Summary Statement, 2nd Quarter, 1863 – 3rd Rhode Island Heavy Artillery

Readers will be familiar with the 3rd Rhode Island Heavy Artillery due to their service along the South Carolina coast.  Hardly a month passes without mention of that unit here on this blog.  Though the main story-line in the 3rd’s service was operations against Charleston, batteries from the regiment served at times in Florida and Virginia.  And their service often defied the label of “heavy” artillery, as often the gunners served in the field as field artillery proper.

A bit of background on this regiment is in order.  The 3rd Rhode Island Volunteers first mustered as an infantry formation in August 1861.  As they prepared for their first major operation, as part of Brigadier-General Thomas W. Sherman’s expedition to Port Royal, they camped at Fort Hamilton, New York.  While there, under orders from Sherman, the regiment drilled on both heavy and light artillery.  By the time the regiment arrived at Hilton Head, it was for all practical purposes an artillery regiment.  Though the formal change did not occur until December of that year.

Over the months that followed, the 3rd Rhode Island served by batteries and detachments as garrison artillery, field artillery, infantry, and even ship’s complement as needs of the particular moment called.  In the winter of 1863, Battery C was designated a light battery in light of its habitual service.  We’ve seen that reflected in returns from the fourth quarter, 1862 and first quarter, 1863. However, the battery seemed to change armament with each quarter.  I believe this reflects more the “ad hoc” nature of tasking in the theater at that time.  For the second quarter, 1863, we find the guns reported on hand again changed:

0217_1_Snip_RI_3rd

At the end of June, Battery C had just returned from the raid on Darien, Georgia.  They were at Hilton Head on June 30, preparing for transit to Folly Island.  So this tally of two 12-pdr field howitzers may reflect a status as of January 1864, when the return was received in Washington.

This brief line, along with “clerical” lines for Batteries A and B, brings up a couple of facets to the summaries as they relate to the “real” operational situations.  First off, we know, based on official records and other accounts, not to mention photographs, the 3rd Rhode Island had more than just a couple of howitzers.  We must also consider the property management within the military and how that was reflected in the reports. The military in general tends to be very anal about tracking property.  For any given item, someone, somewhere is on the hook as the “owner” of said item.  Doesn’t matter if that item is a belt buckle or a cannon.  The “owner” might be a specific unit or could be a facility.  So, in the Civil War and specific to the context of this discussion, that “owner” could be a battery in the 3rd Rhode Island… or it could be the garrison commander at Hilton Head.  However, we rarely, if ever, see those garrison commands reflected in the summaries.  A significant blank that we cannot resolve with satisfaction.

What we can do, in the case of the 3rd Rhode Island, is use primary and secondary sources to provide a glimpse into that blank.  Let’s consider the 3rd Rhode Island by battery at this point in time of the war.  Recall, the 3rd and other units were, at the end of June, preparing for an assault from Folly Island onto Morris Island. Colonel Edwin Metcalf was in command of the regiment, with his headquarters on Hilton Head:

  • Battery A:  On Port Royal Island, under command of Lieutenant Edward F. Curtis (in absence of Captain William H. Hammer), serving as garrison artillery.
  • Battery B:  On Folly Island under Captain Albert E. Greene, having moved from Hilton Head at the end of June.  The battery manned six 10-inch siege mortars.
  • Battery C: Transferring from St. Helena Island to Hilton Head, and thence to Folly Island in the first week of July.  Commanded by Captain Charles R. Brayton.  The battery would man two 3-inch Ordnance Rifles and four 30-pdr Parrotts (along with a detachment from Battery C, 1st US Artillery).  Likely the reported howitzers were in reserve.
  • Battery D: Part of the original garrison sent to Folly Island in April.  Under the command of Captain Robert G. Shaw and manning eight 30-pdr Parrotts.
  • Battery E: On Hilton Head, serving as garrison artillery under Captain Peter J. Turner (who was serving as a staff officer, thus one of his lieutenants was in temporary command).
  • Battery F: On Hilton Head, serving as garrison artillery under Captain David B. Churchill.
  • Battery G: Stationed at Fort Pulaski and under Captain John H. Gould.
  • Battery H: On Hilton Head, serving as garrison artillery under Captain Augustus W. Colwell.  Would deploy to Morris Island in July.
  • Battery I:  On Folly Island under Captain Charles G. Strahan.  The battery manned four 20-pdr Parrotts.
  • Battery K: On Hilton Head, serving as garrison artillery under Lieutenant Horatio N. Perry.
  • Battery L: On Hilton Head, serving as garrison artillery under Captain Jeremiah Lanhan.
  • Battery M:  Part of the force on Folly island, under Captain Joseph J. Comstock.  They manned four 10-inch siege mortars and five 8-inch siege mortars.

