Friday, January 13, 2012

Charleston Museum promises a 'blast'

Grahame Long, curator of history at The Charleston (S.C.) Museum, likens the unusual Quinlivan solid round to a deadly "iron drill bit."

Quinlivans and other projectiles riddled the ironclad USS Keokuk in the April 1863 Battle of Charleston Harbor, resulting in its sinking a day later off Morris Island.

A Quinlivan and 40 projectiles, shells, Minie balls and case shot from the museum's collection are featured in "Blasted: Assorted Projectiles and Explosives of the Civil War," which opened in the venue's lobby this week and continues through Sept. 10.

The city and surrounding islands tended to "mainly be on the receiving end" of explosives and projectiles, Long told the Picket. Charleston, he said, was the most-bombarded city in South during the conflict.

Most of the instruments of death were found in the Charleston area. They are evenly split between Confederate and Union uses.

After the heady weeks following the surrender of Fort Sumter, the Union fleet eventually tightened its noose on the city. Beginning in August 1863, troops threw Parrott and other shells at Charleston over a 567-day period, inducing a form of psyschological warfare. One of the weapons was dubbed the "Swamp Angel."

"This was indiscriminate bombing," said Long.

He points out technological innovations that made the business of killing or destruction, shall we say, a bit more efficient. "There were a thousand different ways to build a better mouse trap."

One example is the increased use of projectiles utilizing timed fuses. Previously, the energy of most artillery rounds were absorbed by walls or other structures.

"With the timed fuses, a lot of that energy was dispersed with full force," Long said.

The exhibit includes fired and unfired Minie balls, a type of rifled, muzzle-loaded bullet that increased effective ranges from 50 yards to about 250 yards. "Something so cheap and simple totally revolutionized how wars were fought," the curator said.

Weapons makers and individuals rushed into production all manner of projectiles. Many worked, others did not.

"War has always been a big business," Long said. "There was money to be made."

The exhibit features a 225-pound incendiary shell fired by Federals from Parrott guns. An exploding chamber in the front was accompanied by incendiary fluid -- coal tar, coal oil and petroleum -- in the rear.

"Blasted" is one of a series of Charleston Museum exhibits marking the 150th anniversary of the Civil War. The next will examine the role of militia units in Charleston.

Photos courtesy of The Charleston Museum, Charleston, S.C. Top image is a James Shell (Pattern 1) with slotted fuse plug. The second is a case shot with timed fuse plug. The third is a Schenkl shell, which provided increased range and accuracy.

More information on the exhibit and other items at the Charleston Museum

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