Famous The Swamp Angel, a 200-pdr. Parrott Rifle

Loved or Hated, the Swamp Angel is easily the most famous cannon of the American Civil War. In the summer of 1863, Fort Sumter, after two years of being pummeled by federal artillery, still defiantly protected the city of Charleston, SC. 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 Swamp Angel is the nickname given to the piece of heavy artillery used at this site.

ARTILLERY PROFILE
  • Model: Burst 8-inch Army 200-pdr Parrott Seacoast Rifle, Model of 1861
  • Type: Muzzleloading Seacoast Rifle
  • In Service With: 11th Maine Infantry, Marsh Battery, United States Army, near Charlestown, SC
  • Under Command Of: Lieutenant Charles Sellmer
  • Purpose: Coastal Defense
  • Invented By: Robert P. Parrott
  • Current Disposition: Mounted as a Monument in a City Park, in Trenton, New Jersey
    • The "Parrott" Reinforcing Band has been Lost
  • Location: Cadwallader Park in Trenton, New Jersey
  • Map Coordinates: 40°14'15.0"N 74°47'16.7"W
MANUFACTURING
  • US Casting Foundry: West Point Foundry, Cold Spring, New York
  • Casting Date: 1862
  • Tube Composition: Cast Iron Tube, Wrought Iron Reinforcing Band
  • Muzzle Markings: No.6 8IN. W.P.F. A.M. 16,577 1862
  • Registry Number: No. 6
  • Foundry Number: 585
  • Inspectors Mark: (A.M.) Alfred Mordecai, Jr.
  • Purchase Price in 1862: $2,200.00
1574811189696.png
WEIGHTS & MEASURES

  • Bore Diameter: 8 inches
  • Tube Length: 163 inches
  • Tube Weight: 16,577 lbs.
  • Carriage Type: Barbette Carriage (8,000 lbs)
  • No. of Crew to Serve: 25
PERFORMANCE
  • Rate of Fire: Once every 7 to 8 minutes
  • Rifling Type: 11 rifle grooves, right gain twist, 1 turn in 23'
  • Standard Powder Charge: 16 lbs. No. 7 Black Powder
  • Service Charge Used: 16 lbs. or 20 lbs.* Black Powder
    • * (20 lbs. as per Col. Charles Selmer's Report, Commanding the 11th Maine Infantry at the Marsh Battery, as found in The Story of One Regiment: The Eleventh Maine Infantry Volunteers, Press of J. J. Little & Company, 1896, Page 142. )
  • Muzzle Velocity: 1,234 ft/sec. (using a 150 lb. shell, with a 16 lb. charge)
  • Effective Range (at 35°): 8,000 yards (4.5 miles)
  • Projectile Flight Time (at 35°): Not Recorded (est. 30 to 40 seconds)
  • Projectiles: A mix of 175 lb. shells loaded with "Greek Fire" and 150 lb. standard shells.
  • Recorded Service:
    • 16 Shots Fired Early Morning Hours of April 22st, Target: City of Charleston, SC
    • 20 Shots Fired Night of April 23rd, Target: City of Charleston, SC
    • 36 Shots Fired Total, gun disabled/burst on final shot
    • at least 10 shots prematurely exploded in barrel or in flight
  • Records Broken: 3
    • Longest-ranged Artillery Bombardment To Date
      • hit targets ranged 7,900+ yards or 4.48+ miles distant
    • First Time Artillery had been Aimed by Compass Bearing Alone
      • Gun aimed by taking a compass bearing of St. Michael’s church’s steeple, and using bearing to aim gun
    • First Deliberate Use of Shelling of Civilians as a Military Tactic
      • Even if Charleston, SC was a Military Target, it WAS filled with civilians

NOTES

The "Swamp Angel", which fired from the marsh near Morris Island into Charleston, may not have been brand new when it arrived at the man-made firing platform known as the "Marsh Battery". After the 22nd shot, which was the 6th shot on the 2nd night of firing, the reinforcing band slipped, and the crew was forced to continue firing with a "compromised gun barrel". The barrel burst at about 1 am, on the gun's 36th shot, throwing the breech completely off in one direction, and the barrel forward off it's trunnion mount, 4 of the gun's crew were hurt, none seriously.

