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 Posted: Sat Jul 27th, 2013 01:00 am
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Hellcat
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Continuing with the use of Greek fire. From Series I - Volume 11 of Official records of the Union and Confederate Navies in the War of the Rebellion, pages 9 and 10 (http://ebooks.library.cornell.edu/cgi/t/text/pageviewer-idx?c=moawar;cc=moawar;q1=Greek%20Fire;rgn=full%20text;idno=ofre0011;didno=ofre0011;view=image;seq=0033):

Letter from A. Berney, to Rear-Admiral Porter, U. S. Navy, requesting his presence in James River to witness experiments with Greek fire.

Jersey City, N. J., October 29, 1864.

DEAR SIR: The last of next week I shall fire some 100-pound Greek fire shells, and also throw a stream of fire up at the Army of the James, per orders of General Butler, as there are many strong ironclads at Richmond, Wilmington, [N.C.], Charleston, Savannah, [Ga.], and other places yet, and I believe with the fire they could soon be destroyed. Can you go up to the army and see the fire thrown? I am satisfied that you will adopt it at once. The machine that will be used can be put on board of any monitor. An early reply will oblige.

Your obedient servant,

A. BERNEY.

Admiral Porter.


I can't find if Porter responded and observed this or not. I do wonder what the fie throw device was, possibly a flame thrower?

Looking that this it almost feels as if this is talking of the use that Garrison reported in his book as being called inhuman by the Confederates. ALMOST, as you'll see further down this post. The thing that gets me is Lincoln was supposed to two 13" shells, is that a reference to the diameter of the shell/bore of the gun firing it or the length of the shell? Because I got to questioning this I decided to look things up on Civil War Artillery to get an idea of the type of shell this might have been, which is what brought up the question of what type of reference. According to the site, specifically the heavy projectiles, a smoothbore 13" mortar shell would have been 12.8 inches in diameter while to bore on the gun firing it is 13". That makes sense to me, a shell isn't going to be exactly the same size as the bore of the gun firing it. It needs to be slightly smaller so it can fit into the barrel. At the same time the shell might have actually weighed around 208lbs, 108lbs more than the shells more than the shells Admiral Porter was being invited to observe. A bit heavy, though there may have been lighter shells for the 13" mortar. Looking at the 10" shell, 10" Columbiad, and 10" mortar I find weights of 103lbs, about 100lbs (though the description says 88lbs), and 88lbs respectively. So I could see a couple of these being the 100lbs shells Admiral Porter was invited to observe, but they don't fit the 13" shells Lincoln observed. Checking the rifled projectiles I can find some of the Parrott projectiles listed as 100 pound shells that measure around 13", hence the reason for my question of shell diameter/bore size vs. length in relation to a 13" shell. My general school of thought would be the shell diameter/bore size.

The Civil War Artillery website does offer something else on the subject of Greek fire, a glossary entry.

GREEK FIRE: Incendiary material used against fortified towns and cities. The composition was contained in tin tubes, 3-inches long, closed at one end and primed with powder and coal tar. These were placed inside a shell and fired at the target. When the shell exploded, the tin tubes were ignited and the flaming composition spilled out, setting fires. Although Greek Fire was very seldom used, reports record its use during the siege of Charleston, South Carolina, among others.

Interesting information, but it forces the question of why Mr. Berney wanted Admiral Porter to observe these experiments in November 1864 when the siege of Charleston took place in 1863. It does, however, say that Lincoln obviously observed the testing of the two 13" shells before the experiments Berney wrote of and it put's the Confederates denouncing the use of Greek fire as inhumane at least as early as 1863. But that denouncing could be even earlier than that. In a report from a Commander Lee, commander of the USS Oneida from April 26, 1862 (Official records of the Union and Confederate Navies in the War of the Rebellion, Series I - Volume 18, page 207 it is stated concerning the surrender of Fort St. Philip:

(It was, perhaps, the burning of the sulphur in our XI-inch shrapnel which occasioned the officers in Fort St. Philip to enquire, after the surrender, if our shells were not filled with Greek fire.)

Ok, so what does this mean concerning Greek fire as a weapon in the war? That's the real question. At first reading I was fairly certain this meant that the Federal forces must already have been using it in 1862. But as I got to thinking about it I realized there was a second possibility. That being that this could have unwittingly planted the idea in someone's head of actually using Greek fire in artillery shells. This would mean that both sides knew of Greek fire but neither had yet experimented with it. I have to lean more towards the former but until I see more I can't yet rule out the latter.

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