clock in the afternoon, when one more shell was fired.  On Sunday [December 27] morning about three o’clock, four shells were thrown in quick succession.  There had been no further firing up to a late hour last night.

Remarkably, the Mercury and the Charleston Daily Courier declined to portray the bombardment in sensational… or dare I say horrific, terror-stricken… terms.  While a detestable disturbance on a day designated for peaceful reflection, there was no outright condemnation.  Perhaps that was due to the Confederate ambush of the USS Marblehead occurring the same “peaceful” morning.  Neither side designed a peaceful Christmas that year.

From the Federal side, the regimental history of the 3rd Rhode Island Heavy Artillery looked back at the episode years later:

Dec. 24. “Twas the night before Christmas,” but all in the house was stirring as lively as a cat for a mouse.  We were hurling shell and our Yankee sort of Greek fire into the city of Charleston.  We sent a shell every five minutes from our 200-pounder Parrotts in Fort Chatfield.  This music kept up an animated dance among the rebels, and they answered us to the best of their ability. About midnight we could see three fires in the city; two of them quite close together, and within the range of our pieces.  We inferred, what we afterwards learned, that our shells had occasioned the conflagration, at least in part, and the Charlestonians had a sever task in subduing the flames.  This loss to the city was a very heavy one.

The Confederate military records don’t record the caliber of projectiles fired at Charleston.  But those records do offer a good tally of the shots fired.  Colonel Alfred Rhett, commanding the 5th Military District, including Charleston, reported 150 shots fired at the city on Christmas Day.  134 of those reached the city.  And 16 fell short.  There is no indication how many or what percentage of those landing in the city were duds.  Other Confederate authorities placed the number of shells failing to explode between 40% and 50%.   Given the number of unexploded shells found in Charleston in the 150 years since the war, those estimates were probably not far off.

Charleston 4 May 10 115

The shell in the photo above was found on Broad Street in Charleston.  The street seemed to be in the “beaten zone” where a majority of Federal projectiles landed.

Charleston was on the receiving end of Federal artillery fire starting the previous August.  After the Swamp Angel burst, Federal fired occasional shots into Charleston through September and October.  More so to test ranges than for any specific objective.  In November a total of 77 shots reached the city, with another ten falling short according to Confederate observers.  Those were spread out between November 16 and 27, with no more than twenty in any one given day.

But in December, the Federals increased the firing on Charleston, with activity almost every day:

  • December 1: 8 shots.
  • December 2: 19 shots.
  • December 3: 32 shots.
  • December 5: 8 shots.
  • December 8: 6 shots.
  • December 11: 8 shots.
  • December 12: 4 shots.
  • December 14: 7 shots.
  • December 15: 10 shots.
  • December 16: 1 shot (with one more missing).
  • December 20: 20 shots reaching and 11 falling short.

Certainly the Federals had found the range.  Keep in context this attention on Charleston came as the Second Major Bombardment came to a close.

Major Henry Bryan, Assistant Inspector-General on General P.G.T. Beauregard’s staff, completed a detailed examination of all bombardments of Charleston through the end of 1863, submitting his findings on January 6, 1864.  In that report, Bryan noted the Christmas Day bombardment was responsible for, “the burning of six buildings and a cotton press…, by a fire originating from the explosion of a shell, and the destruction of some medical stores….”  Bryan added, referring generally to all bombardments of the city up to that time, “It has further caused considerable social distress by obliging thousands of persons in the lower part of the city, in order to avoid danger, to leave their homes and close their hotels, and seek refuge in the upper portion of the city or the interior of the state.”   And those abandoned properties were exposed to vandalism and theft.

Lieutenant George Walker, Confederate Engineers, assisted Bryan in the report and produced a map showing where each shell had landed in Charleston, “designated roughly by specks of red paint the locality where each shell fell, the extreme points where shells struck being connected by straight red-ink lines.”  Unfortunately, I’ve never seen a copy of that map in any archives or other collections.  If it is out there, I’d love to examine those “specks of red paint.”  However, even without seeing Walker’s map, we can surmise the captain’s work was good, given the level of detail and precision of Bryan’s reporting.

