What if the Rebels had failed to get hold of the Norfolk Navy Yard cannon?

USS Cumberland

Private
Joined
Dec 23, 2014
When the Union Navy abandoned the Yard, they not only burned a sizable proportion of the old sailing navy, but they also tragically abandoned an estimated 1,200 heavy caliber naval cannon, and tens of thousands of projectiles. These heavy naval guns ended up arming many of the heavy forts through out the Confederacy. How many were they able to transport out during the relatively few weeks that they possessed the yard?

Putting aside the whole Merrimack/Virginia topic, would the South have been able to hold out for any great length of time without them? Were there enough heavy fortification guns in the south in 1861? Imagine Fort Wagoner armed primarily with brass Napoleons ...

Also, would the cannon on board the destroyed ships like the Pennsylvania (120 32-pounders) or the USS Delaware (74 42-and-32-pounders) still be serviceable after such intense fires?
 

Carronade

Captain
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Aug 4, 2011
Location
Pennsylvania
Were you thinking of the Norfolk Navy Yard? A couple of posts from @Mark F. Jenkins in this thread:


….mention how many of them were shipped out. The Confederates held the yard from April 1861 through May 1862 IIRC, so they had time to ship many of the guns, especially the more modern ones. The yard was reasonably convenient to railroad lines.

Ships laid up in ordinary generally had their guns removed, to save strain on the ship's structure. Barrels were usually removed from carriages for long-term storage for the same reason. Ruts in the deck or flat-edged wheels from sitting in one position for years would be less than desirable when putting a ship back into commission.
 

georgew

Sergeant
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Oct 1, 2010
Location
southern california
When the Union Navy abandoned the Yard, they not only burned a sizable proportion of the old sailing navy, but they also tragically abandoned an estimated 1,200 heavy caliber naval cannon, and tens of thousands of projectiles. These heavy naval guns ended up arming many of the heavy forts through out the Confederacy. How many were they able to transport out during the relatively few weeks that they possessed the yard?

Putting aside the whole Merrimack/Virginia topic, would the South have been able to hold out for any great length of time without them? Were there enough heavy fortification guns in the south in 1861? Imagine Fort Wagoner armed primarily with brass Napoleons ...

Also, would the cannon on board the destroyed ships like the Pennsylvania (120 32-pounders) or the USS Delaware (74 42-and-32-pounders) still be serviceable after such intense fires?
Perhaps not as difficult as you think in terms of distribution. A number of the guns were shipped to North Carolina probably by barge for safekeeping. Other guns were shipped out by rail to Memphis, New Orleans and Mobile. In the case of the Mobile guns, instructions were also send on how to rifle the heavier 32-lb types. The inventory list I've seen done for the governor of Virginia just after the yard was taken indicated a bit over 1000 guns including a few older types like the Shuback guns and some of the light 32-lb family. There were also some "legacy" carronades, usually listed as 32-lb, but the USN had some 42-lb carronades and many had been modified into "gunnades" allowing higher elevation or declination for firing. From the field army's point of view these were very heavy guns in terms of just how and where they could be used. The legacy carriages for most, if available, were designed for naval or fort applications. Rail or barge shipments would be the preferred method of transport. Not much use in a war of maneuver. A number of the vessels at Norfolk were in for repairs and/or storage and in such cases their batteries would have been landed and placed in the Navy's version of an artillery park.
 

DaveBrt

2nd Lieutenant
Joined
Mar 6, 2010
Location
Charlotte, NC
The states/Confederates captured many additional guns in the many forts they took in early 1861 -- Ft. Sumter, Ft. Maultrie, the Pensacola forts, the several New Orleans forts, the Mobile forts, the Ship Island fort, several forts on the North Carolina coast, etc. The guns at these forts would have been thinned out to provide guns at other needed locations.

On the other side of the picture, how many guns did the South loose without making a real difference in its defense? How many of the New Orleans guns were lost without making an impact on the war? How many fewer guns could have been in place in those forts and still have caused the Union to acted as it did in that area? Would the Union navy have followed exactly the same campaign plan if the New Orleans forts had contained 30% fewer guns? Would the Pensacola story have played out the same if the Confederates had removed 25% of the guns shortly after capturing the forts?

