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Attack and defense at Charleston

The morning and evening gun — Sumter: this piece that timed the garrison of the beleaguered Fort looks out across the marshes of Charleston harbor — in these Gillmore's men set up their batteries, with what results the following series of pictures shows


Charleston in 1863.

Brigadier-General Quincy Adams Gillmore is the man who surrounded Charleston with a ring of fire. On the map which he is studying the words “East coast, South Carolina” are plainly legible. A glance at the map to the right will reveal that coast, along which his guns were being pushed when this photograph was taken, in 1863. It will also reveal the progress illustrated by the succession of photographs following — the gradual reduction of Battery Wagner, at the north end of Morris Island before Charleston, by a series of parallels. On the facing page are scenes in Battery Reynolds on the first parallel and Battery Brown on the second. Then come Batteries Rosecrans and Meade on the second parallel, shown on successive pages. The “Swamp Angel” that threw shells five miles into the city of Charleston comes next, and then the sap-roller being pushed forward to the fifth and last parallel, with Battery Chatfield on Cumming's Point. On the next page is Battery Wagner. The remaining scenes are inside Charleston. The last page shows the effect of the bombardment of Fort Sumter. Thus a sequent story is told in actual photographs of the siege operations about Charleston. Quincy Adams Gillmore was graduated first in his class at West Point. He served as an assistant engineer in the building of Fortress Monroe from 1849 to 1852, and later became assistant instructor of practical military engineering at West Point. When the war broke out he had abundant opportunity to put his learning to the test, and proved one of the ablest military engineers in the Federal service. He acted as chief engineer of the Port Royal expeditionary corps in 1861-62; was chief engineer at the siege of Fort Pulaski, Georgia, from February to April, 1862, conducted the land operations against Charleston, fought at Drewry's Bluff, and in the defense of Washington against Early. On March 13, 1865, he was brevetted successively brigadier-general and major-general in the regular army, and on December 5, 1865, he resigned from the volunteer service He was the author of many engineering books and treatises.

Gillmore studying the map of Charleston in 1863, while he drew his “ring of fire” round the city

Map explaining the photographs on the pages that follow


The Parrott in battery strong This 300-pounder rifle was directed against Fort Sumter and Battery Wagner. The length of bore of the gun before it burst was 136 inches. It weighed 26,000 pounds. It fired a projectile weighing 250 pounds, with a maximum charge of powder of 25 pounds. The gun was fractured at the twenty-seventh round by a shell bursting in the muzzle, blowing off about 20 inches of the barrel. After the bursting the gun was “chipped” back beyond the termination of the fracture and afterwards fired 371 rounds with as good results as before the injury. At the end of that time the muzzle began to crack again, rendering the gun entirely useless.

Two Parrotts in battery Stevens Battery Stevens lay just east of Battery Strong. It was begun July 27, 1863. Most of the work was done at night, for the fire from the adjacent Confederate forts rendered work in daylight dangerous. By August 17th, most of the guns were in position, and two days later the whole series of batteries “on the left,” as they were designated, were pounding away at Fort Sumter.


Artillery batteries.

Both the batteries on this page were “on the left,” that is, across a creek from Morris Island proper. Battery Hays was begun on July 15, 1863, in preparation for an attack on Battery Wagner set for July 18th. Within sixty hours from breaking ground, the platforms were made, the earthworks thrown up and revetted with sand-bags — as shown — magazines constructed and fifteen Parrott guns in place, ready to open fire. At ten o'clock they began the bombardment of Wagner, in conjunction with the fleet, and kept it up until dusk, when a determined but unsuccessful assault was made. Battery Reno was one of the “breaching batteries” against Fort Sumter. The work was begun July 27th, and on August 17th four 100-pounder Parrott rifle guns, one 8-inch and one 10-inch Parrott gun, the largest guns then made, were in place. The ground was flat and marshy. No obstructions interfered with the bombardment.

Guns in battery Reno trained on battery Wagner

Parrotts in battery Hays trained on Sumter


Direct assaults on Battery Wagner.

The surprised Confederates discovered at dawn of July 24, 1863, the new line thrown forward from Battery Reynolds and the naval battery on the first Union parallel. Two direct assaults on Battery Wagner having been repulsed with great loss of life, the advance upon the work was made by a series of parallels. The batteries were ready in sixty hours from the time of breaking ground, most of the work being done in the night during heavy rains. The second parallel, six hundred yards in advance, was established July 23d, by a flying-sap along the narrow strip of shifting sand. The moon was so bright until midnight that no work could be done, but from twelve till dawn a parapet ten feet thick and one hundred seventy-five feet long was completed, six howitzers were placed, an entanglement was put up a hundred yards in advance, and a large bomb-proof magazine finished in the center of an old graveyard. Slowly but surely the Federal forces were working their way to the northern end of Morris Island.

