We are moving house.. again. However, this time it’s within the same city, so if all goes well I’ll be back at the painting and gaming table in no time. In fact, things should actually improve space-wise – there is even the possibility of getting a gaming room. I’ll keep you informed!
Meanwhile, I want to share some American Civil War images I’ve recently come across. First is a photo I found on the fold3 database, towards which Andy Hall pointed me and which has free access until April 15. It’s one of the rare occasions to see sailors operating ashore, here drilling with Dahlgren boat howitzers. The third wheel on the carriage and the drag rope for manhandling the gun can be clearly seen.
Moving on to the landlubbers, here we have a curious image (also from fold3) of an US regiment drilling to form square against cavalry. As far as I know, this never happened on the battlefield, but it does give a nice impression of the dimensions of a regimental square.
The last image is from the Library of Congress and is one of my favorite Civil War photos, as it shows something that is usually forgotten: namely logistics. Here we have a Union wagon park at Brandy Station.
The neat rows of carts create the impression of a well-organised wagon train – hopefully an auspicious image for our house move…
When the Civil War broke out, the Union navy had a mere 7.000 men and forty functioning ships. An intense recruitment program was started, often trying to lure men into service with exaggerated promises of prize money. At the end of the war, the navy had 51.500 men serving on 670 ships.
Sailors relaxing on the deck of USS Monitor
African American sailor.
In contrast to soldiers, who generally had a rural background, sailors predominantly came from the urban working class. 45% of recruits were foreign-born immigrants, most of them Irish, but many from England, Canada, Germany and many more states. The navy also had a long-standing tradition of recruiting African-Americans and by the end of the Civil War, 15-20% of the men serving were black.
Sailor had the reputation of being rowdy and ill-disciplined, but they were also hard-working and proved to be quite able in combat. As the blockade of the Confederate coast was central to Union strategy, landing operations were conducted from the beginning on. Sailors were drilled with small weapons and regularly landed for shooting exercises. As boarding actions were very rare, they were not accustomed to fighting in close quarters. There was a least one occasion when they did attack enemy lines with close combat weapons (the ill-fated assault on Fort Fisher), but most of the time it seems that they preferred to shoot at the enemy from a distance. Admiral Dahlgren’s instructions from August 8, 1864 state that “skirmish drill” was most appropriate for sailors.
Practicing close combat.
Sailors often operated together with a ship’s contingent of Marines. Marines were few in number – at the beginning of the war, there were only 1.800, and they never numbered more than 3.900 – but they belonged to the few regular troops available to the Federal government. Although they did fight in a couple of battles (most importantly at First Bull Run), most often they were employed in amphibious operations. They were also deployed as light infantry and would fight in open order. Shooting practice was encouraged and they were regarded as good marksmen.
Sailors were mostly armed with the Plymouth musket (Whitney Model 1861). The use of buckshot at short range was recommended by Dahlgren. Some .52 cal. Sharps and Hankins rifles were also in circulation, while pistols and cutlasses were used for assaults. Marines were armed with the Springfield rifle musket (M1855).
One special piece of equipment was the Dahlgren Light Boat Howitzer. Its carriage had a third wheel in the trail so it could be manhandled up a beach. A very mobile weapon, it was an integrated part of landing force tactics.
Naval Landing Parties conducted a large variety of operations. An important task was scouting, especially in the maze of waterways and inlets of the South Atlantic Coast. Armed launches would be dispatched to probe a river, looking for smugglers, blockade runners and hidden batteries. They were also sent to capture and destroy Confederate ships, confiscate or destroy contraband, hunt guerillas or storm gun emplacements.
There are a number of figures available. In 28mm, 1st Corps offers a large variety of Marines and Sailors. Redoubt also makes landing parties.
In 15mm, Minifigs produces Sailors and Marines, although the Marines are in dress uniform which was most probably never worn in battle. QRF/Freikorp15 also offers sailors, while Peter Pig makes a very nice naval artillery crew.
It is difficult to get detailed information on the operations of naval landing parties. I’m very grateful to Mr Chuck Veit, President of the reenactment group ‘U.S. Naval Landing Party’, who patiently answered my questions and generously shared his research. His website is a treasure trove of information, while his book A Dog Before a Soldier contains many ideas for scenarios. Very useful information on the Dahlgren Boat Howitzers can be found on Craig Swain’s blog To the Sound of the Guns.
Bennett, Michael J.: Union Jacks. Yankee Sailors in the Civil War, Chapel Hill, NC.: University of North Carolina Press 2004.
Browning, Robert M. Jr.: Success is all that was expected. The South Atlantic blockading squadron during the Civil War, Washington, DC: Brassey’s, Inc. 2002.
Field, Ron: American Civil War Marines 1861-65, Oxford: Osprey Publishing 2004.
Field, Ron: Bluejacket. Uniforms of the United States Navy in the Civil War Period 1852-1865, Atglen, PA: Schiffer Military History 2010.
Veit, Chuck: A Dog Before a Soldier. Almost-lost Episodes in the U.S. Navy’s Civil War, self-published (Lulu.com) 2010.
EDIT: As Andy Hall (of the highly recommended Dead Confederates blog) was kind enough to point out that the sailors in the first image are not actually US sailors, I've changed the image to one showing crewmen of the USS Monitor relaxing on deck.
To spice things up, we also used a mechanics for secret objectives. We’ve used this system before for other games and it always provides an exciting experience – there’s a lot of second-guessing as it enables the attacker to makes faints and forces the defender to keep a reserve.
