Swamp Angel

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The Swamp Angel, Cadwallader Park in Trenton, N.J. (Photo by Michael Kendra, 2002).
  • Type: 8-inch Parrott Seacoast Rifle, 11 rifle grooves
  • Year of Manufacture: 1861
  • Tube Composition: Iron
  • Bore Diameter: 8 inches
  • Standard Powder Charge: 16 pounds
  • Projectiles: 150 lb. bolts
  • Tube Length: 162 inches
  • Tube Weight: 16,000 lbs.
  • Effective Range (at 35°): 8,000 yards
  • Invented By: Robert P. Parrott
  • Registry Number: 6
  • US Casting Foundry: West Point Foundry, NY
  • Current Disposition: Cadwallader Park in Trenton, N.J.
  • Special Notes: The "Swamp Angel", which fired from the marsh near Morris Island into Charleston, burst on the 36th shot, throwing the breech off.

More about the 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, 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.

Building "The Swamp Angel"

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. 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 on the steeple of St. Michael's Church, 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.

After the war, it is believed that the gun was sold as scrap iron. The citizens of Trenton, NJ., acquired it and have mounted it in Cadwallader Park. However, the reinforcing band has been lost since the gun exploded. Some researchers cast doubt on the identity of the Cadwallader Park Gun, it is well known that there are at least three other 8-inch Parrotts that exploded in similar manners. The markings on the gun are hard to read, so it was difficult to know if this gun is the actual "Swamp Angel". However, 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 safely be regarded as conclusive.

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.

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