108th Day of the Siege – Enemy Opened Fire : 2nd Major Bombardment of Fort Sumter

On this day in 1863, around 12:30 PM, the Federal batteries on Morris Island along with two monitors in the main ship channel, opened a massive bombardment of Fort Sumter.  As detailed back during the sesquicentennial, that eruption marked the start of the Second Major Bombardment of the fort.  Those “major” and “minor” bombardments, along with “desultory” bombardments, were defined by the Confederates on the receiving end.  Though the periods track well with Federal operational accounts.  And this “major” was indeed a rather substantial bombardment by any measure. Between October 26 and December 6, the Federals fired over 18,000 rounds at Fort Sumter.  That’s not counting shots fired at other points in and around Charleston during the same period, which was no small number.

The following morning, subscribers to the Charleston Courier saw this lead on the second column of the front page:


Notice how this news was titled and categorized.  This was the 108th day, going back to July 10, of the siege of Fort Sumter and for all practical purposes Charleston itself.  This is a point I drive home in presentations about the war around Charleston.  The siege of Fort Sumter was the longest battle of the war, running from the summer of 1863 through February 1865.  And by extension, the campaign against Charleston was the longest of the war, if we take into account the blockade operations beginning in May 1861.  The citizens of Charleston, the Confederates defending Charleston, and the Federals on Morris Island all counted those days.

The full article read:

News from the Islands.

One Hundred and Eighth Day of the Siege – Enemy Opened Fire

The enemy on Morris’ Island having completed his preparations, about half-past 10 o’clock, Monday morning, opened a vigorous fire from Batteries Gregg and Wagner, with seven guns mounted in the former and four in the latter, all of heavy calibre, being mostly two and three hundred pounder Parrotts.  The heaviest fire was directed on Fort Sumter.  Out of one hundred and eighty-eight shots fired from Morris’ Island at Fort Sumter during the day, one hundred and sixty-five struck the fort and twenty-three passed over.  Two of the guns on Battery Gregg devoted their entire attention to Fort Johnson, which also received an occasional shot from Battery Wagner.

Forts Moultrie and Johnson, and batteries Marion, Simkins and Cheves, kept up a spirited reply.  The firing on both sides ceased about dark.  The enemy threw some ten or fifteen shots and shells from a twelve pounder Parrott, mounted on Gregg, at Battery Bee and Fort Moultrie, but did no damage.  Two monitors, which rounded Cummings’ Point, were also engaged, and fired some ten shots at Sumter.  No casualties to the garrisons or injuries to the works are reported at any of the forts or batteries.

The fire from Fort Moultrie and the batteries upon the advanced Monitors and the enemy’s works, was excellent, and it is believed did considerable execution.  It was reported that one of the enemy’s guns burst in Battery Gregg early in the action Monday morning on the third or fourth trial.

The firing is expected to be renewed this morning.  With the exception of the two Monitors engaged there was no change in the position of the fleet.

The newspaper report is noteworthy in the details.  However, Federal sources insist the bombardment began around noon, and not earlier.  And there is not mention of a burst gun on that day from Federal accounts (although, one is recorded as bursting the following day).  Usually, and I doubt this day’s report was any exception, the Courier’s writers blended information obtained from Confederate officers along with what their reporters saw first hand.  After all, the war was happening, day and night, right outside their windows.

On the other side of the battle line, the 3rd Rhode Island Heavy Artillery was very active, handling the big guns. From their regimental history:

Please notice the handling of one of those guns.  The piece has just recoiled from the last firing, and is out of battery; it is instantly depressed to a level; up step the spongers; back and forth, with a rolling twist, goes the sponge, and it is withdrawn; up rises the great bag-like cartridge and is entered; quickly the rammers drive it home to the clean, moist, but warm chamber; stout men lift the great conical shell and pass it into the black lips of the monster; and again the rammers bend to their work and drive back the projectile upon the powder; now the gunners heave the piece into battery; the sergeant looks to and adjusts the training, right or left; now he turns to secure again his proper and exact elevation, and makes his allowance for windage; the primer is entered; the lanyard is attached, and the gunner, standing behind the traverse, waits order.  The officer cries: “Ready!  Fire!” Hold your ears.  Note the smoke – an aerial maelstrom and cataract, with voice of an earthquake.  See that black spot traveling on its parabolic journey.  Ha! How smokes and tumbles the rebel wall.  Up go the loyal cheers and the boys pat their gun.

