Fortification Friday: Splinter proof shelter, from the wartime experience

Last week, we split all manner of hairs regarding shelters within fortifications. Some of this hair-splitting had to do with nomenclature – shot proof, shell proof, and splinter proof.  And we saw that post-war writings introduced differences between facilities designated magazines and those designated shelters.  We can read into this a shift in doctrine.  Not only fortification doctrine, but also that of the practice of artillery.  After all, there existed (and still exists) a direct relationship between fortifications and artillery.

Let us focus on the splinter proof shelter for the moment.  Prior to the war, Mahan mentioned splinter proofing as a means to protect the magazine entrance.  But after the war, he introduced a structure called splinter proof shelter:

Splinter proofs for trenches and enclosed works faced with timber from eight to twelve inches in diameter, and covered with a sheeting of thick boards, and from four to six feet of earth, which are supported by uprights at the back; having a board flooring as shown in the figure, have been recently used in our field works and trenches with great benefit in the saving of life.

And the illustration provided demonstrates such as structure:


Note the dimensions of the interior of this splinter proof.  Eight feet tall at the entrance, slanting to six feet.  Shown as 3 ½ feet wide, with a plank floor.  The structure is open to the left, which would be the interior, or rear, of the line of works.  And it is partially sunk into the ground, roughly three feet deep.  The arrangement would protect the occupants from direct fire (from the right of view) and high angle fire (dropping on top).  Being partially sunk down, some protection was afforded against shells bursting behind (to the left) of the structure.  But clearly the solution balance ease of access against protection.

And notice the caption, “Shows a section of Splinter Proof used in the trenches at the Siege of Fort Wagner.”  Yes, we’ve seen this sort of structure before… many times:


Looking to a handy example, right at the top is the a-a’ profile line, working from one of the splinter proofs forward through Battery Brown to the Howitzer Battery in the Second Parallel. For cross reference, this line runs through the red oval highlighted here:


A clean look at the profile:


Looking to the left, we see a slightly more elaborate splinter proof shelter, with two supporting uprights.  But notice the Battery Brown splinter proof is at surface level, not sunk in.

Something closer to what Mahan illustrated stood just a few yards behind Battery Brown, indicated by profile d-d’:


In profile:


The walk-space is wider than on Mahan’s diagram. But the structure generally matches. We know from reading accounts from the campaign, the intent was to provide shelter for troops staged for work on the parallels.  The orientation of the trench provided protection from Confederate batteries further up on Morris Island, as well as those on James Island. The Confederate fires reaching this point of the Federal lines were typically large caliber weapons fired at higher elevations.  Though not high-angle as used with mortars, which were out of range to hit these Federal trenches, the columbiad shells arrived at an angle which would normally defeat standard parapets.  So a splinter proof provided some overhead protection.

So we see, documented with the maps, diagrams, and accounts from Morris Island, a shift in emphasis for field fortifications.  This is not to say overhead cover was not used prior to the Civil War. Nor is it to say splinter proof shelters did not appear on earlier battlefields.  What it does say is that field experience in the Civil War caused engineers to focus more attention on overhead cover, to the extent that more elaborate shelters were built.  A shift in doctrine, you see.

Keep in mind, these examples come from a field army engaged in a siege.  So field fortifications directed for offensive purposes, as opposed to defensive arrangements.  Certainly these sort of works continued to appear on Morris Island after the fall of Battery Wagner, as the Federal presence shifted more to garrison of the hard-gained foothold in front of Charleston.  But more to the point – field fortifications are “tools” that can be used for either defense or offense as the tactical situation demands.  (And thus we’ll see later “lessons” from Mahan on how to build fortifications in support of siege operations.)

Writing even later, Junius Wheeler would further refine wartime experience to suggest even more elaborate shelters, in particular using wartime experience building the defenses of Washington.  We’ll consult Wheeler’s lessons in turn… before then, we should consider another of those split hairs – shelters vs. magazines.

(Citation from Mahan, An Elementary Course of Military Engineering: Part 1: Field Fortifications, Military Mining, and Siege Operations, New York: John Wiley & Son, 1870, page 52.)