MONUMENT HISTORY
  • Gun Tube Acquired: Recovered as scrap iron by Phoenix Iron Works in Trenton, NJ in 1877
  • Built: As a Memorial in February 1877
  • Memorial Construction of: Trenton Brownstone
  • Rededications: 1915, moved & rededicated on April 12, 1961, 1994, August 24, 2013
  • Original Location: Corners of North Clinton Avenue and Perry Street, Trenton, NJ until April 12, 1961 (Civil War 100th Anniv)
  • Current Location: Cadwallader Park in Trenton, New Jersey
  • Questionable Future Disposition: three former mayors each proposed sending the cannon back to Charleston as a symbol of reconciliation with the South, but never followed through because of resistance from citizens and Civil War enthusiasts.
  • Additional Artifacts: As of 2011, the Gunners Quadrant and the Gunners Level from the Swamp Angel were owned by, and on display at the South Carolina Confederate Relic Room in Columbia, SC

HISTORY OF THE SWAMP ANGEL

The Marsh Battery Construction
Undoubtedly the most famous action taken by the 1st New York Engineers was the construction of the “Marsh Battery.” MG Gillmore requested that batteries be constructed that could take the fort and the city under fire. The first officer assigned the task declared it impossible, but Colonel Edward Serrell, commander of the 1st New York Engineers, would have none of it. He assumed personal responsibility and conducted a series of experiments to establish the capability of the soil (mud) to support weight. After careful consideration of the results of these trials Serrell believed the soil could be stabilized enough to receive the weight of a siege piece. A plan was presented to Gilmore for the construction of a battery on 2 August 1863. It was immediately accepted and several days were spent setting up support activities to supply lumber and other materials. Construction of the battery began on 10 August.​
The construction began with a rectangular frame of sheet piling driven by a lever activated ram. The first measure to reinforce the soil was “a thick stratum of grass”. This was covered by two layers of tarpaulin followed by “15 inches of well rammed sand”. A platform of three layers of 3 inch pine planks topped off the position. The work was declared prepared to take an eight inch Parrott rifle on the 17th. The final tally of material used in the construction of this battery, all of which had to be transported by hand over a mile on a four foot gangway makes the seven day work a marvel. Materials included:​
13,000 sandbags 123 pieces of 15-18” diameter pine logs (Piling) 5000 feet 1” boards 8 Tarpaulins 18X28 feet 9156 feet of 3” pine planks 300 pounds 4” spikes 300 pounds 7” spikes 600 pounds of assorted iron pieces 75 fathoms of 3” rope​
This material list did not include the materials that were used to build the gangway. The battery was completed with a service road to the edge of the river.​

1577492848575.png

Maj. Gen. Quincy A. Gillmore, Photo by USAMHI

Actions Against Charleston

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 with "Swamp Angel". With an 8-inch-diameter bore, 11-foot bore depth, and a 16-pound powder charge, it was capable of firing a 150-pound projectile the 8,000 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 by using the known bearing of the steeple of St. Michael's Church, which could not be seen at the Marsh Battery because of a grouping of trees on James Island, and at 1:30am 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 night, August 23, 20 more shells were fired at the city. On this night a number of the shells exploded inside the gun, causing the breech reinforcing band to come loose on the sixth shot. The gun continued to be fired, with the crew of the gun taking cover outside the gun emplacement on each shot. On the last discharge, the Swamp Angel burst, the breech being blown out of its reinforcing band, and the gun thrown to the top of the parapet. Three men were injured in the explosion, but not seriously. No other guns were placed in the battery. The physical damage to Charleston was minimal, and its citizens remained defiant.​
Trenton, NJ Gets a Cannon Barrel / Markings are Identified
After the war, it is believed that the gun was junked and was to be sold as scrap iron. This gun, along with some others were purchased by Charles Carr of Phoenix Iron Company of Trenton, NJ, and when the shipment of scrap arrived, one of the workers, who has served in Charleston recognized the broken gun, and a plan to save the gun was hatched.​
Notification was given to the New Jersey Adj. Gen. William J. Stryker, who served in the Charleston campaign in 1863, and he helped to setup a plan to put the Swamp Angel up as a monument in Trenton for public display. A spot was found at a busy intersection in town, the gun was welded back together without it's reinforcing band, which had been lost or perhaps removed on purpose, no-one knows for sure, and the completed gun-tube was placed atop it's newly created street-side monument in 1877.​
When road changes required the movement of the original monument, a new location at Cadwallader Park was found, and a new, smaller stone base was built for the gun, which was rededicated on April 12, 1961. However, by that time, it was getting very difficult to read any of the markings on the barrel, between the years of wear and tear, some abuse from being treated as scrap, and many layers of paint, you couldn't see any numbers or identifying marks on the gun.​
In the 1970's, cannon expert Warren Ripley disputed the identification of the Swamp Angel, knowing that at least 3 other guns had been burst at Charleston in similar incidents, and that there was only a 1 in 4 chance this particular tube was the correct gun.​
In recent years, two well respected artillery researchers, Edwin Olmstead and Wayne Stark, removed enough paint to clearly read the Registry No. as "6," agreeing with Gillmore's description of the 8-in Parrott rifle in the Swamp Battery, so the identification may now safely be regarded as conclusive. Today, the gun is relatively well preserved, with 70% of the muzzle markings revealed and protected.​
The black & white photos below show the "Swamp Angel" in battery, and after it was thrown forward on it's parapet after bursting, these photos are from the Library of Congress. The color photos were taken by Michael & Ami Kendra in June of 2002 in Cadwallader Park, Trenton, NJ.​