This work would continue, shot after shot, day after day, through the first week of December.  Some days the fire would slack to only a hundred or so rounds, particularly toward the first week of December.  But in those early days of the Second Major Bombardment, the tallies often reached 900 or 1000 rounds a day.

Such was the start of a loud phase in a long battle.

(Citations from Charleston Courier, October 27, 1863, page 1, column 2; 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 195.)



Guns pointed at Sherman: Confederate artillery dispositions in South Carolina, January 1865

Colonel Ambrosio José Gonzales served as the Chief of Artillery for the Department of South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida through much of the war. Gonzales was an exiled Cuban revolutionary when the war began, living in South Carolina.  And of course, at the onset of hostilities, he volunteered his services to the seceded state.

I’ve mentioned this interesting officer on several occasions while plotting the 150th events – most often in regard to his periodic reports of ordnance available to defend Charleston and other points in the department.  On January 19, 1865, Gonzales submitted one such report.  The timing provides a snapshot of the Confederate defenses opposing the Federal offensive into South Carolina.

The report was complied in a tabular format, making it difficult to reproduce here without a lot of white space and tabs.  So I’ll break down the particulars in a “fort by fort” format below.  Most of these works I’ve mentioned in earlier posts, so I’ll ask you to look back at some of those for particulars of the defensive arrangements.  Working, as the report did, from north to south through the department, we start with the defenses north of Charleston:

  • Battery White, protecting Georgetown, South Carolina, contained three rifled 32-pdr guns, six 24-pdr smoothbore guns, two rifled 12-pdr guns, one 12-pdr siege gun, and one 6-pdr field gun. The report thus indicates the 10-inch columbiads placed there earlier in the war had been removed by January 1865.
  • Battery Warren, on the Santee River had one 12-pdr rifle and one 32-pdr smoothbore.

Around Charleston itself, starting with the works on Sullivan’s Island:


  • Battery Marshall – two 8-inch columbiads, one 7-inch Brooke rifle, one 32-pdr rifle, two 12-pdr rifles (one of which was the old English gun), a 4-inch Blakely rifle, three 8-inch seacoast howitzers, and one 12-pdr siege gun.
  • Two Gun Batteries, four in total, with four 32-pdr and four 24-pdr smoothbores.
  • Battery Beauregard – one 10-inch columbiad, one 8-inch rifled columbiad, one 8-inch columbiad, three 8-inch seacoast howitzers, two rifled 32-pdrs, one 32-pdr smoothbore, two 24-pdr smoothbores, and three 10-inch mortars.
  • Battery Rutledge -three 10-inch columbiads and one rifled columbiad (8 or 10-inch).
  • Fort Moultrie – four 10-inch columbiads, two rifled 8-inch columbiads, one rifled 32-pdr, and one 10-inch mortar.
  • Battery Marion – three 10-inch columbiads, a 7-inch Brooke Rifle, one 8-inch columbiad, and five 10-inch mortars.
  • Battery Bee – one XI-inch Dahlgren, one 10-inch rifled columbiad, four 10-inch columbiads, and one 8-inch columbiad.

Behind Sullivan’s Island were the defenses of the Christ Church District:

  • Battery Evans – one 32-pdr smoothbore.
  • Battery Palmetto – one IX-inch Dahlgren.
  • Battery Gary – two 8-inch columbiads.
  • Battery Kinloch – one 32-pdr smoothbore.
  • Christ Church Lines – two 20-pdr Parrott rifles, two 8-inch shell guns and two 24-pdr smoothbore guns.

Fort Sumter’s armament at this point was one 10-inch columbiad, one 8-inch rifled columbiad, and four rifled 42-pdrs in those “three gun batteries.” Castle Pinckney contained four 10-inch columbiads and one 7-inch Brooke rifle.

Defending the city of Charleston itself were a formidable array of batteries along the waterfront:

  • Battery Waring – two 10-inch columbiads.
  • Battery Ramsey (White Point Battery) – one XI-inch Dahlgren, one 12.75-inch Blakely, one 42-pdr rifle, and three 10-inch columbiads.
  • Frazer’s Wharf Battery with one 12.75-inch Blakely.
  • Calhoun Street Battery with one rifled 8-inch columbiad.
  • Vanderhorst’s Wharf Battery with one 7-inch Brooke rifle and one 42-pdr rifled gun.
  • Half-Moon Battery with one 42-pdr rifle and one 32-pdr rifle.
  • Spring-Street Battery – one 10-inch columbiad.
  • Battery over the Ashley – one 10-inch columbiad.