Thus we see the 3rd Rhode Island was spread between garrison duties and advanced batteries preparing for a major offensive from Folly Island.  Those on the north end of Folly Island, overlooking Light House Creek, were armed with a variety of field guns, heavy Parrotts, and mortars.  Only the former category would have been covered by the summaries, as they existed in June 1863.  And what we have to work with is, based on official reports at the time, inaccurate.

But that’s what we must work with!  Turning to the smoothbore ammunition:

0219_1_Snip_RI_3rd

  • Battery C: 156 shell, 214 case, and 132 canister for 12-pdr field howitzer.

One might think no rifled projectiles would be on hand… but perhaps related to the two 3-inch rifles reported on Folly Island and manned by Battery C, we find some Hotchkiss projectiles on hand:

 

0219_2_Snip_RI_3rd

  • Battery C: 48 canister and 108 bullet shell for 3-inch rifles.

No ammunition reported on the next page, of Dyer’s, James, or Parrott patents:

0220_1_Snip_RI_3rd

But some Schenkl on hand:

0220_2_Snip_RI_3rd

  • Battery C: 100 shell for 3-inch rifles.

As for small arms:

0220_3_Snip_RI_3rd

  • Battery C: Forty-eight Army revolvers and 102 cavalry sabers.

I suspect, given the varied nature of the 3rd Rhode Island’s duties, the other batteries had a large number of small arms on hand also.  But because of the selective record, we don’t have the details.

Just to say we discussed ALL the Rhode Island artillery, let me mention two other heavy artillery regiments.  The 5th Rhode Island Infantry was reorganized as the 5th Rhode Island Heavy Artillery on May 27, 1863.  Stationed at New Berne, North Carolina, Colonel George W. Tew commanded the reorganized regiment.

Though not organized, we can trace the story of another heavy artillery regiment back to June 1863.  In response to the emergency developing in Pennsylvania, the governor of Rhode Island authorized Colonel Nelson Viall (formerly of the 1st Rhode Island Infantry) to form a six-month regiment.  Designated the 13th Rhode Island, recruitment was slow due to the war situation, small bounties, and the draft.  By July, the War Department decided no more six-month regiments would be accepted and insisted on a three-year enlistment standard.  With that, the 13th was disbanded and in its place the 14th Rhode Island was authorized.  That formation, which began organization in August, was a US Colored Troops Regiment of heavy artillery.

 

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6.4-inch and 8-inch Parrotts against Fort Sumter from Battery Reno

Moving forward with the examination of the “Left Batteries” on Morris Island, the guns to the left of Battery Hays were in a series of named works.

ApproachToWagnerLeftBatteries

These were Batteries Reno, Stevens, and Strong, seen here in a closer crop from the map above:

BatteriesRenoStevensStrong

Lieutenant Peter Michie directed the construction of these works, starting after the during the last week of July. From his official report:

On the 27th of July, I was ordered by [Brigadier-General Quincy Gillmore] to construct what were afterward known as the “left breaching batteries against Fort Sumter.” Their site was a sand ridge, and general direction making an angle of about 35 degrees with the gorge of Fort Sumter, and distant about 4,200 yards from that work. ….

On the 27th of July, the interior crest of a sunken battery for five 100-pounder Parrott guns was laid out, with arrangements for one magazine to hold 200 rounds per gun, and a traverse 12 feet thick on top, between each gun and the one adjacent….