ADDITIONAL PHOTOS


1574780833028.png

Swamp Angel after bursting, LOC, 1863

1574780959175.png

4.2 inch Parrott on a Siege Carriage
Also Rumored to be Nicknamed "Swamp Angel"
in the Marsh Battery at a Later Period
LOC, 1863 or more likely 1864

1574828630480.png

Remains from a gun, possibly the Swamp Angel,
perhaps remains of 2 different guns?
from Charleston, SC, LOC, 1863

1577457244820.png

Postcard from 1900's showing early monument
Corners of N. Clinton Ave. and Perry Street
Note: Drinking trough at base for horses!

1574779192949.png

Left Rear of Swamp Angel, ©Mike Kendra, 2002

1574779208908.png

Right Side of Swamp Angel, ©Mike Kendra, 2002

1574779224474.png

Detail of crack in breech, ©Mike Kendra, 2002

1574779239261.png

Marker on base of Swamp Angel, ©Mike Kendra, 2002


FOR FURTHER READING
ASSOCIATED LINKS
 
Last edited:

CivilWarTalk

Lieutenant General
- ★★★ -
Managing Member & Webmaster
Joined
Apr 1, 1999
Location
Martinsburg, WV
So, I found it really interesting that Col. Charles Sellmer, who was the gun captain, says they used 20 lbs of powder in this gun, and that it was an older gun that had seen use before...

When I look at all the other reports of the higher ranking officers... "oh no, we only ever used the standard 16 lbs. charge", and "no evidence this gun ever fired a shot before firing at the Marsh Battery".

Interesting how just Sellmer's account is different, and I don't fully understand if this is a bias by the officers against Parrott, or if this is them doing a cover up, or if Selmer is just getting his facts wrong.

Interesting though.

for reference...

“Sellmer had been warned that the Parrott was not a new gun and the exploding shells obviously shortened its life.”

Gate of Hell, Campaign for Charleston Harbour, 1863, By Stephen R. Wise, University of South Carolina Press, 1994, Page 169+
 
Last edited:

CivilWarTalk

Lieutenant General
- ★★★ -
Managing Member & Webmaster
Joined
Apr 1, 1999
Location
Martinsburg, WV
So if a 16 lb. charge was the recommended amount of powder charge, why would they have upped it to 20 lbs.? Would there have been an ordinance manual mandating usage? Guessing if 16 was the recommended then it had been proofed much higher or not.
Sure, I'm sure Parrott proofed at least one barrel to destruction, I read that he did that with a 10 pounder and a 20 pounder, so I'm sure the 100 pounder and 200 pounder were the same. In fact, I think there is a New York Times article from 1863, sort of an opinion piece that talks about how the Parrott Rifle is this 300 pounder Wonder Weapon and how Parrott spends all week shooting his big guns, testing them to destruction at the mountain in New York so the Union Troops could have the best weapons money could buy. Honestly, it sounded more like WWII propaganda, than Civil War era.

I wonder if anyone has done any modern surveys to see what kind of distance they actually got on those hits in Charlestown, it says they went more than 7,900 yards, surely they remember where some of the rounds hit and today can use GPS to calculate the exact yardage right?
 

Lubliner

Captain
Forum Host
Joined
Nov 27, 2018
Location
Chattanooga, Tennessee
I was surprised in my reading earlier today about the Southern Department when I came across this report from Maj. Gen. J. G. Foster, commanding at the time; August of 1864. Almost a year since the 'Christening' of the Swamp Angel he reports on August 18, 1864 one sentence that caught my eye:
"The Swamp Angel has been put in thorough order again and is now armed."
[O. R.; Series 1, Volume 35, Part 1, page 22].
I have come across no further mention yet, as I had earlier turned to this time period and was looking into railroad raids.
Does anyone know if it was put to use one more time?
Lubliner.
 

CivilWarTalk

Lieutenant General
- ★★★ -
Managing Member & Webmaster
Joined
Apr 1, 1999
Location
Martinsburg, WV
I was surprised in my reading earlier today about the Southern Department when I came across this report from Maj. Gen. J. G. Foster, commanding at the time; August of 1864. Almost a year since the 'Christening' of the Swamp Angel he reports on August 18, 1864 one sentence that caught my eye:
"The Swamp Angel has been put in thorough order again and is now armed."
[O. R.; Series 1, Volume 35, Part 1, page 22].
I have come across no further mention yet, as I had earlier turned to this time period and was looking into railroad raids.
Does anyone know if it was put to use one more time?
Lubliner.
I think in August of ‘64 a 30 pounder Parrott occupied the Marsh Battery position, and was also nicknamed Swamp Angel, but I don’t think that’s very well known.
 