Battery Reynolds, on the first parallel against Battery Wagner

Sailors in the naval battery

Battery brown, on the second parallel


Battery Rosecrans on Morris Island in August, 1863.

It was not the bursting of a gun in the works that caused the troops most concern, but the Confederate fire. Major Thomas B. Brooks describes dodging shells in the parallels on Morris Island in August, 1863: “The fire from Wagner, although inflicting much less real injury, up to this time, than the aggregate fire from the other batteries of the enemy, still gives far greater interruption to the working parties, on account of our nearness to the fort. ‘Cover — Johnson or Sumter,’ gives sufficient warning for those in the trenches to seek partial shelter, if the shell is seen to be coming toward them; but ‘Cover, Wagner,’ cannot be pronounced before the shell has exploded and done its work. At these cautionary words, I have often observed soldiers, particularly Negroes, fall flat on their faces, under the delusion that they were obtaining cover from mortar-shells exploding over them, when, in truth, their chances of being hit were much increased . . . On one occasion, a soldier was observed to place an empty powder-barrel over his head, to shield him from heavy shells.”

Burst gun in battery Rosecrans-life in the “parallels” on Morris Island in August, 1863.

The 100-Pounder Parrotts in battery Rosecrans


Morris Island in summer 1863.

At ten o'clock on the night of July 28th, orders were issued to construct Battery Meade and Battery Rosecrans in the second parallel. The positions were laid out and work begun on them before midnight. Work progressed rather slowly, however, because the Confederate sharpshooters picked off every man who stuck his head above the parapet. Several men were wounded at a distance of thirteen hundred yards. Consequently all the work that required any exposure was done at night. Another cause of delay was the lack of earth; when trenches were dug more than three feet deep the spring tides flooded them. Besides, the work was frequently interrupted by finding dead bodies, either in coffins or wrapped in blankets only. On an old map Morris Island was called “Coffin land” ; it had been used as a quarantine burying-ground for Charleston. In spite of such discouragements, the men standing in front of the headquarters at the bottom of the page continued their labors. By August 17th the five immense Parrott guns stood ready to fire against Sumter. Thus the Federal army advanced, parallel by parallel, toward Battery Wagner at the end of Morris Island, until the final “flying — sap” took them up to its very walls, and it was carried by assault. But the defenders had other strings to their bow, as Gillmore's amphibious diggers discovered. Though now occupying the stronghold that commanded the harbor from the south, the Federals got no farther.

“ ‘Ware sharpshooters!’ ” --serving the Parrotts in battery Meade

Headquarters of the field officer of the second parallel


The gun “Swamp-Angel.”

One of the most famous guns in the Civil War was the “Swamp-Angel.” The marsh here surely deserved the name. The two engineers who explored it to select a site for the battery carried a fourteen foot plank. When the mud became too soft to sustain their weight, they sat on the plank and pushed it forward between their legs. The mud was twenty feet deep, and men on such a plank could start waves rippling across the oozy surface by jumping up and down. It is said that one of the officers detailed for the construction of the plat-forms called for “twenty men, eighteen feet long!” In spite of these difficulties piles were driven in the marsh at a point that commanded the city of Charleston and a platform at length laid upon it. On August 17, 1863, an 8-inch, 200-pounder Parrott rifle was skidded across the marsh and mounted behind the sandbag parapet. On the night of August 21st, after warning had been sent to the Confederate commander, General Beauregard, the gun was fired so that the missiles should fall in the heart of Charleston. Sixteen shells filled with Greek fire were sent that night. On August 23d, at the thirty-sixth discharge, the breech of the gun was blown out and the barrel thereby thrown upon the sand-bag parapet as the photograph shows. From the outside it looked to be in position for firing, and became the target for Confederate gunners. Two weeks later two 10-inch mortars were mounted in place of the Parrott. It was later mounted in Trenton.

The “Swamp-angel” --one of the famous guns of 1863

After the 36th shot — the “swamp-angel” burst



This remarkable picture was taken while the flyingsap was being pushed forward to the fifth (and last) parallel. The action of September 6th is thus reported by Major T. B. Brooks: “The general commanding o r d e r e d General Terry to take and hold the ridge, and place 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-tourth Massachusetts Volunteers, Colonel Francis A. Osborn commanding, supported by the Third New Hampshire Volunteers, Captain Randlett commanding. Sixty-seven prisonerswere captured. They were afraid to retire on account of their own torpe-does, 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. . . . The moment the ridge was gained the work of entrenching was begun under the superintendence of Captain Walker.” The balance of the report tells about the fifth parallel and the flying-sap, which took them up to Battery Wagner and the battery renamed Chatfield on Cumming's Point, in order to commemorate Colonel John L. Chatfield, killed July 18th, at Battery Wagner.

Sap-roller at the head of the flying-sap

Firing the big gun Chatfield


Fort Moultrie.