Photo Analysis from Morris Island: Another view of Battery Brown and the Burst Parrott

Let me “catch up” this morning with another photo analysis post from the siege lines against Battery Wagner on Morris Island.  Today’s subject is a photo of Battery Brown from the Hagley Museum and Library, Haas & Peale collection:


I’ve marked the location from which the photo was taken as “2H” on the key map of the second parallel. The Hagley caption reads, “Captain Strahan’s 3rd Regiment, two 200 pound Parrotts, one dismounted, 2nd parallel.” Captain Charles G. Strahan of Company I, 3rd Rhode Island Heavy Artillery commanded Battery Brown’s two 8-inch Parrotts during the siege of Battery Wagner.

Earlier I featured this photo when discussing Battery Brown:

That burst Parrott appears in the same location in the wider angle photo featured in this post:


The rammer, accouterments, and coats seen on the sandbag wall also appear in the second photo.


Clearly the two photos were taken the same day as the photographer captured the scene of a burst Parrott within the battery.  And for good comparison, the wider-angle photo offers the view of a similar Parrott being readied for action.


But what we see here are three 8-inch Parrotts.  There’s one mounted and being manhandled. There’s the burst Parrott, and a third, also burst, laying at the back of the battery.


Note the socket on the left for the rear sight.  That socket appears on the other two Parrotts in this photo, confirming this is indeed a third Parrott and not part of the bust gun.  There was a pile of elevating screws inside the burst gun.

The interior wall of Battery Brown used “upright stakes connected by wire.”  Those appear in this photo:


A musket lay across a stack of boxes on the right of the photo. Perhaps one from the infantry supporting the battery; or perhaps from the crew’s personal armament.

The resolution is just not good enough to make out the stencils on the boxes.


On the other side of the battery was a pile of projectiles, waiting for delivery.


Notice the accumulation of sand around these.  One of the problems often reported in the remarks of artillery and ordnance officers was the danger of sand in the gun barrels.  Yet, here are these projectiles laying in the beach sand (and you know how hard that is to clean off).

Although the boxes were a little out of focus, the gun carriage was dialed in.


The lens captured the seams between parts of the carriage, bolt heads, and the nuts used to attach the steps.

The crew of the gun have the handling bar in place on the upper carriage wheel and are moving the gun, either into or out of battery.


A gimlet, or maybe priming wire, sat in the vent while the crew worked.


This was standard practice for the heavier guns.

One of the crew appears to be waiting for his turn in the drill.  The valise on his left hip probably holds primers along with the tools of the gunner.


And behind him is the Lieutenant.


Four button sack coat with shoulderboards fixed, unbent.  The hat, the scruffy facial hair, and the pose – reenactors, there’s a fine impression to model.

One other detail I’d call out in this photograph.  Look at the traversing wheels:


The chalk marks, I think, indicate the training point around the traverse trace where the gun was on azimuth for particular targets.  Again, wonderful details in these wartime photos.

Photo credits: Hagley Museum and Library collection of Haas & Peale photographs, ID Number 71MSS918_012.tif. Library of Congress, reproduction number LC-DIG-cwpb-04740.

Looking at the Parallels on Morris Island from the Photographer’s lens

Yesterday I closed with this crop out of a larger photo:


That crop is from a photo, digitized in the Library of Congress Collection (Reproduction Number LC-DIG-cwpb-04722), captioned
Morris Island, South Carolina. First Parallel“:

We can fix the location from which the photographer was standing as near the Beacon House, looking north along Morris Island. As best I know, no specific date has been established for this photo. In the immediate foreground is a paths through the sea-grass and dunes. That should be the “old road” noted on Major Thomas Brooks’ map:


The road was cut by the line of the first parallel:


But follow that first path, and we see Battery Reynolds.


On the far right, near the beach, a group of men appear to have something in view that has their attention.


Stacks of mortar shells, but no mortars? Look between the magazines.


One mortar in the left most position. This may date the photo to a time during the bombardment when the mortars of Battery Reynolds displaced to the forward parallels.

To the left of Battery Reynolds is the Naval Battery. First the Whitworth section:


Then to the Parrott guns, which are unmistakably on naval carriages.


