The Huge Swamp Angel Bombards Charleston

The “Swamp Angel” – A Union 200-Pounder Parrott Gun.

August 22-23, 1863

The “Swamp Angel” was a Union 200-pounder Parrott Gun used on August 22-23, 1863, at Morris Island in Charleston Harbor, South Carolina to shell nearby Charleston.

Quincy A. Gillmore

Quincy A. Gillmore

On April 12, 1861, Fort Sumter was fired upon by the Confederate batteries located around the Charleston Harbor. Within thirty-four hours the fort had surrendered and a bloody Civil War was underway. From the moment of its surrender, the recapturing of Fort Sumter became one of the Union’s most important objectives. Nearly four years elapsed before Union forces were successful at retaking Fort Sumter.

By the summer of 1863, Fort Sumter had been bombarded by Federal artillery for two years, but the fort still stood and guarded Charleston. At the entrance to Charleston Harbor is Morris Island, and Union General Quincy A. Gillmore and his troops were stationed there. Gillmore wanted to construct a battery on Morris Island so he could bombard Charleston directly and force the city to surrender. Gillmore’s plan would bypass troublesome Fort Sumter and other forts in the Charleston Harbor.

A big gun with the range to reach Charleston would allow Gillmore to get to the meat of the matter… to force the rebel stronghold of Charleston to surrender. The Swamp Angel is what General Gillmore needed.

This Swamp Angel was huge. It was cast of iron at the West Point Foundry in New York, and it weighed 16,700 pounds. With an 8-inch bore, its barrel had an 11-foot bore depth. Even the construction of the battery and parapet needed for the Swamp Angel was impressive, merely getting this gun into place on the swampy, mushy, ground of Morris Island (with mud sometimes twenty-feet deep) in Charleston Harbor was a challenging engineering job. Construction of the battery and parapet began on August 2, and it included:

  • 13,000 sandbags weighing greater than 800 tons total
  • 123 pine timbers, 45-55 feet in length and 15-18 inches in diameter
  • 5,000 feet of 1-inch thick board
  • 9,500 feet of 3-inch thick planking
  • The spikes, nails, and iron required to hold it all together weighed 1,200 pounds
  • 75 fathoms (450 feet) of rope, 3 inches thick

All this would allow the Swamp Angel to use a 17-pound powder charge to fire a 200-pound projectile 7,900 yards into the heart of Charleston. To top it all off, the projectiles could be filled with an incendiary fluid called “Greek Fire” that would set Charleston ablaze. On August 17, the Swamp Angel arrived at Morris Island. An awesome weapon of war was about to go to work.

A Huge Monster Cannon

Gillmore sent a message on August 21, to General P. G. T. Beauregard demanding the evacuation of Confederate posts on Morris Island and Fort Sumter, or else shelling of Charleston would start. The Yankees had sighted the Swamp Angel in on the steeple of St. Michael’s Church. Beauregard gave no reply to Gillmore’s demands.

At 1:30 A.M. on August 22, the Swamp Angel belched and roared with its first shot at Charleston. Following the first shot, bells, whistles, and alarms from Charleston could be heard on Morris Island. Before daylight came, fifteen more shots rained down on Charleston from the Swamp Angel, twelve of these shots filled with Greek Fire.

Charleston was receiving the wrath of the Union in the form of horrible huge shells filled with fire, and shot from a huge monster of a cannon 7,900 yards away. On August 23, the Swamp Angel threw out twenty more shells onto Charleston. It looked like the Confederacy would lose Charleston to surrender as the Swamp Angel rained its hellish shells full of fire down on the city.

As the Swamp Angel fired its thirty-sixth shell on August 23, it did something cast-iron Parrott guns were known for, despite their distinctive wrought iron reinforcing bands placed around their breeches. On the thirty-sixth shot the Swamp Angel’s breech blew out and the gun’s barrel flew on top of the sandbag parapet.

Although it had suffered some damage and a few fires were set by the Swamp Angel, Charleston was now safe. The great Swamp Angel was dead. No further huge guns like the Swamp Angel were placed on the Union’s Morris Island battery.

The Swamp Angel

The Swamp Angel

The Swamp Angel

The Swamp Angel’s military career was over. The great gun was to be sold as scrap iron. However, instead of being used as scrap iron and physically lost to history, the citizens of Trenton, New Jersey bought the Swamp Angel and made it into a monument.

If you visit Trenton today, you will find the Swamp Angel at Perry and Clinton streets. Even if it could still fire and despite its might, the Civil War Swamp Angel could not reach Charleston from Trenton. People of Charleston, rest easy.

The Swamp Angel picture is courtesy of: CivilWarAlbum.com

Learn More About Civil War Artillery…

St. Albans Raid

The Civil War And Vermont

October 19, 1864

While Vermont’s contribution to the Union during the Civil War is significant, Civil War events in Vermont are not significant. Nevertheless, there is an interesting Vermont Civil War event.