On James Island, the fortifications still bristled with guns defending that approach to Charleston:


  • Battery Wampler – two 10-inch columbiads.
  • Battery Harleston – three 10-inch columbiads, one 7-inch Brooke rifle, and one 6.4-inch Brooke rifle.
  • Battery Glover – three 8-inch rifled columbiads.
  • Fort Johnson – two 10-inch columbiads, one rifled 10-inch columbiad, one rifled 8-inch columbiad, one 7-inch Brooke Rifle, and two 24-pdr Austrian howitzers.
  • Battery Simkins – two 8-inch columbiads, two 6.4-inch Brooke rifles, and three 10-inch mortars.
  • Battery Cheves – three 8-inch columbiads.
  • Battery Haskell – one 8-inch columbiad, one 8-inch seacoast howitzer, two 42-pdr carronades, one rifled 32-pdr fitted as a mortar, and two 6-pdr field guns.
  • Battery Tatum – one 32-pdr smoothbore and two 24-pdr Austrian howitzers.
  • Battery Ryan – one 32-pdr smoothbore, one rifled 24-pdr, five 24-pdr Austrian howitzers.
  • Redoubt No. 1 – one 8-inch columbiad and one 32-pdr smoothbore.
  • Fort Lamar – three 8-inch columbiads, one 32-pdr rifle, two 32-pdr smoothbore, and one 18-pdr smoothbore.
  • Secessionville – one 8-inch siege howitzer, one 42-pdr smoothbore, two 32-pdr rifles, three 32-pdr smoothbores, one 24-pdr rifle, one 24-pdr smoothbore, one rifled 18-pdr, and two 6-pdr field guns.


  • The “New Lines” with six specific battery locations (Battery Seroy was named “Battery No. 0” in this report – two 8-inch columbiads, two 8-inch seacoast howitzers, 8-inch siege howitzer, four 32-pdr smoothbores, eight 24-pdr smoothbores, two 18-pdr smoothbores, two 12-pdr rifles, and three 12-pdr smoothbores.
  • Battery Tynes – two 8-inch columbiads and one rifled 42-pdr.
  • Battery Pringle – two 10-inch columbiads, two 8-inch columbiads, two rifled 42-pdrs, and two rifled 32-pdrs.
  • Fort Trendholm – two 10-inch columbiads, one rifled 8-inch gun, two rifled 42-pdrs, two rifled 32-pdrs, two 32-pdr smoothbores, two 24-pdr smoothbores, and six 6-pdr field guns.

Covering the approaches to Charleston from the southwest, via the Edisto River:


  • Battery Washington – one 32-pdr smoothbore, one 24-pdr smoothbore, and one 18-pdr smoothbore.
  • Battery Haig – two 24-pdr smoothbores.
  • Battery Wilkes – one 24-pdr smoothbore.
  • Battery Geddes – one 24-pdr smoothbore.
  • Battery Palmer – one 8-inch columbiad, two 32-pdr smoothbores, two 24-pdr smoothbores, and one 12-pdr smoothbore.
  • Overflow works – one 32-pdr smoothbore, three 24-pdr smoothbores, and one 12-pdr smoothbore.

Further to the southwest, along the Charleston & Savannah Railroad:

  • Church Flats – two 12-pdr smoothbores and one 8-inch shell gun.
  • Pineberry – one 32-pdr smoothbore and one 4.62-inch rifle.
  • Willstown – one 32-pdr smoothbore, one rifled 24-pdr, and two 3.5-inch Blakely rifles.
  • Caw Caw – two 24-pdr smoothbore.
  • Stock’s Causeway – one 12-pdr smoothbore and one 4.75-inch smoothbore siege gun.
  • Ashepoo battery – one 24-pdr rifle, one rifled 18-pdr, and one rifled 12-pdr.
  • Burnett’s – one 4.62-inch rifle, two rifled 32-pdrs and one 32-pdr smoothbore.
  • Dawson’s Bluff – one 24-pdr smoothbore and one 3-inch rifle.