The work progressed well, despite harassing fire from James Island. By July 31, Michie reported the interior revetments were complete. But by August 8, the armament of these batteries changed to one 8-inch (200-pounder) Parrott and four 6.4-inch (100-pounder) Parrotts. And by August 12, Michie had to find a place in the line for a 10-inch (300-pounder) Parrott, the largest on Morris Island. These big Parrotts were arranged as such:

  • Battery Reno – one 8-inch Parrott and two 6.4-inch Parrotts
  • Battery Stevens – two 6.4-inch Parrotts
  • Battery Strong – one 10-inch Parrott

Michie provided a wealth of detail in his report about the layout of these works:

The batteries (except that of the 300-pounder) were full sunken. The line of each interior crest made an angle varying from 30 degrees to 37 degrees with the gorge of Fort Sumter, depending upon the nature of the ridge at the different points. The width of each gun battery was 18 feet, the traverse between being 12 feet thick at top. The interior revetments were of sand-bags laid in the usual manner of headers and stretchers, and extended below the gun platform.

While originally the batteries could only point at Fort Sumter, later the traverse increased to allow fires on James Island, Fort Johnson, Battery Gregg, and Battery Wagner. At first Michie tried rawhide over the embrasures, but with little success. In the end, he settled for gabions filled with sandbags:

The method of anchoring them was to lay a piece of 6-inch by 8-inch timber parallel to the cheek, and some 3 to 4 feet back, having two stout anchoring stakes 6 feet long driven on the inner side. Each gabion, besides being well picketed to the fascine upon which it rested, was tied to this timber by No. 10 wire, stoutly enough to withstand the blast, and yet to give way if struck by a shot, without destroying the entire embrasure.

Regarding the exterior slopes of the batteries, the only preparation was a coating of marsh mud. A layer of two inches dried into a hard crust. This reduced the sand blowing through the battery. The map of the left batteries included a profile of Battery Reno, along the line C-D:

BatteryRenoProfile

Michie described two bombproof magazines built for Batteries Reno and Stevens:

There were two magazines, one between Nos. 2 and 3, for the service of the two right pieces, and one on the left of No. 5, for the service of the remaining three guns. The former was 10 feet by 10 feet by 6 feet high in the clear, with a filling room 4 feet by 5 feet by 6 feet high; the latter was 10 feet by 15 feet by 6 feet high, with one return gallery 4 feet by 6 feet high. The magazine frames were of 4-inch by 6-inch stuff, placed 2 feet 6 inches apart, and covered with 3-inch plank and 8 feet of sand on the line of least resistance, and for sheeting 1-inch, 1 1/4-inch or 2-inch plank was used as could be procured.

Focusing for this post on Battery Reno, the three big Parrotts there came under the command of Captain Augustus W. Colwell, 3rd Rhode Island Heavy Artillery. Company H, 3rd Rhode Island Heavy Artillery and a detachment of infantry manned the guns (Brigadier-General John Turner states the 178th New York was posted there, but that regiment was still in the Washington, D.C. garrison at the time.)

The range to Fort Sumter from Battery Reno was 4,320 yards. Later as the traverse increased, the range to Battery Gregg was 2,950 yards; and to Battery Wagner was 1,860 yards. All well within the maximum range of the big Parrotts.

One of Haas & Peale’s photos recorded the layout of Battery Reno. Let me again turn to the Hagley Museum and Library collection of Haas & Peale photographs for the view of Battery Reno:

Captain_Colwell_two_100_pound_and_one_200_pound_Parrotts_left_batteries

Not one of the best of the set, but at least a photograph to work with. The photo confirms the 8-inch Parrott was in the middle, to the right of the magazine. On the left of the magazine, somewhat hard to see, is one of the 6.4-inch Parrotts. The other is in plain sight on the right.

Notice the construction of the works, with sandbags, barrels filled with sand, and the gabions in the embrasures. The magazine, “between Nos. 2 and 3” according to Michie’s report, matches the provided description.

In the next installment, I’ll turn to Battery Stevens and then to Battery Strong.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 28, Part I, Serial 46, pages 336-38.)