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Swamp Angel

In the summer of 1863, Fort Sumter, after two years of being pummeled by federal artillery, still defiantly protected the city of Charleston, S.C. Union Gen. Quincy A. Gillmore, stationed on Morris Island at the entrance to Charleston Harbor, wanted to locate a battery to fire on the city so that he could force its capitulation without having to capture the harbor forts. On August 2, Gen. Gillmore ordered the construction of a battery at a site 4.5 miles from the city.

The battery and parapet were constructed of 13,000 sandbags weighing more than 800 tons; 123 pine timbers measuring 15 to 18 inches in diameter and 45 to 55 feet long; 5,000 feet of 1-inch board; 9,500 feet of 3-inch planking; 1,200 pounds of spikes, nails, and iron; and 75 fathoms of 3-inch-thick rope. On August 17, the platform received its gun—a 16,700-pound Parrott rifle made at New York State's West Point Foundry. It was immediately christened the "Swamp Angel." With an 8- inch-diameter bore, 11-foot bore depth, and a 17-pound powder charge, it was capable of firing a 200-pound projectile the 7,900 yards to the heart of Charleston.

On August 21, Gillmore sent a message demanding that Confederate Gen. P.G.T. Beauregard, commander at Charleston, immediately evacuate the Rebel posts on Morris Island and Fort Sumter or suffer the shelling of the city. Receiving no reply by midnight, Gillmore ordered the shelling to begin. The gun had been carefully sighted on the steeple of St. Michael's Church, and at 1:30 A.M. on August 22, the first shot was fired. Alarm bells and whistles were heard immediately. Fifteen more shots were fired before daylight, 12 of them filled with an incendiary fluid known as "Greek Fire." The next day, August 23, 20 more shells were fired at the city. On the last discharge, the Swamp Angel burst, the breech being blown out of its jacket. No other guns were placed in the battery. The physical damage to Charleston was minimal, and its citizens remained defiant.

Fascinating Fact: After the war, the gun was sold as scrap iron. The citizens of Trenton, N.J., acquired it and mounted it in a park in their city.

Photo courtesy The South Caroliniana Library
Written by Stephen T. Foster
Printed in USA
© MCMXClii Atlas Editions, USA
D3 602 01-15