Beyond those works, curiously Gonzales reported a battery at Red Bluff, which had been abandoned in December including one 8-inch Columbiad and two 24-pdr rifled guns.  Those guns were withdrawn, with great effort, by Major-General Joseph Wheeler’s cavalry after the fall of Savannah.  Likewise, Gonzales listed two 24-pdr Austrian howitzers and one 24-pdr flank howitzer at Old Pocotaligo, which had been withdrawn a few days before the report’s date.

In Florida, the Confederates maintained works on the Appalacicola River (five 32-pdr smoothbores and six 24-pdr smoothbores) and St. Mark’s (two 32-pdr rifles and two 32-pdr smoothbores).

In addition to those listed above, Gonzales noted twenty 6-pdr guns, six James rifles, and two 12-pdr howitzers distributed around the department at fixed positions in undesignated posts.

The cannon listed in Gonzales’ January 19 report were all fixed in fortifications.  While some weapons were field guns or could be adapted for field use, in most cases the garrisons lacked sufficient equipment and horses to move them with a field army.  In an earlier report, dated January 6, 1865, Gonzales detailed the field batteries in the department:

  • 14th Battalion Georgia Artillery, Company B, Captain Ruel W. Anderson, four 12-pdr Napoleons.
  • Georgia Regulars Battalion, Company C, Captain A. Smith Barnwell, four 12-pdr Napoleons.
  • Beaufort Light Artillery, Captain H.M. Stuart, two 12-pdr Napoleons and two 12-pdr howitzers.
  • Chatham Light Artillery, Captain John F. Wheaton, four 12-pdr Napoleons.
  • Chesnut Light Artillery, Captain Frederick C. Schulz, four 12-pdr howitzers.
  • Georgia Regulars Battalion, Company B, Captain Charles Daniell, four 12-pdr Napoleons.
  • Palmetto Artillery, Battery G, Captain W.L. DePass, two 12-pdr Napoleons and two 10-pdr Parrotts.
  • Furman Light Artillery, Captain William E. Earle, one 12-pdr Napoleon, two 12-pdr howitzers, and one 10-pdr Parrott.
  • German Artillery, Company A, Captain F.W. Wagener, two 12-pdr Napoleons and two 12-pdr howitzers.
  • Bachman’s German Artillery, Captain W.K. Bachman, four 12-pdr Napoleons.
  • Guerard’s (Georgia) Battery, Captain John M. Guerard, two 12-pdr Napoleons and two 12-pdr howitzers.
  • Inglis Light Artillery, Captain William E. Charles, four 6-pdr field guns.
  • Kilcrease Light Artillery, Captain F.L. Villepigue, two 12-pdr howitzers and two 6-pdr field guns.
  • Lafayette Light Artillery, Captain J.T. Kanapaux, four 12-pdr howitzers.
  • Leon Light Artillery, Captain Robert H. Gamble, two 12-pdr howitzers and two 3-inch rifles.
  • Louisiana Guard Artillery, Captain Camille E. Girardey, four 12-pdr Napoloens and two 3.5-inch Blakely rifles.
  • Marion Light Artillery, Captain Edward L. Parker, four 12-pdr Napoleons.
  • Milton Light Artillery, Company A, Captain Joseph L. Dunham, four 12-pdr Napoleons.
  • Milton Light Artillery, Company B, Captain Henry F. Abell, two 12-pdr Napoleons and two 12-pdr howitzers.
  • Orleans Guard Artillery, Captain G. LeGardeur, Jr., two 12-pdr Napoleons and two 12-pdr howitzers.
  • Georgia Regulars Battalion, Company A, Captain J.A. Maxwell, four 12-pdr Napoleons.
  • Santee Light Artillery, Captain Christopher Gaillard, two 6-pdr field guns and two 3-inch rifles.
  • Terrell Light Artillery, Captain John W. Brooks, four 12-pdr Napoleons.
  • Waccamaw Light Artillery, Captain Mayham Ward, two 12-pdr howitzers and two 6-pdr field guns.
  • Wagner Light Artillery, Captain Charles E. Kanapaux, two 12-pdr Napoleons and two 12-pdr howitzers.
  • Washington (South Carolina) Light Artillery, Captain George H. Walter, two 12-pdr Napoleons and two 10-pdr Parrotts.
  • Section supporting Colonel Colcock’s cavalry, Lieutenant Richard Johnson, two 12-pdr Napoleons.

