Building up the fifth parallel for the final push on Battery Wagner

For August 30, 1863, Major Thomas Brooks offered a short entry in his journal:

The unfinished work of yesterday is in progress to-day. As the moon shines brightly to-night, and the enemy are firing constantly, no attempt was made to advance.

Lieutenant-Colonel Purviance, commanding Eighty-fifth Pennsylvania Volunteers, was killed during this tour of duty as commander of the special guard of the advanced trenches, by one of our own shells, which exploded prematurely.

Just a few days earlier, Brooks lamented, because of the inability to advance the siege lines. Now the operation appeared to be in a rut again. Having seized the ridge and opened the fifth parallel just a few hundred yards from Battery Wagner, the engineers encountered a new problem – moonlight. A full moon phase passed during the nights after the assault on the ridge:

  • August 27-28: 98% illumination. Moon rise 5:52 p.m. Set 5:31 a.m.
  • August 28-29: 100% illumination. Moon rise 6:31 p.m. Set 6:40 a.m.
  • August 29-30: 99% illumination. Moon rise 7:09 p.m. Set 7:47 a.m.
  • August 30-31: 95% illumination. Moon rise 7:47 p.m. Set 8:52 a.m.

While this allowed the Federals to see better during night operations, the light gave the Confederates a better view of the sap and any movement along the line. On the night of August 29, a well placed shell fired from Battery Wagner killed six in the advanced trenches. The advance of the siege lines would wait until darker nights.

While the Federals waited on the moon, they improved and expanded the fifth parallel.


This parallel offered wider spaces behind tall parapets. This became both staging point and battery. On the far left of the line, upon the ridge, a redan with a Billinghurst-Requa gun covered the front of the line. Along the main line of the parallel was a bomb-proof service magazine, a splinter-proof depot for the engineers, another splinter-proof shelter, and a large bomb-proof magazine. The profile of the later was recorded as line s-s’:


This magazine supported the main armament of the fifth parallel – mortars.  Four 10-inch siege mortars went on the center of the parallel. On the far right were three (some say four) 24-pdr coehorn mortars. Later three 10-inch siege mortars went into the left of the parallel. The siege mortars used the same platforms Brooks perfected on the earlier parallels. The proximity of these mortars to the target reduced the risk of friendly fire casualties.

Behind those mortar positions, the engineers placed another parapet. This allowed the infantry to move through the parallel without disturbing the mortar crews… or another way of looking at it, allowed them to avoid the dangerous concentration of gunpowder and shells. Such a “bypass” was not built on other sections of the line and reflected the need to rapidly move troops forward in support of a final rush towards the Confederate works.

On the far right, a large fascine parapet anchored the line on the beach. The structure was ten fascines wide and initially three high. The placement of the fascines allowed crews to move out onto the beach then into position to start the next siege approach line. Eventually another Billinghurst-Requa would occupy a position in that vicinity. But for the time being, the Federals were content to simply have the opening fortified in preparation for the next phase.

While not denoting major advances of the siege lines, Brooks’ report on August 30 was not the sullen entry recorded on the 25th. The Federals were compressing a coil of men and equipment. All they needed was a few dark nights to press forward towards their objective.

(Citation from OR, Series I, Volume 28, Part I, Serial 46, page 298.)

Torpedoes gave “considerable trouble and anxiety” on Morris Island

Following the successful assault on August 26, 1863 and establishment of the fifth parallel, the Federal troops encountered different sort of weapon employed by the Confederates in defense of Battery Wagner. Major Thomas Brooks recorded this entry in his journal from August 26:

On [the fifth parallel] the first torpedoes were found. One exploded, throwing a corporal of the [Third] U.S. Colored Troops, of the fatigue detail, 25 yards, and depositing him, entirely naked, with his arm resting on the plunger of another torpedo, which facts gave rise, on his being discovered next morning, to the absurd story that the enemy had tied him to the torpedo as a decoy. I was standing 20 yards from him at the time of the explosion, and Captain Walker much nearer. Both supposed that it was a shell from the enemy until late in the night, when other torpedoes were found.

