Summary Statement, 2nd Quarter, 1863 – 3rd Rhode Island Heavy Artillery

Readers will be familiar with the 3rd Rhode Island Heavy Artillery due to their service along the South Carolina coast.  Hardly a month passes without mention of that unit here on this blog.  Though the main story-line in the 3rd’s service was operations against Charleston, batteries from the regiment served at times in Florida and Virginia.  And their service often defied the label of “heavy” artillery, as often the gunners served in the field as field artillery proper.

A bit of background on this regiment is in order.  The 3rd Rhode Island Volunteers first mustered as an infantry formation in August 1861.  As they prepared for their first major operation, as part of Brigadier-General Thomas W. Sherman’s expedition to Port Royal, they camped at Fort Hamilton, New York.  While there, under orders from Sherman, the regiment drilled on both heavy and light artillery.  By the time the regiment arrived at Hilton Head, it was for all practical purposes an artillery regiment.  Though the formal change did not occur until December of that year.

Over the months that followed, the 3rd Rhode Island served by batteries and detachments as garrison artillery, field artillery, infantry, and even ship’s complement as needs of the particular moment called.  In the winter of 1863, Battery C was designated a light battery in light of its habitual service.  We’ve seen that reflected in returns from the fourth quarter, 1862 and first quarter, 1863. However, the battery seemed to change armament with each quarter.  I believe this reflects more the “ad hoc” nature of tasking in the theater at that time.  For the second quarter, 1863, we find the guns reported on hand again changed:

0217_1_Snip_RI_3rd

At the end of June, Battery C had just returned from the raid on Darien, Georgia.  They were at Hilton Head on June 30, preparing for transit to Folly Island.  So this tally of two 12-pdr field howitzers may reflect a status as of January 1864, when the return was received in Washington.

This brief line, along with “clerical” lines for Batteries A and B, brings up a couple of facets to the summaries as they relate to the “real” operational situations.  First off, we know, based on official records and other accounts, not to mention photographs, the 3rd Rhode Island had more than just a couple of howitzers.  We must also consider the property management within the military and how that was reflected in the reports. The military in general tends to be very anal about tracking property.  For any given item, someone, somewhere is on the hook as the “owner” of said item.  Doesn’t matter if that item is a belt buckle or a cannon.  The “owner” might be a specific unit or could be a facility.  So, in the Civil War and specific to the context of this discussion, that “owner” could be a battery in the 3rd Rhode Island… or it could be the garrison commander at Hilton Head.  However, we rarely, if ever, see those garrison commands reflected in the summaries.  A significant blank that we cannot resolve with satisfaction.

What we can do, in the case of the 3rd Rhode Island, is use primary and secondary sources to provide a glimpse into that blank.  Let’s consider the 3rd Rhode Island by battery at this point in time of the war.  Recall, the 3rd and other units were, at the end of June, preparing for an assault from Folly Island onto Morris Island. Colonel Edwin Metcalf was in command of the regiment, with his headquarters on Hilton Head:

  • Battery A:  On Port Royal Island, under command of Lieutenant Edward F. Curtis (in absence of Captain William H. Hammer), serving as garrison artillery.
  • Battery B:  On Folly Island under Captain Albert E. Greene, having moved from Hilton Head at the end of June.  The battery manned six 10-inch siege mortars.
  • Battery C: Transferring from St. Helena Island to Hilton Head, and thence to Folly Island in the first week of July.  Commanded by Captain Charles R. Brayton.  The battery would man two 3-inch Ordnance Rifles and four 30-pdr Parrotts (along with a detachment from Battery C, 1st US Artillery).  Likely the reported howitzers were in reserve.
  • Battery D: Part of the original garrison sent to Folly Island in April.  Under the command of Captain Robert G. Shaw and manning eight 30-pdr Parrotts.
  • Battery E: On Hilton Head, serving as garrison artillery under Captain Peter J. Turner (who was serving as a staff officer, thus one of his lieutenants was in temporary command).
  • Battery F: On Hilton Head, serving as garrison artillery under Captain David B. Churchill.
  • Battery G: Stationed at Fort Pulaski and under Captain John H. Gould.
  • Battery H: On Hilton Head, serving as garrison artillery under Captain Augustus W. Colwell.  Would deploy to Morris Island in July.
  • Battery I:  On Folly Island under Captain Charles G. Strahan.  The battery manned four 20-pdr Parrotts.
  • Battery K: On Hilton Head, serving as garrison artillery under Lieutenant Horatio N. Perry.
  • Battery L: On Hilton Head, serving as garrison artillery under Captain Jeremiah Lanhan.
  • Battery M:  Part of the force on Folly island, under Captain Joseph J. Comstock.  They manned four 10-inch siege mortars and five 8-inch siege mortars.