So the field batteries included fifty-nine Napoleons, five 10-pdr Parrotts, four 3-inch rifles, two Blakely rifles, twenty-eight 12-pdr howitzers, and ten 6-pdr field guns.  This gave Lieutenant-General William Hardee 108 cannon to support the mobile forces charged with opposing Sherman’s advance into South Carolina.

In total, 322 fixed and 108 field artillery pieces opposed the Federals as the embarked on the march into South Carolina.  In Sherman’s two wings, the Federals brought only 68 field guns.  Yet, much like they say about real estate, when it comes to artillery on the battlefield it is all about “location, location, location.”  With less infantry and cavalry to oppose the Federals, the Confederates could not bring their numerical advantage in artillery to bear.

(Gonzales’ reports appear in OR, Series I, Volume 47, Part II, Serial 99, pages 992 and 1024-6.)

The Defenses of James Island: May 1864 – Part 1, the East Lines

Earlier this season, I provided a summary from an inspection of Confederate defenses on Sullivan’s Island.  Balancing that is a report, also by Major George Upshur Mayo, on the defenses of James Island, posted 150 years ago today (May 25).  James Island remained a “hot spot” due to its proximity to Federal garrisons.  Compared to Sullivan’s Island, its batteries faced different threats – not ironclads, but Federal raiding parties and wooden gunboats.  The armament, thus, differed accordingly.  The report offers another snapshot in time of those defenses.


Summarizing Mayo’s report, by fortification (and with maps cropped to show each section in detail), first the east side of the line:


Battery Glover:  Captain J.D. Johnson commanded this battery. “This battery is not in order. The eccentrics of the carriages require adjusting. The magazines are good.” Mayo indicated the battery had two rifled and banded 42-pdr guns, with a total of 251 bolts and projectiles.

Battery Wampler: Mayo found the magazine unkempt and two 10-inch columbiads there out of order.  But the ammunition and implements passed inspection.

Battery Harleston: “… in good order and the magazines kept with remarkable neatness, but water begins to come through….”  Captain W.H. Peronneau commanded, though reported sick.  The battery contained three 10-inch columbiads, one 7-inch Brooke, and one rifled and banded 42-pdr.  The rifles had 130 bolts between them, but the cartridges were considered too heavy. Mayo suggested breaking those down to seven pound charges and thus creating 81 additional cartridges.

Fort Johnson: “… is in good order and very neatly policed about the guns and magazines.”  Captain A.S. Gaillard commanded Fort Johnson with a garrison of 3 officers, 63 men. The fort contained one rifled 10-inch columbiad, two smoothbore 10-inch columbiads, one 8-inch columbiad, two 30-pdr Parrotts (I believe formerly of the Siege Trains), and two iron 6-pdr field guns.  For the guns, the fort’s magazine had 109 10-inch bolts, 295 10-inch shot, 82 10-inch shells, 20 10-inch canister, 64 8-inch shot, and 9 8-inch shells.

Battery Simkins: Captain D.E. Dickson, 2nd South Carolina Artillery commanded this work.  At his disposal were 122 men (also garrisoning nearby works). While in good condition, one of the magazines in the battery was too low and useless due to flooding.  Mayo suggested more earth to protect this forward, exposed battery.  In addition he suggested more care for the guns to prevent corrosion.  The battery contained two 8-inch shell guns, one 6.4-inch Brooke rifle (being remounted after repairs), and three 10-inch mortars.

Headquarters Brooke Gun: An additional 6.4-inch Brooke armed a small work between Battery Simkins and Fort Johnson.

Battery Cheves:  Mayo found this battery in disarray.  The parapet, carriages, and gun mountings needed much attention.  The garrison, under Captain W.M. Hunter, complained of bad cartridges and fuses.  And their shells appeared to be misshapen in casting.  Three 8-inch columbiads in the battery had 192 shells, 49 canister, and 48 grapeshot.

New Mortar Battery: Near Battery Cheves, the Confederates were constructing a new mortar battery.  While incomplete, it would contain three 10-inch mortars.  301 shells were on hand.

Battery Haskell: “This battery is in fair condition only.” Mayo reported the magazine somewhat cluttered. Armament included one 8-inch columbiad, one 8-inch siege howitzer, two 42-pdr carronades whose carriages did not perform well, and two iron 6-pdr field guns.  In addition, there was a 32-pdr rifled gun mounted on a ship carriage so as to fire at high elevation.  This was the “rifled mortar” experimented with earlier in the year.  Mayo rated it as “deficient.”  But the battery was generously stocked with rounds of all calibers.