As no torpedoes were recorded during the July assaults on Battery Wagner, these devices were probably setup while the Federals prepared the early parallels in late July and early August. Brooks noted the encounter with the weapon on the grounds just in front of the battery disclosed an unappreciated Confederate defensive tactic.

The discovery of these torpedoes explains what has been, to me, one of the greatest mysteries in the defense of Wagner, i.e., the fact that no material obstacle of any amount could be discovered in front of the work, not even after our two almost successful assaults. Torpedoes were the substitute.

Brooks recorded the locations of these torpedoes, with meticulous detail, on the siege line map:


I’ve pulled part of the map legend out for ease of reference, in the red box above the compass line. Oblong red “ticks” are torpedoes made from casks. The red circles are the torpedoes made from shells.

Brooks described three types of torpedoes encountered. One arrangement used a 24-pounder shell. The shell had an enlarged fuse protruding from the fuse hole. The fuse, with a ball of explosive compound on top, sat in wooden plug which reached down into the bursting charge. On top of this shell, the Confederates placed a tin box. Any pressure on the box would trigger the fuse and explode the shell. Federals uncovered thirty of these, mostly in front of the left face of Battery Wagner (looking from the Federal perspective).

Another similar type used a 15-inch shell in a similar arrangement, but with a metal fuse (see below). Brooks recorded three of this type, and speculated the shells were unexploded naval ordnance.

The most common type of torpedo was made from a ten gallon keg. On each end was a spacer, forming a float. That feature suggested the keg torpedoes were intended for use against ships instead of on land.


The Confederates buried these keg torpedoes with only the fuse sticking above ground. They laid boards over the fuses so that any weight would trigger the torpedo.


Another arrangement for the trigger was a cap with three arms, seen in the figure below:


The metal fuse, used on both the keg and 15-inch shell torpedoes, had a hollow plug as its main body. When triggered, the plunger pressed against a paper tube filled with explosive material and thus ignited the powder in the keg. When setting the torpedo, a wire threaded into the plunger prevented premature explosions.


To keep out water, a stuffing-box nut sealed off the gap between the plunger and the tube. The hollow tube threaded into a collar in the keg, with a washer sealing the gap between.

Brooks indicated Confederates planted these keg torpedoes in the area on the right, or beach, side of the approaches. With the speed of the advance, eight torpedoes were discovered inside the Federal lines on August 27. At first the Federals tried to pull the torpedoes out of the way by use of ropes. But this often set them off in uncontrolled explosions. A second method was to have sharpshooters fire on the plungers. But this was found ineffective, leaving the plungers broken but the torpedo intact. The most practical means to disarm the torpedo was by boring a hole in the wooden casing, then pouring water to render the powder inert. Brooks noted thirty were dealt with in that manner. One such disarmed torpedo appeared in the photo of the command bombproof:

However the torpedoes were also a proverbial “two edge sword.” Recall the Confederate picket line was reluctant to retreat from their rifle pits on August 26, and surrendered instead of skipping through the torpedoes. Those same torpedoes continued to hinder both attacker and defender:

These torpedoes give us considerable trouble and anxiety, but they are an excellent obstacle to prevent a sortie by the enemy, who are very much afraid of them.

All told, the Federals triggered six torpedoes and suffered a dozen casualties from the explosions. Today we would call these “improvised explosive devices.” The modern approach would involve techniques to identify the device, neutralize it, and to mitigate its effects if triggered. I’d submit the Federals did all three of those on Morris Island in August 1863. Perhaps not with the high end technology which we use today, but none-the-less effective for that time.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 28, Part I, Serial 46, pages 296-7 and 310-2.)