Looking to the left of the Naval Battery, the sections of the parallel matchs well to Colonel Edward Serrell’s diagram. One form stands out though:


One of the 8-inch mortars perhaps? Maybe in preparation for placement forward? At any rate, it is pointed the wrong direction to be involved with the siege from that position.

Looking out past the first parallel to the second parallel, I mentioned the surf battery yesterday. Look at the details of the crib-work, even in this long range photo.


And other details of the construction of that work appear to the left. I wonder if the object “hovering” in center frame of this crop is one of the monitors:


To the left of the surf battery is the silhouette of a big gun.


That should be Battery Brown. And the structure at the bottom of this crop looks like the incline palisading set between the first and second parallels.

Speaking of palisading, in front and to the left of Battery Brown is a row of of the obstacles. Given the arrangement and angles, these should be the row of palisading setup parallel to the beach in front of the second parallel.


The photos don’t provide enough details to make out the guns in Batteries Rosecrans and Meade. But the gun crews stand out.


Notice more palisading in front of those batteries. That is the line of vertical palisading placed behind the third parallel.

Battery Kearney is there in the photo, but lacking in details.


Of the many other items of note, I’d draw attention to a “pile of stuff” between the first and second parallels.


Morris Island became a messy place during the siege. This has all the look and feel of a refuse pile of boxes, boards, logs, and other detritus.

Looking far into the background, a series of rises in the dunes appear on the horizon. The location is right for this to be Battery Wagner. But with the haze, details are non-distinct.


Of all the photos of Morris Island taken by Haas & Peale, I find this particular image best captures the essence of the siege. Two and possibly three parallels along with what may be Battery Wagner and even a monitor off shore… All the elements in one grand view of the battlefield. A battlefield landscape that “once was” and cannot be again. The sea has erased what was there 150 years ago.

Protecting the second parallel: the howitzer battery on Morris Island

Before getting started on this post, let me first thank readers Jeanette and Mark who helped locate some of the Haas & Peale photographs that are missing from the Library of Congress online digital collection. Let me also extend thanks to the folks at the Hagley Museum and Library for allowing use of those images.

Earlier when discussing Battery Brown on the second parallel, I mentioned a four howitzer battery to its front. That howitzer battery provided defensive firepower while the Federal engineers worked on the main breaching batteries. Looking at the appropriate section of Major Thomas Brooks’ map of the siege lines, the howitzer battery is just left of center in the snip below:


Brooks offered a profile of Battery Brown and the howitzer battery, this along the line marked a-a’ on the map above:


In addition, he offered a profile of the far left of the howitzer battery, showing the location of the magazine for those field pieces. This profile is along the line of b-b’ on Brooks’ map:


While the other batteries required substantial magazine space, the howitzer battery could get by with space for a few chests. So the engineers built a magazine for ready use rounds out of barrels neatly tucked under the sandbags of the main parallel works. To the front is walk-space for the infantry. That front revetment included more sandbags, a sod facing, and stakes driven down at an angle.

Why all these elaborate works? Recall the second parallel became the “main line” of defense. Those works had to hold any Confederate spoiling attack on the breaching batteries. The center-piece of that defense were four 12-pdr field howitzers of Lieutenant Guy V. Henry’s Battery B, 1st U.S. Artillery.

Do we have a photo of those howitzers? Sure do! The Hagley Museum and Library has in their collection of Haas & Peale photographs, one showing all four of Henry’s howitzers:


As with the other photos taken that summer by Haas & Peale, this one deserves careful examination.

Two of the howitzers are ready to fire, with lanyards taught. Here’s the second howitzer from the right.


And this one is on the far left.


In both cases the prolonge is in position on the stock. As is the handspike.

The other two howitzers are being readied for action. On the second from the left, the number 3 man has his thumb on the vent. The number 1 man appears to be ramming a round.


The gunner is sighting the piece. On the howitzer to the far right, the gunner is likewise getting the piece lined up. The number 3 man in this case is on the handspike.


Just conjecture on my part here. But if this were a staged photo, why not have all four howitzers poised for a volley? There seems to be much activity throughout the battery. Almost as if the the photographers caught the men doing real work! The range from the howitzers to Battery Wagner was under 800 yards. The maximum range for a 12-pdr Field Howitzer Model 1841 was 1072 yards. Maybe Battery B was covering the work on the forward parallels by throwing a few shells.