There are several threads to follow in regard to the bombardment of Charleston.  First off, Bryan’s report deserves a close look.  And I intend to give it due space in follow up blog posts.

Another thread to follow is how the effects of these bombardments were reported in Confederate papers.  In correspondence to authorities in Richmond, Beauregard clearly reports fires, damage, and causalities due to Federal bombardments.  Though he shrugs them off.  To the public, however, the newspapers arranged the news to keep the Federal bombardment separate from the fires caused.  Censorship?  Perhaps, as the Federals were seeking out Charleston papers for intelligence.  Spin control?  Very likely….

We should also consider how these bombardments, including Christmas Day, were justified and accepted from the military side.  Beauregard wasted no time protesting the bombardments.  And Gillmore rested his actions on justifications agreed upon in earlier correspondence.  It seems both sides agreed, mutually, that Charleston was a fair target.  After the fact, 150 years later, many will cry the bombardment broke the rules of war… and might even level allegations of war crimes.  But at the time, such talk was not in the air.  How did that come about?  It’s a long line of logic, deserving fuller discussion.

Lastly, as this is “To the Sound of the Guns” and we talk about what wonderful things artillery can do on the battlefield, we should also discuss how these Parrott rifles were able to fire on targets 8000 to 9000 yards distant.

So more to follow.

(Citations from Charleston Mercury, December 28, 1863, page 2 column 1; Frederic Denison, Shot and Shell: The Third Rhode Island Heavy Artillery Regiment in the Rebellion, 1861-1865, Providence, R.I.: Third Rhode Island Artillery Veterans Association, 1879, pages 206-7;  and OR, Series I, Volume 28, Part I, Serial 46, pages 682-3.)


“A minor bombardment, the eighth and last of all”: More shells against Fort Sumter

Writing after the war, Captain John Johnson, Confederate engineer and historian, wrote this of the bombardment of Fort Sumter in September 1864:

The bombardment which had begun on the 7th of July, and continued with varying intensity, but without any real intermission, day and night through July, August, and the first week in September, is recorded as having lasted sixty days.  A minor bombardment, the eighth and last of all, ensued for a week longer…. It can, therefore, be truly said that the military interest of the Confederate defense of Fort Sumter came to its end with the close of this third grand bombardment.  No firing upon the fort but such as may be termed desultory occurred after September, 1864.

Before discussing the reasons Federals shifted attention away from Fort Sumter, let us consider the nature of this Eighth Minor Bombardment.  Captain Thomas A. Huguenin, commanding the fort, reported some 35 shells fired at the fort on the night of September 3-4.  After that no shells came at the fort until the night of September 6-7.   So a two day “pause” before resumption of fires.  In the morning of September 7, Huguenin reported, “Twenty-eight Parrott shells fired at fort last night, 7 missed.”  From there until the 22nd, he tallied the Federal fires:

  • Night of September 7-8 – 28 Parrott shells fired, 8 missed.
  • September 8 (day) – 25 Parrott shells fired, 8 missed.
  • September 11 – 140 Parrott shells fired, 28 missed.
  • September 16 – 36 Parrott shells and one mortar shell fired at the fort. Seven Parrott shells missed.
  • September 17 – 44 shots fired, 18 missed.
  • September 19 – 15 shots (from the Marsh Battery), all missed.
  • September 20 – 13 shots (again from the Marsh Battery), one hit.
  • September 21 – 70 shots fired, 15 missed.
  • September 22 – 15 Parrott shells fired, 9 missed.

During this period, Huguenin reported one private wounded, two negroes killed, and three negroes wounded – all on September 16.  We see again the heaviest loss among the garrison was to those laboring to repair the fort, and not among the soldiers defending it.  Statistically, this “minor bombardment” seemed loosely defined.  Assuming Huguenin’s reports were complete (and none were misplaced along the way), there were several pauses during September.