Thus we see the 3rd Rhode Island was spread between garrison duties and advanced batteries preparing for a major offensive from Folly Island.  Those on the north end of Folly Island, overlooking Light House Creek, were armed with a variety of field guns, heavy Parrotts, and mortars.  Only the former category would have been covered by the summaries, as they existed in June 1863.  And what we have to work with is, based on official reports at the time, inaccurate.

But that’s what we must work with!  Turning to the smoothbore ammunition:

0219_1_Snip_RI_3rd

  • Battery C: 156 shell, 214 case, and 132 canister for 12-pdr field howitzer.

One might think no rifled projectiles would be on hand… but perhaps related to the two 3-inch rifles reported on Folly Island and manned by Battery C, we find some Hotchkiss projectiles on hand:

 

0219_2_Snip_RI_3rd

  • Battery C: 48 canister and 108 bullet shell for 3-inch rifles.

No ammunition reported on the next page, of Dyer’s, James, or Parrott patents:

0220_1_Snip_RI_3rd

But some Schenkl on hand:

0220_2_Snip_RI_3rd

  • Battery C: 100 shell for 3-inch rifles.

As for small arms:

0220_3_Snip_RI_3rd

  • Battery C: Forty-eight Army revolvers and 102 cavalry sabers.

I suspect, given the varied nature of the 3rd Rhode Island’s duties, the other batteries had a large number of small arms on hand also.  But because of the selective record, we don’t have the details.

Just to say we discussed ALL the Rhode Island artillery, let me mention two other heavy artillery regiments.  The 5th Rhode Island Infantry was reorganized as the 5th Rhode Island Heavy Artillery on May 27, 1863.  Stationed at New Berne, North Carolina, Colonel George W. Tew commanded the reorganized regiment.

Though not organized, we can trace the story of another heavy artillery regiment back to June 1863.  In response to the emergency developing in Pennsylvania, the governor of Rhode Island authorized Colonel Nelson Viall (formerly of the 1st Rhode Island Infantry) to form a six-month regiment.  Designated the 13th Rhode Island, recruitment was slow due to the war situation, small bounties, and the draft.  By July, the War Department decided no more six-month regiments would be accepted and insisted on a three-year enlistment standard.  With that, the 13th was disbanded and in its place the 14th Rhode Island was authorized.  That formation, which began organization in August, was a US Colored Troops Regiment of heavy artillery.

 

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Summary Statement, 2nd Quarter, 1863 – New York’s miscellaneous detachments and batteries

Below the second quarter, 1863 listing for the New York independent batteries are three lines derived from returns of separate, non-artillery battery, detachments:

0209_1_Snip_NY_MISC

Recall we discussed a fourth “line” earlier in this series – the 3rd New York Cavalry – as that entry was better placed in the order it appeared on the summaries. These remaining “orphans” include artillery pieces and stores under the charge of a Lieutenant (unit unspecified) and reported by two infantry regiments:

  • “Lieutenant – Stores in Charge”: The unnamed lieutenant was at Gloucester Point, Virginia.  With several artillery batteries, in particular some New York batteries, at that station, one wonders why the stores were not distributed to the artillerists.
  • 100th New York Infantry:   Reporting a pair of 6-pdr field guns at Morris Island, South Carolina.  Of course, as of June 30, the regiment was actually on Folly Island, across the Stono River.  They would land on the southern end of Morris Island on July 10.  These guns were not part of the masked batteries on Folly Island.  More likely the 6-pdrs were assigned to the works securing the southwestern end of the island.
  • 132nd New York Infantry: The regiment was stationed at New Bern, North Carolina at this time.  No cannon on hand. Just stores and equipment.  With so many artillery batteries stationed there, we must again wonder why the infantry was stuck with this charge.

There is, however, one light battery which escaped the tallies of the clerks in Washington.  And that was not due to some administrative oversight.  Rather, that battery’s service, as a mustered “Federal” battery, was very brief.

Colonel William B. Barnes received authorization to recruit the 11th New York Artillery Regiment in February 1863.  Handbills and newspaper announcements proclaimed this regiment would man the fortifications around New York City, with promises of no marches or backpacks.  Good duty if you can get it!  By June, Barnes had upwards of 1,000 recruits at Rochester, New York.

Then the other shoe dropped.  With reports of Confederates moving into Pennsylvania, authorities in Washington and New York reached for any and all resources to meet the threat.  Among those was the 11th New York.  On June 15, orders came for the regiment to report to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.  Before that could happen, the mustering officer culled out unfit or otherwise unqualified recruits.  This limited the regiment to just four batteries – A, B, C, and D.