Overwhelming the Ridge: The fifth parallel at 240 yards from Battery Wagner

The failure to establish a line on “the ridge” did not set well among the Federals directing the siege lines on Morris Island on August 25, 1863.  On the barrier island a sand dune which might be inconsequential on any other battlefields now took on the prominence of a major mountain.  Without the ridge, the siege lines were stalled.  Again, turning to the map provided by Colonel Edward Serrell, the ridge was at a particular point where the marsh cut into the island and constricted any forward movement.


After being pushed back from the ridge on August 21, Major Thomas Brooks directed his subordinates to construct a redan on the left end of the fourth parallel, where the ruins of the McMillian house stood on a rise of sand.  The Federals began conversion of the cistern found in the ruins into a bombproof.  The redan on the left included a Billinghurst-Requa gun. That was one of three moved up to the fourth parallel.  Lieutenant J.S. Baldwin built a parapet of gabions over a dike leading to St. Vincent’s Creek, to provide some security for the exposed Federal left.  The profile of that work follows the line r-r’ on the map.


Early attempts to advance the sap roller met grapeshot and canister from Battery Wagner.  That line terminated not far from where it started near the redan.

On August 25, the Federals attempted to blast the Confederates off the ridge.  The engineers built positions for three Coehorn mortars and a bombproof and a boat howitzer, labeled a 30-pdr but likely a 24-pdr.  Ensign James Wallace of the Navy commanded the boat howitzer, giving this operation “joint” credit, for those of you operating under the Goldwater-Nichols Act.  The positions of the mortars and the howitzer actually enfiladed the ridge.  Supporting this small bombardment, compared to others on Morris Island, were four 8-inch mortars from the third parallel.


The bombardment started at 5:30 p.m. but did not deliver any significant gains.  Confederate counter-battery fire from Battery Wagner and all the way from James Island proved formidable.  A planned infantry assault to follow the barrage failed to move.  Confederate reinforcements to the ridge strengthened their hold after dusk.

After these failures, on August 26 Brigadier-General Quincy Gillmore turned to the infantry.  Over some of the same ground which the July 11 and July 18 assaults had crossed in their race for Battery Wagner, he ordered General Alfred Terry, commanding the division on Morris Island, to send in another attack.  This time the objective was closer, with limited expectations.  Preceding the infantry assault, a concentrated bombardment kept the guns in Wagner silent and the heads of Confederate sharpshooters down. Brooks recorded the results:

The general commanding ordered General Terry to take and hold the ridge, and placed the resources of the command at his disposal for that purpose. It was accomplished at 6.30 p.m., by a brilliant charge of the Twenty-fourth Massachusetts Volunteers, Col. Francis A. Osborn commanding, supported by the Third New Hampshire Volunteers, Captain Randlett commanding. Sixty-seven prisoners were captured. They were afraid to retire on account of their own torpedoes, as they informed us, and had too little time, even if there had been no torpedoes. No works, excepting rude rifle-pits in the excellent natural cover afforded by the ridge, were found. Sand-bags of a superior quality had been freely used for loop-holes and traverses.

From the Confederate perspective Colonel George Harrison, commanding Battery Wagner, related:

About the middle of this afternoon, the enemy’s fire on this place and Battery Gregg became quite warm, and about an hour before sunset they concentrated their whole fire on this work and our rifle-pits in front. This fire was not only exceedingly rapid, but very accurate, the enemy using every variety of projectiles. This fire continued about half an hour, when I discovered that my pickets had opened from the rifle-pits. This was immediately followed by volley after volley of musketry for about five minutes, when it partially ceased. As soon as it commenced, however, I ordered the night pickets, consisting of 175 men, to form immediately to march to the support of the pits (this picket generally relieves and supports the pits at dark, it was then not yet sundown). I soon discovered that the partial cessation of musketry above alluded to was owing to the fact that the enemy had overwhelmed and captured a portion of our pits to the right, being distant from theirs only about 30 yards. Our pits on the left held out but a few moments longer; in fact, in ten minutes from the fire of the first musketry the enemy were in possession of our pits. From two officers and a number of men who escaped from the rifle-pits, I ascertained that the enemy’s attacking party were at least 1,500 men, while our picket consisted of 86 men from the Sixty-first North Carolina Troops, under command of First Lieut. William Ramsey, who was among those who made their escape.

