Tag Archives: Fort Clinch

“Efficiently garrisoned as any in the department”: Evaulation of USCT troops in Florida

Bear with me for another “backwater of Florida” post here.  This has some sesquicentennial timing, as I like to incorporate here.  It also works into the USCT experience that I like to highlight as we proceed through the sesquicentennial.

On September 5, 1864, Colonel Charles Brayton, Chief of Artillery for the Department of the South, offered a report of a recent visit to the garrisons in Florida.  Addressing Major-General John Foster, Brayton wrote:

General: I have the honor to make the following report of a tour of instruction through the District of Florida:

The garrison of Fort Clinch consists of two companies of the One hundred and seventh Ohio Volunteers and one company of the Third U.S. Colored Troops, recently sent to that post to perform the artillery duty. This company has had some experience at Jacksonville in artillery, and will, in my opinion, make efficient artillerists, they having competent instructors.

With the departure of two brigades from the department that summer, individual companies served on detached duties.  The three at Fort Clinch were from two different regiments – an Ohio volunteers regiment and a USCT regiment.  And the USCT company was transitioning from infantry drill to heavy artillery assignments.  Brayton seemed confident these men would take well to their new roles.

Brayton continued in a “southernly” direction, describing the Jacksonville garrison next:

The garrisons of the different works at Jacksonville are all in excellent condition, being well drilled in the manual of the piece and well instructed in the nomenclature of pieces, carriages, implements, equipments, ammunition, and ranges of the different objects in the vicinity of their respective batteries. The garrison of Fort Hatch, Company H, Third U.S. Colored Troops, Capt. S. Conant, is particularly conversant with the above points. I am of the opinion that these works are as efficiently garrisoned as any in the department, the ranges of different points having been often verified by actual practice.

Perhaps the reason for Brayton’s confidence with Fort Clinch was founded on his satisfaction with the same 3rd USCT at Jacksonville.  Keep in mind that Brayton was very familiar with the nature of heavy artillery in the department.  He’d commanded the 3rd Rhode Island Heavy Artillery.  He had several very well maintained and operated garrisons for which to compare.  These are high compliments coming from someone who had experience in the matter, and were not simply empty comments to appease someone’s ears.

To that point, Brayton was quick to point out deficiencies where those existed:

The garrison of Fort Marion, at Saint Augustine, I found in quite an indifferent condition. The recent raid and absence of a company that had been instructed as artillery left the fort without an efficient garrison. I would respectfully suggest that a company of the Seventeenth Connecticut Volunteers be designated to perform the artillery duty in this work, and not to be removed unless the regiment leaves the post. The frequent change of garrisons and the substitution of companies unacquainted with their duties at times when the best artillerists are needed for defense perils the safety of the town and fort, and renders impossible to maintain a well-instructed and efficient garrison.

Looking to one of his own regiment’s batteries, Brayton identified the need to refresh and refit a light battery:

I would respectfully state that Company A, Third Rhode Island Artillery, has been on all the raids in Florida since the battle of Olustee, and its efficiency is impaired by a loss of horses and material and the addition of 60 new men. The battery has had but little opportunity for drill since it was mounted, and I am of the opinion that it needs an opportunity for drill not to be obtained at Jacksonville. I would therefore request, if it is deemed consistent with the good of the service, that Company A, Third Rhode Island Artillery, now at Jacksonville, be relieved by Battery F, Third New York Artillery, from Beaufort, and that Company A, on being relieved, be ordered to Beaufort.

Foster would approve the relief of Company A.  The point to consider here is how taxing even the small scale raids and other operations could be upon a military formation.  These backwater assignments were not exactly easy, cushy rear area work.

From this report, as I look back 150 years, what catches my attention is the high regard Brayton had for the ability of the USCT serving as artillerists.  Officers of that time felt artillery was far more demanding in terms of intellect.  Not to disparage the infantry, but for artillery to perform properly on the battlefield there is a lot more math involved.  The crew of the gun might not have to think about precise facing movements, but instead had to consider a number of factors like elevation, fuse settings, and range deflection.   There was, at some points during the war, questions about the colored troops having the ability to handle such tasks.  Now here is Brayton saying they were as good as any other in the department – a department with a heavy emphasis in “garrison” and “heavy” artillery, mind you.

By the summer of 1864 the USCT were winning accolades.  Some of them were not the type exemplified with battle streamers.  In this case, it was the appreciation of professional officers.  Preconceptions were changing.

(Citation from OR, Series I, Volume 35, Part II, Serial 66, pages 271-2.)



September 3, 1864: Foster relates the “main defects” of Fort Clinch, Florida

Fort Clinch, overlooking Cumberland Sound in northern Florida, was among the last Third System fortifications started in the United States.  Work on the fort began in 1847.