Vermont Was The First State To Abolish Slavery

In 1777, Vermont proclaims itself as an independent state. The second article of the Vermont Constitution abolishes slavery, making Vermont the first state to abolish slavery. In the 1860 presidential election, Abraham Lincoln won a decisive victory in Vermont with voting results as follows:

  • Abraham Lincoln – 33,808
  • Stephen Douglas – 8,649
  • John C. Breckenridge – 1,866
  • John Bell – 217

“Vermont Will Do Its Full Duty.”

Vermont had three governors during the Civil War, they were Erastus Fairbanks (1860-1861), Frederick Holbrook (1861-1863), and J. Gregory Smith (1863-1865). All were Republicans.

When the Federal Government called for troops, Governor Fairbanks stated “Vermont will do its Full Duty” and Vermont did so by providing the Union with six infantry regiments, one cavalry regiment, two light artillery batteries, and three sharpshooter companies. Vermont also built three military hospitals.

During the Civil War Vermont Provided The Union:

  • Over 28,100 men who served in volunteer units
  • 17 infantry regiments
  • 1 cavalry regiment
  • 3 light artillery batteries
  • 1 heavy artillery company
  • 3 sharpshooter companies
  • 2 frontier cavalry companies

Green Mountain State Casualties In The Civil War

  • During battle, 1,832 were killed or mortally wounded
  • Disease claimed 3,362 men, either in prison or otherwise
  • Over 2,200 Vermont men were taken prisoner
  • Vermont men who died while prisoners of war totaled 615

Vermont provided the Union with men who carried with them to Civil War battlefields the reputation and pride of the Revolutionary War Green Mountain Boys. During the Civil War, the youngest to ever to win the Medal of Honor was Vermonter Willie Johnston. Sixty-three other men from Vermont also won the Medal of Honor.

St. Albans Raid

Despite the fury and carnage of the Civil War occurring in other parts of the country, the people of Vermont led a peaceful life during the war years. St. Albans Raid however, muddied the water somewhat for the quiet village of St. Albans. St. Albans is located on the shore of Lake Champlain, only fifteen miles from the Canadian Border.

On October 10, 1864 three young men check in at a hotel in St. Albans. They explain they are from St. John’s Canada (Canada at this time, was the Province of Canada, and part of the British Empire) and are on a sporting vacation. Their leader signs the hotel register as Bennet Young, another signs in as George Sanders. More men from St. John’s regularly arrive at the hotel in groups of two or three every day or so, their sporting vacation in the small St. Albans village is shaping up to be a big affair. Finally, a total of twenty-one young men (they averaged 23 years of age), arrived over nine days. They seemed to be a friendly bunch of young men.

At 3:00 P.M. on October 19, 1864 the Canadian sporting vacation to St. Albans gives way to the real reason and mission for the young men gathering in St. Albans. The friendly young men are actually Confederate cavalrymen who were taken prisoner by Union troops, but had escaped to Canada. They were at St. Albans on authority of the Confederate government to steal money for the Confederate Treasury and to distract Federal troops away from their lines. They were not friendly.

St. Albans Raid

St. Albans Raid

The raiding Confederates divide into three groups and simultaneously enter the three banks of St. Albans. Confederate agent George Sanders has drawn his gun as he climbs the steps of the hotel and shouts: “This city is now in the possession of the Confederate States of America!” The Civil War has come to St. Albans, Vermont with Confederates soldiers taking over the town, galloping about and threatening the Vermont Yankees with guns.

The Confederates rob the St. Albans banks of $208,000. While the bank robbing is going on, eight or nine other Confederates gather townspeople to the town common, threatening them with drawn guns and stealing their horses. Confederate Lieutenant Bennett Young orders his men to set St. Albans aflame using bottles of “Greek Fire,” an incendiary chemical that would burst to flame when exposed to air. Fortunately for St. Albans, the bottles of Greek Fire turn out to be duds. Only a woodshed was set afire.

The citizens of St. Albans fight back and one townsman is killed, while another is injured. A lone raider is wounded and he dies afterwards. Confusion and mayhem control the scene for both the townspeople and the Confederate raiders. During their escape to Canada, the Confederates clumsily drop some of the bank money in the town, but still make off with over $200,000. Canadian authorities arrest them in Montreal after the raiders have crossed back into Canada.

The St. Albans Raiders are tried In Montreal. The United States government considers the Confederates to be criminals and requests their extradition. Canada however, has a trick up her sleeve, saying the Confederates are soldiers under military orders. With this stance, and desiring to remain neutral in the American Civil War, Canada does not convict the Confederate raiders of a crime and sets them free. Canada returns to the St. Albans banks $88,000 that was found with the raiders.

It has been interpreted that the ruling of the Canadian court in the St. Albans Raid was in fact recognition of the Confederate States of America by the British, since Canada was then the Province of Canada and part of the British Empire. This is debatable.

The raider Lieutenant Bennett Young, later becomes a Confederate general.

Lorena’s Reply

Lorena’s Reply

Lorena’s Reply (also known as Paul Vane), Is A Sequel To Lorena

Lorena was a very popular love song of the Civil War. For the background of the song Lorena, please see this post: Lorena.

Here is Lorena’s Reply, it was also written by Reverend H. D. L. Webster and was published in 1863, six years after Lorena.

This rendition is by Tom Roush.

“Lorena’s Reply” by Tom Roush

Tom Roush’s web site.