This huge gun in Fort Moultrie was designed to throw 600-pound shells. With such defenders Charleston became the best-fortified city on the Confederate sea-coast, and proved a stumbling-block to both the Federal army and navy. Fort Moultrie was on Sullivan's Island, guarding the righthand entrance to the harbor. Charleston was finally evacuated February 17, 1865, after Sherman's march to the sea.

One of the most powerful guns of the Confederacy, in Fort Moultrie


Fort Wagner and Fort Gregg.

These two forts were captured successively in the slow approach by parallels along Morris Island, preceding the evacuation of Charleston. Both Wagner and Gregg were evacuated September 6, 1863. General Beauregard, the Confederate commander, states that Wagner was an inconsiderable work. General Gillmore, whose forces occupied the place, insists that it was an exceedingly strong fort. Its bomb-proofs would hold 1,500 or 1,600 men, and eighteen pieces of heavy ordnance were captured when it finally fell.

Fort Wagner.

Fort Gregg


Guns that were not needed the South battery in Charleston itself the Federal fleet never got beyond the harbor forts

One of the “South battery” guns directly on the public square The upper photograph shows two 10-inch Columbiads in the White Point or “South” Battery, in Charleston. This was situated on the extreme southeast point between the Ashby and Cooper Rivers. It was established for the purpose of affording a last opportunity to stop vessels that might get past Fort Sumter into the inner harbor. Sumter, however, was so far out, and with Moultrie, Gregg, and the others proved so effectual a barrier to the harbor's mouth, that no use was found for the guns here in the city itself. How close they were to the heart of the city is shown by the gun in the lower photograph, emplaced on the battery directly in front of the public square. Charleston was the birthplace of secession, and was prepared to make a stout defense. Sumter almost single-handed held out until inland communications were cut, and the city was evacuated February 17, 1865.


The giant Blakely gun at Charleston.

This was an English gun, all steel, to which the principle of “initial tension” was successfully applied. From the breech to the trunnions of the Blakely gun it was pear-shaped, for the purpose of resisting the tremendous power-pressures. By “initial tension” is meant intentional strain in the metal of the gun, scientifically placed, so as to counteract in a measure the strains set up by the powder discharge. There is an inner tube, on the outside of which bands are shrunk so as to set up a strain of extension in the exterior band. By properly combining these strains the extreme tension due to the powder gases at their moment of greatest expansion does not affect the gun as injuriously as if these initial strains were not present. This was among the earliest form of cannon to be successful with this principle of “initial tension,” a fundamental element in the scientific design of the best modern built — up guns.

Wreck of the giant Blakely gun at Charleston

Wreck of the giant Blakely gun at Charleston: view from the rear


Views from within Charleston.

The city of Charleston was fortified up to its very doorsteps, as is evidenced by these three photographs of the wrecked carriage of the immense Blakely gun on the Battery. The only battery in the path of the Federal fire was that containing this monster piece. Under date of January 6, 1864, Major Henry Bryan, Assistant Inspector-General at Charleston, reported that from August 21, 1863, to January 5, 1864, the observer in the steeple of St. Michael's Church counted 472 shells thrown at the city. Of a total of 225 investigated, 145 struck houses, nineteen struck in yards, and sixty-one struck in the streets and on the edge of the burnt district. Only about one third of these burst. The section of the city most frequently struck was bounded on the north by Market Street from East Bay to Meeting, down Meeting to Horlbeck's Alley, and along Horlbeck's Alley to Tradd Street; on the south by Tradd Street from the corner of King to Church Street, down Church Street to Longitude Lane, along that to East Bay; and on the east by East Bay Street.

Looking out to sea: the only gun in the line of fire

Looking northeast: this view shows the street running at right angles to the one in the adjoining photograph.

The heart of the city: this shows how close to the dwelling houses the Federal shells must have fallen during the bombardment.


Fort Sumter.

These views show the result of the bombardment from August 17 to 23, 1863. The object was to force the surrender of the Fort and thus effect an entrance into Charleston. The report of Colonel John W. Turner, Federal chief of artillery runs: “The fire from the breaching batteries upon Sumter was incessant, and kept up continuously from daylight till dark, until the evening of the 23d. . . . The fire upon the gorge had, by the morning of the 23d, succeeded in destroying every gun upon the parapet of it. The parapet and ramparts of the gorge were completely demolished for nearly the entire length of the face, and in places everything was swept off down to the arches, the debris forming an accessible ramp to the top of the ruins. Nothing further being gained by a longer fire upon this face, all the guns were directed this day upon the southeasterly flank, and continued an incessant fire throughout the day. The demolition of the Fort at the close of the day's firing was complete, so far as its offensive powers were considered.” So fared Sumter.

Where shot and shell struck Sumter

Some of the 450 shot a day

The Lighthouse above the debris


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Quincy Adams Gillmore (6)
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