At the outbreak of war, the fort remained incomplete and lacking armament.  Little was done while the Confederates held the fort early in the war.  In early 1862, Federals reoccupied the fort.  During the war, Federal garrisons worked to complete the fort.  But being a remote, minor post in the Department of the South, the work was not finished by the summer of 1864.

In some minds – particularly Major-General John Foster in command of the department – there was a need to halt work and reassess the fort’s design in light of wartime experiences.  On September 3, 1864, Foster wrote to Brigadier-General Richard Delafield, Chief of Engineers, in Washington, to relate the defects of Fort Clinch that needed attention:

General: I have the honor to acknowledge the receipt of your indorsement of the 19th of August, l864, upon my letter of the 19th ultimo, desiring me to give the particular defects to which I objected in the plan, &c., of Fort Clinch. In compliance therewith I submit the following as the most important, &c.:

First. Fort Clinch is not, in my opinion, located so as to command properly both the anchorage and the entrance channel. This will necessitate the erection of outer batteries to command the channel near the location of the rebel batteries and also of inner batteries to command the harbor.

Second. The proximity of a range of sand hills to the fort will afford cover to an enemy’s advance to erect batteries against the fort or to assault the fort after a breach has been effected.

Third. The masonry bastionettes can easily be demolished by the rifled guns in use in the army and the flanking arrangements for the ditch be thus destroyed.

Fourth. The chemin de ronde can also be easily knocked down with rifled guns, and the ascent of the scarp thus be rendered tolerably easy to an assaulting column.

Fifth. The counter sloping glacis will afford greater facilities to an enemy’s assaulting column than to the garrison.

The above constitute the main defects, to which I thought it my duty to call the attention of the department.

Just the “main defects” mind you.  And we are left to assume Foster had more in mind.  Foster’s resume, by this time of the war, lends a lot of weight to his opinion.  Before the war, he’d worked on Fort Sumter.  He was in Fort Sumter when the Confederates bombarded it.  And as of that summer, he was in the process of “dismantling” the fort by long range artillery.  So Foster knew a thing or two about coastal fortifications and their weaknesses.

The first two defects cited by Foster are easily seen looking at a map of Cumberland Sound.  In this case, let me use an 1869 chart of the sound:


As Foster pointed out, twists and turns of the channels left many areas up the Cumberland Sound and behind near Old Fernandina out of reach for the fort’s guns.  It was not so much a factor of range, but a problem of the terrain masking view.  In the age of sail, this was probably not a major issue.  But in the age of steam powered ironclads, the position of the fort would leave an adversary the option to simply “run past the batteries.”

Likewise, all that “rough” area between the fort and Fernandina, which was those sand hills mentioned by Foster, would allow an adversary an approach.  Something the Federals knew well how to do from experience at places such as Fort Pulaski, Fort Gaines, and Morris Island.   Sand hills… as seen at many points along the American coastline… like on Amelia Island, where Fort Clinch stood.

Fort Clinch 31 July 11 147

Which ran right up to the back of the fort.  If the garrison didn’t cut down the scrub brush and trees that grew on those sand hills, the fort would have practically no line of site from its most vulnerable point.

Fort Clinch 31 July 11 067

In fact, the trees would grow taller than the fort, if not trimmed back!

With respect to Foster’s third point, consider this view:

Fort Clinch 31 July 11 062

Looking across a land-facing walls of the fort, one of the bastionettes is in the right foreground and another in the distant center.  Foster suggested these were easily flanked by siege batteries.  And as demonstrated at Forts Pulaski and Sumter, that nice brick-work could not stand against rifled artillery.

And what is that “chemin de ronde” mentioned in point four?   That would be the walkway behind the battlements of the fort.  Today this is the walkway behind the walls:

Fort Clinch 31 July 11 066

As it is between an interior berm and the wall, and there is no proper chemin de ronde here, my supposition is that someone listened to Foster at some point, and the interior arrangements were modified.

The fifth and last point questions the placement of the fort’s exterior glacis, designed to resist or deflect shots at the fort, and thus protect those brick walls.  Today that glacis is not really a glacis.  But there is somewhat a counter-slope behind the rise of the glacis, which alludes to Foster’s point:

Fort Clinch 31 July 11 022

The rise on the right side of this view afforded the attacker more protection than the defender.  Perhaps better seen in this perspective:

Fort Clinch 31 July 11 017

Technically, Foster’s objections were not intended to oppose further work on the fort.  Rather to request refinement of the design.  In the light of Civil War experience, there had to be questions about further expenditures on masonry forts of this type.

But this was a pre-war project, with roots well established.  Fort Clinch would be completed as intended, because the bureaucracy was there to ensure completion.

Fort Clinch 31 July 11 060

Benefiting from wartime work, Fort Clinch was completed in the late 1860s.  But it was placed in caretaker status.  Worth noting, the only time the Army actually garrisoned a “completed” Fort Clinch was during the Spanish-American War.

