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USN Weapons Requirements

Discussion in 'Civil War History - The Naval War' started by USS ALASKA, Jul 31, 2018.

  1. USS ALASKA

    USS ALASKA Sergeant Major

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    Have recently been reading a bit on the USN during the age of sail. It seems to me as if the ship's Captains had quite a bit a leeway pertaining to their vessel's armament during the Revolution and 1812.

    Did this continue into the ACW? Did Captains have a great deal of say with regards to their on-board equipment or was the USN beginning to standardize what types of weapons went on what type of ships?

    Thanks for the help,
    USS ALASKA
     

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  3. Carronade

    Carronade 1st Lieutenant

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    I'm surprised we haven't heard from the experts like Mark or rebel, but the variation of armament even within a class suggests that captains or navy yard superintendents had considerable leeway, particularly with the lighter broadside guns.

    Ships also appear to have been adapted for specific operations at times. The main armament - not a Civil War term AFAIK - of the war-built sloops was 2-3 big pivot guns, but Conway's credits Juniata and Ticonderoga with heavy broadside batteries in addition - 10 8" and 12 9". These two were at the bombardment of Fort Fisher, so I suspect the extra armament was fitted for that operation.
     
    Last edited: Aug 1, 2018
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  4. jk225

    jk225 Private

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    By 1860 there were ordnance instructions detailing weapons and types that were allowed on each vessel type. There was a great deal of variation, but the regs were there and the slow, inevitable, process to replace ship's small arms with regulation weapons was in full swing. By 1865, all ships were equipped with regulation small arms.
     
  5. USS ALASKA

    USS ALASKA Sergeant Major

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    Sorry for the confusion sir - I was referring to the main armament.

    Cheers,
    USS ALASKA
     
  6. rebelatsea

    rebelatsea 1st Lieutenant

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    Thanks, I was waiting for Mark ! In some cases the prescribed warrant was on board ,but for varied reasons, captains were allowed to place elements below rather than in the ports. This could be for adjusting the ship for a particular mission, or because she was temporarily transporting vast quantities of stores, or even to improve her behaviour at sea.
     
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  7. USS Cumberland

    USS Cumberland Private

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    The Frigate Essex sailed from the Washington Navy Yard in December, 1810, after a major rebuild equal to the cost of her initial construction. She mounted 26 new long twelve pounders on her gun deck, plus 18 new 32-pounder carronades, and two more long twelves as chasers on her spar deck, 46 guns total. Her then captain, Joseph Smith, put immediately in at Norfolk, Va, for stores, but decided, on his own initiative, according to a letter from Midshipman Frederick Baury, to swap out 24 of the main deck long guns for an equal number of additional 32-pounder carronades.

    The Essex, being an old fashioned 12-pounder 32-gun frigate, built to a Revolutionary War design, was thought to have been inferior in force to any British frigate that she might encounter, they being near all 18-pounder ships at that time. The Essex being small and sharp-lined could not also carry a battery of long 18's. Smith thought a battery of forty 32-pounder carronade smashers would give him the edge in any future battle, but only at short range.

    History would prove Smith wrong. The storm-crippled Essex was later destroyed in 1814 at long range, by the 18-pounder HMS Phoebe.
     
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  8. Carronade

    Carronade 1st Lieutenant

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    I had not known of the intermediate stage in Essex's armament. Her original upper-deck battery was ten 6-pounders, presumably two on the forecastle and eight on the quarterdeck. 32pdr carronades were slightly lighter than long 6s, but the revised upper deck armament was still about twice as heavy as the original. I wonder if the increase in weight/topweight may have been a factor in Smith's decision?

    Essex was built by public subscription, which meant that the size of a ship was determined by how much money a community could raise; most of the subscription ships of the 1790s were smaller than the 18pdr frigates being built by Britain or France.

    Essex's rearmament suggests that her inferiority was recognized, but she would still have been outclassed in a one-on-one battle with Phoebe or most of the British frigates she was likely to encounter. I've never run across an instance of a 12pdr frigate defeating an 18pdr ship in a straight-up fight - anyone?

