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.


150 Years Ago: Fort Pulaski Isolated

On this day (February 13) in 1862, a Federal battery along the Savannah River fired upon a Confederate steamer Ida.  While not stopping the steamer, the presence of the batteries prevented any further resupply of Fort Pulaski.  This course of events set the stage for a deliberate siege and reduction of the fort two months later.

As mentioned earlier, plans to isolate and reduce Fort Pulaski formed in December 1861.  Throughout December, General Thomas W. Sherman directed expeditions, supervised by his chief engineer General Quincy Gilmore, to determine what approaches could be used through the marshes in order to close with Fort Pulaski. At the same time, the Navy conducted similar reconnaissances of the inlets and creeks.

Extending from newly acquired bases at Port Royal and Hilton Head, the Federals established forward staging areas on Daufuskie Island just north of the Savannah River’s mouth.  The New River, which curls around the south end of that island, connected to Wright’s River by way of Wall’s Cut.  Wright’s River connected to Mud River, which emptied into the Savannah River above and behind Fort Pulaski.  Light craft could navigate through this maze of tidal creeks to allow passage of men and cannons.

After several reconnaissances, Federal engineers found small sections of ground which, although surrounded by marsh and barely above the high tide mark, could support batteries.  One point selected was Venus Point on Jones Island, along the north channel of the Savannah.  The other was on Bird Island in the middle of the river but covering the south channel.  Well placed cannon at those locations would seal off Fort Pulaski from resupply.  But this was easier said that done.

First the engineers had to clear obstructions left by the Confederates in Wall’s Cut.  Engineers along with a detachment from the 48th New York Infantry worked through the first half of January to clear sunken hulks and pilings to clear the cut.  Although cleared by January 14, delays assembling expedition prevented exploitation of this passage until January 28.  Then a joint Army-Navy expedition moved down the 12 mile winding course towards the Savannah River.

The expedition, commanded by General Egbert Viele, consisted of the 48th New York and two companies of the 3rd Rhode Island Heavy Artillery.  Commander John Rodgers commanded a force of gunboats which escorted steamers transporting the army.  The naval aspects of this operation are interesting on their own, involving brushes with Confederate gunboats, and are well summarized by Rob in a post at the Civil War Navy Sesquicentennial site.  The objective was to place twenty guns – two 8-inch siege howitzers, four 30-pdr Parrotts, three 20-pdr Parrotts, three 3.80-inch James Rifles, and eight 24-pdr howitzers – on Venus Point and Bird Island. The fortifications were named, respectively, Battery Vulcan and Battery Hamilton.

Over the next two weeks, working mostly at night, the Federals established a wharf on Mud River to allow offloading of equipment.  From there they cut a path across the marsh to allow movement of materials.  Most of this work took place at night to avoid any Confederate patrols.  The plan was to transport the guns in flatboats into the Savannah River and to Battery Vulcan.  However weather and tides prevented the Navy from covering this move.  Instead the soldiers worked the guns across the mud flats on the newly cut road.

Through the night of February 10, the troops constructed firing platforms at Battery Vulcan.  The following night they manhandled one 8-inch howitzer, three 30-pdr Parrotts, and two 20-pdr Parrotts along “runways of planks 15 feet long, 1 foot wide, and 3 inches thick, laid end to end” (thus not exactly as depicted above).  The work required the men to traverse knee and waist deep mud, often having to extract the guns which slipped off the planks.  And keep in mind these were not light field pieces.

By February 12, the Federals had the guns in place.  Work then focused on building drainage to ensure the works were not overwhelmed by high tides.  Gilmore’s plans called for a night movement across the Savannah River to Bird Island to deploy the second battery there.

But before that could happen, the Confederate steamer Ida descended the river on the morning of the 13th on a routine run to Fort Pulaski.  Most of the guns recoiled off the firing platforms, allowing only nine shots from the battery.  Although the Ida passed, improvements to the gun platforms prevented a return trip.

On the afternoon of February 14, Confederate gunboats dueled with Battery Vulcan from the distance of a mile upstream (coincidentally the same day that Federal gunboats attacked Fort Donelson in Tennessee).  Battery Vulcan responded with thirty shots which kept the Confederates at bay.  This success allowed the Federals to pass men, cannons, and equipment to Bird Island and establish Battery Hamilton.  By February 20 that location had one 8-inch siege howitzer, one 30-pdr Parrott, one 20-pdr Parrott, and three James rifles in place.  With that accomplished and similar advances on Tybee Island to the southeast of Fort Pulaski, the Federals had cut Fort Pulaski off from resupply.

Gilmore directed the placement of one additional battery, as seen in the wartime map above, on Long Island facing Fort Pulaski.  This sealed the “back door” to the fort by covering the demilune and wharf.  I’ll turn to the setup of the siege batteries in a later post, but we’ve already seen where that ends.

Today the locations mentioned above are just as inaccessible as they were in 1862. Daufuskie Island is now mostly private resorts, accessible only by ferry.  Wall’s Cut, going by the name Watts Cut on some maps, is now part of the Intercoastal Waterway system, still connecting Wright’s to the New River.

After years of channel management, Bird Island became one with Long Island.  I’ve seen Battery Hamilton from a boat and a historical marker stands notes its location, but the site is somewhat protected from visitors by the surrounding marsh.  Archeological surveys of the battery located wood and other structures. However, Battery Vulcan is likely under several layers of till deposited by dredging and shoreline stabilization efforts.

While today only the occasional fisherman visits these out of the way locations, 150 years ago they were the front line of the Civil War.