Of those four, only Battery D was equipped as a light battery.  Captain William F. Goodwin recruited his battery with an additional enticement – service with a unique and advanced weapon.  From a notice run in the Albany Evening Journal, on, quite appropriately, June 15:

Goodwin’s Battery. – Capt. Goodwin is recruiting in this city for a Battery to be attached to the 11th Artillery.  His company is nearly half full, and he hopes, in the course of a few weeks, to be in position to take the field.

His guns – his own invention – have been warmly approved by leading artillery officers and accepted by the Government.  They are breech-loaders, and are claimed to have the widest range of any in the world.  They have projected a ball the enormous distance of six miles, and can be fired at the rate of fifteen times a minute.  Capt. G. assures us that they can be fired fifteen hundred rounds without cleaning or swabbing.

Capt. Goodwin is an officer of high character and large experience in the science of gunnery, and his Battery is destined to make its mark.

Artillery enthusiasts know well this song.  Such advanced weapons rarely lived up to the sales pitch hype! The details of this weapon are best saved for a dedicated post.  But Goodwin did provide an illustration of the mechanism with a patent application:

 

GoodwinGun

Goodwin’s design included a breech plug, lined with rubber or other material.  That was forced into a seat with a breech piece swung horizontally on a yoke.  I’ll offer more details separately, but the main point today is this was of Goodwin’s own design.

Goodwin’s Battery, along with the three others, boarded trains for Harrisburg, Pennsylvania on June 17.  In Pennsylvania, the 11th was part of the scratch force assembled to defend Harrisburg.  On July 1, the 11th was ordered to proceed to Carlisle, in reaction to Confederate cavalry, to serve as infantry.  This prompted a mutiny, as the rank and file had not signed up for such. Writing on July 10, Brigadier-General Lorenzo Thomas, in Harrisburg, had unflattering words about the regiment as a whole, but held a favorable impression of Goodwin’s:

… Goodwin’s battery of four 10-pounder rifled breech-loading guns went forward [to Chambersburg] this morning.  The Eleventh New York Heavy Artillery, excepting Goodwin’s battery, which rendered good service, left this morning for New York City, to report to General Wool. This is the regiment which refused to go forward as infantry when the rebels were advancing and near this place.  (OR, Series I, Volume 27, Part III, Serial 45, pages 633-4.)

Thomas’ report confirms Goodwin’s Battery did serve as field artillery during their brief active service. Furthermore, we have some indication as to the caliber of weapon, if indeed those were of Goodwin’s design.  While not precise, the 10-pounder label is often used for 3-inch caliber.

While Batteries A, B, and C of the 11th proceeded back to New York, Battery D briefly served in Pennsylvania.  By the end of July all were back in their home state, serving at Fort Richmond (Battery A), Fort Hamilton (Batteries B and D), and Sandy Hook (Battery C).  The 11th was mustered out shortly afterwards, but remained on state rolls.  Because of the brief, perhaps only six weeks in total, service of Battery D, we do not see them recorded on this summary.

Goodwin’s Battery was still at Fort Hamilton on September 18 when disaster struck.  While practicing, one of the guns discharged prematurely.  Goodwin was badly injured and a private lost his arm when the breech plug blew out the back of the gun.  A report in Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper, on October 3, lamented, “… it is feared the Captain will lose his eyesight.”

Turning back to the summaries, we find the 100th New York Infantry had ammunition on hand for it’s 6-pdrs:

0211_1_Snip_NY_MISC

  • 100th New York Infantry: 40 shot, 40 case, and 20 canister for 6-pdr field guns.

Ample supply for a couple of guns guarding the approaches to Folly Island.

The 132nd New York had Hotchkiss projectiles on hand:

0211_2_Snip_NY_MISC

  • 132nd New York Infantry: 26 shot, 20 percussion shell, and 40 fuse shell for 2.6-inch rifles, presumably Wiard 6-pdrs.

Further down, we see the unnamed lieutenant at Gloucester Point had his hands full with 3-inch projectiles:

0212_1_Snip_NY_MISC

  • Gloucester Point: 73 Dyer’s shrapnel for 3-inch rifles.

Add to several chests worth of Schenkl shells:

0212_2_Snip_NY_MISC

  • Gloucester Point: 299 Shenkl shell for 3-inch rifles.

As a taxpayer, I am profoundly irritated, 150 years after the fact, at this gross wastage.  Why weren’t these 372 projectiles simply transferred over to the 8th New York Independent Battery?  Instead, some lieutenant wasted his time, and my tax money, accounting for and maintaining this pile of shells!   If only the Ordnance Department were as “vigorous” for accounting of Goodwin’s Battery!

Things never seem to change, do they?

Turning to the small arms we see…..

0212_3_Snip_NY_MISC

Nothing.  Of course, these units would report their small arms on a separate report specifically for infantry weapons.

Thus concludes New York for the second quarter of 1863.  Up next… OHIO!

