THE ABOVE ARTICLE HAS BEEN
TRANSCRIBED FROM THE STATE GAZETTE, FEBRUARY 27, 1869
USING OCR (OPTICAL CHARACTER RECOGNITION
The Swamp Angel: The entrance to the harbor of the city of Charleston is formed by Sullivan’s island on the north and Morris Island on the south. Morris Island is a low, sandy reef, about three and three-quarter miles long, and varies from twenty ﬁve to one thousand yards in width. Its area is some four hundred acres. The outer end of the island that nearest the bar is separated from Folly Island, a sand reef of like description, by Light House inlet. Across this stream at day break, July 10, 1863, the successful bombardment and assault of the rebel batteries was made by the Tenth Army Corps, under general Gillmore. This ﬁght secured to the Union forces about three-fourths of Morris Island. A half mile from the inner end of the island Fort Wagner stretched from the sea shore to Vincent’s creek, which with another sand fort, called Cummings’ Point Battery, gave the rebels a foothold on the island. Let me remark, in passing, that this last mentioned Battery is the one which ﬁred upon the Star of the West, January 10, 1861, and all descriptions of the bombardment of Sumter which followed that event, call it an iron clad fort. It was made simply of sand, more impregnable indeed than if covered, as was supposed, with bars of rail road iron, or erected of the heaviest masonry. This point is exactly 6,616 yards, about three and three quarter miles from the wharves of Charleston. Morris Island is made up of sand ridges, the highest thereof being twenty feet, while just in front of Wagner it is but two feet, and in the Spring the tide here breaks entirely across the reef. It is separated from James’ Island by deep and almost impossible marshes from one to three miles in width. Crooked and often very deep creeks or bayous traverse these marshes in every direction. Indeed Morris Island, as well as the islands adjacent, are but deposits of sand made by the sea and wind upon the surface of these salt marshes. On the sixteenth day of July 1863, Gen. Gillmore directed Col. Edward W. Serrell, 1st New York Engineers, and Lieut. Peter S. Michie, U. S. Corps of Engineers, to examine these marshes to ascertain if a battery could be placed on- our left front within range of the city of Charleston. For several days they continued their reconnaissance, accompanied by Lieut. Nathan M. Edwards, of Serrell’s regiment, and they reported its feasibility. Soundings were made in the marsh with an iron rod thirty feet long and three quarters of an inch in diameter. They found the mud about twenty feet deep, the weight of the rod carrying it one-half the distance and easily pushed the rest with one hand. The bottom of the marsh was apparently sand, while the top was
covered with wild grass and reeds some four feet high, but with such little root as to furnish no sustaining power whatever.- Two men standing on a plank on the surface of the mud, and throwing their weight from side to side made waves of mud, vibrating like jelly for many yards around. Several trials of the sustaining power of this mud were made. A platform was erected and loaded with sand bags. It sustained about six hundred pounds to the square foot, but on increasing the weight to nine hundred pounds, the pile upset and most of the sand bags vanished in the mud. A man of one hundred and ﬁfty pounds weight sank in the marsh eighteen inches at every step if he moved rapidly. A witty officer, when ordered to do some work in this swamp sent in his requisition to Col. Serrell asking for a detail of “twenty men eighteen feet long” for duty in ﬁfteen feet of mud! It was decided to locate the battery about half way between Morris and James islands, at a place in the marsh where a deep creek ﬂowed in front and to the left side. It was just 7000 yards to the lower end and 7,410 yards or nearly four and a quarter miles to the heart of the city of Charleston. It was in easy range of Forts Hascall, Simkins and Cheves, and indeed of all the batteries on James Island. This made it necessary, of course, that the work should be done at night. An estimate of the labor required in the construction of the battery was made on the morning of the 2d of August, and the order was immediately issued for its erection. Large working parties commenced felling trees on Folly Island, and men were employed day and night, making and ﬁlling sand bags. A pile driver could not be used had one been at hand. Two platforms were at ﬁrst placed on the surface of the marsh. The plank to be driven into the mud, sharpened on one end, was fastened to a long pole by taking a bight thereto with a rope. The short end of the pole was then attached to one of the platforms, which had been loaded with sand bags, and ﬁve men on the other platform, pulling at a rope adjusted to the long end of the pole, pressed the plank down to the solid substratum of sand. As soon as enough piling had thus been driven in two places on opposite sides of the proposed battery, the plank was attached to the centre of the pole and then parties on each end thereof, pressed the pile down as before. Cheerfully, with great enthusiasm, and very rapidly, the men worked exposed every moment to shelling from the rebel batteries. When the foundation was thus constructed, cross-beams, or to speak technically, a grillage of large yellow pine logs was bolted together strongly thereon. Thirteen thousand sandbags, more than eight hundred tons in weight, were then carried by the soldiers from the Engineer camp, over a mile and a half distant, and a parapet, with a return or epaulement constructed in form like one-half of a hexagon. A road two and a half miles long, made