Battery Tatom: Mayo found this battery in good order, but the magazine “not neatly kept.”  The work contained one 32-pdr smoothbore and three 24-pdr howitzers.  Recent changes to the battery’s armament left quantities of 12-pdr and 6-pdr projectiles, taking up space in the magazine.

Battery Ryan: This work contained a “left” and “right” wing.  On the left was a line with one 8-inch howitzer, one 32-pdr smoothbore, and one 24-pdr Austrian howitzer.  On the right were four 12-pdr howitzers.  Mayo considered this battery deficient.  Though amply garrisoned with four officers and 97 men, the magazine was not clean and the weapons out of order. Mayo felt Captain J.R. Bowden was not allocating all the means at his disposal.

Mayo did not mention Battery Reed, which had fallen into disuse at this time of the war.

Redoubt No. 1: Also manned by Bowden’s command, this work likewise failed inspection.  It contained one 8-inch shell gun and one 32-pdr smoothbore.

Redoubt No. 2:  One short 32-pdr naval gun in this work at the time.  It’s cartridges were overweight for the gun. Mayo suggested a swap with nearby batteries for the correct loadings.  Mayo did not inspect any of the other redoubts on the line, which indicates those, though maintained, were unarmed.

I will continue with Mayo’s report in Part 2, with a look at the western and northern defenses, as well as a review of the South Carolina Siege Train and field pieces on James Island at that time.

(Mayo’s report appears in OR, Series I, Volume 35, Part II, Serial 66, pages 505-513.)



“A volley of at least eight mortars” to put out the calcium light on Morris Island

After all the activity of Christmas Day at Charleston, both sides remained idle.  Both sides considered plans to remove the 8-inch howitzers left at Legareville.  Otherwise December 26th with little activity.  The Federals resumed the bombardment of Charleston starting around 3 a.m. on the 27th with five shells.  The Confederates responded with nine shots at the offending guns, without success.  Firing from Cumming’s Point resumed around 9 a.m. on the 28th with five more shots aimed at Charleston.  But the Confederates let this barrage pass.

Our batteries did not, as usual, respond.  They remained silent the entire day, and it was not until 9.30 p.m. that a gun was fired on our side.  At this time the enemy’s calcium light at [Battery] Gregg being reflected on the channel, Batteries Bee, Marion, Rutledge, the Brook gun battery, Moultrie, Cheves, and Simkins opened a brisk fire with a view to extinguish it.  At 10.40, the light being no longer visible, our batteries ceased.

The following is a summary of the shots fired by us in the last twenty-four hours: Moultrie, 35; Bee, 17; Brooke gun battery, 22; Rutledge, 10; Cheves, 28, and Simkins, 34.

Out on picket duty in the Main Ship Channel, Lieutenant-Commander John L. Davis on the USS Montauk observed:

… the enemy opened fire on Cumming’s Point with mortars and rifle guns from Sullivan’s and James Island batteries at about 9:30 o’clock.  The firing from Sullivan’s Island commenced with a volley of at least eight mortars.  The enemy continued their fire until about 10:30.  At intervals during the night rockets were sent up from Moultrie.

Just another day of heavy artillery exchanging fire at Charleston, continuing the pattern from before Christmas.  With some spikes along the way, this skirmishing with heavy caliber weapons continued into the new year.

But consider the practice of fire from the Confederates.  The batteries on Sullivan’s Island fired mortars in volley.  As seen during earlier attempts to extinguish the Federal lights, the gunners were given azimuths and distance  information based on triangulation.  The use of volley fire from the mortars implies coordination to achieve the maximum effect of those weapons.  This is the practice of fire associated with early 20th century wars.  So for those building up the old “Civil War was the first modern war” argument, here’s another brick for you.   However, the counter-argument here is that mortar volley failed to hit the intended target.  Seems the technology was not up to the practice of fire in this case.  After all, these were smoothbore, black-powder 10-inch mortars.

Davis continued in his report to note that “At 2:30 out batteries commenced firing rifle guns; fifteen projectiles were thought to have been fired at the city, also a small number in reply to batteries on James Island.”   The Confederate journal recorded, “As usual, Batteries Cheves, Simkins, Marion, and Rutledge responded to the fire of the enemy, and closed shortly after the enemy ceased firing.”