The volleys reported by Colonel Harrison were actually the Billinghurst-Requa guns opening up to cover the assault.  The action was certainly not a textbook affair.  Hardee’s Tactics, nor Scott’s for what it is worth, provided a “school” for such maneuvers.

The Federals immediately started building a trench line across the ridge to form the fifth parallel.  The line ran 140 yards from the beach to the marsh.  “In this work, the Twenty-fourth Massachusetts Volunteers proved themselves as efficient in the use of the shovel as they had in that of the bayonet a few moments before,” wrote Brooks.  Even captured Confederates were ordered to help dig out the line. Improvements started that night included Requa positions on both ends of the line.  The following day came approval to construct siege mortar positions in the fifth parallel so as to avoid needless firing over the heads of the advanced parties.  A bombproof for those mortars was recorded with profile s-s’ on Brooks’ map.


The engineers also built approaches connecting the fourth and fifth parallels using the flying sap method that night.  Much of this work, under the direction of Lieutenant Charles Wilcken, was done by the 3rd USCT.  One boyaux from started from the redan on the left of the fourth parallel.  The profile of that trench was recorded along the line of t-t’ on Brooks’ map:


Note the banquette step in the trench. Like others in the advanced works, this was a “keep.”

The other boyaux extending from the right of the fourth parallel contended with water from the tides.  It’s profile was the line of o-o’ on the map.


This trench used a ditch on the right side of the advance.  Its angle, as it approached the ridge, avoided any enfilading from both Battery Wagner or James Island.

The evening assault and night work established the last parallel the Federals would need on the approach to Battery Wagner.  Mortars now lay within easy reach of the Confederate works.  The Federal siege lines were accomplishing what two open assaults had not – push the Confederates off Morris Island.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 28, Part I, Serial 46, pages 296-7 and 499-500.)

“The saddest day of the siege” of Battery Wagner

Writing about the operations outside Charleston is a daunting task.  There’s simply too many topics to touch upon.  I might spend days with nothing more on the blog than posts about Morris Island – which is what I’ve done for the last month or more!

Let me start by saying that yes, the “first bombardment” of Fort Sumter ended on August 23.  But then let me say that the bombardment of Fort Sumter didn’t end that day.  It only slacked.  From the journal entries kept by Colonel Alfred Rhett in Fort Sumter, while clearly the weight of projectiles falling on Fort Sumter dropped down, the Federals were not ignoring the fort:

  • August 24 – 150 fired, 112 hits outside, 14 hits inside, 24 missed.
  • August 25 – 175 fired, 62 hits outside, 36 hits inside, 77 missed.
  • August 26 – 130 fired, 45 hits outside, 45 hits inside, 40 missed.
  • August 27 – 4 fired, all missed.
  • August 28 – 6 fired, 3 hits outside, 3 missed.
  • August 29 – No firing.
  • August 30 – 634 fired, 322 hits outside, 168 hits inside, 144 missed.
  • August 31 – 56 fired, 34 hits outside, 5 hits inside, 17 missed.
  • September 1 – 382 fired, 166 hits outside, 95 hits inside, 121 missed.
  • September 2 – 38 fired, 12 hits outside, 9 hits inside, 17 missed.

Both Federal and Confederate accounts, however, consider August 17-23 as the “first bombardment of Fort Sumter” phase, while that from August 24 forward marked a period of focus on Battery Wagner.  The surge of fire on August 30? For several days Rear-Admiral John Dahlgren prepared to make the long desired run into Charleston harbor.  For several days bad weather, reports of guns remounted on Fort Sumter, poor coordination, and delays just getting all the pieces together kept that sortie in check.  Finally set for the morning of August 31, the Army directed shots to break up the week’s worth of repairs done by Rhett’s men.  However, the weather again delayed the planned ironclad attack.

