-- Dilemmas of Compromise --


The Charleston Mercury, December 21, 1860

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Our Harbor Defences -- Fort Sumter

For Sumter is built upon an artificial island, at the entrance of our harbor. The foundation being of stone, it must be of the strongest nature. That portion of the fort above the water-line is of brick and concrete of the most solid character. Its plan is a truncated pentagon, with one side parallel to the adjoining shore, thus presenting an angle to the channel. Of the truncated angles the eastern, western and northern are simply formed into Pan-coupeÍs [a piece of wall that forms a cutoff corner of a building], whilst the other two are formed into two small faces, making an angle of about fifteen degrees with the sides of the pentagon. At each intersection of the small faces is a sally-port. The height of the parapet above the waterline is sixty feet. On the eastern and western sides are the barracks for the privates, mess hall, kitchen, &c. On the southern side are the officers quarters, which are finished in very handsome style.

It is mounted with the heaviest guns of the United States service, arranged in three tiers, the two lower being Casemates and the upper Barbette guns. The Casemate guns are those which are fired from an embrasure in the Scarp Walls, and are protected from the enemy's shells by an arched bomb-proof covering overhead; the Barbette, those which fire over the parapet, which exposes the cannoniers to the fire of the enemy, although, in this instance, the height of the ramparts is so great that there is comparatively no danger from the shot of an enemy's fleet. The armament consists of 140 pieces, placed in the following order: The heaviest guns, such as the 32 and 63 pounders, on the first tier; 24 and 32 pounders on the second tier; Columbiads (8 and 10 inch) and heavy sea coast mortars on the top of the ramparts.

The heaviest pieces are turned toward the harbor, the lighter toward the land, side; which side is further protected by musketry, for which loop-holes are cut in the Scarp Wall. The number of each kind of gun is about thirty 64-pounders; the same number of 32-pounders; forty 24-pounders; ten of each calibre of Columbiad; ten 13-inch and ten 10-inch mortars, capable of throwing about four thousand (4000) pounds of shot and four thousand three hundred (4300) pound of shall at each discharge.

On the terra-parade plain are situated two furnaces for heating shot. The magazines are situated on the inner sides of the sally ports, and contain, pat present, 40,000 lbs. of powder, and a proportionate quantity of shot and shell. The landing to the Fort is on the southern, or land side, and is formed by a wharf projecting towards the shore, and also extending the length of that face.

This Fort would be nearly impregnable if finished and properly manned. It is at present so far completed that with a little temporary work, it could be made so strong as to defy any attack by a fleet of large vessels. Its weakest point is on the south side, of which the masonry is not only weaker that than [sic] of the other sides, but it is not protected by any flank fire, which would sweep the wharf. Once landed, an entrance may, at the present state of the construction, be easily made, for the blinds of the lower embrasures, though six inches in thickness, may yet be easily blown away, and even if this was impossible, scaling ladders can reach those of the second tier which are not protected in this manner.

This concludes the brief sketch of a fort, which is a most perfect specimen of civil and military engineering. The whole work has been conducted in a manner that reflects the highest credit upon the engineers, and is worthy to occupy the prominent position that it holds. In conclusion, we take occasion to allude to one point of especial beauty - the construction of the arches - of which there are nearly every variety - the "Full Centre," the "Segment," the "Groined," the "Askew," and the "Rampant" - and to add that the walls at their base are 12 feet thick, and at the top 8 1/2 feet thick.

Fort Johnson

The position of this old fort, which is of the utmost importance as a connecting point in the defense of the Harbor, has been considered by the highest military authority, as the key to all the defensive works in the Harbor. Against the attack of forces by land, or a boat attack by the Stono River, it must be considered an essential element of defense. So soon, then, as the State of South Carolina assumes the control of the Harbor fortifications, no time should be lost before a permanent fortification is commenced here, if time does not admit of a substantial work being built, a field-work of earth and timber to mount sixty guns, could be created in a very short time, which would offer a respectable defense against any probable land-attack, and furnish at the same time a heavy battery against shipping.

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