Tag Archives: Fort Sumter

Fort Johnston Photo Analysis, Part IV: A wartime photo of a surviving cannon, a rare 10-inch Columbiad

The next stop on this virtual tour of wartime Fort Johnson, outside Charleston, South Carolina, is the photo designated FJ3:


The location of this photo is plotted with that designation on the diagram below:


I love this photo.  Mostly because of that scene-stealing cannon right up front:


I’ve blogged a bit about this particular weapon and shared its history at length.  One thing I would add to that, since we are pointing out the connection of this rifled 10-inch Columbiad to Fort Johnson, is another photo from the collection of the Charleston Museum.  This large columbiad remained at Fort Johnson well after the war before being moved to Fort Sumter for display.

When I first read Warren Ripley’s Artillery and Ammunition of the Civil War, the story of this weapon captured my fancy.  It was a piece of history that I could see in a wartime photo and then, after a ferry ride over to Fort Sumter, actually touch.  So from there started a lasting appreciation for the story of Charleston’s long Civil War siege.

This being a digitized copy of the negative, once again we see the fine-grained details:


Again we see the result of Confederate details, who chopped at the carriage.  We can see individual hack marks and chips hanging loose.  Notice the bolts, square nuts, washers, and plates.  This was a pre-war pattern carriage, built by the Confederates – likely in Charleston – during the war.

Another effort to render the weapon ineffective for at least the near term was the removal of the truck wheels.


Another detail that stands out in this photo are the blemishes and dents on the gun’s reinforcing band:


If you look at the same spot today, some of those, particularly the circular mark, stand out to the sharp eye:


However, with all the scuffs, blemishes, and scratches from the last 150 years, the band is far from the relatively “clean” look it had in 1865.  The photo above was taken in 2011.  The columbiad received some maintenance and treatment recently, so I’m interested to see it again… maybe those scratches have more stories to tell.

Looking to the muzzle, we see a tall blade sight on the lip:


This was due to the need to provide a fixture above the line of sight over the large breech bands.

Turning from the big gun, we see an 8-inch Model 1841 Siege Howitzer looking out towards Morris Island.


This is a crisp study of the weapon and carriage.  Looking closely at the breech:


There’s an interesting marking to the left of the knob. That appears to be a range table of sorts.  We also see the number “7” at the top.  The January 1865 report listed no weapons of this caliber assigned to Fort Johnson.  I suspect this howitzer was from the South Carolina Siege Train.  But it could easily have been one assigned to the other batteries on James Island.  I’ve tried in vain to link the number on the breech to wartime documents.

Behind the howitzer appears to be an ammunition chest.  In front of it, or at least next to the right wheel, is a tampion.  And to the other side of the wheel is a canister round:


More canister are stacked on the foot of the works:


Looking past the howitzer, we see the posts in the harbor:


Again, I have speculations as to the reason for these posts.  And my leading speculation is in regard to the telegraph line to Fort Sumter.

Speaking of Fort Sumter, there it is again:


In this image, we can see more details of the dock and second three gun battery.

Further to the left of frame is the shoreline of Sullivan’s Island:


Before leaving this photo, let us look at the foreground… and I do mean ground:


Remember this was taken in the spring of 1865.  I can make out grass and weeds growing here.  Again, let’s consider the natural colors which should replace the grey-scale.

Even more of the growth on the berm behind the columbiad:


Fort Johnson needed some Roundup!

But there is something to say about those weeds.  Those are “growth” and coming at the end of a long war.  No longer “frowning” works that bristled against the threat of attack.  Instead, we see nature taking over the works of man and beginning to transform them from the wartime appearance.

Next, we will go a few steps beyond the columbiad and look back along the gun line from the other side.

Fort Johnston Photo Analysis, Part III: Brooke 7-inch Rifle in the third gun pit

Continue along with me in this “virtual” walk… back in time… to Fort Johnson as it appeared in the spring of 1865.  We move now to the second photo of the set:


I’ve given this photo the label of “FJ2″ on the diagram below, so that we know the perspective from which we are looking:


Please note the photo we are using here is not a scan from the original glass plate.  Rather it is a scan from a mounted print. Still that affords detail worthy of discussion.

The “star” of this photo is a 7-inch Brooke Rifle.


Throughout my sesquicentennial narrative covering Charleston’s siege, I’ve written about the 7-inch Brookes.  These featured prominently in the Confederate defense of Charleston, particularly against the Federal ironclads.  Brookes of this caliber did substantial damage to the ill-fated, ill-designed USS Keokuk.  This particular example in place at Fort Johnson at the end of the war was a double-banded, as opposed to the single-band seen early in the production run or the triple-band version used on Sullivan’s Island.  The 7-inch Brooke at Fort Johnson was one of six at Charleston through the winter of 1865.