For this game, I made up three cards which would thematically fit with the background. The attacker (the Landing Party, which turned out to be K.) drew one of three cards – this would be her objective for the game. I didn’t know which card she drew, of course, so I had to watch every move and be prepared to rush in quickly.
The judge was located in the big house on the Northern edge of the table, the livestock were in the pigsty and the telegraph line went along the road on the Western table edge.
The game started with K. deploying her sailors. For the first couple of turns, the Leader commanding the Marines didn’t come up, but in true navy spirit the impetuous sailors rushed forward nevertheless.
One group ran towards the judge’s house, so I deployed one group of skirmishers there. The ball was opened by those groups exchanging some shots.
However, the bulk of the Union sailors ran towards the small homestead with the pigsty and took position behind the farm-house.
Could this be the Union’s objective? Better save than sorry, I thought, and deployed a line of my regulars to cover the farm. The others I deployed on the table but kept in reserve in column formation so as to be able to quickly react to any threat.
K. also deployed her Boat Howitzer on the hill and shot at the skirmishers on my left flank. However, we forgot two important artillery rules (round shot reduces cover and canister gets a +1 to hit), so it didn’t do much damage. Perhaps the powder got wet during the landing…
On the right flank, my guys at first kept the sailors in check, but then the Marines arrived.
I still feared some kind of ruse but had no other choice than to commit the rest of my regulars to my right flank. Normally, K. is a pretty cunning player, but this time she went for a rather direct approach, trying to force her way to the pigsty by bludgeoning my troops head-on.
The Marines positioned themselves behind a fence and began a withering fire. The firepower of a skirmish formation is quite formidable, especially if it is hidden behind an obstacle, which enhances its cover bonus even more. Having spent their first volley, my regulars kept up a ragged fire which didn’t make much of an impression on the Marines.
There was, however, a fierce struggle for the pigsty, with sailors heading into the muck only to be driven away by charging Confederates.
As always with Sharp Practice, melee is risky for both sides and the best way to drop Force Morale fast. K. also neglected to withdraw her broken sailors, so they came under fire from my skirmishers, which made them rout off the table. This was enough for the Union Commander: despite his Marines still being in good shape, he decided to pull out and call it a day. No pork for the crew of the USS Sasquatch today!
Another great game! The secret missions were fun and contributed to making the game more exciting. Forgetting the artillery rules was an embarrassing mistake – my skirmishers came under artillery fire a couple of times and probably would have been severely mauled if we had played it right. Also, if K. had pulled back her broken group, I couldn’t have dealt her the finishing blow. Her Marines were still strong and might have pulled off a victory by overwhelming me with their firepower had they had more time.
All in all, I think that the Landing Party works well. Our next plan is to play a campaign using the new supplement, Dawns & Departures.
In July 1861, the US Navy Department ordered 23 gunboats as an emergency measure to enforce the blockade of Confederate ports. Due to their rapid construction, those light-draft vessels were known as “90-day gunboats”. They proved to be good sailors and became workhorses of the navy, doing blockade duty as well as being deployed on the rivers.
One of those vessels, USS Katahdin, was involved in the ‘Great Naval Cattle Drive’ which I want to play as a scenario with Sharp Practice. Another fine opportunity to build a ship from scratch!
The first decision was to reduce the size. Katahdin was 48 meters long, which would amount to 48cm in 1/100 (the nominal scale of 15mm figures). Not only is this a tad too large for my smallish table, all my other terrain is reduced in scale anyway – I don’t think any of my buildings are really 1/100. Also, my ground scale is reduced by one-third. So I decided to build the ship in 1/160, making the hull 30cm long and 5,5cm broad. This, in turn, would necessitate to reduce the size of the cannons, but I think this is an ok compromise – I certainly prefer it to having to distort the proportion of the whole vessel, as can be seen in some commercially available models.
There are not many detailed images of this class of ship available. My main source was a photography available from the Library of Congress. I also found some interesting pictures in Charles Stedman’s Sketchbook. Stedman was a surgeon who served on USS Huron (and later on the Monitor USS Nahant) and who made a series of humorous sketches of everyday life in the navy.
Those images were good enough to get the proportions and a general impression of the boat. As my model was going to be a gaming piece, I wasn’t too concerned about accuracy, I just wanted to achieve an overall effect of recognizability.
The hull was built as a laminated hull, made up of layers of balsa wood glued together. This was then sanded and the gaps were filled with Milliput.
The deck was planked with strips of wood, while the planking of the hull was made out of strips of wood veneer.
The small deck construction in the stern was made out of plastic. Some other details were added and then the whole ship was painted; black for the hull and a light brown for the deck and masts. I got the small guns from a modelling shop, but I built the big pivot gun from scratch, as the commercially available guns were too large. The guns look tiny in comparison to the crew, but that’s a compromise I can live with. The crew is from Peter Pig. I know that the rigging is complete fantasy, but it’s supposed to give an impression while, at the same time, not get in the way of placing the figures.
It was really fun building this ship and I’m looking forward to getting it onto the gaming table!
Gibbons, Tony: Warships and Naval Battles of the US Civil War, Limpsfield: Dragon’s World 1989.
Hill, Jim D. (ed.): The Civil War Sketchbook of Charles Ellery Stedman, Surgeon, United States Navy, San Rafael, Ca.: Presidio Press 1976.