If Fort Sumter enjoyed a noisy “slackening” of fires from the Federal guns, Battery Wagner received the full wrath of those guns.  Sensing a point of diminishing returns with continued punishment of Fort Sumter, Gillmore made a tactical shift starting on August 24.  Starting that day, Federal batteries focused fires to keep the guns in Battery Wagner silent and, with some of the larger guns, attempt to breach the bomb-proofs providing shelter to the Confederates.

To really make this work, Gillmore needed the siege mortars much closer to the Confederate works.  But when the positioning of the fourth parallel fell a bit short of the desired line, the Federals spent several days just gaining leverage.  On the ground, or shall I say beach, the Federals faced a cross fire as they tried to move their siege lines forward.  With every move of the sap, fires from Battery Wagner, Battery Gregg, James Island, and occasionally even a defiant Fort Sumter focused on the work details. In his journal, Major Thomas Brooks lamented on August 25:

This has been to me the saddest day of the siege.  Less has been done in existing works than on any other; no advance has been made, nor does any seem possible.  Something besides spades and sharpshooters will have to be tried.  The troops seem to be resting from the labor and excitement of demolishing Sumter, and do not yet take much interest in the operations against Wagner.

Although on the calendar, Brooks and his compatriots were past the “dog days” of summer, I doubt that helped much with the spirits.  The break that Brooks looked for came on August 26, and was indeed something more than spades and sharpshooters.  I’ll take that up tomorrow.

For now, I want to consider the difference between this drawing:


And this photo:


And perhaps how that “slackening” fire listed above might explain any discrepancies, while at the same time helping to better determine when the photo was taken.

(Citations and sources:  OR, Series I, Volume 28, Part I, Serial 46, pages 26, 295, and 616-21.)

Dantzler’s counterattack added four day delay to siege of Battery Wagner

A few days ago while discussing the establishment of the fourth parallel against Battery Wagner, I brought up the infantry fighting between the sand ridge, held by the Confederates, and the ruins of the McMillian house. Colonel Edward Serrell depicted that particular section of the battlefield with this plate in his report:


The fourth parallel is in the middle of the diagram – a crooked line running from the beach up to a slight rise where the McMillian house had stood. To the right is the sand ridge used by the Confederates pickets. There are some, being gracious, dependencies between that diagram and that of Major Thomas Brooks’ map of the siege operations:


Brooks’ map adds the fifth parallel and other works which were still “future” advances at this moment 150 years ago (August 23, 1863). Notice on the left side of the fifth parallel, in the “knuckle” of the line, there’s an upside down annotation “the ridge” indicating the location of that feature used by the Confederates. Also notice, in black lettering up on the left end of the fourth parallel, “cistern and ruins of house.” On the night of August 20-21, those were some of the most valuable real estate on Morris Island.

Focusing in on the ground between the fourth and fifth parallel, let me add some call outs:


You see “the ridge” a bit clearer here. That was the location the Federals wanted the fourth parallel to stand. The sand ridge would offer protection for mortars advanced towards the ultimate objective. A parallel at that point would also provide a foothold near the narrowest portion of Morris Island, making an idea line to close off any Confederate spoiling attack. In short, that was, relative to Morris Island, damn good ground.

But the morning of August 21, the the sappers had not cleared to the ruins of the McMillian house. Artillery firing from Battery Wagner and sharpshooters on the ridge halted the engineers in the early hours of the day. However the balance shifted somewhat after the sun rose and artillery on the Federal siege lines were able to counter Battery Wagner. Later in the day the USS New Ironsides and other ships were able to silence, for the time being, Battery Wagner. With the Confederates on their heels, Colonel George B. Dandy’s 100th New York moved forward in an attempt to gain the ridge. Although the New Yorkers stalled short of the ridge, they held ground from which the Federals might press the pickets back.