But, broadening the focus, there was a lot more big gun activity around Charleston harbor which was not focused narrowly at Fort Sumter.  Sullivan’s Island was an occasional target of Federal fires.  On September 6, Colonel Alfred Rhett, commanding the batteries there, reported 15 shots fired at Fort Moultrie. The Federals fired another ten on September 8.  Then on September 9, the Federals fired 127 shots at Sullivan’s Island, which elicited 51 shots in return from the Confederate batteries.

On the other side of the harbor, at Fort Johnson, Colonel John Black reported firing “Twenty-eight mortar and 24 columbiad shells” at the Marsh Battery on September 10.  In return the Federals fired 45 Parrott shells and six mortars at Battery Simkins and Fort Johnson that day.  September 11 also saw heavy firing in that sector with 28 Federal shots incoming and 32 Confederate shots outgoing.  The shots exchanged between Morris Island and James Island batteries continued through the month, but began to slacken.

So while the Federal fires did slacken all around, the “pauses” in fires at Fort Sumter were in part due to emphasis placed on other points around Charleston harbor.  Subjectively, I would re-assess the “Eighth Minor Bombardment” of Fort Sumter as more of a general engagement around Charleston.

(Sources – OR, Series I, Volume 35, Part I, Serial 65, pages 241-3, 252-3, and 256-7; John Johnson, The Defense of Charleston Harbor: Including Fort Sumter and the Adjacent Islands, 1863-1865, Walker, Evans & Cogswell Company, 1890, page 235.)

‘Twas the night before Chiristmas and shells were flying at Charleston

” ‘Twas the night before Christmas,” but all in the house was stirring as lively as a cat for a mouse.  We were hurling shell and our Yankee sort of Greek fire into the city of Charleston.  We sent a shell every five minutes from our 200-pounder Parrotts in Fort Chatfield.  This music kept up an animated dance among the rebels, and they answered us to the best of their ability.  About midnight we could see three fires in the city; two of them quite close together, and within the range of our pieces. We inferred, what we afterwards learned, that our shells had occasioned the conflagration, at least in part, and the Charlestonians had a severe task in subduing the flames.  This loss to the city was a very heavy one.

That report is from the 3rd Rhode Island Heavy Artillery’s diarist.

According to Confederate journals, the Federals waited to open fire until 1 a.m. on Christmas morning.  One of those early shells started a fire in Charleston:

Captain [T.S.] Hale remained at his post of observation (Saint Michael’s steeple) during the entire bombardment, and recorded each shot.  He reports that the second shell thrown into the city struck and set fire a building on Broad near Church street; that he called to the police at the guard-house, directing their attention to the matter (the watchman in the belfry had left when the first shell struck the city); that the alarm was not given for twenty minutes, and the first engine did not arrive on the ground until an hour after the alarm.  In the meantime the flames had spread to other buildings, and before they were extinguished several houses were destroyed.

Hale believed that prompt response might have contained the fires.  However, in addition to the Federal shells, Hale claimed to have seen “a man with a torch, who set fire to a building known as Turner’s Hall.”  Troops from Colonel Alfred Rhett’s Fifth Military District worked alongside the firefighters to bring the blaze under control.

Within a few hours, the Federal guns in Fort Putnam joined in.  The Confederates opened counter-battery fires against the bombardment.   “Batteries Simkins, Cheves, Rutledge, Moultrie, Marion, and the Brooke gun battery opened on Cumming’s Point with vigor, but did not, as usual, succeed in checking the fire of the enemy.”  The firing from both sides continued for over twelve hours, ending in the early afternoon.  As the sun set on Christmas Day, the Federals on Morris Island lowered their flags for the night.  Instead of the normal ceremonial salute, the heavy Parrotts fired one more barrage into Charleston.

All told, the Confederate observers recorded 134 shells landing in the city and sixteen falling sort or wide.  In response, Battery Simkins fired 111 shots of all types; Battery Cheves fired 40 shells; Battery Rutledge added 58 shells; guns in Fort Moultrie fired 49 times; Battery Marion fired 48 times; and gunners in the Brooke Gun Battery fired 39 times.    So against a total of 150 Federal shots at Charleston, the Confederates returned 345 that day.  And the totals do not count for the Federal counter-counter-battery fire against Confederates on James and Sullivan’s Islands.