Summary Statement, 2nd Quarter, 1863 – 3rd New York Artillery Regiment

When we examined the 1st New York Light Artillery last week ago, it’s service at the mid-point of the Civil War was mainly within Virginia.  Or shall we say the Eastern Theater proper?  In contrast, the 3rd New York Artillery (which was a mix of heavy and light) spent the first half of the war serving in the Carolinas.  For the fourth quarter of 1862, we briefly looked at the origins of the 3rd regiment.  And for the first quarter of 1863, we noted the split of the regiment, with some batteries going to reinforce efforts against Charleston.  In addition to that move, over 500 two year enlistments came up in May.  This brought the overall regimental strength down to 889 men.  Men were transferred within the regiment to meet obligations to maintain field batteries at full manning.  Between May and June, the remaining men of Batteries A, C, D, and G were transferred to batteries B, E, F, H, I, and M.  Colonel Charles H. Stewart remained in command of the regiment, though as time progressed it was more so an administrative assignment.  And with Stewart’s administrative responsibilities, he received permission to recruit replacements (with the objective of a full 1,700 men).

That history in mind, we turn to the first page of the summary:

0201_1_Snip_NY3rd

As mentioned above, many of these batteries were not fully staffed.  And what did remain were either employed as garrison troops or other support roles.  Referencing Henry and James Hall’s Cayuga in the Field, we can fill in some of the blanks from the summary:

  • Battery A: No return.  Captain Charles White was in command of the battery when mustered out in Syracuse, on June 2.  The three-year men transferred to Batteries E, I, and K.
  • Battery B: Reported at Folly Island, South Carolina, with six 12-pdr Napoleons.  Captain James E. Ashcroft commanded. Returns from the end of June had the battery assigned to Seabrook Island, but of course part of the force concentrating for the Morris Island Campaign.
  • Battery C: No return.  Ashcroft transferred to Battery B (above) on May 22, leaving Lieutenant Charles B. Randolph in charge of the two-year men.  They were mustered out on June 2.  The three year men from this battery moved to Batteries I and K.
  • Battery D: No return.  Captain Owen Gavigan was among the two year men mustered out in June.  Those with enlistments remaining went to Batteries E, I, and K.
  • Battery E:  At New Berne, North Carolina with four 20-pdr Parrott rifles.  Captain Theodore H. Schenck remained in command.  This battery was originally earmarked for South Carolina, but returned to North Carolina by April, part of Eighteenth Corps.
  • Battery F:  On Morris Island with six 12-pdr (3.67-inch) Wiard rifles.  The location was valid for September, 1863, when the return was received in Washington.  Lieutenant Paul Birchmeyer commanded this battery, then on Folly Island. Captain David A. Taylor was on detached service, with the Signal Corps.
  • Battery G: No return. Another battery mustered out in early June.  Captain John Wall rolled up that guidon.  Remaining men transferred to Battery K.
  • Battery H: At New Berne, North Carolina with six 12-pdr Napoleons.  Captain William J. Riggs in command.  Assigned to Eighteenth Corps.
  • Battery I:  Also at New Berne and with six 12-pdr Napoleons.  Captain John H. Ammon held command.
  • Battery K: No return.  Also assigned to New Berne at this time of the war. Captain James R. Angel was in command.  For the previous quarter, and the one that followed, this battery had six 3-inch Ordnance Rifles on hand.  Likely that was the case for the second quarter.  This battery received many three-year men from the disbanding batteries.
  • Battery L:  As explained in earlier posts, this battery did not exist as part of 3rd New York Artillery at this stage of the war.  Near war’s end The 24th Independent Battery was assigned this title, somewhat retroactively.
  • Battery M: At New Berne with six 10-pdr Parrott Rifles.  Captain John H. Howell commanded.

The batteries mustered out at the start of June (A, C, D, and G) were replaced by new batteries with the same designations starting in the fall of 1863 running through the winter of 1864.  So we will see them again in the summaries.

One other note.  We have seen the Napoleons of Battery B

Napoleon_Battery1A

and the Wiards of Battery F

Wiard_Battery

in the photos from Morris Island.

Turning to the ammunition, we have to use the extended columns to handle the smoothbore rounds.  And we have a “problem”:

0203_1_Snip_NY3rd

Three Napoleon batteries and some “leftover” in Battery E:

  • Battery B: 678 shot, 382 shell, 872 case, and 406 canister for 12-pdr Napoleons.
  • Battery E: 84 shells for 12-pdr Napoleons; 20 shell, 78 case, and 6 canister for 24-pdr field howitzers; 2 shell and 6 canister for 32-pdr field howitzers.
  • Battery G (?): 396 shot, 87 shell, 439 case, and 160 canister for 12-pdr Napoleons.
  • Battery H (?): 294 shot, 150 shell, 303 case, and 136 canister for 12-pdr Napoleons.

