Incendiary Parrott Shell
Used extensively on both sides during the Civil War, rifled Parrott guns and its conical shells (named for inventor Robert Parker Parrott) first entered into military service in 1860. Highly regarded for their accuracy and range thanks to their rifled barrels, “Parrotts” could fire exploding and incendiary shells from 10 pounds up to 300 at remarkable distances. Beginning in 1863, for example, Union General Quincy Adams Gilmore used assorted Parrott guns positioned on Morris Island to lay siege to peninsular Charleston. One such rifle in Gilmore’s arsenal was the “Swamp Angel,” a 16,300-pound piece with an 8-inch diameter muzzle capable of firing 150-pound shells four miles into the city.
Also included in Gillmore’s magazines were dozens of highly devastating incendiary shells. Large, 8-inch diameter pieces like this one contain two interior chambers. The smaller fused section at the top would explode the shell’s larger bottom section, which splattered (and subsequently ignited) a highly flammable liquid mixture of turpentine, petroleum, coal tar and/or coal oil. The hexagonal bolt, protruding from the bottom of the shell, sealed the well into which the incendiary fluid was poured.
At 1:30 AM, on August 22, 1863, the Swamp Angel fired its first round: a 150-pound incendiary shell identical to this one, which struck a home on Pinckney Street near the Charleston Hotel. The home burst into flames within mere seconds. Naturally, panic ensued as neighboring residents and guests of the hotel heard (and felt) second and third shells explode within their vicinity. Fifteen more projectiles – including ten incendiaries - hit the city at random intervals before dawn.
Weaponry Wednesday: Each Wednesday we post an object (or group of objects) from the Charleston Museum’s diverse weapons collection. Many Weaponry Wednesday items may be on permanent exhibit in our armory or elsewhere in the museum, but some pieces rarely see exhibition, temporary or permanent, but are well worth sharing. We hope you enjoy our selection each week – do let us know if there’s something in particular you’d like to see on WEAPONRY WEDNESDAY! Also, we always want to learn more about our collection - if you have some insights on a piece, please feel free to share! #WeaponryWednes