On the day after Christmas, General P.G.T. Beauregard reported, in a message to authorities in Richmond, “Six houses burned by fire of yesterday and 7 persons wounded by it and enemy’s firing on the city.”  Yes Christmas Day passed with much noise around Charleston in 1863.  And not all of it was from the harbor.  The Confederates initiated their activities on the Stono River around daylight that Christmas morning.

(Citations from Frederic Denison, Shot and Shell: The Third Rhode Island Heavy Artillery Regiment in the Rebellion, 1861-1865, Providence, R.I.: Third Rhode Island Artillery Veterans Association, 1879, page 206-7;  OR, Series I, Volume 28, Part I, Serial 46, pages 184-5; Part II, Serial 47, page 581.)

The Military Districts of South Carolina

Call this a resource post – the boring administrative details behind the other stories and threads.  For the Federals operating in the Department of the South, organization is relatively straight forward.  Both the Army and the Navy forces operated, generally speaking, across the same set of boundaries.  A close relation exists for the main elements of the Tenth Corps and South Atlantic Blockading Squadron.  While divisions operated in front of Charleston, supported by major fleet elements, brigades garrisoned other locations supported by gunboats.

General P.G.T. Beauregard’s Department of South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida matched that of the Federal department, for the most part, in terms of geography. But let’s just say the organization of Confederate forces in the department continually required adjustment.  Particularly within South Carolina.  In April 1863, when the ironclads first attacked Fort Sumter, Beauregard had three military districts within South Carolina:

  • First Military District under Brigadier-General Roswell Ripley covering from the Stono River, at Rantowles Creek, north to North Carolina.
  • Second Military District under Brigadier-General Johnson Hagood, with the land between the Stono and Ashepoo River under charge.
  • Third Military District under Brigadier-General W.S. Walker with everything between the Ashepoo and Savannah Rivers.

Earlier in February, Beauregard consolidated the Fourth Military District, which had covered the coast between the Santee River and North Carolina, including the small port of Georgetown, into the First Military District.  As such, the defense of South Carolina’s coast, from an administrative standpoint, looked liked this:


The largest of these districts, the first, included several subordinate commands (dashed lines) including James Island and St. Andrew’s Parish, Sullivan’s Island and Christ Church Parish, Morris Island, Fort Sumter, Castle Pinckney and Fort Ripley, Georgetown and vicinity, and the City of Charleston itself.  While the First District contained about a division’s strength of troops, the other two districts were at best reinforced brigades.

This arrangement remained in place through July. At that point, the Federal operations necessitated some changes. The Second and Third Military Districts remained unchanged in terms of geographic coverage, but with with much reduced troop strength.  With much of the infantry reallocated to defend the outer Charleston defenses, neither district retained more than a regiment strength overall, and most of that was cavalry and artillery.  Beauregard reconstituted the Fourth Military District.  The Fourth, likewise, was assigned mostly cavalry and artillery.


The First Military District reorganized to include five sub-divisions. On July 30 the organization was:

  • First Sub-Division on James Island and including St. Andrew’s Parrish.
  • Second Sub-Division on Sullivan’s Island and including Christ Church Parrish.
  • Third Sub-Division on Morris Island.
  • Fourth Sub-Division at Fort Sumter and including Castle Pinckney and Fort Ripley.
  • Fifth Sub-Division garrisoning the inner defenses of Charleston itself and including the upper reaches of Charleston Neck.

The fall of Batteries Wagner and Gregg brought on the need to re-arrange this organization.  Special Orders No. 218, issued on October 22, reduced Ripley’s First Military Division in size, though not in importance.  The orders carved out three new districts from the old First:

1. Fort Sumter, Sullivan’s and Long Island, and the parishes of Christ Church and Saint Thomas, under Brigadier-General Ripley, will be designated as the First Military District.

2. The city, to include the lines on the Neck, Fort Ripley, and Castle Pinckney, under Colonel [Alfred] Rhett, will be designated as the Fifth Military District.