The presence of an infantry force just 20 yards from Battery Wagner’s picket line was a threat to the main Confederate defense. A counter-attack was in order. And it was the 20th South Carolina Infantry, under Lieutenant-Colonel Olin M. Dantzler, which had just arrived as part of a troop rotation, which delivered that counterattack on the night of August 21. In a report posted the following day, Brigadier-General Johnson Hagood described the action:

Last night, as briefly mentioned in yesterday’s journal, an attempt was made to seize by assault our rifle-pits, and the enemy succeeded in establishing themselves within 20 yards of them before we could re-enforce our men. The re-enforcements, however, under Lieut. Col. O. M. Dantzler, Twentieth Regiment South Carolina Volunteers, drove their line back, and held nearly our original vedette stations during the night. It is but simple justice to mention the decision and promptitude with which Colonel Dantzler accomplished his purpose, as well as to acknowledge the unfailing zeal and gallantry with which he has served at this post during his whole tour of duty here. The colonel was shot through the breast of his coat while pushing forward his vedettes.

It was just a small attack in the middle of a larger campaign. But it had some significant implications.

This brief, sharp action pushed the Federals back to a line anchored on the left at the ruins of the McMillian House. Taking account of the situation, Brooks decided to make the best of it and build the fourth parallel there instead of the intended location. On the other side, Hagood likewise lamented the effort against those advancing siege lines was not enough:

The enemy’s sap was advanced during last night to McMillan’s burned house, and I regret to say that our fire to-day appears to have produced no other effect than to prevent much visible progress being made either forward or in completion of last night’s work. It was in an imperfect state, and made of gabions and sand-bags, and I had hoped by our fire to have knocked so much of it to pieces.

However, Dantzler’s assault did have a larger impact than Hagood appreciated at that moment. For the next four days, the Federals tried mortar fire, artillery fire, and infantry approaches. Finally on August 26, they would take the ridge by direct assault. Four full days (and change) behind original intentions.

The fighting on Morris Island was measured in short yardage at this point. How many yards in a day? Four days? Contesting control of a ridge. Remind you of any other place and time?

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 28, Part I, Serial 46, page 440.)

150 years ago: Fourth parallel at 350 yards from Battery Wagner

August was a busy month on Morris Island, 150 years ago. And the busiest days occurred from August 17 through 23 with the simultaneous bombardment of Fort Sumter, advance of the siege lines against Battery Wagner, and the little matter of a Parrott Gun firing on Charleston. Add in Confederate attempt to sink the USS New Ironsides and the week’s worth of activity becomes one of the most interesting of the war. Not to be outdone by the actions of man, a gale blew in from the Atlantic Ocean on August 18 and continued through the 21st. What we would refer to as a “storm surge” in combination with a spring tide filled the trenches of the parallels and boyaux with water. The storm also took out the surf battery’s parapet, and forced the temporary removal of the howitzers. The aim of the heavy Parrott guns was not significantly affected by the storm’s winds, so the big guns continued their work. However the same could not be said for the work advancing the siege lines towards Battery Wagner.

After the construction of the third parallel earlier in August, Brigadier-General Quincy Gillmore suspended the advance of more parallels pending the bombardment of Fort Sumter. On the night of August 18, Gillmore ordered the engineers to resume the advance, despite the weather. Major Thomas Brooks recorded minimal work was completed that night:

… the trench of this parallel was cleared out and widened, the parapet strengthened, and the debouch made. A Requa battery was placed in position on the extreme left of the third parallel, to enfilade the front of the parapet of the proposed sap. Sap-rollers and sapping tools were carried forward. The extreme high tide, requiring the men to work in mud and water, greatly interfered with all these operations.

The immediate objective of the next parallel was to reach past a set of fingers extending from the marshes, which neared the beach at several points. This was the narrowest section of Morris Island, and which had proved so difficult to traverse in the July assaults on Battery Wagner. Accordingly the engineers approached with careful deliberation and caution. Adding to the difficulty were the presence of Confederate sharpshooters on a sand ridge in front of Battery Wagner. Referencing the map below, provided by Colonel Edward Serrell in his report, the sand ridge is to the right (however, disregard the location of the fourth parallel for the moment).


