William M. McArthur
April 10, 1862
In late November, 1861, General Robert E. Lee stood on the 7 1/2 –foot thick parapet of Fort Pulaski at the mouth of the Savannah River in Georgia, and informed his Confederate counterparts that they did not need worry, the fort could not be breached by artillery shells. He directed the soldiers manning the fort to make some minor changes, and then Lee returned to Virginia.
Mere months later, Captain William McArthur and five companies from Maine’s 8th Infantry Regiment stood on Tybee Island, more than a mile downriver from Fort Pulaski, and proved Lee wrong.
McArthur, 29, of Limington, commanded the crews manning weapons new to the waging of war. The large cannon featured rifled bore, five grooves running the length of the barrel with a right-hand twist. The grooves imparted spin to the shot which allowed the projectiles to travel farther and with greater accuracy than the conventional cannonballs fired from mortars.
The Maine units were assigned to the batteries by Captain Quincy Adams Gillmore, who had more than 30 of the new rifled cannons readied to fire on Fort Pulaski.
Beginning shortly after 8 o’clock on the morning of April 10, the Maine men began pelting Fort Pulaski. The repeated accuracy of the new weapons shocked the Fort’s commander, Colonel Charles Olmstead. As the cannonballs continued to strike and knock huge chunks from the Fort’s walls, Olmstead – and soon thereafter, General Lee – realized that no fort would be safe against the new weapons.
On April 11, McArthur and the 8th Maine resumed firing the cannon at Fort Pulaski. The shots edged closer and closer to the Fort’s magazine of gunpowder, and Col. Olmstead quickly surrendered.
Union General Henry Benham honored the work of the 8th Maine following the bombardment.
Maine Adjutant General John Hodsdon noted in his 1862 Report, "When the fort surrendered, Gen. Benham, as a compliment to the gallantry and superior behavior of the 8th, ordered their colors to the first raised upon the fort." (Adjutant General’s Annual Report , 1862, page 65)
Fort Pulaski cost more than $1 million to build. In less than two days the 8th Maine Regiment and the United States Army had made it worthless.
- Why would a spinning projectile travel more accurately and for greater distance?