3. The parish of Saint Andrew’s will be divided into two districts; the first, commanded by Brigadier-General [Henry] Wise, to embrace all that part south of the Ashley River and west of Wappoo Cut, and to include the têtes-de-pont at Rantowles Station and the work at Church Flats, will be designated as the Sixth Military District; the second, to include James Island, under Brigadier-General [William] Taliaferro, will be designated as the Seventh Military District.

The new arrangements looked as thus on the map:


The orders stipulated that the commanders of those three new districts would report directly to the department headquarters.  Thus for the first time in the year a significant portion of the defense of Charleston lay outside the command of Ripley.

Threats to the Charleston and Savannah Railroad prompted another change in early December.  Under Special Orders No. 257, the boundaries of the Second, Third, and Sixth Military Districts were adjusted to provide better defense of that valuable line:

1. The Sixth Military District, Brigadier-General Wise commanding, will extend to embrace all the country to the east bank of the North Edisto, from the mouth to Gioham’s Ferry.  The headquarters of this district will be at or near Adams Run.

2. The Second Military District, brigadier-General [Beverly] Robinson commanding, will include all of the country between the western limit of the Sixth Military District and the Combahee and the Little Salkehatchie Rivers, and the southern boundary of Barnwell district to the Edisto River.  Headquarters at or near the Ashepoo Railroad Bridge.

3. The Third Military District will include all between the western limits of the Second Military District an the Savannah River.  Brigadier-General Walker will transfer, if necessary, his headquarters to such a point in his district as he may find best suited for the discharge of his duties.

As depicted on the map, this new arrangement, spread responsibilities for the defense of the railroad more equitably between the three districts:


An organizational report posted for December 31, 1863 indicated the following strengths within the districts:

  • First – 4,541 man effective strength, with fourteen field artillery pieces, and heavy artillery in the forts.
  • Second – 1,799 man effective strength and four pieces of artillery.
  • Third – 4,140 man effective strength and twenty-one artillery pieces.
  • Fourth – 1,186 man effective strength and six artillery pieces.
  • Fifth – 1,611 man effective strength with heavy guns posted in the batteries along Charleston’s waterfront.
  • Sixth – 2,842  man effective strength and sixteen artillery pieces.
  • Seventh – 6,007  man effective strength, eight field pieces, plus heavy guns in Fort Johnson and other fortifications on James Island.

The arrangement of December 2nd put Legareville within the zone controlled by the Sixth Military District.  Thus the orders issued to General Wise on December 17, instead of to General Hagood, who commanded troops on nearby James Island.  Importantly, Ripley, who had played a very prominent role in operations up to this time, was excluded from the activities in that critical sector.

The evolution of organization within the forces defending South Carolina begs for a more detailed treatment, down to the individual regiments, battalion, company, and battery.  That should also include examination of the command assignments.  But with so many changes through the year, I struggle to find a good method depicting such on a web-based platform.  A challenge!

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 28, Part II, Serial 47, pages 441 and 538-9.)

Buried alive by debris at Fort Sumter on Halloween

Robert, as he usually does this time of year, posted a “spooky” post yesterday.  The topic was the 19th century obsession concerning “The Premature Burial.”  At Fort Sumter, 150 years ago this Halloween, there was a very real premature burial.  But the cause was less sinister than something from an Edgar Allan Poe tale.  These were battle deaths.

During the second major bombardment of Fort Sumter, which started in the closing days of October, 1863, the Federals kept up the pressure with slow paced firings overnight.  At times, the besiegers used their calcium lights to illuminate the target.  This tactic served to keep the Confederates awake all night, diminish the repair work normally conducted at night, and keep the guard forces watchful for a sneak attack.

On the night of October 30, Colonel Alfred Rhett, the commander of the Fort Sumter garrison, kept a detachment inside the remaining structure on the sea-facing wall.  The men were there as a rapid-reaction force should the Federals attempt another amphibious landing.  They remained at the ready through the night into the early morning hours.  Their otherwise uneventful vigil interrupted by the 68 shots fired overnight from Morris Island.  Until one of the shots scored a lucky hit:

At 3 o’clock this morning a Parrott shot struck an iron girder in the sea wall, and a moment after the roof fell in crushing 13 men, who were posted there in readiness for an immediate mount to the crest, in case of a boat attack. The position was considered comparatively safe, as the roof had resisted the shock of this falling débris.

