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.)



Operations against Charleston, February 9-13, 1865, Part 2: The Last Battles about Charleston

While Major-General William T. Sherman’s forces in the interior of South Carolina were working across the South Fork of the Edisto River on February 10, 1865, outside Charleston, a small Federal force was mounting one of the many demonstrations directed to keep Confederate forces pinned to the coast.  The demonstration was, to say the least, uninspired.

Almost like a thread that keeps being pulled, the operation called for a Federal force to work its way across Sol Legare against Confederate pickets on the southwestern end of James Island.  This approach was used before the battle of Grimball’s Landing in July 1863, then again during the operations of July 1864, and also for several minor operations conducted during the second half of the war.

The approach put Federal troops in front of a well designed belt of defensive works, which could be held by a small Confederate force.  Out in front of the line of works was a picket line, with its own earthworks, covering Grimball’s and Rivers’ Causeways leading off Sol Legare.  Since the Federals had often used those causeways to threaten James Island, the Confederates had fully developed the positions to allow a small force to defend against a much larger force.  And that, in a nutshell, is the story of the Battle of Grimball’s Causeway.

On the night of February 9, Brigadier-General Alexander Schimmelfennig had a small brigade, roughly 1,200 men, move onto Sol Legare, by way of landing on Front Cole’s Island.  The force consisted of the 54th and 144th New York Infantry, 32nd and 33rd USCT, and the 55th Massachusetts.  Supporting this movement, the Navy provided two gunboats, a tug, and two mortar schooners to support the demonstration.  On the Stono River, Lieutenant-Commander A.W. Johnson lead the USS Wissahickon and mortar schooner USS C.P. Williams.  On the Folly River, the USS Commodore McDonough and mortar schooner USS Dan Smith, under Lieutenant-Commander A.F. Crosman, covered the right flank of the Federal advance. At the Army’s request, two monitors came over the bar into the Stono.  Only the USS Lehigh moved up the river to engage, however.  Lieutenant-Commander Alexander A. Semmes, on the Lehigh, was in overall command of the naval forces.

The landings went off well on the morning of the 10th.  At around 9 a.m. the mortar schooners commenced firing on the Confederate picket line.  The gunboats and monitor joined in with direct fire.  This had the desired effect of getting the attention of the Confederate pickets.  Meanwhile Hartwell had the two New York regiments maneuver and counter-march on Sol Legare to directly threaten the pickets.

On the Confederate lines, Major Edward Manigault, commanding the right end of the Confederate line on James Island, came up to the picket line in response to reports of activity.  On the line were, according to Manigault’s recollections, 100 men of the 2nd South Carolina Heavy Artillery and 20 cavalrymen.  Reinforcements came in the form of a three companies from the Palmetto Guards and a detachment of dismounted cavalry, amounting to 188 men.  Distributing this force, Manigault had 160 men at Grimball’s Causeway and 48 at River’s Causeway.  The remainder were held in reserve or on the picket line between those two points.

The demonstration remained distant gunboat fire and show until around 5 p.m.  Hartwell pressed the two New York regiments against Grimball’s Causeway with rush.  This pushed in the Confederate skirmishers and might have dislodged the position if continued.  Having gained the outer rifle pits, however, the Federals were content to hold what they had.

Among the casualties on the Confederate side was Manigault himself.  Struck near the spine with a wound considered mortal, he lay in the line of rifle pits overtaken by the Federals along with a soldier from the Palmetto Guard who stayed, tending to the officer.  Manigault later recalled:

Immediately after, 6 men of the 54th N.Y. (with unmistakable brogue) came up and took [the soldier] prisoner, and then took me.  I was in a moment despoiled of my watch, sword, pistol, and field glass and, shortly after, taken on a blanket to Grimball’s Causeway where Capt. [Gustav] Blau, 54th New York, was in command of our men’s rifle pits, or earthwork, which we had just abandoned.

Manigault survived the wound and the war.  Writing in 1902, he recalled the South Carolinians lost seven or eight killed or wounded, with 17 captured.  Other sources put the number at 20 killed and 70 wounded.  The Federals suffered a like number of casualties.

For the Navy, the only tense moment came in regard to the gunboat McDonough, which suffered boiler trouble.  While never under fire, the vessel had to wait until a tow could be arranged to get to safety downriver.