No rattling of musketry in the night at Charleston.  Rather the booming of heavy guns with their shrieking projectiles seeking landfall.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 28, Part I, Serial 46, pages 186-7; ORN, Series I, Volume 15, page 211.)

‘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.)

“Nothing unusual occurred to-day”: Skirmishing with heavy guns and mortars

In most theaters of war during the Civil War, a little light skirmish or two was a daily affair.  That usually involved pickets, cavalry patrols, or other forces discharging muskets, pistols, or carbines.  Not so outside Charleston.  Even the skirmishing involved gunners firing 8-inch Parrotts, 10-inch Columbiads, 7-inch Brookes, or 10-inch mortars.  Such was the case on December 16, 1863 when Confederate gunners fired 57 shells, none of which was smaller than 7-inch in diameter.  Yet the Headquarters journal entry for the day began, “Nothing unusual occurred to-day.”  This weight of metal would have constituted a major engagement in some theaters of war.

After the magazine explosion on December 11, the artillery “skirmishing” fell into a pattern.  The Federal guns no longer disturbed Fort Sumter.  But they did not let up on Charleston.  Most days, around mid-morning, the guns on Morris Island opened on Charleston.  And the Federals normally added a few more shots during the night.  In response, most days the Confederate gunners tried to silence those annoying Parrott guns.  In short, very much as occurred at the end of November, only nothing fired at Fort Sumter.


On December 12, the Federal guns fired a few shells at Sullivan’s Island.  In response came, “Twelve mortar shells from the Brooke gun battery, Sullivan’s Island, and 15 shells from Battery Simkins, were fired during the day against Morris Island.”  Later, at around 10 p.m., the Federals opened on Charleston with at least four shots fired before midnight (one of which was loaded with Greek fire).  The overnight total for shots into the city was around 10.   In addition, Batteries Tatom and Ryan fired four shots at a Federal boat that ventured up Lighthouse Inlet.  That drew fire from Federal batteries aimed at Secessionville.  Every action seemed to draw an equal reaction.

On December 13, the journal entry read:

During the morning, the enemy were silent, as were also our batteries. At about 2.20 p.m., however, Battery Cumming opened upon the city, but, after firing 4 shots, was compelled to desist by a concentrated from Simkins, Cheves, Rutledge, and Marion. As ambulances could be distinctly seen going to and from Battery Gregg, it is thought our fire was not altogether without effect.

December 14 passed without any cannon fire of note.

December 15 remained quiet until 11 a.m. when the Federals opened on Charleston again.  Just over a dozen shells went out to the city, with about a third falling short.  The firing drew a heavy reaction from the Confederate batteries:

The following is a summary of shot and shell thrown by our batteries during the day: Marion, 25 mortar shells; Simkins, 21 mortar and 12 rifle and columbiad shells; Cheves, 18 columbiad shells; Rutledge, 27 mortar shells, and Brooke gun battery, 103 mortar shells.

Yes, 206 shells fired at Morris Island.  Beauregard had ordered many of the mortars concealed and silent in anticipation of a chance to concentrate fires on the Federal batteries.  Now those mortars were sending off their deadly packages.  The Confederates claimed to have dismounted one of the Federal guns.  But there are no matching reports of damage on the Federal side.  Though the “dismounting” may have been one of the Parrotts bursting, not due to Confederate fire.

And the “nothing unusual” day of December 16 started quiet, but…

The enemy remained silent until 10 a.m., when they opened on the city, and fired but one shell, which brought on a general engagement between Batteries Simkins, Cheves. Rutledge, Marion, and the Brooke gun battery. As the enemy desisted for the time from firing in the direction of the city, our batteries soon closed….

The following is a summary of the shots fired by our batteries today: Brooke gun battery, 10 mortar shells; Marion, 10 mortar shells; Rutledge, 16 shells; Simkins, 14 mortar and 2 rifle and columbiad shells; Cheves, 5 8-inch columbiad shells.

In contrast December 17 saw only a handful of shells exchanged between Fort Putnam and a mortar battery, firing eight shells, on Sullivan’s Island.

The record for December 18:

The enemy were again silent last night, but at the usual hour this morning, about 11 o’clock, opened on the city from the mortar battery near Gregg with two Parrott guns. After the second shot had been fired, Batteries Marion, Rutledge, and the Brooke gun battery, on Sullivan’s Island, and Batteries Simkins and Cheves, on James Island, opened vigorously on Morris Island, and compelled the enemy to close after they had fired only 5 shells. All of these shells fell short….

