How powerful is naval cover?

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MikeyB

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I know its going to depend dramatically by what class of ship we're talking about. But just trying to figure out, when I read about naval cover for Mac on the Peninsula or Grant at Pittsburgh's landing, is there a way to think about the equivalence in land battery power? Are naval guns as effective as a land battery when not firing at ships? What percentage of a ship's guns are effectively useless because they're facing the wrong direction and can't be physically brought to bear?

So if Grant has 10 gunboats covering Pittsburgh landing, with 15 guns each, is this the equivalency of having roughly 150 land guns or ~30 batteries? (totally making up numbers because I have no idea the actual stats)
Regards,
mike
 

Mark F. Jenkins

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You're right, there's a lot of "it depends".

Gunboats of the era typically had their heaviest armament on pivots that could be brought to bear on either broadside; and the vessel itself could be maneuvered to bring different guns to bear, except in situations where there wasn't much room to maneuver, so usually the vessel commander had his choice of what guns to lay on which target.

The principal factors when firing at land targets were usually visibility and the type of target. In that era, the technology of the weapon had exceeded the technology of aiming it, so that a gun had the capability to hit something the gunner couldn't see-- but since the gunner couldn't see it, hitting it was a matter of luck. There were at least two instances I know of off the top of my head where artillery spotting was used, at the forts below New Orleans and at Milliken's Bend, which made naval covering fire much more effective, but it doesn't seem to have been used in other cases where it could have been. (Naval commanders were accustomed to being able to see their target, which is possible much more frequently at sea than on land.)

The type of guns mattered a great deal, too. Ships designed to fight other ships often had a smaller number of heavier guns, each of which could cause potentially catastrophic damage to another ship, but at the cost of a slow rate of fire (the classic case being the monitors, with two giant guns that could fire once every five to ten minutes or so). When firing against land targets, what was usually more effective was a large number of smaller guns that could lay down a fire of much greater frequency. (Think of trying to use a siege battery in a tactical situation-- if you are firing at a bunch of infantry, you'd really rather have a large number of Napoleons instead of the same weight of siege guns.)
 

Carronade

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I know its going to depend dramatically by what class of ship we're talking about. But just trying to figure out, when I read about naval cover for Mac on the Peninsula or Grant at Pittsburgh's landing, is there a way to think about the equivalence in land battery power? Are naval guns as effective as a land battery when not firing at ships? What percentage of a ship's guns are effectively useless because they're facing the wrong direction and can't be physically brought to bear?

So if Grant has 10 gunboats covering Pittsburgh landing, with 15 guns each, is this the equivalency of having roughly 150 land guns or ~30 batteries? (totally making up numbers because I have no idea the actual stats)
Regards,
mike
15 gun ships would have most of them on the broadsides. Pivot guns competed for centerline space with masts, funnels, helm, hatches, etc.; I can't think of a Civil War ship with more than three - anyone? As Mark notes, pivot guns tended to be the heaviest, up to 11" Dahlgrens, although for bombarding troops more numerous smaller guns might have been more useful.

The gunboats at Shiloh or Malvern Hill carried most of their guns on the broadsides. Some of the river gunboats were even worse; for example the City class had 13 guns of which no more than 4 could be brought to bear at one time (3 facing forward, 4 on each broadside, 2 aft).

Ships could carry ample supplies of ammunition, whereas land-based guns were dependent on what could be brought forward from landings or railheads by horsepower.

Gunboats like the "double-enders" or converted ferryboats often had some of their guns, like 24pdr howitzers or 20pdr rifles, on army-type two-wheeled carriages, so they could be moved to different gunports as needed. While these were the lighter guns by navy standards, they were comparable to the heavier field pieces.

One of my favorite types is the two-turret monitor, which could bring its full firepower to bear in any direction except right forward or aft, but as noted their shell size and rate of fire were more suitable to ship-to-ship action than supporting troops ashore.
 
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Lampasas Bill

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Naval guns were most useful as support for infantry when they could enfilade an enemy's flank. Examples are the first day at Shiloh, were gunboats fired on the Confederate flank as they made their last assault on Grant's line at Pittsburg Landing, and at the second battle at Donaldsonville, Louisiana, where a gunboat raked the flank of Confederates attacking a Union fort which backed up on the Mississippi. I don't think the number of guns mattered as much as their relationship to their target: enfilades, where they could do real damage, as opposed to more direct firing which would cause fewer casualties. Firing against fortifications, of course, was a different story, as it was designed to destroy the enemy's cover.
 

