How would the Russian fleet in San Francisco fare against Confederate privateers?

Saphroneth

Major
Joined
Feb 18, 2017
Right, that’s why threads like this can be interesting for airing opinions, but in the real world the force with “superior” numbers doesn’t always win. The CW itself is full of such examples.
Superior numbers don't win by themselves, but usually when they don't we can explain why. And there's no denying that when one side has superior numbers of guns, superior numbers of ships, the individual ships are more capable (thicker sidewalls, faster movement) and the crews are at least equally capable then there's only really one way we can see the fight going.

"We cannot be certain who would win" does not equate to "We can form no hypothesis about who might win". If we can say with 85% confidence that side A would win, and side B wins, that doesn't mean we were wrong - it just means side B rolled a six. Our initial assessment was still valid.
 

Rhea Cole

1st Lieutenant
Joined
Nov 2, 2019
Location
Murfreesboro, Tennessee
The CSA vessels in question were commerce raiders not warships. Snapping up a National warship of inferior strength is one thing, taking on a screw frigate like the Kearsarge was something else entirely. The inclination of the largely British crew that had signed on for shares in the prize money to to sacrifice their lives for glory is questionable. The whole point of commerce raiding is to hit’em where they ain’t.

Specifically, a single vessel vs a fleet, as Southern ironclads demonstrate, is suicidal. In any case, win or loose, there was no place where a CSA vessel could have safely refitted on the Pacific coast after an encounter with a national vessel or vessels.

For the reasons stated, a commerce raider’s goal is to avoid all contact with national warships. As for attacking the Russians, Lincoln’s principle of fighting one war at a time applies.

An unarmored wooden ship did not have a chance vs a Monitor in the closed waters of San Francisco Bay.
 
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Rhea Cole

1st Lieutenant
Joined
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Location
Murfreesboro, Tennessee
Since we are spitballing this subject, commerce raiders did not have enough powder & shot for constant live fire drills. I can say from personal experience that even crews with years of experience need regular drilling to be sharp. On the rolling & pitching deck of a ship, gun laying was difficult.

I am, probably the only person contributing to this thread who had participated in muzzle loading cannon fire from a sailing ship. I was smacked on the chest by a piece of burning burlap fired from another ship, for example. With the smoke, explosions, overwhelming noise & constantly changing relative position, actually aiming & hitting a target over open sights at long range would have required practiced skill. It really is hard to comprehend what is happening.

The additional effective range of large caliber smoothbore & rifled cannon made accurate gunnery more challenging. The lack of resupply makes it very unlikely that CSA commerce raiders engaged in live fire drill necessary for accurate practice.
 
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Saphroneth

Major
Joined
Feb 18, 2017
Since we are spitballing this subject, commerce raiders did not have enough powder & shot for constant live fire drills. I can say from personal experience that even crews with years of experience need regular drilling to be sharp. On the rolling & pitching deck of a ship, gun laying was difficult.
Yes, though as far as I'm aware there were no regulations for live fire drills for the Union navy either. So this would presumably end up balancing out to some extent.
 

Rhea Cole

1st Lieutenant
Joined
Nov 2, 2019
Location
Murfreesboro, Tennessee
Yes, though as far as I'm aware there were no regulations for live fire drills for the Union navy either. So this would presumably end up balancing out to some extent.
There was a monthly allotment for live fire on Union warships. Without regular practice there was no way to hit a target at the ranges the large caliber cannon were capable of. I realize you have no hands on experience, but take it from a man who has trained new volunteers & been an NPS qualified gunner for decades, drill, drill, drill & drill some more is the only way to effectively man a muzzle loading cannon.

The difference between a well schooled & practiced gun crew & one that is not is glaring. A poorly trained crewman is in real danger of traumatic amputation. My safety lecture begins with a Portuguese # 1 whose arm & sponge rammer proceeded him through an embrasure before he plunged 30 feet into the ocean in 1535 to present day casualties that include double amputation at the elbow. There is no such thing as too much drill.
 
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Saphroneth

Major
Joined
Feb 18, 2017
There was a monthly allotment for live fire on Union warships. Without regular practice there was no way to hit a target at the ranges the large caliber cannon were capable of. I realize you have no hands on experience, but take it from a man who has trained new volunteers & been an NPS qualified gunner for decades, drill, drill, drill & drill some more is the only way to effectively man a muzzle loading cannon.
I understand that drill is important - it's just that the only qualification required to be made a gun captain in the US Navy was good eyesight. A Royal Navy gun captain had to be examined for accuracy.
 

Rhea Cole

1st Lieutenant
Joined
Nov 2, 2019
Location
Murfreesboro, Tennessee
I understand that drill is important - it's just that the only qualification required to be made a gun captain in the US Navy was good eyesight. A Royal Navy gun captain had to be examined for accuracy.
I have absolutely where you have acquired your understanding of artillery practice, but your grasp of what the duties & responsibilities of any gunner is not based in fact. Where on earth have you collected all this disinformation?
 