(Citation from OR, Series I, Volume 35, Part II, Series 66, pages 266-7.)

Batteries and forts of the Department of the South, June 1864

On June 8, 1864, First Lieutenant Charles Suter, of the Chief Engineer’s office, submitted a detailed report on the fortifications, and their armaments, throughout the Department of the South.  That lengthy report offers another point of reference with regard to the garrisoning and posturing in the department. So consider this sort of a “resource” post to refer back to in regard to the named forts and batteries.

Summarizing Suter’s report by district, the works listed were:

Northern District.

Morris Island (which I’ve discussed in detail before but some slight changes since April of that year):


  • Fort Putnam – three 100-pdr Parrotts, one 10-inch columbiad, four 30-pdr Parrotts, and two field pieces.
  • Battery Chatfield – one 300-pdr Parrott, two 100-pdr Parrotts, and four 10-inch seacoast mortars.
  • Battery Seymour – eight 10-inch seacoast mortars.
  • Water Battery – two 10-inch columbiads.
  • Battery Barton – two 13-inch seacoast mortars.
  • Fort Strong (old Battery Wagner) – one 200-pdr Parrott, five 100-pdr Parrotts, two 30-pdr Parrotts, six 32-pdr smoothbores, four 12-pdr smoothbores, and two 10-inch seacoast mortars
  • Fort Shaw – two 8-inch seacoast howitzers, five 8-inch siege howitzers, two field pieces, and two 10-inch siege mortars.
  • Battery Purviance – two 42-pdrs and two 30-pdr Parrotts.
  • Black Island battery – two rifled field pieces.

Folly Island (which I haven’t given due attention):

  • Fort Greene – two 30-pdr Parrotts, two 12-pdr gusn, two carronades, and two mortars.
  • Pawnee Landing – one battery with two 30-pdr Parrotts and a second with two 10-pdr Parrotts.
  • White House in center of island – one battery of two 30-pdr Parrotts and a second battery under construction to hold fourteen guns and four mortars.
  • Fort Delafield – two 42-pdr James rifles and three 32-pdr James rifles.
  • Fort Mahan – three 32-pdr James rifles.
  • Long Island battery – a fort with two 20-pdr Parrotts and a large infantry stockade.
  • Cole’s Island – two redoubts, but no artillery in place.
  • Kiawah Island – two redoubts, but with artillery removed.

Middle District

Discussed in an earlier post, though Suter offered more detail as to the armament than the April report.


Hilton Head:

  • Fort Welles – seventeen guns, built to defend against land attack.
  • Fort Mitchel – at the time being dismantled (which was a concern for the Navy).
  • Line of entrenchments across the island.

Saint Helena Island:  Fort Seward with thirteen guns on the west side.  (Suter does not mention the signal station on the east end).

Port Royal Island (all centered around Beaufort):

  • Fort Duane – one 8-inch gun, one 32-pdr gun, four 18-pdr guns, two 24-pdr howitzers, and one 12-pdr howitzer.
  • Battery Burnside – two 8-inch guns, one 30-pdr Parrott, and one 24-pdr gun.
  • Battery Seymour (the second in the district) – two carronades.
  • Battery Saxton – three 8-inch siege howitzers.
  • Battery Brayton – one 10-pdr Parrott and one 24-pdr howitzer.
  • Battery Taylor – two 30-pdr Parrotts, one 10-pdr Parrott, and one 24-pdr gun.

Cockspur Island:

  • Fort Pulaski – Suter did not detail the armament, but much reduced from the year before.
  • Water Battery – two 10-inch columbiads and two 100-pdr Parrotts – used to block the Savannah River from any Confederate sortie.

District of Florida:

These reflected the reduced importance of Florida.

Fernandina: Fort Clinch and a small battery on the main island.  The Federals also maintained a blockhouse at Saint John’s Bluff.

Yellow Bluff: Two small works, one of which mounted a carronade.

Picolata: Block house with two 6-pdr guns.

Jacksonville:  The city was “surrounded by a line of inclosed works” and was the best defended in Florida:

  • Battery Hamilton – open work for field guns.
  • Redoubt Reed – three guns.
  • Redoubt Fribley – four guns.
  • Battery McCrea – platforms for field guns.
  • Battery Myrick – covering the railroad with platforms for guns as needed.
  • Redoubt Hatch – four guns.
  • Redoubt Sammon – three guns.
  • Fort Seymour (yes… three named works for Truman Seymour) – four guns.

Saint Augustine:  Fort Marion, the old Spanish colonial Castillo de San Marcos, stood as the only significant defense.

(Suter’s report is in OR, Series I, Volume 35, Part II, Serial 66, pages 117-119.)