With darkness, both sides settled in.  The Navy continued firing through the night at fifteen minute intervals.  Batteries on Morris Island resumed bombarding Charleston.  The Federals retained their lodgement until the night of February 11.  Major-General Quincy Gillmore had decided to switch the focus of demonstrations to Bull’s Bay.  So the forces on Sol Legare were needed elsewhere.

To keep up the “show” and maintain pressure on James Island, Schimmelfennig mounted a feint against Battery Simkins and Fort Sumter on the night of February 11.  Major John A. Hennessy, 52nd Pennsylvania, lead a boat demonstration out into Charleston Harbor.  “The enemy opened a lively artillery fire from Simkins and Sullivan’s Island and a musketry fire from Simkins and Sumter,” reported Schimmelfennig. The actions of February 10-11 did force the Confederates to reallocate troops from Sullivan’s Island to James Island.  Otherwise, the demonstrations had little effect on events to follow.

One more operation was mounted in front of James Island before Charleston fell.  Sensing from intercepted dispatches that the Confederates were shifting troops back to Sullivan’s Island, and wishing to keep those troops distracted from the landings at Bull’s Bay, Schimmelfennig moved a force under Colonel Eugene Kozlay, 54th New York, onto Sol Legare (again!) on February 13-14.  Covering the maneuvers, the Navy’s gunboats fired a few more shots into the Confederate lines… perhaps the last such fired at James Island during the war.  The Federal force retired on the night of February 14.

Designed to keep the Confederates distracted and focused on James Island, these operations were more like a soft punch landed against a recoiling opponent.  Even as Schimmelfennig made his last demonstration, the Confederates had orders cut for the evacuation of Charleston.   Gillmore, content to make a demonstration at Bull’s Bay, which he hoped might catch the Confederates off guard.  But before I move to the discussion of Bull’s Bay and pesky issues like tides and the draft of ships, allow me to review the particulars of the Confederate withdrawal from Charleston.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 47, Part I, Serial 98, page 1017; Manigault’s, and much of the information accounting for the battle of Grimball’s Landing, from Edward Manigault, Siege Train: The Journal of a Confederate Artilleryman in the Defense of Charleston, edited by Warren Ripley, Charleston: University of South Carolina Press, 1986, pages 243-7.)

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.)

July 10, 1864: One more go at Fort Johnson

After the failed Federal assault against Fort Johnson on July 3, the Confederates fully expected a second attempt.  On July 6, Federal signaleers intercepted several messages passing alarms.  The Confederates saw men embarking boats at the old Swamp Angel Battery.  From their perspective this could only mean another Federal assault was in the works. Major-General Samuel Jones addressed Colonel John L. Black, then in command of the brigade defending James Island and Brigadier-General William Taliaferro’s second in command:

Inform General Taliaferro of the movement at the Swamp Angel, that he may re-enforce Fort Johnson and other points on the east lines, if necessary, as it is not probable he will have to send troops to John’s Island to-night.  The party embarking at Swamp Angel may be destined for Haskell or Cheves.  Keep vigilant watch. One of our gun-boats in rear of Johnson.

But nothing came of this threat on the 6th.  The days passed.  The bombardment of Fort Sumter stepped up.  Federal operations on John’s Island wound down.  But the Confederates still suspected an attack on Fort Johnson or other nearby works.  Then in the evening of July 10, around 8:30 p.m. came the alarm:

The enemy are attacking Haskell.

And hour later, came a message from Black, correcting the earlier message:

The enemy have been repulsed and Fort Johnson re-enforced. The report of Haskell being attacked was a mistake.  It was Simkins.

Fort Johnson’s commander, Lieutenant-Colonel Joseph A. Yates, reported at 10:15 p.m.:

The enemy immediately after dark (he expected no doubt to find us not on the alert) made an attempt to take Battery Simkins, but we opened immediately upon them, heavily, with artillery and infantry, driving them back.  Three of their boats effected a landing, but finding the balance of the expedition could not stand up to it they took back their boats and made off.  We are all right and ready for them.

Taliaferro’s official report, filed two weeks later, mentioned reinforcements in the form of a section from Battery A, Orleans Guard Artillery and a company of Confederate marines.