Saphroneth

Major
Joined
Feb 18, 2017
I have absolutely where you have acquired your understanding of artillery practice, but your grasp of what the duties & responsibilities of any gunner is not based in fact. Where on earth have you collected all this disinformation?


'The Captains, especially, should be selected from those in whose skill, coolness, and judgment the greatest reliance can be placed, without regard to their ratings... They should be examined by the Surgeon with reference to eyesight.'
(Manual of Gunnery Instructions for the Navy of the United States, 1864)



'Men in Sea-going ships are to be encouraged to qualify themselves for "Acting Captain of Gun" under the instruction of the Gunnery Officer, in which case they need only be required to be perfect in the first three instructions, but each man before receiving his certificate must have fired at least the following number of rounds, and have proved that he can lay a gun quickly, and is a good and efficient shot:-
120 rounds from a rifle at objects distant from 200 to 800 yards...
20 rounds from a revolver pistol
30 rounds from a 6-pounder short practice gun, half being with motion
10 rounds from a great gun, half being with motion
On their arrival in England to pay off, they must pass through one of the Gunnery Ships to be confirmed in their present certificate, or to qualify for a higher grade.'
(Instructions for the exercise and service of great guns, etc., on board her majesty's ships, 1858)


One of these navies has established as a rule that someone who wishes to be a gun captain must fire shots from several different types of gun, and must be tested after every voyage to confirm their skills.
The other has established as a rule merely that someone who wishes to be a gun captain should have their eyesight tested.
 

Rhea Cole

1st Lieutenant
Joined
Nov 2, 2019
Location
Murfreesboro, Tennessee
'The Captains, especially, should be selected from those in whose skill, coolness, and judgment the greatest reliance can be placed, without regard to their ratings... They should be examined by the Surgeon with reference to eyesight.'
(Manual of Gunnery Instructions for the Navy of the United States, 1864)



'Men in Sea-going ships are to be encouraged to qualify themselves for "Acting Captain of Gun" under the instruction of the Gunnery Officer, in which case they need only be required to be perfect in the first three instructions, but each man before receiving his certificate must have fired at least the following number of rounds, and have proved that he can lay a gun quickly, and is a good and efficient shot:-
120 rounds from a rifle at objects distant from 200 to 800 yards...
20 rounds from a revolver pistol
30 rounds from a 6-pounder short practice gun, half being with motion
10 rounds from a great gun, half being with motion
On their arrival in England to pay off, they must pass through one of the Gunnery Ships to be confirmed in their present certificate, or to qualify for a higher grade.'
(Instructions for the exercise and service of great guns, etc., on board her majesty's ships, 1858)


One of these navies has established as a rule that someone who wishes to be a gun captain must fire shots from several different types of gun, and must be tested after every voyage to confirm their skills.
The other has established as a rule merely that someone who wishes to be a gun captain should have their eyesight tested.
It is obvious that decades of experience, live firing & training are nothing in your eyes, so I will leave this to you.
 

Saphroneth

Major
Joined
Feb 18, 2017
It is obvious that decades of experience, live firing & training are nothing in your eyes, so I will leave this to you.
I mean, decades of experience gives you a good idea about what is possible, but the plain facts of the Manual of Gunnery Instructions should indicate that by the standards of the wartime US Navy you would be heavily overqualified. Congratulations!

It should not be surprising that not all historical powers did things as right as they possibly could have done.
 

SeaTurtle

Private
Joined
Jun 14, 2021
Only privateer I can recall was a failed attempt in California to fit one out that never got off the ground. Plenty of arrests though...

That was in San Francisco in 1863. The J.M. Chapman was the prospective privateer, a 90 ton schooner. Never got out of the port though before the plot was discovered. "Loose lips sink ships" held true in this case. If I recall right, it was the blabbering of one of the would-be crew at waterfront bars that tipped off US authorities to the scheme.
 

Rhea Cole

1st Lieutenant
Joined
Nov 2, 2019
Location
Murfreesboro, Tennessee
That was in San Francisco in 1863. The J.M. Chapman was the prospective privateer, a 90 ton schooner. Never got out of the port though before the plot was discovered. "Loose lips sink ships" held true in this case. If I recall right, it was the blabbering of one of the would-be crew at waterfront bars that tipped off US authorities to the scheme.
At the start of the war South Carolinians converted some civilian shops & went up the coast toward New York City. After the surprise wore off, it did not take long for them to be .

Initially the crew were charged with piracy. Needless to that caused quite a kerfuffle. I don’t recall the exact details. You can reference the Navsource Photo Archives, ironclads & age of sail archive online. It contains a comprehensive list of both Union & Confederate naval assets. Each vessel has a photo or album & history. The post CW histories Monitors surprised me.

It has been a while since I studied the blockade. If memory serves, a number of the privateers were commandeered US Revenue vessels. As a result, like some blockade runners, they were used by both sides.

I recommend the NavSource Photographic archive. It includes a Monitor archive, which is enlightening. The WWII section is fun to browse. The question you have raised will answered & many more questions you don’t have yet.
 