First off, Battery E had heavy field howitzers on hand in the previous quarter.  And apparently the battery retained some ammunition for those big howitzers (awaiting turn in, perhaps).  But that does not explain the Napoleon shells on hand.

Battery G, as indicated above, mustered out in the first week of June.  And no return was indicated on the first page of the summary.  I offer this was a transcription error.  If so, did the clerk just move everything up one line?  In other words, what’s on line 60 being Battery H’s ammuntion; and line 61 that for Battery I?  No evidence, just expectations!

Moving to the rifled projectiles, we start with the Hotchkiss patent types:

0203_2_Snip_NY3rd

One, well stocked, battery:

  • Battery F: 100 shot, 1065 percussion shell, 300 fuse shell, and 650 bullet shell for 12-pdr / 3.67-inch Wiard Rifles.

And we know those projectiles were destined to be fired at Battery Wagner and, occasionally, Fort Sumter in the months to come.

Let’s split up the next page for clarity:

0204_1A_Snip_NY3rd

  • Battery F: 240 Hotchkiss canister for 12-pdr / 3.67-inch Wiard Rifles.

Moving to Parrott and Schenkl projectiles:

0204_1B_Snip_NY3rd

Two batteries reporting:

  • Battery E: 126 Parrott shell, 30 Parrott canister, and 402 Schenkl shot for 20-pdr Parrott, 3.67-inch caliber.
  • Battery M: 1203 Parrott shell, 57 Parrott case, and 134 Parrott canister for 10-pdr Parrotts.

There were no tallies for any additional Schenkl projectiles or the Tatham’s canister.

So on to the small arms:

0204_3_Snip_NY3rd

By battery:

  • Battery A:  One Army revolver, thirteen Navy revolvers, and fourteen horse artillery sabers.
  • Battery E: Twenty-nine Navy revolvers, two cavalry sabers, and forty-one horse artillery sabers.
  • Battery F: Eleven Army revolvers and seven horse artillery sabers.
  • Battery G (?): Four Army revolvers, seventeen Navy revolvers, and fifty horse artillery sabers.
  • Battery H (?): Ten Army revolvers, seven Navy revolvers, and forty-nine horse artillery sabers.
  • Battery M:  Thirty Navy revolvers and thirty horse artillery sabers.

As with the smoothbore ammunition columns, I offer that lines 60 and 61 were moved up by one.  So those should be Battery H and Battery I.  In the previous quarter, Battery H reported thirty-one Navy revolvers and fifty horse artillery sabers.  Battery I reported Ten Army revolvers, nine Navy revolvers, and forty horse artillery sabers.  Not a close match, but at least a little weight to consider.

We’ll continue with the New York batteries with consideration of yet another “straggler” line – some mountain howitzers in the 3rd New York Cavalry!

 

Fortification Friday: Splinter proof shelter, from the wartime experience

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

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

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

And the illustration provided demonstrates such as structure:

MahanFig39bis

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

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

MorrisIslandBatteries2

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

BatteriesRight2ndParallel_A

A clean look at the profile:

BatteryBrownProfile

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

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

InfantryTrenches2ndParallelPlan_dd

In profile:

InfantryTrenches2ndParallelProfile_dd

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

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

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

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

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

 

Fortification Friday: Applying what we know about fortification batteries

So we’ve defined and examined the different types of batteries used in field fortifications.  We know barbettes allowed the guns to fire over the parapet, while embrasures had the guns firing through the parapet.  And we also referred to rules for building platforms under the guns.

Lots of “book learning” but how does that apply out in the field?  Again, let us turn to one of the great primary sources we have for the Civil War – photographs!

First stop, a photo captioned “Company H, 3rd Massachusetts Heavy Artillery at Fort Lincoln”:

04286v

Three Parrott rifles in view.  We’ll hold off discussing the 6.4-inch on the right.  It is the two 30-pdr Parrotts (correct me if I have the type wrong) in the center of view.  These are in barbette.  We see the classic layout as described by the textbook.  Note the raised earth, on which the engineers had platforms.  One platform for each gun, plus additional platform between the guns. Such leads me to consider this “beautification” of the works, to prevent a lot of wear and tear from foot traffic.  The parapet stands just higher than the axles of the carriages (siege carriages, by the way).  The gun on the left is at zero elevation (or at least darn close to it), with a few inches at the muzzle to clear the parapet allowing some declination… though without being there at that place and time, we don’t know for sure how much.  Lastly, note this battery one ramp directly behind the right side gun.  That is probably another ramp to the left of view (and there is likely another gun out of frame).  All in all a clean barbette battery.  Glad those heavies had time to keep the fort in order!