USS ALASKA

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Firing against fortifications, of course, was a different story, as it was designed to destroy the enemy's cover...
...or just to keep their heads down during an assault...
77

Cheers,
USS ALASKA
 
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MikeyB

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Naval guns were most useful as support for infantry when they could enfilade an enemy's flank. Examples are the first day at Shiloh, were gunboats fired on the Confederate flank as they made their last assault on Grant's line at Pittsburg Landing, and at the second battle at Donaldsonville, Louisiana, where a gunboat raked the flank of Confederates attacking a Union fort which backed up on the Mississippi. I don't think the number of guns mattered as much as their relationship to their target: enfilades, where they could do real damage, as opposed to more direct firing which would cause fewer casualties. Firing against fortifications, of course, was a different story, as it was designed to destroy the enemy's cover.
Is solid shot the most effective ammunition for enfilade fire? You want a shell that will go through a line of 20 men and just keep going?
 
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ErnieMac

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My understanding of the Battle of Shiloh is that the effects of the naval artillery from USS Lexington and USS Tyler were more psychological than physical. The 12-lb Napoleon was the most commonly used field artillery used by CW armies. The sound effects and explosive power of 32-pounders and the heavier 8" Dahlgrens carried by those ships got the attention of the Confederate troops even if they did not account for many casualties.
 

Coonewah Creek

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I know its going to depend dramatically by what class of ship we're talking about. But just trying to figure out, when I read about naval cover for Mac on the Peninsula or Grant at Pittsburgh's landing, is there a way to think about the equivalence in land battery power? Are naval guns as effective as a land battery when not firing at ships? What percentage of a ship's guns are effectively useless because they're facing the wrong direction and can't be physically brought to bear?
One situation that comes to mind was Breckinridge's attack on Baton Rouge in August 1862. The Confederate Expeditionary Force had basically beaten the Federal garrison and had driven them back to the river to the protection of the Federal Fleet. The CSS Arkansas was intended to arrive to destroy or drive away the Federal gunboats and allow the ground forces to take the town. Of course, she broke down and was fired by her own crew to prevent her capture, so that scenario never happened. The Confederates were wary of attacking into the teeth of the gunboats now protecting the Federal soldiers and so withdrew. This is the fleet of the Federals at Baton Rouge:

Warships:
Cayuga (Unarmored screw gunboat, Unadilla class; one 11-inch smoothbore, four 24-pounder smoothbores, one rifled 20-pounder)

Essex (Converted armored gunboat; one 10-inch smoothbore, three 9-inch smoothbores, two rifled 50-pounders, one 32-pounder smoothbore, one 12-pounder boat howitzer)

Katahdin (Unarmored screw gunboat, Unadilla class; one 11-inch smoothbore, two 24-pounder smoothbores, one rifled 20-pounder)

Kineo (see Katahdin)

Sumter (Converted river ram, formerly CSS General Sumter, captured at Memphis, June 1862; one 32-pounder smoothbore [?])

Just for grins, this is what the CSS Arkansas would have brought to bear against them had she arrived:

CSS Arkansas (Ironclad ram; two 8-inch smoothbores, two 9-inch smoothbores, two 6-inch rifles, four rifled 32-pounders. I shouldn't leave out her ram which was reported to be: "16-foot long by 10-foot wide 18,000-pound cast iron ramming “beak,” securely bolted along eight feet of her prow timbers."
 
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redbob

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One of the main problems that ship vs. shore has is that ship's guns often could not be elevated enough to reach elevated targets such as was found at Vicksburg and Drewry's Bluff. This was where the mortar barges/scows became most useful as they could arc the rounds onto target. Solid shot was most useful if you wanted to "smash" a target and explosive shell was most useful against live/moveable targets. While Naval gunfire has it's place, without observation to "call in the rounds" and spot them, it is often ineffective-think Marine assaults against Japanese held islands in WWII.
 
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redbob

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My understanding of the Battle of Shiloh is that the effects of the naval artillery from USS Lexington and USS Tyler were more psychological than physical. The 12-lb Napoleon was the most commonly used field artillery used by CW armies. The sound effects and explosive power of 32-pounders and the heavier 8" Dahlgrens carried by those ships got the attention of the Confederate troops even if they did not account for many casualties.
I have read an account where a Confederate complained that the Union Naval fire kept them from getting any rest at Shiloh.
 

georgew

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You're right, there's a lot of "it depends".

Gunboats of the era typically had their heaviest armament on pivots that could be brought to bear on either broadside; and the vessel itself could be maneuvered to bring different guns to bear, except in situations where there wasn't much room to maneuver, so usually the vessel commander had his choice of what guns to lay on which target.

The principal factors when firing at land targets were usually visibility and the type of target. In that era, the technology of the weapon had exceeded the technology of aiming it, so that a gun had the capability to hit something the gunner couldn't see-- but since the gunner couldn't see it, hitting it was a matter of luck. There were at least two instances I know of off the top of my head where artillery spotting was used, at the forts below New Orleans and at Milliken's Bend, which made naval covering fire much more effective, but it doesn't seem to have been used in other cases where it could have been. (Naval commanders were accustomed to being able to see their target, which is possible much more frequently at sea than on land.)

