Tuesday, March 4, 2014

General Quincy Adams Gillmore

Here's my article about General Quincy Adams Gillmore that ran in the Summer 2013 edition of The Black Swamp Trader & Firelands Gazette. It appears here through the courtesy of that publication.
Lorain's General Quincy A. Gillmore Outgunned the Confederate Army
By Dan Brady
With the 150th anniversary of the Civil War in full swing, many Ohio communities are renewing their interest in local heroes. For the city of Lorain, that means it's time for the spotlight to shine on General Quincy A. Gillmore. While the local newspaper has already run the expected short article about him (minus photo), his accomplishments in the artillery services of the Union Army are still not well known, even in his own hometown. So, at a time when the media constantly bombards us with newly anointed “heroes,” let’s look back at General Quincy A. Gillmore, a soldier of distinguished character who made artillery history in the Union Army during the Civil War.
Quincy A. Gillmore was born Feb. 28, 1825 in Black River (as Lorain was known then). His grandfather, Edmund Gillmore, was one of the founders of Black River, having come to the area in 1811 from Chester in Hampshire County, Massachusetts. Edmund Gillmore eventually owned nearly 1,000 acres in Amherst and Black River Township, including what is now Lakeview Park in Lorain and extending west to the railroad undercut at W. 21st Street.
Indeed, present-day Lakeview Park on U. S. 6 in Lorain is where Quincy A. Gillmore was born to Quartus and Elizabeth (Reid) Gillmore. He was named after then President-elect John Quincy Adams.
Quincy A. Gillmore attended Norwalk Academy and Elyria High School, and was recommended for West Point. But he almost missed his opportunity to attend the prestigious military academy!
According to A Standard History of Lorain County, Ohio (1916) by G. Frederick Wright, “He was not in the neighborhood at the time of the messenger who sought him, who therefore passed Black River to seek other likely young men of military ambitions. But word was brought to young Gillmore, who promptly mounted his horse and gave chase, overtaking his man in time to secure the appointment.”
Gillmore graduated from West Point in 1849 at the top of his class and joined the Army Corps of Engineers. His early military career included helping to plan the fortifications at Hampton Roads, Virginia. This was followed by a return to West Point as assistant professor of practical engineering. It was at West Point where Gillmore conducted his research – which would later prove quite valuable – on the effects of cannon projectiles on brick masonry forts.
Later, Gillmore was transferred to New York City, where he became the Army’s chief engineer in that region. With the outbreak of the Civil War, he requested a battlefield position, and was assigned to accompany General Thomas W. Sherman on his expedition against the coastal areas of South Carolina. 
It was General Sherman who asked Gillmore to develop a plan to capture Fort Pulaski, outside Savannah, Georgia, from the Confederates.
Up to that time, Fort Pulaski – surrounded by marshes and fortified with 7-1/2-foot solid brick walls – was considered impregnable. Military experience had held that beyond a distance of 700 yards, cannons and mortars would have little chance of breaking through solid masonry walls. Beyond 1,000 yards, it was accepted that they would have no chance at all.
But this was the opportunity for Gillmore to demonstrate his brilliance at artillery work, as well as his fearless disregard for long-held traditions.
Gillmore was familiar with the test records of a new weapon – the rifled gun – with which the army had begun to experiment. He believed that it would be possible to reduce Ft. Pulaski with mortars and rifled guns from Tybee Island, a mile or more away.
Gillmore submitted his plan to Sherman, who approved it but had his doubts that it would work. Gillmore then erected artillery batteries on the northwest shore of Tybee Island, employing ten of the new experimental rifled cannons.
After the Confederates refused to surrender, Gillmore opened his bombardment of Fort Pulaski on April 10, 1862. Thanks to the rifled cannons, projectiles broke through the fort’s walls, and by noon of the next day, huge gaps appeared in the southeast angle. With explosive shells passing through these holes, the main powder magazine was threatened, and the Confederates surrendered in less than three days.
The capture of Fort Pulaski was important because it allowed the Union Army to command the entrance to the principal port of Georgia. Gillmore’s bold tactics revolutionized the naval gunnery of the world, and brought him fame throughout Europe and America. For his service, he received the brevet of lieutenant colonel and was made brigadier general of volunteers on April 28, 1862.
Gillmore at Charleston, South Carolina
Gillmore's next major success was with the “Swamp Angel,” a 10-ton gun that fired shells weighing 150 pounds that was used to batter Charleston, South Carolina in August 1863 from two miles away. Gillmore ingeniously transported the gun over a floating highway made of logs to its position in the shallow marshes of Morris Island, catching the Confederate army off-guard.
The “Swamp Angel” was fired only thirty-six times before it exploded at the last discharge. Its place in history was assured, however, due to the fact that the distance covered by its shells was farther than any previous bombardment, and that it was the first known firing of an artillery piece using a compass reading.
During that same month, Gillmore bombarded Fort Sumter for seven days, reducing it to a pile of rubble.
Although the Union Army failed to capture Charleston during that campaign, it did succeed in creating a blockade of the water approaches to the city. Gillmore was promoted to major general for his success.
Gillmore remained in the military following the end of the Civil War. He bought his old family farm at Black River and established a vineyard there. His postwar work consisted of engineering work, including the improvements of the Charleston and Savannah harbors. He also published many engineering books, as well as treatises on Road Making and Paving.
He died at Brooklyn, New York on April 7, 1888 and is buried at U. S. Military Academy, West Point Cemetery.
Gillmore was honored by his hometown on April 27, 1922 – the one-hundredth-birthday anniversary of General U. S. Grant. The Nathan Perry Chapter, Daughters of the American Revolution planted a memorial tree and dedicated a plaque in Lakeview Park in Lorain, near the site of the house in which Gillmore was born.
The plaque, which was placed on a large boulder, read, “This tree is planted and this boulder erected in memory of Quincy A. Gillmore, major general in the Union army, war of 1861-65. Dedicated by Nathan Perry Chapter, Daughters of the American Revolution.”
The replacement tablet in Lakeview Park
Sadly, the original plaque was later stolen. It was replaced in recent years with a replica plaque with slightly different wording, and the “new” monument was relocated to a special area in the park designed for historical markers.
Peggy Gillmore, 89, is a fifth cousin to General Gillmore and the last of his relatives still living in Lorain. She is justifiably proud to be a member of Lorain’s original pioneer family, and enjoys talking about her famous cousin with anyone who is interested. 
She has a philosophical attitude about the fact that her famous relative’s military accomplishments are not so well known, even in his own hometown.
“Gillmores are not ones to blow our own horn,” she explained.
Here’s hoping that General Quincy A. Gillmore, the celebrated Civil War commander from Lorain, Ohio whose contribution to military history – the shattering not only of Confederate fortress walls but military artillery conventions as well – is not forgotten.


Paula said...


Really nice article... I'm hoping to find the memorial plaque when I'm in Lorain later this week...

Dan Brady said...

Thanks, Paula! The marker is over by the Admiral King WWII monument at the west end of the park. There are several markers all together over there.

Mike Kozlowski said...


I've been to Fort Pulaski a few times, never knew that General Gillmore was a hometown boy! Also, the Swamp Angel still exists - it's on display in New Jersey : http://www.scencyclopedia.org/swamp_angel.htm


Drew Penfield said...

That's what we're here for, Dan. To make sure this stuff is not forgotten.