Now lets move over to Fort Richardson, where the 1st Connecticut Heavy Artillery had their guns firing through embrasures:

32726v

Six guns in view here.  The one on the distant left looks to be in barbette, but the rest are embrasure.  Those on siege carriages sit atop platforms. The nearest is at the level of the fort’s parade.  Platforms for the siege gun on the far wall and that at the bastion (far distant right) are elevated at least a slight bit.  From the photograph’s angle, we cannot make out much of the embrasure’s details – the sole and other features are out of view.  But we do see a well cut opening.  The nearest gun and the next over (on a garrison/seacoast carriage) are situated so that the line of the bore is right at the interior crest.  Part of the muzzle is above the crest.  So the embrasure did not provide complete protection for the crew. Just enough, perhaps.

Now those are “garrison” troops well to the rear with plenty of time to make the fortifications look good.  How about those on the front lines who are busy sending over hot iron?  OK, how about Fort Brady, outside Richmond:

03598r

Up front we have a big 6.4-inch Parrott firing through a well constructed embrasure.  Note the gabions and sandbags laid to reinforce the parapet.  And the parapet extends well above the line of the bore.  This crew had ample headroom…. but the embrasure is also rather wide.  Had we walked around the gun, we might find a shutter constructed in the embrasure to protect against sharpshooters.  Now this is not a field or siege carriage, but a wrought iron seacoast carriage adapted to the situation (and I think this gun is placed to cover an approach on the James… making it “seacoast” in function).  Note the shelf placed in front of the gun.  When hefting a 100 pound Parrott projectile, one needed a leg up… or two.

Behind that big Parrott are a couple of smaller brothers.  These also fire through embrasures.  We need to strain through the resolution to see the arrangements.  But there are platforms and the guns are given plenty of space to recoil.  All in all, this portion of the line looks well kept and orderly.  Almost like the crew knew they were to serve as an example 150 years later… yep!

A little less orderly, but still in good order, is a battery at Fort Putnam, on Morris Island:

35195r

Another couple of Parrotts on siege carriages firing through embasures.   These were aimed at Fort Sumter.  They share a platform.  Notice again the gabions used to reinforce the embrasures.  What we clearly do not see are any shutters.  We know some batteries on Morris Island employed iron shutters for protection, though not present here.  The field piece on the far left appears to be a Napoleon.  It has no parapet, but is sitting on a platform.  It is my interpretation that field gun is situated to provide close-in defense, should the Confederates attempt a raid.  As such, it was there in part to be “seen” more so than to be used.  Sort of like an alarm-company sign on the front lawn.

Elsewhere in Fort Putnam, the field guns out for defense were given better protection:

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Talking about that on the left.  The gun is in barbette, though a stockade aligns to give more protection.  And of course to the right is another of those big Parrotts.  But this weapon is arranged to “super-elevate” beyond what the carriage was designed for.  Something seen often at Charleston in an effort to get maximum range out of the guns firing on the city or other points.  I call it out because, in a form follows function manner, the battery layout was altered from the textbook standards.  The gun fired over the parapet, but situated lower behind the parapet than a barbette battery.  In this case, the gunners were not concerned about direct fire.  Their iron blessings were sent indirectly to the target.

On this day… September 7, 1863 -Charleston learns Morris Island lost

Robert Moore ran a couple of “on this day” posts earlier, looking back at reports in Shenandoah newspapers.  After spending most of the sesquicentennial with “on this day” writing, I’ve gotten out of habit for the most part.  But I retain the historical mindset when looking at the calendar. So occasionally I’ll link to an old post on Facebook or Twitter as a way of mentioning anniversary dates.

But Robert’s use of newspaper accounts reminds me of the veritable mountain of source material that I’ve accumulated over the years when studying the war at Charleston, South Carolina.  And September 7 is an important anniversary date.  On that date in 1863 Morris Island was evacuated marking the end of a long Federal campaign to secure that barrier island outside Charleston.  Readers will recall the many posts about that campaign during the sesquicentennial.  I detailed the last three days of the campaign at that time.  On September 5, under protection of a withering bombardment, the Federal sap advanced towards Battery Wagner – just fifty yards short at around midnight.  The following day, Federals prepared to make a final assault, developing footholds just 100 feet from the battery parapet by 10 PM that evening. However, that final assault would not be necessary.  Overnight, the Confederate garrison withdrew, leaving Morris Island to the Federals.

Using that story (detailed in the links above), let’s step back and think of another perspective.  How did the citizens of Charleston, the Confederate “home front” so close to the fighting front, receive this news?