I would need to do some serious research before offering an opinion on the impact on the Confederacy of the failure to have and use the Norfolk guns.
 

wausaubob

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Location
Denver, CO
More Confederate forts were lost due to inadequate manpower to protect their land communications with a logistical base, than due to shortage of firepower. The US forces for the most part settled on making an unopposed landing away from the fort and then cutting the road to the fort. The US navy very seldom tried to shoot their way in to a Confederate fort. Fort Fisher, protecting Wilmington was exception, because of its unique position, and because it was part of a US attempt to end the war as soon as possible.
 
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DaveBrt

2nd Lieutenant
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Mar 6, 2010
Location
Charlotte, NC
More Confederate forts were lost due in adequate manpower to protect their land communications with a logistical base, than due to shortage of firepower. The US forces for the most part settled on making an unopposed landing away from the fort and then cutting the road to the fort. The US navy very seldom tried to shoot their way in to a Confederate fort. Fort Fisher, protecting Wilmington was exception, because of its unique position, and because it was part of a US attempt to end the war as soon as possible.
Early forts were subject to naval attack -- Forts Hatteras, Clark, Walker, Beauregard fell in 1861 to such. Fort Henry fell in early 1862.

All forts, castles, fortified cities are subject to being cut off and eventually taken if their support forces are prevented from providing the expected support. Their job is to hold out until relieved.
 
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georgew

Sergeant
Joined
Oct 1, 2010
Location
southern california
The states/Confederates captured many additional guns in the many forts they took in early 1861 -- Ft. Sumter, Ft. Maultrie, the Pensacola forts, the several New Orleans forts, the Mobile forts, the Ship Island fort, several forts on the North Carolina coast, etc. The guns at these forts would have been thinned out to provide guns at other needed locations.

On the other side of the picture, how many guns did the South loose without making a real difference in its defense? How many of the New Orleans guns were lost without making an impact on the war? How many fewer guns could have been in place in those forts and still have caused the Union to acted as it did in that area? Would the Union navy have followed exactly the same campaign plan if the New Orleans forts had contained 30% fewer guns? Would the Pensacola story have played out the same if the Confederates had removed 25% of the guns shortly after capturing the forts?

I would need to do some serious research before offering an opinion on the impact on the Confederacy of the failure to have and use the Norfolk guns.
You make some good points. I've always wondered what would have happened if the Confederates had made the capture of Fort Pickens a priority. Because of the shape of the harbor at Pensacola this fort functioned like a stopper in a bottle. It was undermanned at the outbreak of the war and its fall would have freed up a number of units from Braggs command and quite a bit of artillery. It would have also make the dock and shipyards there very valuable to the south. And not just in construction, a rail line had just been completed to Pensacola and it would have greatly assisted in efforts to thin out Union blockaders plus having the capacity to repair damaged runners and forward their cargoes.
 

DaveBrt

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Joined
Mar 6, 2010
Location
Charlotte, NC
You make some good points. I've always wondered what would have happened if the Confederates had made the capture of Fort Pickens a priority. Because of the shape of the harbor at Pensacola this fort functioned like a stopper in a bottle. It was undermanned at the outbreak of the war and its fall would have freed up a number of units from Braggs command and quite a bit of artillery. It would have also make the dock and shipyards there very valuable to the south. And not just in construction, a rail line had just been completed to Pensacola and it would have greatly assisted in efforts to thin out Union blockaders plus having the capacity to repair damaged runners and forward their cargoes.
They made one attempt and it was a disaster. I think it was just too early for the army the South did not have to embark on such a difficult operation. Even the well prepared siege of Ft. Morgan took the Union 2 weeks and the assistance of a large naval force and an attack against Fr. Pickens in 1861 would have had none of the necessary factors for success -- trained troops, command of the sea near the fort, siege guns, mortars, etc.
 
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