Discussion Calcium Floodlights - who was first to use in combat?

SWMODave

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I came across the calcium floodlight being used so I started doing some research to find out what it was and where it came from. It appears multiple sources I can find put the first use for combat during a July 1863 bombardment of Fort Wagner.

In 'Memoirs - Historical and Personal (Campaigns of the First Missouri Confederate Brigade)' - author Ephraim McDowell Anderson states the following...

The celebrated Blakely guns had not long before been brought to Vicksburg, and some of them placed in battery on the river line. They were found to be very effective against the iron-clad vessels, and discharged a steel-pointed ball with great accuracy of aim and extraordinary power.
The upper battery was a mile above, commanding the bend of the river, and one stood immediately on the edge of the town; two others were lower down, on the first slope of the bluff from the river. The number of guns on this line was about twenty five or thirty.
Aided by darkness, many of the enemy's vessels had succeeded in passing with impunity. Calcium lights had recently been introduced, by the use of which the river could be lighted up in a few minutes almost as bright as day, and the danger of attempting to pass in the night was greatly increased.

While no actual date is given, considering the timing of the town's surrender, it is implied that they were in use at Vicksburg in June 1863, or possibly earlier.

Any thoughts or other accounts?
 

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LasPalmas

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I came across the calcium floodlight being used so I started doing some research to find out what it was and where it came from. It appears multiple sources I can find put the first use for combat during a July 1863 bombardment of Fort Wagner.

In 'Memoirs - Historical and Personal (Campaigns of the First Missouri Confederate Brigade)' - author Ephraim McDowell Anderson states the following...

The celebrated Blakely guns had not long before been brought to Vicksburg, and some of them placed in battery on the river line. They were found to be very effective against the iron-clad vessels, and discharged a steel-pointed ball with great accuracy of aim and extraordinary power.
The upper battery was a mile above, commanding the bend of the river, and one stood immediately on the edge of the town; two others were lower down, on the first slope of the bluff from the river. The number of guns on this line was about twenty five or thirty.
Aided by darkness, many of the enemy's vessels had succeeded in passing with impunity. Calcium lights had recently been introduced, by the use of which the river could be lighted up in a few minutes almost as bright as day, and the danger of attempting to pass in the night was greatly increased.

While no actual date is given, considering the timing of the town's surrender, it is implied that they were in use at Vicksburg in June 1863, or possibly earlier.

Any thoughts or other accounts?
This was several months before June 1863. I think March 1863
I am out of town at the present and cannot refer to my notes on the subject or my copy of Memoirs .... by Anderson
But by reading the passage you cite in context it should be clear that this refers to the time period well before the seige began.
 

SWMODave

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The last day prior to this quote given by the author is May 17th as the Army, his part of it at least, entered Vicksburg on page 319. The calcium lights are mentioned on page 324 as the author describes the Vicksburg defenses. So while it is possible the lights were there in March, we would need another source for evidence of that.

I am really curious as to why the Federal Army in the Eastern theater is credited with using them first, when we appear to have evidence the Confederates at Vicksburg put them in use days or months earlier.

Of further interest might be how something invented prior to the war, appears to have come into use at about the same time, by opposing sides in different theaters (Union in east, Confederate in west).
 

DaveBrt

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I agree that they were used at Vicksburg in March. I have seen a couple of entries in Pemberton's outgoing letters and telegrams mentioning their arrival and installation, both in March.
 

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Eugene Hilgard was a fascinating man who at the time of the war was a professor at Ole Miss. After the war he first went north then west to California. His studies of soils there earned him the moniker “father of California soil science” and he has a classroom building named after him at Stanford.

This paper, presented at a meeting of the Geological Society of America, says that he attempted to install flood lights at Vicksburg but was unsuccessful.

His greatest adventure came when he was drafted to develop floodlights at Vicksburg to help block the passage of the Union Fleet. The effort ultimately failed and after the passage of Grant’s fleet, Hilgard escaped from the city on the last train to leave. Escaping capture in Jackson only because he appeared to the Yankees to be near death, he somehow made his way to Oxford across the devastated landscape although desperately ill with typhoid fever.“

https://gsa.confex.com/gsa/2010NC/finalprogram/abstract_171620.htm
 

Polloco

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Several months ago I asked about locomotive lights being used at Vicksburg. It was to clear up some article that I had read years ago. The reply to my question was that the Vicksburg defenders used bonfires. I dont recall if it stated "bonfires or bonfires only". Could these calcium lights have been mistaken for locomotive headlights? I was also told that locomotives burned oil in their lights, were calcium lights used in locomotives as well?
 

DaveBrt

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His greatest adventure came when he was drafted to develop floodlights at Vicksburg to help block the passage of the Union Fleet. The effort ultimately failed ...
We know the effort to block the passage of the Union Fleet failed, but the quote is unclear about the lights failing.
 

RobertP

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We know the effort to block the passage of the Union Fleet failed, but the quote is unclear about the lights failing.
Yes, that could be interpreted as his lights failed to stop the Union Fleet. I took it to mean that the effort to develop effective lights failed. As you can see, the quote is from an Abstract of the talk. If I had access to the entire paper the effort would likely be explained in more detail.
 

BDK1066

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The last day prior to this quote given by the author is May 17th as the Army, his part of it at least, entered Vicksburg on page 319. The calcium lights are mentioned on page 324 as the author describes the Vicksburg defenses. So while it is possible the lights were there in March, we would need another source for evidence of that.