Granted, many could simply look across the harbor at Morris Island and Fort Sumter.  And the sound of cannons likely echoed into the streets at times (not to mention shells fired at Charleston itself, as way of showing the war was not very distant).  And of course there were always rumors and gossip spreading news. But for the “factual” news, Charleston had two primary newspapers – the Charleston Mercury and the Charleston Daily Courier.  I have reason to believe the Courier was a morning paper, while the Mercury was afternoon or evening. Perhaps confirming that cycle, the Mercury was able to break the news of Morris Island’s evacuation on September 7, 1863 (on the second page):

Evacuation of Morris Island

To sum up the events through which we have just passed, Battery Wagner has been subjected during the last three days and nights to the most terrific fire that any earthwork has undergone in all the annals of warfare.  The immense descending force of the enormous Parrott and mortar shells of the enemy had nearly laid the wood work of the bombproofs entirely bare, and had displaced the sand to so great a degree that the sally-ports are almost entirely blocked up. The parallels of the enemy yesterday afternoon had been pushed up to the very mouth of Battery Wagner, and it was no longer possible to distinguish our fire from that of the enemy.  During the entire afternoon the enemy shelled the sand hills in the rear of Battery Wagner (where our wounded lay) very vigorously.

Under these circumstances, and in view of the difficulties of communication with Cumming’s Point, the impossibility of longer holding Morris Island became apparent, and it was determined that strenuous efforts should be made at once to release the brave garrison of the Island, who seemed to be almost within the enemy’s grasp.  This desirable result was accomplished with the most commendable promptitude and success.

At about six o’clock, yesterday afternoon, the orders for the evacuation were delivered to Col. Keitt, commanding our forces on the island. Everything was at once made ready for the abandonment of Batteries Wagner and Gregg.  The dead were buried, and, at nightfall, the wounded were carefully removed in barges to Fort Johnson.  The guns, which, for so many weeks had held the foe at bay, were double-shotted, fired and spiked; the heavier pieces were dismounted, and the carriages rendered worthless. The preliminary preparations being thus completed, the work of embarkation was noiselessly begun, and the brave men of the garrison, in forty barges, were soon gliding from the beach they had held so stoutly and so long.  The evacuation was conducted by Col. Keitt, assisted by Major Bryan A.A.G.; and the success with which what has always been considered one of the most difficult feats of warfare has been performed is worthy of the highest praise.  Batteries Gregg and Wagner had both been carefully mined, with a view to blowing them up.  It was about one o’clock this morning when the last three boats – containing Col. Keitt and a number of his officers – left the island. The slow match was lighted by Captain Huguenin at Wagner, and by Captain Lesesne at Gregg; but, owing to some defect in the fuses, no explosion took place at either fort.

During the evacuation the enemy was not idle. A constant fire of shell was kept up against Wagner, and his howitzer barges were busily plying about this side of Morris Island, to prevent the retreat of our men. But fortunately the night was murky, and all our barges,with the exception of one, containing twelve or fifteen men, passed in safely.

Such is how the residents of Charleston learned of the loss of Morris Island on the evening of September 7, 1863.  Notice the narrative put some, not so unexpected, spin on the events.  In some ways to save face, to be sure.  At the same time to let readers know the Confederate soldiers had fought well and endured much.  A retreat could be justified with honor.

When we look back at this, knowing more so the 360° panorama of history, might offer more details to the story.  Certainly it is significant that US Colored Troops were at the fore of those efforts to take Battery Wagner.  Did the reporters for the Mercury know that? And did the residents of Charleston (white and black) know that?  I have a feeling the deeds of the USCT were indeed known, if not reported.  And we might imply some spin from just that alone.

Regardless, on this day in 1863 the residents of Charleston witnessed a grim turn in the war occurring at the mouth of their harbor.  Not surprisingly, on the second column of the first page ran a story, what we’d call today an op-ed piece, titled, “The Fate of Charleston if Captured.”

(Citation from Charleston Mercury, Monday, September 7, 1863, page 2, column 2.)

 

Fortification Friday: Crows-foot, Small Pickets and Entanglements could put you on the disabled list

A fine point about the functional nature of obstacles – determent value is measured in both the ability to impede and injure.  You might call it a philosophical nuance, in context of the military art, but the distinction is important when considering the application of obstacle types.  In practical terms, recall how the abattis and palisade were employed. These were designed, first and foremost, to slow the attackers’ forward progress, if not bar such entirely, by standing on the line of advance.  Granted, if the obstruction were oriented properly and the attacker approaches with a high rate of speed, there could be injuries.  An abattis is all fun and games until someone looses and eye!  But even with a chevaux-de-frise, with the specified iron points, an attacker would need to do something really… well… awkward to induce a blood-letting injury.  Their chief value lay in slowing or stopping the attacker just by being in the way.

On the other hand, there were obstacles that by nature were designed to draw blood.  One of those was the crows-foot.  Mahan described this obstacle as such:

The crows-foot is formed of four points of iron, each spike about two-and-a-half inches long, and so arranged, that when thrown on the ground one of the points will be upwards.  They are a good obstacle against cavalry, but are seldom used.