The plan was to run the sap out from the third parallel past those marsh fingers. Then construct a parallel running from the beach across to the marshes. Such would put the next parallel within 200 yards of Battery Wagner. The work resumed in the early morning hours of August 19:

This morning at 2 o’clock, the water having so subsided as to render it possible, the full sap was started from the point above indicated, by Captain [Joseph] Walker, with a sapping brigade, consisting of 10 men from his own company (I, New York Volunteer Engineers). He had executed 60 feet at 8 a.m., and was then relieved by Captain [John L.] Suess, with a sapping brigade from his company (B), same regiment, who completed 70 feet of approach during the day. The enemy’s sharpshooters opened on the head of the sap as soon as they observed its progress in the morning, and fired at it all day. One casualty occurred among the sappers, a slight wound from the explosion of a shell. Captain Walker again took the advance this night, and, by means of the flying sap, executed about 160 yards of approach, leaving the sap-roller at daybreak in position several yards in advance of our picket line.

The advance here being measured in yards, with the Federals then about 200 yards closer to Battery Wagner, but without a parallel. As indicated by Brooks, the sapping details worked in shifts, and cycled through rest periods similar to those of the men in the breaching batteries. With that work ever so close to Confederate lines, Brooks made arrangements for an advanced guard, consisting of a full regiment of infantry, positioned in the forward trenches of the third parallel (and recall the “keeps” of that trench line).

On the morning of August 20, a detail under Lieutenant Charles Wilcken took over the work on the sap. The work proceeded slowly during the day. Three of the detail were injured. By mid day, Captain Suess’ detachment took up the work. Finally around six that evening, Lieutenant Charles Parsons brought a fresh detail into the trenches. Six hour shifts during daylight hours, with longer runs at night.

Captain Walker’s detail returned to the sap at 3:30 am on August 21,

… at which time the enemy were directing a heavy fire of grape and canister upon it, which fire ceased before daylight. This permitted him to place a line of gabions on the reverse side of the trench, to shield the sappers from the enemy’s sharpshooters, who, it was feared, would occupy the cover furnished by the old ruins to the front and head of the sap.

At that point, the engineers could not move farther forward. Artillery fire from Battery Wagner and sharpshooters on the ridge kept the sappers pinned down. When Wilcken’s crew took over duties, he was forced to retire. A flag of truce went out at 11:30, but by noon hostilities resumed.

In response to this resistance, the Navy brought up the USS New Ironsides and several gunboats to fire on Battery Wagner. Likewise the 30-pdr Parrotts and field guns in the Federal batteries fired in support of the sappers. General Alfred Terry ordered up the 100th New York Infantry, under Colonel George B. Dandy, from the keeps of the third parallel to conduct an evening assault on the Confederates on the ridge. Despite several attempts and the loss of six men, the New Yorkers could not gain the ridge.

Brooks considered the situation that night and determined to at least secure what was gained:

I examined the ground, and concluded to establish a fourth parallel, in order to secure possession of the ruins on the elevated ground to the left, from which the enemy’s sharpshooters had long given us so much annoyance, and to increase our front preparatory to another attempt to take the ridge. This parallel, comprising a linear development of 300 yards, was opened from the beach to the marsh, close along the heels of our outposts (its right being 350 yards from Wagner), by Captain Suess. He reports most part of the work was done by means of the flying sap, the engineers placing the gabions and the negro troops (Third Regiment United States Colored) digging the trench. The part on the left, near the ruins, being constantly swept by the enemy’s musketry fire, was performed by the full sap; not, however, using the sap-roller, as a flank fire only had to be provided against. The details for this advanced work this night were 100 infantry and 15 engineers.

