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:


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:


  • 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:



  • 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:


But some Schenkl on hand:


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

As for small arms:


  • 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.


Captain Magee snoops around the Federal communication lines

Back in September 1863, the Confederates guarding the Charleston & Savannah Railroad foiled a Federal attempt to tap into telegraph lines.  Attempts to “hack” communications were not limited to the boys in blue.  The journal entry from General P.G.T. Beauregard’s headquarters for December 4, 1863 notes Captain J.J. Magee of the 7th South Carolina Cavalry (the Rutledge Mounted Rifles) suggested the Rebels might “steal” messages too:

Capt. J.J. Magee reports having made a reconnaissance of Morgan’s Island, passing through Coosa River from Chisolm’s Island to Saint Helena Sound.  He landed on Morgan’s Island after daylight of the 23d ultimo, and remained until the 24th. Only negroes on this island.  Next visited Pine Island, where he found a line blazed out – probably for extension of telegraph.  On other island is a very high observatory – for signals, probably – and Captain Magee thinks that messages may be intercepted from Thickety Island, distant about 1,000 yards.

I’ve highlighted some of the placenames mentioned on the map below, centered on St. Helena Sound:


The signal station mentioned likely was the Federal tower on Otter Island.  Colonel Edward Serrell provided a drawing of that 142 foot tall tower in a report from January, 1864 (which will be the subject of an upcoming post).


The tower there linked to one on St. Helena Island, at a distance of 8 ½ miles across St. Helena Sound.  To the north was another signal station five miles away on Bay Point Island.  All part of a chain of towers and telegraph lines linking the headquarters on Hilton Head Island to that on Morris Island.  So Magee’s suggestion made a lot of sense.

Magee’s reconnaissance was one of many such conducted in the marshes that lay between the picket lines across the coast of South Carolina.  On December 5, the headquarters’s journal recorded another foray.  Three scouts probed Kiawah Island and brought back three prisoners.  “In recognition of the gallantry of the men who captured the prisoners, the commanding general  was pleased to direct that the prisoners’ horses, &c., should be turned over to the captors.”  That’s one way to get volunteers for the next dangerous scouting expedition.

Captain Magee continued to render excellent service scouting the marshes.  But in May 1864, his service came to an end.  By that time the 7th South Carolina Cavalry was serving in Virginia.  I have not found the particulars, but Magee was mortally wounded in the battle of Old Church, fought on May 30.

Magee, like many other soldiers Federal and Confederate in South Carolina, was just months away from being pulled into the vortex of war that was Virginia.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 28, Part I, Serial 46, pages 174-5.)

Thanksgiving Day 1863 outside Charleston

By some measure, the first “official” Thanksgiving occurred in 1863.  In accordance with a proclamation by President Abraham Lincoln, the holiday fell on the last Thursday of November.   This first official national observance took place on November 26.  The date did not pass without notice within the ranks of Federal troops on Morris and Folly Islands, or other places in the Department of the South.

With several New England regiments on hand, traditions ran strong.  And those traditions brought thoughts of home, even with the spartan conditions of the combat zone.  The 3rd New Hampshire’s diarist recorded:

Thanksgiving Day arrived, 26 Nov. How the time had sped!  Would we ever go home? Would we be in New Hampshire next Thanksgiving? We hoped so; and long before that, too.  The day opened cool. Beans for breakfast! How’s that, ye homestayers? Did ye get better in New Hampshire?  The bakery did its part, and yielded us soft bread; and we had hard-tack pudding, duff, etc., for dinner.  Everything on the island was paraded at :30 p.m., the Third New Hampshire holding the place of honor, on the right…. The procession was by regiment closed in mass, and in close columns by brigades, and was headed by the Fourth New Hampshire Band.  The Band played “Old Hundred” as Gen. Terry and Staff rode up. Then Chaplain Willis of the Seventh New Hampshire prayed. How we wished our own Chaplain had been present to participate! The Band played “Pleyel’s Hymn.” Benediction and dismissal followed.  The parade was an excellent one, and all felt well satisfied with it.  Capt. Randlett gave a dinner to the regiment, and the colored troops had a greased pole.  Pay-rolls were being signed that day.

Other New Englanders were less festive.  The 3rd Rhode Island Heavy Artillery’s men on the north end of Morris Island did not hold any parades or listen to much music:

Thanksgiving Day, but no home-circle, no family gatherings, no dear church worship, no overflowing store, no ample table, no domestic gratulations and sweet reunions – only the tented field, the fiery siege, the vigilant watch, the privations, severities and perils of war; but thankful we all were that we had a country too noble to be sacrificed to slavery, and that we had hearts to defend it.

The 127th New York mixed in some other activities with Thanksgiving:

The best shots in the regiment at 2 p.m. indulged in target shooting for cash prizes of $10.00, $7.00, $5.00, etc., and also for a $9.00 pair of boots, and some excellent shooting was done.  Private Shotwell, of F, ranking as the best shot.  This, with the issue of whiskey and quinine ration after supper, constituted the men’s observance of the day.

Yes, one might say Private Shotwell was destined to shoot well.

Recently departed from Morris Island, the 7th Connecticut Infantry celebrated on St. Helena Island.  The day started cold but turned pleasant by noon.  After an address by the regimental commander Colonel Joseph Hawley, reading of the President’s proclamation, and a sermon by the chaplain, the regiment broke into companies for dinner.

There were soups, roast pig, roast beef, boiled salt beef, all sorts of vegetables and fruit, puddings and coffee.  Then came games, running, leaping, sack and wheel-barrow races, a boat race for prizes and music by the regimental band.

Further south, the 97th Pennsylvania at Fernandina, Florida observed the holiday along with some of the local civilians.  The proceedings took somewhat a patriotic flavor:

The troops and citizens were assembled, at 10 a.m., in front of the Baptist Church, where a platform had been erected…. The services were opened by introductory remarks, and followed by an appropriate prayer, by Rev. William Kennedy, of the United States Christian Commission. Music by the string band, recently organized, at Fort Clinch, principally by the members of Company A and other companies. Song, “America,” sung by the ladies of the assemblage. Reading proclamation and accompanying remarks…. Song, “Star Spangled Banner.” Remarks, by Edward Cavendy, acting volunteer Lieutenant, commanding gunboat Flambeau. … Song “Red, White and Blue.” …. Song “Hail Columbia.” … Song “Old Hundred.”  Closing remarks and benediction, by Rev. Mr. Beard, of the U.S. Christian Commission.  The exercises were most interesting.  All the remarks were well timed and forcibly eloquent and enthusiastically received by the assembly.  During the proceedings, the best order prevailed.  The string band, which interspersed the exercises, also gave some beautiful performances in the afternoon, at Col. Guss’ head-quarters, and several serenades in the evening.

Thus the third Thanksgiving Day of the Civil War passed for the men of the Department of the South.

(Citations from Daniel Eldredge, The Third New Hampshire and All About It, Boston: E.B. Stillings and Company, 1893, page 409-10; 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 204; Franklin McGrath, The History of the 127th New York Volunteers “Monitors”, unpublished, page 82; Stephen Walkley, History of the Seventh Connecticut Volunteer Infantry, not published, page 116; Isaiah Price, The History of the Ninety-Seventh Regiment Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry during the War of the Rebellion, 1861-65, Philadelphia, 1875, page 222.)