of logs and sand-bags, was also built from this place to our left batteries in the approaches to Wagner and another round the left ﬂank to the edge of the creek before alluded to. Over these roads the entire armament of the battery was carried. A bout this time, August 12th, boats armed with naval bow howitzers commenced to picket the streams leading to James Island and Charleston, and heavy log booms were fastened across them a little distance from the battery to obstruct, if possible, the approach of the enemy from the harbor. A mock battery was also built by the soldiers, of boards and sand-bags to draw the ﬁre of the James Island batteries, and in this it was to some extent successful. An eight-inch parrott riﬂe gun, a 200 pounder, was on the 17th of August, ordered by the commanding general to be mounted in the battery. This gun, I may add, is often confounded with the great 300 pounder which battered down Fort Sumter. The gun erected in the swamp never ﬁred at Fort Sumter, the ten inch riﬂe, or 300 pounder, the only one of that caliber at this time in the Department never ﬁred into Charleston. The latter gun was in position at Fort Strong, on our left batteries and the muzzle was blown off by the premature explosion of a shell. It threw nineteen thousand pounds of metal at the gorge wall of Sumter. The gun in the marsh was manned by a detachment of the 11th Reg’t. Maine Volunteers, Lieutenant Sellmer commanding. On all official papers it is spoken of as the “Marsh Battery,” but the soldiers called it the Swamp Angel, and I have also heard it referred to by them as the “ Marsh Croaker" and the "Mud Lark.” At nine o’clock on the morning of 21st of August a communication was sent by Gillmore to Gen. Beauregard, Commanding the rebel forces at Charleston, demanding the surrender of Fort Wagner and assuring him unless it was done the city would be bombarded from batteries established within easy and effective range of the heart of the city.” Of course Beauregard laughed at Gillmore’s presumption and took no heed thereto. That night the order of Gillmore reached Lieut. Sellmer and the “Swamp Angel” was ranged for the steeples in Charleston city. Heavy woods on James Island near Fort Simkins hid the city from their view. An elevation of 31°, 30’ was given the gun, sixteen pounds of powder the charge and one hundred and ﬁfty pounds the weight of the projectile. At half past one on the morning of the 22nd, the ﬁring commenced. "Through the air, with a rush and a yell, with a screech and a roar went the howling shell"
and the ﬁery missile was pitched over the James Island batteries, the harbor and into the city. As we lay on the sand hillocks watching its flight, it seemed to go up among the very stars and its burning fuse lit up its track as it descended on its course of destruction. The ringing of ﬁre bells, the screaming of whistles from tug boats in the harbor told us truly that they had reached the city. Fifteen shells at this time were ﬁred and the Charleston dispatches of that day to the department at Richmond report “twelve shell as having fallen into the city.” Just at day break Beauregard sent a message to Gillmore telling him that his ﬁring “with the most destructive missiles used in war upon a city ﬁlled with sleeping women and children would give him a bad eminence in history." His protest was four pages in length and enclosed remonstrance from the English, French and Spanish Consuls against burning the city. The latter official said that although “all the women and children have been removed from the city too, “thereby falsifying Beauregard’s pathetic appeal. Gillmore replied very brieﬂy and on Sunday night, twenty more shell were ﬁred into the city. All the rebel batteries which could obtain the range of the Swamp Angel commenced a furious cannonade. But still our shell kept ﬂying in the midst of their iron hail storm. It was a wild night and the whole Army corps watched and listened for each report from the gallant little party in the marsh. On the thirty sixth discharge the entire breach, just behind the vent blew out and the gun was thrown forward on the parapet. The band which always encases the ﬁrst re-enforce of Parrott guns was split and has now become entirely separated from the piece. The Parrott projectiles were the only kind ever used in this gun. Some were called incendiary and contained port-ﬁre mixed with the explosive material. Some of the shell also contained “Short’s Solidiﬁed Greek Fire,” and some with powder alone. The Greek Fire was encased in tin tubes three inches long and three quarters of an inch in diameter, closed at one end. These tubes were placed in the shell and the interstices ﬁlled with powder. As near as I have been able to ascertain, ten of the ﬁfteen shots ﬁred the ﬁrst night contained each some twenty pieces of this Greek Fire, and were so far, seacoast mortars were placed there for the purpose of drawing the ﬁre of the James Island" batteries when the navy should commence their part of the siege; which they never did. Immediately on the surrender of Cumming’s Point, Gilmore had guns mounted thereon, calling it Fort Gregg. It was three and three quarter miles from Charleston. I have the record of one of these guns, a thirty pound Parrott riﬂe which threw more than four thousand six hundred shells four thousand two hundred and ﬁfty-three of which were seen to fall into the city. No great military results were ever expected from the erection and ﬁring of the Swamp Angel. As a difﬁcult problem in engineering, as a severe testing of heavy guns, as a novel method of damaging an enemy’s city, over the heads of its army and their fortifications; the result, as we have seen, was highly successful.