Lubliner

Captain
Forum Host
Joined
Nov 27, 2018
Location
Chattanooga, Tennessee
I think in August of ‘64 a 30 pounder Parrott occupied the Marsh Battery position, and was also nicknamed Swamp Angel, but I don’t think that’s very well known.
I don't remember which time spoken of, but seem to remember reading it was set up once after being thrown off its supports, and when fired after re-setting, the first shot exploded the barrel. It would make sense that some other weapon would be used, if the barrel was burst and no way to fix it. At this time in August 1864, there was a depletion of ammo and Commander Dahlgren of the Navy had offered General Foster use of some heavy Naval Ordnance, about 12 pieces. These had their own parapet built for them but joined in relation to other positions. The initial mentioning of the Swamp Angel almost struck me as disinformation. Foster had a quantity of ideas he wanted to use, was complaining how the Department had been stripped bare when command changed in May, and gave bad reference to Birney and Commander Dahlgren previous to the 12 pieces offered. He did not think Dahlgren was willing to mount an offensive and be responsible for it. Foster was full of wild ideas, and I do not come away with much credit to his own statements.
Lubliner.
 

Lubliner

Captain
Forum Host
Joined
Nov 27, 2018
Location
Chattanooga, Tennessee
View attachment 336262

I forgot, this photo is one of the ones in the slider from the Library of Congress, it's even listed as the "Swamp Angel?" in the LOC catalog.

The heat of mid to late summer was terrible in those parts. In 1864 mention is made of a yellow fever outbreak in the confederate city of Charleston, and Foster instated a quarantine, keeping the disease from the Union troops. Still there were reported deaths (3 confirmed) due to heat-stroke, and the men were having shipments of fresh produce brought up from Florida (Union).
Lubliner.
 

CivilWarTalk

Lieutenant General
- ★★★ -
Managing Member & Webmaster
Joined
Apr 1, 1999
Location
Martinsburg, WV
Updated the main post's slideshow to include an image of a postcard of the earlier monument in Trenton, and also updated the storyline with more information about how the barrel was rescued, the monument was erected, and the barrel identified.
 

John Hartwell

Major
Forum Host
Joined
Aug 27, 2011
Location
Central Massachusetts
"100 men 18 feet tall."

In 1906, William A. Barnhill, Co. I, 104th Pennsylvania, told the G.A.R. organ, the National Tribune (Jan. 26), a humorous, if, perhaps, apocryphal anecdote about the mounting of the Swamp Angel:

“Our brigade composed of the 104th Pa., 52nd Pa., 11th Me., 56th N.Y., and 100th N.Y., spent nine months in that siege.​
“Our noble Gen. Quincy Gilmore, [was] an Engineer who arranged his guns and made Fort Sumter look like an old brick kiln. In my humble opinion Gen. Gilmore was one of the leading Engineers of the civil war. The mounting of 200 and 300-pounder Parrott guns on solid ground is one thing, but when it comes to mounting a 200-pounder in marsh 16 feet deep it is another. He did this to get a gun to bear on Charleston.​
“A Lieutenant was detailed for this purpose and told to requisition whatever material and men he needed. The following day he requested the Depot Quartermaster to furnish him with 100 men 18 feet tall to wade through mud 16 feet deep. He then asked the surgeon if he could not splice the men if necessary. The lieutenant was placed under arrest for this pleasantry. I was one of the detail that mounted the gun.”​
 
Last edited:

Lubliner

Captain
Forum Host
Joined
Nov 27, 2018
Location
Chattanooga, Tennessee
"100 men 18 feet tall."

In 1906, William A. Barnhill, Co. I, 104th Pennsylvania, told the G.A.R. organ, the National Tribune (Jan. 26), a humorous, if, perhaps, apocryphal anecdote about the mounting of the Swamp Angel:

“Our brigade composed of the 104th Pa., 52nd Pa., 11th Me., 56th N.Y., and 100th N.Y., spent nine months in that siege.​
“Our noble Gen. Quincy Gilmore, [was] an Engineer who arranged his guns and made Fort Sumter look like an old brick kiln. In my humble opinion Gen. Gilmore was one of the leading Engineers of the civil war. The mounting of 200 and 300-pounder Parrott guns on solid ground is one thing, but when it comes to mounting a 200-pounder in marsh 16 feet deep it is another. He did this to get a gun to bear on Charleston.​
“A Lieutenant was detailed for this purpose and told to requisition whatever material and men he needed. The following day he requested the Depot Quartermaster to furnish him with 100 men 18 feet tall to wade through mud 16 feet deep. He then asked the surgeon if he could not splice the men if necessary. The lieutenant was placed under arrest for this pleasantry. I was one of the detail that mounted the gun.”​
Gillmore had no sense of humor!
Lubliner.
 
Top