Official Federal accounts are silent on the operation.  Given that only three boats landed, this was likely a reconnaissance mission and with secondary aim to distract from the withdrawals from the other side of James Island and from John’s Island. Of all the operations Foster initiated in the first week of July, only the bombardment of Fort Sumter continued.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 35, Part I, Serial 65, pages 169, 256, and  261. )

July 3, 1864: An assault on Fort Johnson handily repulsed

Even with the failures and setbacks of July 2, 1864, Major-General John Foster still had a good opportunity to crack the Confederate lines.  His stated primary objective -the rail lines between Charleston and Savannah – was out of reach.  But the Confederate lines directly in front of Charleston were seriously weakened state.  The fifth portion of Foster’s plan called for a force to assault the area around Fort Johnson by boat on the night of July 2, reasoning the Confederates would have to weaken that portion of the line when threatened elsewhere.  His reasoning was correct.  But the execution of the assault left much to be desired.

Under this leg of Foster’s plan, Colonel William Gurney of the 127th New York would command the force moving across the backwaters between Morris Island and James Island to assault Fort Johnson and Battery Simkins.  Gurney’s force included a portion of his regiment under Major Edward Little; the 52nd Pennsylvania, under Colonel Henry Hoyt; and an 80 man detachment from the 3rd Rhode Island Heavy Artillery.  This was a sizable force for a simple raiding party.  Hoyt reported taking into the action some 500 men in twenty boats.  Gurney would remain at Paine’s Dock with Hoyt in tactical command of the attacking force.


At Fort Johnson, Lieutenant-Colonel Joseph A. Yates, 1st South Carolina Artillery, had but 100 men.  He had an additional thirty men guarding Battery Simkins.  The remainder of his command, and nearby garrisons, were pulled towards the west end of James Island to block the Federal forces there.  Most of the guns in the fort were heavy weapons mounted to fire on the harbor. But a pair of 30-pdr Parrotts and field howitzers were in place on the parapets.  Even with that, the attacking force held a significant advantage in numbers, and the cover of night.

Initially the boats were to take a route well into the harbor channel to avoid low water.  But shortly before launching, a decision was made, to reduce the possibility of detection, to use a course closer to the marsh.  A new pilot, a sergeant from the 127th New York, was said to know a channel deep enough to allow boats to pass.  Apparently, the pilot failed to take into account the tides, which were falling when the expedition left Paine’s Dock around 2 a.m.  For several hours the flotilla bumbled through the flats.  Boats grounded and ran afoul of each other.  Multiple times the boat line stopped to re-align.

Finally, just before daybreak, Hoyt took control of the piloting himself.  Roughly 1000 yards from Fort Johnson, he pressed on despite the growing light and found channels to shore:

From this point there was no obstacle to encounter except the enemy.  It was becoming daylight and the designated point of landing was in view.  The first gun was fired as the leading boat rounded a small sandspit running out from Simkins toward the Brooke gun battery, and about 100 yards from it.

Perhaps because the boats were so close to shore, Hoyt reported most of the cannon fire passed over the heads of the men.  Pressing on:

A landing was immediately and successfully effected by the leading boats at the Brooke gun battery, which was readily carried, and no halt whatever occurred at it.  Five boats were now ashore … being a total of 6 officers and 135 men, all of the Fifty-second Pennsylvania Volunteers.  It was now apparent that not only were no other boats landing but that the entire expedition were retreating in the boats, not only without orders, but in disobedience to the most explicit orders to the contrary.  Neither then nor since have I been able to arrive at any satisfactory knowledge of the causes and facts connected with their failure to land.

Major Thomas Jayne, with the third division of boats, later claimed he wanted to land but could not sort out the confusion with the boats preceding his.  Little, with the 127th New York’s boats, likewise fell back with Jayne.  But Hoyt was ashore and had little other choice but to press the matter:

So much of the expedition as disembarked pushed with all the vigor possible upon Fort Johnson and its connected line of high earthen parapets.  The parapet was entered near the main fort with a brisk movement of about 30 in the advance, who exchanged shots within the work, but were compelled to retire.  The whole of our force was then conducted along the entire line from the rebel left to the right, with repeated efforts to enter it, until at the extreme right another assault was attempted. It was only partially successful and resulted in the capture of most of the troops who joined the attempt.