Rhett listed the names of those killed with the collapse in a separate dispatch:

Sergt. W. C. Owens, Sergt. J. A. Stevens, Privates S. L. Burrows, F. M. Burrows, S. W. Anderson, James Calder, O. J. Burn. W. E. Gibson, J. W. Jones, L. S. Lee, and W. N. Patterson, of Washington Light Infantry, Company A, Twenty-fifth Regiment, Private W. Martin, of Twelfth Georgia Battalion, and Mr. Matthewes, an overseer, were buried this morning by the falling in of the barracks on the sea face, where they had been placed in position for mounting the parapet in case of an assault.

Rhett lamented that a better bomb-proof might have prevented this loss.  But looking forward he requested ladders to better facilitate the defense.  In Charleston, General P.G.T. Beauregard’s reaction was a bit more cautionary –   “Order all walls threatening to fall and injure garrison to be pulled down or shot down, for which purposes an iron field piece can be sent there if desired.”

With daylight, the Federals continued the bombardment, but at a slower pace than previous days.   Summarizing the activity the following day, Rhett wrote that fires came from…

from two monitors, two heavy and two light rifled guns at Gregg, three heavy rifled guns and four 10-inch mortars at the middle battery, and four rifled guns at Wagner; 443 rifled shots were fired from the land batteries, of which 61 missed; 86 shots were fired from the monitors, all of which were reported as having struck, and 373 from mortars, of which 120 missed. The mortar fuses are cut so as to explode the shell a second or two after impact. In fact, during the night 70 rifled shots were fired, mostly with time fuses, of which 10 passed over, and 33 mortar shells, 12 of which did not strike. The fire of the land batteries was directed chiefly at southwest angle, which suffered severely.

The fuse settings chosen by the Federals indicates the intent was to break up the rubble and any repairs inside the fort.  And again the Federals appeared to focus more attention on the fort’s bastion closest to Morris Island.

In addition to the damage to the fort, Rhett cited a couple acts of bravery during the day:

The flag-staff was shot away twice and replaced by Sergeant [James] Garahan, Corporal [W. M.] Hitt, and Private R. J. Swain, all of Company F, Twelfth Georgia Battalion. The flag-staff was so cut up that it was necessary to raise the battle-flag of the Georgia Battalion in place of the flag.

Despite family ties to Georgia “Swains,” I have no evidence that Private R.J. is related to this blogger.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 28, Part I, Serial 46, pages 631-2.)

Bombardment of Fort Sumter Continues, October 29-30, 1863… and Confederates fire on a pile driver

The bombardment of Fort Sumter, started on October 26, 1863, continued through this week 150 years ago with an increase in the number of shots fired by the Federals. Colonel Alfred Rhett, commanding the garrison at Fort Sumter, began his report for October 30, 1863:

The haze prevents an accurate report of the fleet this morning. Seven hundred and seventy-nine shots were fired at the fort yesterday; 80 of these passed over. Their effect was to cut away all of the top arches on the sea face, and to make that face and the gorge easy of access throughout their whole extent. Two hundred and sixty shots were fired last night, 80 of which missed. This makes 1,039 of all calibers, from 15-inch mortars and 300-pounder Parrotts downward.

From the present direction of the enemy’s fire, I am led to conclude that he wishes to avoid injuring the northeast and city faces of the work as much as possible. I think he will try an assault.

Rhett went on to assess the fort’s chances against an assault.  While the guns on Sullivan’s Island could cover the eastern faces, nothing covered the gorge wall.  He wanted a guard boat posted south of the fort and one of the gunboats from the Charleston squadron placed between Sumter and Fort Johnson to flank any attack on the gorge wall.

Later in the day, Rhett reported 955 shots fired at Fort Sumter during daylight on October 30, with 68 missing.  Another 68 fell in and around the fort after dark, giving the total for that day of 1,020 shots.  Of these shots fired, 443 were from rifled guns with 61 missing; 86 shots from the monitors, all of which hit; and 373 were mortar shells with 120 missing.  Rhett’s numbers don’t add up, but the breakdown of fires, and accuracy, is worth noting.