Looking at the gun and carriage in detail, we see, like the 10-inch columbiads, the Confederates used axes to damage the carriage:


While this could be repaired, the damage at least ensured the Federals could not make immediate use of the big rifle.  We can’t see any details of the vent.  But I’d assume that was jammed.  I’ve often wondered why the Confederates did not do more to disable the weapons.  But we an be thankful they did not blow up the guns, magazines, and forts. Not only did that save lives at the time, but left a lot of artifacts behind for our viewing.

The relatively intact carriage allows us to peruse other details.  Notice the trunnions and trunnion plate:


This was a standard 10-inch columbiad carriage, but used an adapter with the trunnion plate for the smaller trunnion of the Brooke.  Notice no cap square on the seacoast carriage.  Notice also the square nuts for the ties.  Those on the trunnion plate do not have washers.  But the transverse tie (below the trunnion, facing us) has a washer-like fitting.

Shifting back to the breech, we see a good profile of the Brooke with bands and blade cascabel:


At the top of the breech is the rear sight base with brackets and fittings:


The Brooke casabel was pierced for an elevating screw.  Such was standard outfit for naval mountings.  On land, the seacoast carriage was not easily adapted for use of the elevating screw.  So we see in the photo an anachronistic throwback:


Yes, a quoin wedged in there under the breech.

As for the forward sights, the sight base over the trunnions is bare:


There is another sight base on the muzzle:


Also note the tampion in the muzzle.  Again, I’m amazed that the Confederates would leave the weapon’s accouterments in place.

Beyond the Brooke is the last gun position in Fort Johnson and an 8-inch siege howitzer.  Even with the lower resolution of this scan, we can see one of the posts in the line between Battery Simkins and Fort Sumter.


Also within range of this resolution are the details of the turf making up the fort’s walls:


Bricks or cut sod?

The crown of this portion of the wall is already showing harm from neglect and wear:


And beyond Fort Johnson, we have another glimpse of Fort Sumter:


The resolution does not provide many details.  Perhaps the masted vessel seen to the right of the fort in FJ1 had moved on by the time the photographer snapped FJ2.

Before leaving this photo, let me mention the “star” of this photo as a possible survivor.  The Charleston Museum’s archives include a photo of what may be the same Brooke Rifle (or at least a similar one) being excavated at the fort.  That photo is undated, but likely from the first quarter of the 20th century.  The gun in the photo was later placed in “The Battery” at White Point:

Charleston 4 May 10 035

I’d give it about 90% odds that the Brooke in the wartime photo is the same pictured being excavated and thus is the same on display today.  As if you didn’t have enough reasons to visit Charleston’s Battery, there’s a chance to connect with a wartime artifact with a story to tell.

Next up, we’ll “walk” a bit further down the line to the last gun position at Fort Johnson.

Four big guns protecting Charleston Harbor: Fort Johnston, Photo Analysis, Part I

Shortly after the fall of Charleston, Federal engineers and survey teams arrived in the city.  One of those teams, under US Coast Survey Assistant Charles Otis Boutelle, focused on the waterways, channels, and shorelines. But the US Coast Survey also provided some excellent surveys of the fortifications.  On the other hand, the Army’s teams focused mostly on the fortifications.  We, 150 years later, are very fortunate to have the products from these surveys as references.  Most of the wartime defenses of Charleston have long since disappeared.  So these surveys give some fine details to back up written reports and observations.

And while the survey teams were busy measuring and drafting, several photographers descended upon Charleston to ply their trade.  Many arrived to “capture the moment” during the flag raising ceremony at Fort Sumter.  But those photographers did not narrowly focus their lens on that celebration.  They brought back a visual catalog of places and sites around Charleston.  Those images coupled with the very fine survey work – and both activities occurring at the same time frame, mind you – offer some unique windows into the Civil War landscape of Charleston, as it existed in the spring of 1865.

Let me offer Fort Johnson as an example of how these resources allow us to “see” what was, as it was.  The fort’s armament varied throughout the war.  But in January 1865, Colonel Ambrosio José Gonzales reported Fort Johnson as armed with 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.