The following is the number of shots fired by our batteries to-day: Rutledge, 23 mortar shells; Marion, 19 mortar shells; Brooke gun battery, 34 mortar shells; Simkins, 12 mortar and 18 columbiad rifle shells; Cheves, 17 columbiad shells.

Yes, the Confederates again exceeded the Federals in outgoing shots with 123.

Similar activity on December 19:

At 10.50 p.m. Battery Cumming, with two guns, opened on the city, and fired 12 shells, one-half only of which exploded. As usual, Batteries Simkins, Cheves, Marion, Rutledge, and the Brooke gun battery returned the fire, and ceased as soon as the enemy closed, which he did at 11.40 p.m.

The number of shots fired from our works to-day is reported as follows: Battery Rutledge, 26 shells; Marion, 24 mortar shells; Brooke gun battery, 18 shells; Simkins, 18 shells, and Cheves, 14 shells.

A number of the shells fired at Fort Putnam were aimed at a work party.

And on to December 20:

During the entire morning our batteries, as well as those of the enemy, remained silent, but at 3.45 p.m. three guns at Battery Cumming opened on the city, and in thirty minutes threw 17 shells, only 5 of which failed to explode. Several buildings are said to have been struck, and one was set on fire, but was soon extinguished. No casualties are known to have occurred.

Shortly after the enemy commenced shelling the city, Batteries Simkins, Cheves, Marion, Rutledge, and the Brooke gun battery opened a steady fire with mortars, columbiad, and rifle shells, and ceased as soon as the guns on Cumming’s Point ceased….

The following is the number of shots fired by our batteries during the day: Brooke gun battery, 30 mortar shells; Rutledge, 27 shells; Marion, 20 shells; Simkins, 4 columbiad, 3 rifle, and 11 mortar shells, and Cheves, 11 columbiad shells.

I could continue with tallies well past the end of the month.  But that’s the pattern here. Federals fire a handful of shells at Charleston.  Confederates respond with, for their measures at least, a heavy counter-battery fire.  The records are silent as to any response from Richmond about this expenditure of powder and shells.  Odd, considering the past disputes in that regard.  Then again, that would be “nothing unusual.”

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 28, Part I, Serial 46, pages 178-82.)

“An unfortunate accident… with the submarine boat” at Charleston

The journal entry for the Department of South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida, detailing operations at Charleston, for October 15, 1863 began:

Raining again this morning, and too hazy to get report of the fleet.

To-day was exceedingly quiet, and the enemy did not fire a single shot, although Batteries Simkins and Cheves were in slow action, the former firing 33 rounds and the latter 10 rounds.

The mortar platform No. 2 at Battery Haskell was completed today, and the work on the bomb-proof is being pushed forward.

In those fall days of 1863, there was always someone shooting off a few rounds at Charleston.  Forty-three rounds launched from the Confederate side, even with the need to husband powder.  The Federals continued to build up new batteries on the north end of Morris Island and improve outposts elsewhere on the marshes.

The next paragraph in the journal was anything but ordinary:

An unfortunate accident occurred this morning with the submarine boat, by which Capt. [H]. L. Hunley and 7 men lost their lives, in an attempt to run under the navy receiving ship. The boat left the wharf at 9.25 a.m. and disappeared at 9.35. As soon as she sunk, air bubbles were seen to rise to the surface of the water, and from this fact it is supposed the hole in the top of the boat by which the men entered was not properly closed. It was impossible at the time to make any effort to rescue the unfortunate men, as the water was some 9 fathoms deep.

This was the second sinking of the H.L. Hunley since arriving at Charleston.  Earlier on August 29rd, Lieutenant John Payne accidentally forced the submarine to dive while the hatches were open.  As result, five crewmembers drowned.  Now in October, while inventor Horace Lawson Hunley himself was supervising the trials, the submarine dove and never came back up.

Three days later, a diver located the H.L. Hunley.  The submarine had dove at too sharp an angle and struck bottom.  In the collision, the crew was unable to work the valves to bring the H.L. Hunley back to the surface.  Recovery operations brought the submarine back to the surface along with the remains of the boat’s designer and seven other crewmembers.

Costly trial and error testing on the way to perfecting a new weapon system.

(Citation from OR, Series I, Volume 28, Part I, Serial 46, page 145.)