SEAC: The Search for Battery Halleck
THE SIGNIFICANCE OF BATTERY HALLECK
The events surrounding the siege and reduction of Fort Pulaski in early 1862 are described in great detail in the reports written by the Union and Confederate officers involved in the campaign. The most important of these accounts, taken from the multivolume Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies (often called the "OR"), are presented in Appendix 1. These letters and reports offer a wealth of interesting information about the preparations for the siege and the actual bombardment, as well as insight into the personalities and abilities of the various officers, enlisted men, and units involved. Of particular relevance for an archaeologist is the very detailed information on the construction procedures used to prepare the gun emplacements, as well as the accounts of when they were used and the kind of activities that occurred at them. Such specific information is available for Battery Halleck itself. Besides knowing details about the arrangement and approximate spacing of the guns and how their platforms and earthworks were built, we also know who commanded the emplacement during the bombardment--Captains O.S. Sanford and E.S. Hitchcock of the 7th Connecticut Volunteers--and the names of their men. We even learn that 220 shots were fired from the guns during the battle (Figure 3 57.1KB).
Battery Halleck was constructed by Union forces from late February through early April 1862. It consisted of two heavy 13-inch mortars and an associated powder magazine and shell loading chamber. At 8:15 a.m. on April 10, 1862, a shell fired from the right mortar of Battery Halleck initiated the Union attack on Fort Pulaski. Thirty hours later the fort surrendered after an appreciable breach had been opened in the eastern wall. The surrender of Fort Pulaski occurred one year to the day after the initiation of shelling upon Fort Sumter, as noted with satisfaction by Brigadier General H.W. Benham in a letter reporting the terms of the Confederate surrender to his superior officer, Major General David Hunter (Appendix 1; OR 1882:139). Prior to this engagement, Fort Pulaski--built in 1829 partially under the direction of Robert E. Lee--was thought to be invulnerable to the siege cannon of the day. The rapid reduction of Fort Pulaski in 1862, documented in detail by Brig. General Q.A. Gillmore that same year, (1988 ) dramatically demonstrated the effectiveness of rifled cannon and forced military commanders to change their perceptions of fortification design and their procedures for conducting siege operations.
During the siege, Fort Pulaski was first isolated from the city of Savannah-which lay upstream several miles-by the placement of Union batteries on Jones Island to the north of the fort. Telegraph lines (land and submarine) were cut between Fort Pulaski and Savannah as part of the investiture. This action was completed in late February 1862, after which the attention of the Union forces shifted to the construction of eleven batteries on Big Tybee Island to the south and southeast of the fort (Figure 4 98.2KB). Materials and men, including the 17,000-pound mortars and their associated ammunition that were set up at Battery Halleck, were landed in the surf at the eastern end of the island near the Martello Tower and Tybee Light House (Figure 1 95.6KB). Equipment was offloaded this way because Confederate gunboats attempting to run past the batteries on Jones Island could have made the transport of armaments upstream by flatboat risky. Every effort was made to build the Union batteries on Big Tybee Island in secret, moving the guns and equipment to their positions overland. Hundreds of men, working in near silence and at night, hauled multi-ton cannon and mortars through the tidal marsh to pockets of higher dry ground. The fascinating accounts of their Herculean effort are presented in Appendix 1.
Acting Brigadier General Quincy A. Gillmore, the engineer in charge of siege preparations, reported on the construction procedures used to prepare these batteries. Besides providing valuable detail on the arrangement of features within the batteries, his description (see Appendix 1 for other dramatic accounts) gives some idea of the effort that went into making the preparations for the bombardment as secret as possible:
The positions selected for the five most advanced batteries [this would include Battery Halleck and the four batteries on Goat Point] were artificially screened from view from the fort by a gradual and almost imperceptible change, made little by little every night, in the condition and appearance of the brush-wood and bushes in front of them. No sudden alteration of the outline of the landscape was permitted. After the concealment was once perfected to such a degree as to afford a good and safe parapet behind it less care was taken, and some of the work in the batteries requiring mechanical skill was done in the daytime, the fatigue parties going to their labor before the break of day and returning in the evening after dark. In all the batteries traverses were placed between the pieces. With two exceptions (Batteries Lincoln and Totten) the magazines were placed in or near the center of the battery, against the epaulement, with the opening to the rear. An ante-room for filling cartridge bags was attached to each. (OR 1882:155; Appendix 1)The strategy of secrecy worked well. After the surrender of the fort, the Confederate commander admitted that, until the guns actually opened fire, his men only knew the locations of two Union batteries.
A somewhat more dramatic account of the construction of the batteries on Tybee Island was provided by Lieutenant Horace Porter, Chief of Ordnance under Gillmore:
20. The heavy guns were landed by lowering them from the vessels into lighters, having a strong decking built across their gunwales. They were towed ashore by row- boats at high tide, often in heavy surf, and careened by means of a rope from shore, manned by soldiers, until the piece rolled off. At low tide this was dragged above high-water mark.21. For the purpose of transporting the 13-inch mortars, weighing 17,000 pounds, a pair of skids was constructed of timber, ten inches square, and twenty feet long, held together by three cross-pieces, notched on. One end of the skids was lashed close under the axle of a large sling-cart, with the other end resting on the ground. The mortar was rolled up by means of ropes until it reached the middle of the skids, and checked. Another large sling-cart was run over the other end of the skids, which was raised by the screw, forming a temporary four-wheeled wagon. Two hundred and fifty men were required to move it over the difficult roads by which the batteries were reached.While almost two months went into the construction of the eleven batteries on Big Tybee Island, these positions were not occupied during the daylight hours until they were nearly completed. The actual battle lasted only two days, after which the gun emplacements were soon dismantled.