    Essex was a fast ship, so there was a good chance she could control the range. Battles commonly came down to close-range fighting anyway, particularly with the British who carried a high proportion of carronades themselves. Nor would an enemy meeting Essex at sea know her exact armament; unfortunately Hillyar had had the opportunity to observe her while the two sides glared at each other in Valparaiso harbor. The one thing that could doom Essex was just what happened, an accident reducing her speed.

    We might also recall that in the first phase of the battle at Valparaiso, the British did close to carronade range, largely because the sloop Cherub was armed almost entirely with them. Essex gave as good as she got, which led Hillyar to back off and let his long 18s do most of the work.
     
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  9. USS Cumberland

    USS Cumberland Private

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    British frigates with 12-pounders won several victories again 18-pounder French frigates, just look through James' Naval History of Great Britain. The one that comes to mind is Lord Thomas Cochrane's 32-gun HMS Pallas defeating the 40-gun French La Minerve in 1805 or '06, and doing so with, if I remember correctly, few or no fatalities.
     
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  10. Carronade

    Carronade 1st Lieutenant

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    A creditable action, but Cochrane was not able to bring it to a conclusion before he was forced to break off by the approach of other French ships. IIRC he ran alongside Minerve, hoping to finish the battle by boarding, but Pallas was badly damaged by the impact. I've read that she had been built of pine to expedite construction, a not uncommon 'war emergency' measure, but not ideal for crashing into a larger ship made of oak.
     
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  11. USS ALASKA

    USS ALASKA Sergeant Major

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    Sirs, I was thinking about this in light of another thread - as stated, different targets call for different responses. A masonry fort, earthen works, adversary ironclads would all seem to call for larger, more powerful weapons. If the task was hunting blockade runners, I would want the lightest, quickest firing weapons that could do the job. Keep the weight of my ship down for speed considerations and would want to scare and stop targeted runners but not destroy them because of prize money considerations. Of course once at sea, one never knows who one will run into or what ops one will suddenly get assigned. A balanced approach seems to be the wisest compromise.

    Cheers,
    USS ALASKA
     
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  12. Carronade

    Carronade 1st Lieutenant

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    I find the variety of guns on Civil War ships intriguing. Ships with as few as 4-6 guns might have 3-4 different types. Part of it was the emergence of new technologies, and as you say there was a desire to have the right weapons for each purpose.

    In the days of fighting sail, the guns on each deck of a ship at least were usually all the same type, although they got mixed up a bit with the invention of carronades. Still it was uncommon to have more than three gun types on a frigate or five on a ship of the line.

    In the postwar steel navy era, after a period of experimentation, they settled down to fairly uniform main, secondary, anti-torpedo, anti-aircraft, etc. batteries.
     
    Last edited: Aug 9, 2018
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  13. Talos

    Talos Private

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    Pallas was infamously weak. The fir isn't the really bad part, there were plenty of good fir warships in the Royal Navy at the time, such as the Newcastle heavy frigates designed to counter the American ships. With Pallas and her sisters (Thames Class) though, they were designed for "economical" fastening schemes to cut down on the number of scarce knees used in construction. These are the parts that give a hull it's rigidity and strength.... Whoops.

    The issue with the battle with Minerve actually was the impact demasted him. Took down his topmasts and he could barely get away. He was also fighting three brigs at the same time he fought Minerve in May 1806.

    There was an interesting trend in this even before the Civil War. With the introduction of Paixhans guns into service, they were too heavy to fit most sailing warships with a full gundeck (because they were designed for 18, 24, 32-pdrs, etc), so they would fit a few of them (4-10) and the rest would be normal cannons. These was the American doctrine since the 1840s, with a mix of 32-pdrs of various weights and 8" shell guns. This is similar to the old pre-broadside days of the 1600s where multiple guns would be placed on most gundecks.
     

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