At this time my forces were very largely outnumbered; the controversy was prolonged some little time, but in a feeble and desultory manner, and the undertaking was abandoned.  The entire party was taken prisoners.

Hoyt reported seven killed in his command.  About 140 were captured, including Hoyt.  The fifth part of Foster’s offensive had failed but within arms reach of its goal.

In a formal inquiry into this failure, filed the following October, Major John Gray, Judge-Advocate, rebuked Gurney for not commanding from a forward position.  Gray also cited several officers “most wanting in decision and power of command.”  But he was quick to laud the bravery of those who prosecuted the attack.  Concluding, Gray wrote:

The expedition was well planned, and notwithstanding hinderances and delays would have succeeded had it not been for the absence of the commanding officer and the want of spirit and energy on the part of many of his subordinates.

With respect to Gray’s conclusions, one still must ask what could the Federals have done even with Fort Johnson in their hands that morning?  There were no reinforcements prepared for crossing to Hoyt’s aid.  The closest forces would be those on the west end of James Island, confronting entrenched Confederates.

But Foster had not shot his wad.  Not hardly.  He was still in possession of parts of John’s and James Islands.  And he still had all those heavy guns on Morris Island.  His ultimate orders from Washington had been to harass the Confederates and pin down as many around Charleston as possible.  If he could not crack the defenses or sever the railroad, at least he would force the Confederates to commit resources.  For the next two months, Foster would make noise around Charleston.

(Sources:  OR, Series I, Volume 35, Part I, Serial 65, pages 16-17, 39-41, 86-103, and 166; John Johnson, The Defense of Charleston Harbor: Including Fort Sumter and the Adjacent Islands, 1863-1865, Walker, Evans & Cogswell Company, 1890, pages 216-8; 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 256-9.)

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.)



“You let the old cuss go?”: Federal siege guns hold fire on Beauregard

Last week I related an incident from Morris Island in which Major-General Quincy Gillmore came under fire from Confederate mortars on Sullivan’s Island.  Not an out of the ordinary happening where both sides skirmishing with heavy artillery in front of Charleston.  A collection of officers standing at a prominent position would draw fire.  But on at least one occasion, the Federals held fire with General P.G.T. Beauregard in plain view.  From the 3rd Rhode Island Heavy Artillery regimental history:

Lieut. George W. Greene told of the excitement and disappointment in his battery, on a certain day, when promiscuous firing had been forbidden by a special order, and General Beauregard, distinctly seen by our glasses, on an inspecting tour, passed Fort Johnson, and then in plain view drove on to Battery Simkins, as a rebel deserter and Charleston paper had said he would. In hope that the order would be recalled, the Lieutenant commanded his men to “train a gun, grease down, draw her fine, and be ready,” sure of his game if allowed to fire.  All were eager for the final order to fire.  No order came, and the rebel magnate escaped. Shortly Colonel [Charles Ray] Brayton, Chief of Artillery, rode up to the battery, and, learning of the lost opportunity, said: “Good Heavens; and you let the old cuss go?”  The Lieutenant quoted the general order.  The Colonel answered: “General order be darned!  Never let anything as large as a wheelbarrow come down that road again.”

As the guns on Morris Island frequently fired upon Battery Simkins and vicinity, there’s little doubt Greene’s gun would find the range.  The mark, of course, would be another question.  Again, here’s Battery Simkins, as seen from Fort Putnam:


The dating of this episode is one I hope some day to trace down with some accuracy.  Brayton was lieutenant-colonel of the 3rd Rhode Island during the summer operations on Morris Island.  From November 1863 until April 1864 he was the colonel of the regiment.  However during those periods he also served as Assistant Chief of Artillery in Brigadier-General Alfred Terry’s division and generally controlled the guns on Morris Island.  And from March 1864 on, he was the Chief of Artillery.  At the same time, Beauregard had himself transferred out of Charleston in April that year.

So if the regimental history is completely accurate with Brayton’s title at the time of the episode (which I submit it is probably not), this happened sometime in the early spring of 1864.  I’m not so sure that is a proper yardstick, however.  And, as mentioned in the lead, this sort of incident occurred frequently outside Charleston.

(Citation 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, pages 237.)