Crows-foot are called caltrop among audiences which prefer Latin.  Being an American, I eschew those fancy European terms where possible. Crows-foot sounds more “country.”  Any rate, here’s what we are referring to:

drevnosti_rg_v3_ill130c_-_caltrop

Despite Mahan’s lack of enthusiasm for the crows-foot, the obstacle type remains in use today.  The term is used to describe large concrete and steel obstacles designed to deter armored vehicles.  Or on the beach to stop landing craft.  To some degree it is an “offensive” obstacle… and in both senses of the word.  And for emphasis here, the crows-foot doesn’t actually block movement, it injures so as to debilitate – be that a horse, a man, or, in the modern sense, a vehicle.

The downside to crows-feet was the nature of emplacement.  Being sown, or basically scattered, and not pinned down, the crows-feet were not easily delineated for the defender’s convenience.  An alternative was a simple field expedient:

Boards, with sharp nails driven through them, may supply the place of crows-feet.  The boards are imbedded in the ground, with the sharp points projecting a little above it.

This, readers, is why soldiers need tetanus shots.  Embedded in the ground, the boards could be arranged in a pattern, identified for the defender, but with the nails concealed in the dirt or surface debris.  Junius Wheeler added another alternative in his post-war manual, mentioning the farmer’s harrow.

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Buried upside down, the spikes of the harrow would likewise injure an unwary foot.

We don’t see many references to crows-foot or similar obstructions in the Civil War.  Not to say these were not used, but rather their use was not deliberately noted.  On the other hand, we see many references to small pickets with added entanglements.  We should start by explaining small pickets:

Small Pickets. This obstacle consists of straight branches of tough wood cut into lengths of two-and-a-half, or three feet.  They are driven into the ground, in quincunx order, about twelve inches apart, and project irregularly above it, not more than eighteen inches.

We have Figure 26 from Mahan’s manual to illustrate where the small picket might be used in the ditch:

PlateIIIFig26

Better yet, let us turn to Wheeler’s illustration:

WheelerFig70

The key point to latch on to here is the arrangement.  Unlike the stakes in military pits, these are arranged in close order with the aim to force the attacker to think about where his foot is placed, lest the small picket pierce the foot.  One might say the intent of the small picket was to discourage.  But the threat behind that discouragement was that of a skewered foot.   In function, the small picket was much like the punji stake from the Vietnam War:

punji_stake_pit

So again we see the obstacle could be “offensive” in application.  But in the Civil War context, booby-traps of this nature were not widely used.  The need was for an obstacle that would stop a massed attack, not a trail patrol.  So we read in many accounts of an enhancement to the small pickets:

Interlaced with cords, grape-vines, brambles, prickly shrubs, &c., they form an excellent entanglement.

And in the 1860s, engineers would add one readily available material to that list – wire. Wheeler described the arrangement as, “… made by driving stout stakes into the ground from six to eight feet apart and connecting them by stout wire twisted around the stakes.”  This was an easy obstacle to set up, with materials easily obtained.

WheelerFig67

Fine point of observation here – Mahan’s entanglements were offered as a means to enhance the small pickets.  Basically, the intent was to trip the attacker onto the small pickets.  In Wheeler’s entanglements, which reflected wartime experience, the tripping on the wire itself was sufficient deterrent.  Thus the pickets could be spread out more. An excellent description of such comes from Major Thomas Brooks in his extensive journal of operations on Morris Island in 1863:

This obstacle was made by setting stout stakes, 3½ feet long, 2 feet in the ground and 7 feet apart, in quincunx order, and in three lines.  Around the top of these stakes, from 12 to 18 inches from the ground, in notches prepared to receive it, No. 12 wire was securely and tightly wound, and extended from one to the other.

Brooks reported laying 300 yards of wire entanglement on Morris Island, requiring 13 coils of wire (length unspecified) and an additional 890 feet of loose wire.

The function of Brooks’ entanglement obstacle was to deter by the threat of injury – lest the attacker be bruised and banged up from tripping.  Perhaps a little nicer than Mahan’s little impaling stakes.  But still an obstacle designed to injure.  And of course, with the perspective of history, we recognize Brooks wire entanglement as an evolutionary step towards barbed wire of World War I and later concertina wire. In those forms, we see the obstacle designed not just to trip and bruise but to draw blood.  Either way around, bruised, banged, cut, or impaled, the soldier was thus a casualty… and if lucky just placed on the disabled list.

(Citations from Dennis Hart Mahan, A Treatise on Field Fortifications, New York: John Wiley, 1852, page 48;  Junius B. Wheeler, The Elements of Field Fortifications, New York: D. Van Nostrand, 1882, page 173; OR, Series I, Volume 28, Part I, Serial 46, page 304.)