The resulting trench lines appear on Brooks map of the approaches to Battery Wagner (here with the third and fifth parallels for context):


I’ll save the discussion of the Requa and coehorns for later. But notice the fourth parallel fit between two of the marsh fingers. At first glance, this might seem a bad position. But the extent of 300 yards of trenches allowed more room to maneuver for the Federals.

Brooks offered two profiles of the trenches on the fourth parallel. The line m-m’ was across the approach boyaux just behind the parallel. Here the engineers used a barrel to help form a step up to the banquette.


Profile n-n’ was along the actual parallel trench. Here the engineers used gabions to raise the height of the works and allow the infantry to better defend the line.


Notice that in both profiles the trench’s ditch was wide enough to accommodate more troops, equipment, and weapons.

I’ve run a bit long in the description of the fourth parallel. But much of that was a “setup” of sorts. The take away here was how the action at the point of advance evolved into something which had similarities to … say… actions in the Central Pacific during World War II. An assault force worked foot by foot against an entrenched enemy, supported by heavy artillery and naval gunfire. Covering fire from the Billinghurst-Requa “machine-guns.” No fancy maneuvers to consider. Close quarters night actions. Spade, musket, and bayonet. And the fighting along the fourth parallel was just starting as August 22 dawned. The Confederates could not let this advance could not go uncontested.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 28, Part I, Serial 46, pages 288-290.)

The Wiard Guns on Morris Island: More field guns on the second parallel

In the earlier post, I pointed out that looking at the details in this photo showing Napoleon guns on the second parallel on Morris Island:


We see this:


And this (full size so you can pick out the details):


Notice the maneuvering handspike on the lower left. Those details show up on the right hand side of this photo:


Here’s another view of that ammunition chest:


The accouterments hanging on the earthworks in front of the wheel:


Having established the Wiards position on the second parallel as just to the left of the Napoleons, let’s look at the guns themselves. A great study of the Wiard Guns and their advanced, if non-standard, carriages.


For those unfamiliar, the trail of the carriage meets the axle below and not on top as with a standard Army field carriage. The placement of the trunnions on a high, arching cheek allowed for greater elevation – up to 35°. The rear sight hangs from a seat on the back of the breech.

The crew is loading the other gun in the pair. From this angle, we also see the wedges, a feature that counteracted shrinkage of the wooden wheel.


The gun crew wears an assortment of hats. According to the photo caption, these fellows were part of Lieutenant Paul Berchmire’s Battery F, 3rd New York Light Artillery. Aside from the hats, there’s a bit of contrast among those men.


Some look like they have yet to shave for the first time. Others seem to have avoided razors for years.

However, I’d point out my placement of these two photographs stands at odds with this photograph:


The right pair of howitzers seen here occupy positions used by those Wiard guns in the photo above. See, again, the cut from Major Thomas Brooks’ map, focusing on the “How. Battery” in front of Battery Brown:


But I think we are looking at the same section of the second parallel, but at different times. Brooks’ journal entry for August 6, 1863 provides a clue:

Made repairs in defensive howitzer battery on the right of second parallel. Two Wiard field guns now in position there have proven very destructive to platforms and embrasures; more so than any field guns which have come under my observation.

Perhaps some of the debris seen in the howitzer battery photo was the result of those “destructive” Wiards.


At any rate, if my figuring is correct, when the engineers first established the second parallel, two Napoleons and two Wiards anchored the line on the right. Later the Napoleons went to positions further to the left, as indicated on Brooks’ map. The Wiards likewise moved to the left, with one going on the far side of Battery Kearny. That Wiard gun position had embrasures for firing on both Battery Wagner and Battery Gregg – an arrangement not seen in the Wiard gun photo above.

So three photos. Two taken early in the siege. One taken later. All of the same general area.

Photo credits: Hagley Museum and Library collection of Haas & Peale photographs, ID Number 71MSS918_021.tif, 71MSS918_014.tif, and 71MSS918_020.tif.

(Citation from OR Series I, Volume 28, Part I, Serial 46, page 282.)