The primary role Battery Halleck played in the reduction of Fort Pulaski was to signal the onset of shelling, described in the General Orders issued by Brigadier General Gillmore to all the Union forces participating in the battle:
The batteries established against Fort Pulaski will be manned and ready for service at break of day to-morrow. The signal to begin the action will be one gun from the right mortar of Battery Halleck (2,400 yards from the work), fired under the direction of Lieut. Horace Porter, chief of ordnance. Charge of mortar, 11 pounds; charge of shell, 11 pounds; elevation, 55 degrees; length of fuse, 24 seconds. This battery (two 13-inch mortars) will continue firing at the rate of fifteen minutes to each mortar alternately, varying the charge of mortars and the length of fuse so that the shells will drop over the arches of the north and northeast face of the work and explode immediately after striking, and not before. (OR 1882:156).Although Lieutenant Horace Porter, Chief of Ordnance, was present when Battery Halleck opened fire on April 10, as noted previously, the actual units operating the battery were a detachment from the Seventh Connecticut Volunteers, under the direction of Captains O.S. Sanford and E.S. Hitchcock, and Lieutenant S.S. Atwill, in three reliefs (Gillmore 1988:58 ).
Gillmore's account of the battle began with the signal round from Battery Halleck:
The first shell was fired at a quarter past 8 o'clock a.m. from Battery Halleck. The other mortar batteries opened one after the other, as rapidly in succession as it was found practicable to determine the approximate ranges by the use of signals. The guns and columbiads soon followed, so that before half past 9 a.m. all the batteries were in operation, it having been deemed expedient not to wait for the barbette fire of the work to be silenced before opening with Breaching Batteries Scott and McClellan....As the several batteries along our line, which was 2,550 yards in length, opened fire one after another, the enemy followed them up successively with a vigorous though not at first very accurate fire from his barbette and casemate guns. Subsequent inquiry showed that he knew the exact position of only two of our batteries-Sherman and Burnside. These were established just above high-water mark, on low ground, void of bushes or undergrowth of any kind. During their construction no special attempt at concealment had been made after once securing good parapet cover by night work. (OR 1882:157-158)The actual importance of Battery Halleck in the battle itself and the decision of the Confederate forces to surrender, however, was fairly minimal. The breach in the masonry walls was opened by the rifled cannon, and the mortar shells apparently were more of a nuisance than a direct threat.
Although over 200 mortar shells were fired from Battery Halleck alone, mortar fire appeared to have had little effect on the defenders of Fort Pulaski. After the fort was taken Gillmore (see General Orders # 17) specifically noted that:
Great surprise and disappointment were expressed by all experienced officers present at the unsatisfactory results obtained with the 13-inch mortars. Although the platforms were excellent and remained for all useful purposes intact, and although the pieces were served with a fair degree of care and skill, not one-tenth of the shells thrown appeared to fall within the work-an estimate that was afterwards found to be rather over than under the correct proportion. Whether this inaccuracy is due to the fact that no cartridge-bags were furnished for the mortars, to inequalities in the strength of the powder, to defects inherent in the piece itself, or to these several causes combined, remains yet to be ascertained. It is suggested that the earnest attention of the proper department be directed to this subject. (OR 1882:158)Much of the effort that went into the preparations for the attack on Fort Pulaski centered around getting the mortars in place, since these were far heavier than the rifled cannon that successfully breached the masonry walls. Had the relative ineffectiveness of the mortars been known in advance, a great deal of work could have been avoided:
With heavy James or Parrott guns the practicality of breaching the best-constructed brick scarp at 2,300 to 2,500 yards with satisfactory rapidity admits of very little doubt. Had we possessed our present knowledge of their power previous to the bombardment of Fort Pulaski, the eight weeks of laborious preparation for its reduction could have been curtailed to one week, as heavy mortars and columbiads would have been omitted from the armament of the batteries as unsuitable for breaching at long ranges....Gillmore did go on to define, however, the conditions where mortars like those deployed at Battery Halleck could prove useful:
As auxiliary in silencing a barbette fire, or in the reduction of a work containing wooden buildings and other exposed combustible material, mortars may undoubtedly be made to play an important part.Only one Union soldier was killed in the attack on Fort Pulaski, and while a number of the Confederate defenders were severely injured, none were killed. The only Union casualty was a private assigned to Battery McClellan, which was located on Goat Point just to the west of Battery Halleck (Figures 1 95.6KB and 4 98.2KB).
The official correspondence resulting from the capture of Fort Pulaski
clearly indicates that Battery Halleck had two (left and right) mortars
located to either side of a powder magazine and antechamber. Openings were
located to the rear, and each position was placed behind an epaulement-that
is, an embankment of earth or parapet providing shelter from enemy fire.
The account by Lieutenant T.B. Brooks on the condition of the various batteries
following the bombardment (see Appendix
1) provides detailed descriptions of the construction procedures used
to build typical mortar platforms, powder magazines and associated antechambers,
revetting on the parapet, and splinter-proof shelters for the men operating
the battery. Construction details for the mortar platforms and splinter
proofs were even illustrated (Figures
5 45.2KB and 6 137KB).
These details helped to guide the archaeological investigations conducted
in 1990 at Spanish Hammock.