Battery Simkins fired 31 mortar shells and five 8-inch shells from its columbiad against the Federal batteries.  A Brooke gun at Fort Johnson fired ten shots at Morris Island with dismal results attributed to bad fuses.

Activity on October 30 was not confined to Fort Sumter.  A new target attracted Confederate fire from James Island:

About 11 a.m. a floating pile-driver of the enemy came to a point in the creek to the southwest of Black Island, and commenced to drive a pile. Fire was opened upon her from Redoubt No. 1, with an 8-inch navy shell gun and a 30-pounder Parrott. Eight shots were fired from the former gun and 10 from the latter, when the vessel withdrew out of range. Only about one-half of the shells burst, and the timing of the fuses did not appear to be very accurate.

The range of these shots was between 1 ¾ and 2 miles ( 3080 to 3520 yards).  The opening ranges for the later shots are due to the withdrawal of the pile driver. See the green line on the map below for my estimate of the declination of those fires.


By comparison, the Federal batteries on Cumming’s Point were firing at ranges between 1350 and 2500 yards… with heavier projectiles, mind you.

Supervising the fires from Redoubt No. 1, Major Edward Manigault recorded particulars of each shot fired.  Starting with the 8-inch navy shell gun, all with an 8 pound powder charge:

  • 1st shot – 12° elevation, 10 second Navy fuse, 1 ¾ mile range – Burst high and short.
  • 2nd shot – 14° elevation, 15 second Navy fuse, 1 ¾ mile range – Fell left about correct distance, no burst.
  • 3rd shot – 14° elevation, 15 second Navy fuse, 1 ¾ mile range -Burst high and right.
  • 4th shot – 15° elevation, 15 second Navy fuse, 2 mile range – Fell right, did not burst.
  • 5th shot – 16° elevation, 15 second Navy fuse, 2 mile range – Burst high and left.
  • 6th shot – 15° elevation, 15 second Navy fuse, 2 mile range – Burst high.
  • 7th shot – 15° elevation, 18 second Navy fuse, 2 mile range – Good line shot, very little short, Selma fuse.
  • 8th shot – 15° elevation, 17 second Navy fuse, 2 mile range – To left, did not burst, Selma fuse.

And for the 30-pdr Parrott, all with 3½ pound powder charge, with fuses supplied from Richmond:

  • 1st shot – 8° elevation, 8 second fuse, 1 ¾ mile range – Fell right and nearly at proper distance.
  • 2nd shot – 9° elevation, 8 second fuse, 1 ¾ mile range – Good line shot but burst too soon.
  • 3rd shot – 10° elevation, 11 second fuse, 1 ¾ mile range – Burst high and to the left.
  • 4th shot – 12° elevation, 15 second fuse, 1 ¾ mile range – Fell a little left and far enough.  Did not burst.
  • 5th shot – 11° elevation, 13 second fuse, 1 ¾ mile range – Good line but little short, Very close apparently.
  • 6th shot – 12° elevation, 13 second fuse, 2 mile range – Fell to right. Did not burst.
  • 7th shot – 11 ½° elevation, 13 second fuse, 2 mile range – Burst a little high but apparently threw fragments around the pile driver.
  • 8th shot – 11 ½° elevation, 13 second fuse, 2 mile range – McEvoy igniter, little short, excellent line.  Did not burst.
  • 9th shot – 12° elevation, 12 second fuse, 2 mile range – Fell right. Not very good. Did not burst.
  • 10th shot – 12° elevation, 11 second fuse, 2 mile range – McEvoy igniter, premature explosion.

The McEvoy igniter was the invention of C.A. McEvoy of Richmond, Virginia.  In short, the igniter used inertial forces to slip a friction primer, which then lit a paper time fuse.  Clearly there were some kinks to work out with those fuses.

