Swamp Angel

August 22-23, 1863

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

  Quincy A Gillmore
Quincy A Gillmore

Fort Sumter fell to the Rebels on April 13, 1861. By the summer of 1863, Fort Sumter had been bombarded by Federal artillery for two years, but it 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’s surrender, thus bypassing troublesome Fort Sumter and other forts in the harbor.


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

This gun was huge. It was made at the West Point Foundry in New York and 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 began on August 2, and 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 Rebel Charleston. To top it all off, the projectiles could be filled with "Greek Fire," an incendiary fluid, 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.

Gillmore sent a message on August 21, to Confederate General P.G.T. Beauregard (the commander at Charleston) 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 began to roar 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, 12 of the shots filled with Greek Fire.


Charleston was receiving the wrath of the Union in the form of horrible huge shells filled with fire, shot from a huge monster of a cannon 7,900 yards away. On August 23, the Swamp Angel belched out 20 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 36th shell on August 23rd, it did something cast-iron Parrott guns were known for, despite their distinctive wrought iron reinforcing bands placed around their breeches. On the 36th 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.

  Learn More Civil War History…

The Siege of Charleston, 1861-1865
On April 12, 1861, Fort Sumter was fired on by the Confederate batteries located around the Charleston Harbor. Within thirty-four hours, the fort had surrendered. From that moment on, the recapturing of Fort Sumter became one of the Union’s most important objectives. Nearly four years elapsed before the Northern forces were successful. The Siege of Charleston provides the complete history of those four important years in the history of the Civil War.

  The Swamp Angel
Swamp Angel
Picture courtesy of: CivilWarAlbum.com

The Swamp Angel’s military career was over, the fate of the great gun was for it 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.


Learn More About Civil War Artillery…

2 thoughts on “Swamp Angel

  1. As the “Savior of The Swamp Angel”, responsible for its restoration when I served as President of Camp Olden Civil War Round Table, I can confirm Martha Runyon’s comment that The Swamp Angel currently resides in Cadwalader Park in Trenton, NJ.

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