The type of guns mattered a great deal, too. Ships designed to fight other ships often had a smaller number of heavier guns, each of which could cause potentially catastrophic damage to another ship, but at the cost of a slow rate of fire (the classic case being the monitors, with two giant guns that could fire once every five to ten minutes or so). When firing against land targets, what was usually more effective was a large number of smaller guns that could lay down a fire of much greater frequency. (Think of trying to use a siege battery in a tactical situation-- if you are firing at a bunch of infantry, you'd really rather have a large number of Napoleons instead of the same weight of siege guns.)
I can think of a situation where the availability of shipboard artillery would have been critical. During the second Union assault on Fort Fisher the guns of the Federal vessels put a lot of the Confederate guns out of action and softened up the land side approaches. If either of the Confederate ironclads built at Wilmington (N. Carolina and/or Raleigh) had been available they would have been able to bring heavy fire from the river side on massing Union land forces and possibly made their assault on the land side defenses prohibitive. It would have been pretty flat trajectory fire for rifled guns and minimum elevation for smooth bores with shells. Unfortunately for the south, Raleigh and N. Carolina were already out of action due to an accidental grounding and shipworm.
 
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Scooter_B

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I know its going to depend dramatically by what class of ship we're talking about. But just trying to figure out, when I read about naval cover for Mac on the Peninsula or Grant at Pittsburgh's landing, is there a way to think about the equivalence in land battery power? Are naval guns as effective as a land battery when not firing at ships? What percentage of a ship's guns are effectively useless because they're facing the wrong direction and can't be physically brought to bear?

So if Grant has 10 gunboats covering Pittsburgh landing, with 15 guns each, is this the equivalency of having roughly 150 land guns or ~30 batteries? (totally making up numbers because I have no idea the actual stats)
Regards,
mike
Good question.
 
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Isn’t there an old saying, that any ship that fights a fort is bound to loose?

I would say it is very situational and definitely depends on both the target and attacking vessel. On one hand there were engagements like Drewrys Bluff where the ships didn’t achieve anything against forts, then the extreme opposite is probably the battle of Shimonoseki where warships knocked out fairly heavy conventional battery’s using breechloading guns and shell guns to full advantage.

A lot must also be said for the coordinations between Army & Navy, my understanding is that it was poor during the Pennisula Campaign for instance and that had a significant effect on the outcome of the battles.
 
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Ole Miss

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One of the main problems that ship vs. shore has is that ship's guns often could not be elevated enough to reach elevated enough to reach elevated targets such as was found at Vicksburg and Drewry's Bluff This was where the mortar barges/scows became most useful as they could arc the rounds onto target. Solid shot was most useful if you wanted to "smash" a target and explosive shell was most useful against live/moveable targets. While Naval gunfire has it's place, without observation to "call in the rounds" and spot them, it is often ineffective-think Marine assaults against Japanese held islands in WWII.
The same problem that effected the naval bombardment against Japanese did the same at Shiloh. Plunging fire was a difficult problem for large naval vessels, battleships and heavy cruisers with 8", 14" and 16" shells, both in the Pacific and at Shiloh.
The high bluffs along the Tennessee River precluded both the USS Tyler and USS Lexington from firing directly at the Confederates and were forced to attempt to skip shots along the battlefield as well as trying to hit trees to produce splinters which were deadly.
In the Pacific, destroyers with their 5" guns were called in to very shallow water to fore directly at pillboxes and other fortifications the big naval guns could not hit. The lack of mortars and howitzers were keenly felt in both arenas.
One simple has to see the terrain at Shiloh to understand the battle. Photos are great but just as at Gettysburg, you gotta walk the ground to see what effect the terrain produces in the outcome of battle.
Regards
David
 
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georgew

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The same problem that effected the naval bombardment against Japanese did the same at Shiloh. Plunging fire was a difficult problem for large naval vessels, battleships and heavy cruisers with 8", 14" and 16" shells, both in the Pacific and at Shiloh.
The high bluffs along the Tennessee River precluded both the USS Tyler and USS Lexington from firing directly at the Confederates and were forced to attempt to skip shots along the battlefield as well as trying to hit trees to produce splinters which were deadly.
In the Pacific, destroyers with their 5" guns were called in to very shallow water to fore directly at pillboxes and other fortifications the big naval guns could not hit. The lack of mortars and howitzers were keenly felt in both arenas.
One simple has to see the terrain at Shiloh to understand the battle. Photos are great but just as at Gettysburg, you gotta walk the ground to see what effect the terrain produces in the outcome of battle.
Regards
David
Union troops tried to set up an ambush for the CSS Maurepas in Arkansas waters. They had heard that the gunboat had moored in a little deeper water under hill. They intended to mount their guns on the hill and fired down onto her from a height in which the Confederate guns could not reply. It didn't work. The Maurepas had moved to another part of the river.
 
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