I am really curious as to why the Federal Army in the Eastern theater is credited with using them first, when we appear to have evidence the Confederates at Vicksburg put them in use days or months earlier.

Of further interest might be how something invented prior to the war, appears to have come into use at about the same time, by opposing sides in different theaters (Union in east, Confederate in west).

Thanks to DaveBrt.
Facts outdo speculation every time

Reading Anderson's Memoirs one notices that they are not always strictly chronological (and not always accurate, either).
Anderson's work is correctly self described as Memoirs, not a narrative history or a diary.

In the spring of 1863, the Union passage of the Vicksburg batteries by night was a serious concern for the Confederates, thus the use of bonfires, calcium lights, etc.

After the April 22 running of the batteries, the Union had all the naval forces and transport steamboats they needed below Vicksburg. Thus no real need for the bright lights.

After the seige began, there was no need for the Union Navy to pass of fight the Confederate batteries on dark or any other nights, so there was absolutely no need to develop or use calcium lights any other means of illuminating USN vessels (or backlighting them by bonfires).

I would feel certain that two kinds of prejudice credit the Federal Army in the east.

One. The idea that everything in the East was better/more important than in the West. Even Union

Two. The belief that the Union was the innovator of everything useful or important. You can call it Yankee ingenuity if you want to or maybe you prefer the "Forrest Gump" stereotype of Southerners.
 

SWMODave

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I found an article that mentions both bonfires with reflectors and a calcium powered spotlight being used in March 1863 at Port Hudson, but the article offers no original source(s) so I mention it only as a possible avenue to find any evidence.

Article
 

piratehunter

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I found an article that mentions both bonfires with reflectors and a calcium powered spotlight being used in March 1863 at Port Hudson, but the article offers no original source(s) so I mention it only as a possible avenue to find any evidence.

Article
March 14, 1863. Considering the loss of the USS Mississippi on that occasion, there are lots of reports, contemporary accounts and newspaper articles.

You should have no trouble finding a source for the Port Hudson use of calcium lights. I look forward to hearing the results of your search.
 
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I came across the calcium floodlight being used so I started doing some research to find out what it was and where it came from. It appears multiple sources I can find put the first use for combat during a July 1863 bombardment of Fort Wagner.
Calcium lights, also known as Drummond lights apparently were used during the April 1861 bombardment and surrender of Ft. Sumter. From General Beauregard's April 27, 1861 report on the taking of Ft. Sumter to Confederate Secretary of War L. P. Walker:

Prof. Lewis E. Gibbes, of Charleston College, and his aides, for their valuable services in operating
the Drummond lights established at the extensions of Sullivan's and Morris Islands. The venerable and gallant Edmund Ruffln, of Virginia, was at the Iron battery, and fired many guns, undergoing every fatigue
and sharing the hardships at the battery with the youngest of the Palmettoes. To my regular staff. Major Jones, C. S. A. ; Captains Lee and Ferguson, South Carolina Army, and Lieutenant Legare, South Carolina
Army, and volunteer staff, Messrs. Chisolm, Wigfall, Chesnut, Manning, Miles, Gonzales, and Pryor, I am much indebted for their indefatigable and valuable assistance night and day during the attack on Fort Sumter, transmitting in open boats my orders when called upon with alacrity and cheerfulness to the different batteries amidst falling balls and bursting shells. Captain Wigfall being the first in Sumter to receive the surrender.
I am, sir, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
G. T. BEAUREGARD,
Brigadier-General, Commanding.
O.R. Series I, Volume 1, pp. 34 - 35
 

RobertP

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We know the effort to block the passage of the Union Fleet failed, but the quote is unclear about the lights failing.
I found this in a biographical memoir of Hilgard by the Nat’l Academy of Sciences from 1919, p. 118.
http://twc0etal.freeshell.org/mt_hilgard/pdfs/ehilgard.pdf

“The scarcity of salt suggested utilizing the saline waters common in southern Mississippi, and the pressing need of ni- trates led to exploring some promising limestone caves. Hil- gard made report on both these subjects to Governor Pettus in June, 1862. Those commissions for the public welfare barred enlistment in army service when the university fac- ulty was disbanded soon after the beginning of active hostil- ities in Tennessee. Unless Hilgard's detail be so considered, to install calcium lights on the bluffs above Vicksburg and illuminate as targets any Federal gunboats that might attempt to run the gauntlet of the shore-batteries by night. Here, to be sure, delays in obtaining materials and in construction frustrated execution of the plan at the final passage of the fleet, which was not hindered by such searchlights. During most of the wartime, indeed, Dr. Hilgard remained at Oxford, having been officially placed in charge of the university property for its preservation. Here his duties were no sine- cure, because he was located in a belt of desolation between opposed armies that swept back and forth over it.”

So it appears that he indeed was able to at least partially execute his searchlight plan but they were not effective in stopping the fleet.
 

USS ALASKA

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For the Union side...On page 86 of Perry's 'Infernal Machines', he writes of the Union blockaders of Charleston using calcium lights to sweep the waters at night, after USS New Ironsides got popped on 5 October 1863, looking for "...any vessel bearing the slightest resemblance to the David'
210

Cheers,
USS ALASKA
 
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