There you have it… I hope you were entertained with the “Battle of the Pile Driver.”  But in all seriousness, the high number of failed shells within the eighteen fired is indicative of the problem described earlier with respect to fuses.  The Confederates engaged at longer ranges, where the margins for success were slimmer.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 28, Part I, Serial 46, pages 152 and 631; Manigault’s record of shots fired is from Siege Train: The Journal of a Confederate Artilleryman in the Defense of Charleston, edited by Warren Ripley, Charleston: University of South Carolina Press, 1986, page 72.)

“The saddest day of the siege” of Battery Wagner

Writing about the operations outside Charleston is a daunting task.  There’s simply too many topics to touch upon.  I might spend days with nothing more on the blog than posts about Morris Island – which is what I’ve done for the last month or more!

Let me start by saying that yes, the “first bombardment” of Fort Sumter ended on August 23.  But then let me say that the bombardment of Fort Sumter didn’t end that day.  It only slacked.  From the journal entries kept by Colonel Alfred Rhett in Fort Sumter, while clearly the weight of projectiles falling on Fort Sumter dropped down, the Federals were not ignoring the fort:

  • August 24 – 150 fired, 112 hits outside, 14 hits inside, 24 missed.
  • August 25 – 175 fired, 62 hits outside, 36 hits inside, 77 missed.
  • August 26 – 130 fired, 45 hits outside, 45 hits inside, 40 missed.
  • August 27 – 4 fired, all missed.
  • August 28 – 6 fired, 3 hits outside, 3 missed.
  • August 29 – No firing.
  • August 30 – 634 fired, 322 hits outside, 168 hits inside, 144 missed.
  • August 31 – 56 fired, 34 hits outside, 5 hits inside, 17 missed.
  • September 1 – 382 fired, 166 hits outside, 95 hits inside, 121 missed.
  • September 2 – 38 fired, 12 hits outside, 9 hits inside, 17 missed.

Both Federal and Confederate accounts, however, consider August 17-23 as the “first bombardment of Fort Sumter” phase, while that from August 24 forward marked a period of focus on Battery Wagner.  The surge of fire on August 30? For several days Rear-Admiral John Dahlgren prepared to make the long desired run into Charleston harbor.  For several days bad weather, reports of guns remounted on Fort Sumter, poor coordination, and delays just getting all the pieces together kept that sortie in check.  Finally set for the morning of August 31, the Army directed shots to break up the week’s worth of repairs done by Rhett’s men.  However, the weather again delayed the planned ironclad attack.

If Fort Sumter enjoyed a noisy “slackening” of fires from the Federal guns, Battery Wagner received the full wrath of those guns.  Sensing a point of diminishing returns with continued punishment of Fort Sumter, Gillmore made a tactical shift starting on August 24.  Starting that day, Federal batteries focused fires to keep the guns in Battery Wagner silent and, with some of the larger guns, attempt to breach the bomb-proofs providing shelter to the Confederates.

To really make this work, Gillmore needed the siege mortars much closer to the Confederate works.  But when the positioning of the fourth parallel fell a bit short of the desired line, the Federals spent several days just gaining leverage.  On the ground, or shall I say beach, the Federals faced a cross fire as they tried to move their siege lines forward.  With every move of the sap, fires from Battery Wagner, Battery Gregg, James Island, and occasionally even a defiant Fort Sumter focused on the work details. In his journal, Major Thomas Brooks lamented on August 25:

This has been to me the saddest day of the siege.  Less has been done in existing works than on any other; no advance has been made, nor does any seem possible.  Something besides spades and sharpshooters will have to be tried.  The troops seem to be resting from the labor and excitement of demolishing Sumter, and do not yet take much interest in the operations against Wagner.

Although on the calendar, Brooks and his compatriots were past the “dog days” of summer, I doubt that helped much with the spirits.  The break that Brooks looked for came on August 26, and was indeed something more than spades and sharpshooters.  I’ll take that up tomorrow.

For now, I want to consider the difference between this drawing:


And this photo:


And perhaps how that “slackening” fire listed above might explain any discrepancies, while at the same time helping to better determine when the photo was taken.

(Citations and sources:  OR, Series I, Volume 28, Part I, Serial 46, pages 26, 295, and 616-21.)