Saphroneth

Major
Joined
Feb 18, 2017
Initially the crew were charged with piracy. Needless to that caused quite a kerfuffle. I don’t recall the exact details.
If it's the privateers, the issue is that they were being tried as pirates after having engaged in privateering, despite neither the Union nor the Confederacy having signed the Treaty of Paris. Since the US had previously espoused the view that one could continue to commission privateers so long as one was not a party to the Treaty of Paris, irrespective of whether the target nation had done so, this was considered inconsistent and drew criticism.

Ultimately, this and the threat of reprisals led to the Confederate privateers being treated as combatants.
 

nc native

Sergeant
Joined
Aug 30, 2011
Location
NC Piedmont
I am no expert on naval affairs during the Civil War but I believe the Russian fleet was in the ports of San Francisco and New York at Lincoln's invitation for two reasons: to build good relations between the countries and as a deterrent to the English Navy in case relations became strained between England and the United States to the point of war as they almost were because to the Trent Affair.
At a historical society meeting last month I heard an author on Russian/United States foreign affairs give a lecture about the fleets in
New York and San Francisco and his main point of emphasis was that Lincoln and the Federal Government were quite happy to have Russian ships in American harbors and cooperation between these nations after the fall out from the Trent Affair. I doubt the Russian Navy would have intervened in the search for Confederate privateers given the circumstances.
 

SeaTurtle

Private
Joined
Jun 14, 2021
The question you have raised will answered & many more questions you don’t have yet.

Thanks, although I wasn't aware that I raised any question myself in this thread. :tongue:
I was just trying to answer the fellow who brought up Confederate privateering attempts in SF.
 

Saphroneth

Major
Joined
Feb 18, 2017
I think there's an important consideration here which is events in Russia at the time. I think the Russian fleet may have been happy to talk about the Trent affair, but more immediate would have been the unrest in Poland which the British and French were making noises about intervening in.

The orders to Lisovskii are, I understand:


" Your fleet is to consist of three frigates, three clippers, and two
corvettes. In case of war destroy the enemy's commerce and attack
his weakly defended possessions. Although you are primarily ex-
pected to operate in the Atlantic, yet you are at liberty to shift your
activities to another part of the globe and divide your forces as you
think best. After leaving the Gulf of Finland proceed directly to
New York. It would be preferable to keep all the ships in that
port, but if such an arrangement is inconvenient for the American
government you may, with the advice of our representative in
Washington, dispose of the vessels among the various Atlantic ports
of the United States. When you learn that war has been declared
it is left to you how to proceed, where to rendezvous, etc. Our
minister will help you in the matter of supplies ; he will have on hand
a specially chartered boat to keep you informed of what is going on.
Should you find out on the way that war has broken out begin
operations at once. If soon after reaching New York you deem it
wise to go to sea try to keep your fleet together until war is
actually declared, but avoid the enemy, even commercial ships, so as
to cover your tracks. If through our minister or some other re-
liable source you are told of the opening of hostilities, dispose of
your ships and plan your campaign as may seem best. Captain
Kroun is preceding you to America to prepare for your coming.
Study the Treaty of Paris so as to be well informed on matters of
neutrality. Should you meet with Rear-Admiral Popov consult
with him as to the course to be pursued. Communicate in cipher.
Hand in person your secret instructions to the officers. Whether
there is war or not make a study of the commercial routes, of the
strength and weakness of the European colonies, of desirable coaling
stations for our fleet, and of the economic and military importance
of our own possessions. These instructions are made purposely
general in order to give you a free hand to act according to your
judgment and discretion."


This seems pretty clearly to envisage the possibility of a future war on a fairly imminent basis. That's the climate in which the Russian fleets take to sea; it's not a coincidence that it would avoid their being stopped up in the Baltic (for the New York ones). As for Popov in San Francisco, he was in Hong Kong so best avoided in the event of possible war with Britain!
 

Mark F. Jenkins

Colonel
Member of the Year
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Mar 31, 2012
Location
Central Ohio
While the notion of direct foreign aid for the North in the war might be interesting, I really doubt it would have gone very far. The apparent show of support (though that was not the reason it was actually done) was a slight morale boost, but I find it difficult to believe that Lincoln's administration would consider Tsarist Russia a reliable ally... especially if that meant increasing Britain's ire as a result.
 

Saphroneth

Major
Joined
Feb 18, 2017
While the notion of direct foreign aid for the North in the war might be interesting, I really doubt it would have gone very far. The apparent show of support (though that was not the reason it was actually done) was a slight morale boost, but I find it difficult to believe that Lincoln's administration would consider Tsarist Russia a reliable ally... especially if that meant increasing Britain's ire as a result.
Russia was widely considered about the only nation the US viewed as a "friend", historically speaking. It was considered one of the preconditions for a multilateral intervention in the Civil War to stop the bloodshed that Russia be one of the powers involved with the intervention.

Of course, this was a bit weird on the face of it; Russia was the most autocratic of the Great Powers. But that kind of silliness happens.
 
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