The battery position appears generally well kept, for a position exposed on the beach that is. A pile of debris to the rear of the howitzers appears to be a tarp and some broken shipping boxes. I think the cans on the right are just that – cans.


The battery’s parapet has the mix of sandbags and gabions seen on other photos of the Morris Island works.


To the rear of the battery is a pile of what looks like busted gabions.


I see a story line, though not a headline grabber. Gabions, like any other component of the earthworks, require maintenance. This was part of that maintenance, with engineers directing details to replace what weathered and broke.

I do wish we had a better angle to the left to see what the barrels used for the magazine looked like.


And some fellow is standing in the way.

Another interesting aspect to this photo is in the right foreground.


Just a puddle, yes. But a reminder that Morris Island was not far above sea level. The high tides, spring tides in particular, flooded over the Federal lines making the work that much harder. Life was not a beach on Morris Island that summer.

Battery Brown and a Burst Parrott on Morris Island

Another of the heavy batteries constructed early during the work on Morris Island was Battery Brown.  Like the advanced gun on Battery Hays, Battery Brown’s guns were sited to fire on Fort Sumter.  On July 26, 1863 “began, on the right of the second parallel, by order of the general commanding, the construction of Battery Brown, for two 8-inch Parrott Rifles, intended to be employed in the demolition of Sumter.”

In his journal, Major Thomas Brooks recorded Sergeant Walter Smith, New York Volunteer Engineers, supervised the construction.  Sergeant Smith completed the parapet and epaulement by July 28. This gave the battery an L-shaped appearance, with the epaulement providing flank defense from the Confederate batteries to the west.  Platforms to support the heavy guns and carriages took a little longer but were completed on August 1.

The map section below shows Battery Brown just left of center.


Battery Brown took advantage of the large bombproof to the left (west) of the position.  Numerous splinter-proof shelters lay around the right section of the parallel, several of which were used to load shells for the battery.  To the front a battery of 12-pdr field howitzers covered the ground in front of the second parallel, should the Confederates attempt a sortie.   A profile, along the line annotated a-a’ on the map, included the howitzer position along with Battery Brown.


Notice the palisading to the front of the howitzer battery (on the right).   The profile includes one of the splinter-proofs, on the left.  The note in the center reads, “Anchoring of sand-bag revetment consisting of upright stakes connected by wire.”  Brooks indicated iron gabions filled with sandbags fixed the embrasures for the guns.

On August 2, Brooks reported the first 8-inch Parrott mounted.  The second came days later.  But the guns remained silent until mid-August, as the Federals stockpiled ammunition and waited completion of the other batteries.  The guns participated in the first great bombardment of Fort Sumter starting on August 17.  The distance from the guns to Fort Sumter was 3,560 yards.  The range to Battery Gregg was 2,170 yards.  And to Fort Wagner was 830 yards.

But this battery was ill-fated from the start.  During the bombardment, the platforms sank A gunner broke a gimlet off in the vent of one 8-inch Parrott, putting it out of action for three days.  A few days later, the same gun perhaps, burst at the vent, blowing out the breech and throwing the gun forward across the parapet.  The bursting likely occurred on either August 24 or 26 (although could have been September 5). The gun was on the left side of the battery.

This photograph abounds with details.  There are accouterments hung from the braces for sandbags.


Hey, a bullseye canteen!

Count the bolts in the upturned carriage.


And there is the “upright stakes connected by wire.”


Notice the wire runs under the horizontal beams, presumably connecting to stakes on the other side of the parapet.

But what confuses me a bit are these fellows in the background:


Would they be sitting out there while the Confederate sharpshooters were active from Battery Wagner?   Or was the photo taken after the fall of Battery Wagner?

Regardless, I’d like to see what they are looking at – be it activity in the siege lines, Confederate fortifications, or out in the channel.  Perhaps a panorama of the war at Charleston’s harbor entrance.  If the photographers knew about us, looking at these precious few photographs, 150 years later, would they have taken more photos, or selected different vistas?  Oh, if we could just go back in time with one little point-and-shoot!

(Base photograph used is part of the Library of Congress Collection, call number LC-B8156- 39 [P&P].)