But that does not provide Fort Johnson’s layout, dimensions, or arrangement.  So let us turn to the US Coast Survey’s work on James Island:


North is to the top on this survey.  So place the city of Charleston to the upper left, off the sheet.  Likewise, Fort Sumter is to the right and off the sheet.  Zooming down a bit, let us look at Fort Johnson in more detail:


Immediately, you should notice a puzzle here.  What Boutelle called Fort Johnson has too many gun positions for the armament Gonzales listed.  Part of this puzzle falls into place with the fortifications on the left (directly under the scale key).  That is Battery Harleston.  Still we should see five big-gun positions… not counting the two howitzers which were used as flank defense.  But there are only four positions indicated along the line designated “Section 1″ from the survey.  There is another gun position at the lower right of the map, detailed with “Section 4.”  Here are those profile sections for review:


Sections 1 and 2 look across the Water Battery of the fort, facing east toward the harbor.  Section 3 cuts across the rear of the main part of the fort.  And Section 4 is a profile of that bastion on the southwest side face of the fort.

See what’s interesting about this puzzle when you mention the cardinal directions?  Yes, four guns faced the harbor while only one gun faced the Federal positions on Morris Island.  While the guns at the Water Battery could train towards Fort Sumter, that was not their primary facing.  Only one gun from Fort Johnson confronted the Federal positions.  The task of countering Federal activity on Morris Island fell mostly to Battery Simkins (also on the survey map, but outside of the snip I provide above).   So part of this puzzle is now what gun did the Confederates assign to firing on Federal batteries?  And what guns were detailed to counter any Federal naval force breaking into the inner harbor?

The US Coast Survey didn’t detail the guns by caliber (they did with Sullivan’s Island, but that doesn’t help us here).  The Army’s survey of Fort Johnson is more detailed in some respects… but also fails to provide any annotation of the guns. The original digital copy is on the LOC website.  Here is a snip for our purposes here:


Again we see four gun positions facing north toward the harbor and one position facing towards Morris Island.  Still doesn’t help sort out the guns.

But we do have a photograph looking across the front of the Water Battery of Fort Johnson (original digital at LOC):


Let’s call this photo “FJ1″ (for Fort Johnson #1).  Notice Fort Sumter in the distance (left of center).  That confirms this as a photo of Fort Johnson.  A great “this is where the war began” shot.  George Barnard receives credit for this photo, taken after the Federals occupied Charleston.  The damaged carriage is ample proof of that (and I’ll go into more of the many details seen in this photo at a later point).

Now if you follow this blog on a regular basis, you should be able to identify these guns with ease!  Closest to the camera is a 10-inch Confederate columbiad.  A second is in the next position.  Third from the camera is a 7-inch Brooke Rifle (calling this photo FJ2):


Double-banded 7-inch Brooke to be exact.  Again, we know this to be after the fall of Charleston due to the axe work done on the carriage.

Next in line is a 10-inch rifled columbiad (FJ3):


How do I know this to be a rifled 10-inch columbiad?  Because that weapon is still in Charleston today… in fact sitting on a brand new carriage in Fort Sumter. We also see here a fifth weapon – an 8-inch Siege Howitzer, Model 1841.  That weapon was not listed in Gonzales’ report. But it is on a siege carriage and thus was probably at another point (or more likely part of the reserve), and relocated by the Federals.

The photographer even turned around and took a photo looking back across the Water Battery (FJ4):


Again, there is some good “stuff” in this photo that I will discuss at a later point.  Not the least of which is that smokestack at the wharf to the far right.    And we also see three mortars laying beyond the battery, apparently waiting transport elsewhere.  One of those appears in another photograph looking back at Fort Johnson (FJ5):


These five photos provide sound visual documentation.  All were taken on the same day.  And, given the damaged carriages, the big guns had not moved since the Confederates departed.  The details of the photos allow plotting against the fort surveys.  I’ve plotted the position of the camera here:


The blue octagons are labeled FJ1 to FJ5, as referenced above.  The green lines from those octagons depicts the rough angle of view seen in the photo.  So every inch of the Water Battery’s face is covered.  And better still, the details in the photograph match up well with the survey.  If we visit the site today, we don’t see those earthworks, which were replaced by a hospital and quarantine post.  Today the grounds are used by the South Carolina Wildlife and Marine Resources Department.  So those wartime photos are a glimpse back to something that does not exist today.

Going back to the question about the guns, what these photos tell us, conclusively, is that four of the guns were placed in the Water Battery to face the harbor – one 10-inch rifled columbiad, one 7-inch Brooke Rifle, and two 10-inch columbiads.  That leaves the 8-inch rifled columbiad to face Morris Island.  What this further details is the primary mission for Fort Johnson’s garrison – to defend Charleston’s inner harbor in the event the Federal ironclads had broken through.  Such is important to consider when analyzing the overall defensive arrangements made by the Confederates, as it tips us to how the commanders hoped to defeat the monitors.

As the post title indicates, this is the first in a set that will look through the photos of Fort Johnson.  More photos and more details ….