Why we're boarding parties seldom used during riverine warfare? Could they have been effective?

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Oct 24, 2019
Location
Texas
I feel it's pretty well understood that the CSA's naval capabilities were always going to be limited, barring a foreign power providing them with ships. What I'm wondering is why they didn't try to find work-arounds for this? Maybe it's just my imagination getting the best of me or something but is it wrong to speculate about the possibilities of boarding parties playing a bigger role in the naval forces of the CSA?
Battle_of_Memphis_I.png

Above is a pictue of the Battle of Memphis in 1862 where a small group of Rebel rams took on a larger force of Timberclad and Ironclad ships. As far as I know, no attempts to board by the Rebs was tried. This is was a missed oppurtunity in my opinion, if you're going up against a technologically and numerically superior force you have to take risks. I know that the Confederate army had a marine Corps, I suppose they didn't have one for the Mississippi
river fleet?

(Example of what a boarding action might look like.)
Boarding-Action.jpg


Some might say that using boarding parties would've ended badly for anyone who had the idea, but I disagree, and there is one weapon that could've been utilized to the advantage of anyone using it whilst aboard an enemy vessel, and that would be the grenade.
selma grendade.jpg


What you see here is a Selma Arsenal manufactured grenade, and in my mind this thing, if used correctly, could've been a game changer. I'm aware that the grenades of the ACW weren't very good, but I think they had potential. Imagine this, a small team boards an enemy vessel. They start chucking a couple of these bad boys into any breach in the ship they can find. It could be a gun port, or a viewing port, and.................... KABOOM! Clears the inside of the ship, possibly even causing the boiler to go aswell. It doesn't even have to be an explosive of the Selma Arsenal design. What about specially made explosives to plant on a weak point on the ship?

So, I argue that specialists trained by either side (mainly the CSA though) could've been ready to take down other vessels by way of boarding actions. Not only this, but I argue that the CSN could've captured ships and used them against the North's river squadrons.

I know, I know. People tend to think about War in cinematic terms. I know this isn't like a James Bond movie or something, but kick the idea around, flirt with it. I think the South could've made it work.​
 

Lampasas Bill

Corporal
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Sep 24, 2018
On Jan. 1, 1863, In the Battle of Galveston, the USS Harriet Lane was boarded and captured by Confederate "horse marines" aboard the cottonclad steamboat Bayou City. Only example I can think of, although I seem to recall that plans had been made to board and capture the USS Monitor by stealth. Perhaps someone knows more about that.
 

danny

Sergeant
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Hattiesburg
...After off-and-on engagements between Confederate shore batteries and several Union gunboats, Forrest and his men commandeered 2 Union steamers on the Tennessee River.

On November 1st, his "cavalry afloat" moved downriver to Johnsonville while a portion of his force struggled with the artillery pieces along the muddy riverbanks. Following a day of desultory action, the Confederates made their final move against Johnsonville on the 3rd. A combination of bluff and clever artillery emplacement brought about a significant Confederate victory. Union gunboats and great mounds of supplies went up in a wild, wind -whipped inferno as Forrest's massed cannon belched successive salvos of unerring iron on them. The Johnsonville Raid resulted in Union losses of 4 gunboats, 14 steamboats, 17 barges, 33 guns, 150 prisoners, and over 75,000 tons of supplies. Total damages were estimated at $6,700,000. The episode once again showed Forrest's fierce but ingenious capabilities and strengthened his reputation as one of the war's premier field commanders.
 

Rhea Cole

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Murfreesboro, Tennessee
Tinclads in the Civil War, Union Light-Draught Operations on Western Waters, 1862-1865 is an encyclopedic source. The daily attacks by regular & irregular Confederates on river traffic & the counter attacks by tinclad gunboats was constant & intense. In no way did it resemble the broadside to broadside boarding party battles of the Napoleonic age of sail. The big City Class gunboats had a small crew of engineers, boiler keepers & coal shovelers. Unlike a sailing ship, there were no top men who went aloft to manhandle the sails, men rated ordinary who stayed on deck were they haul on lines & idlers such as the sailmaker, carpenter & others needed to maintain the ship. Riverine gunboats did not carry the contingent of marines that were the shock troops of boarding parties. There simply weren't the crewmen available to form boarding parties.

There was only one fleet on fleet battle on the Mississippi River. At no time was there any opportunity to board an enemy vessel. In very short order the Confederate vessels were disabled or sinking, thus not the potential objects of boarding parties.
 
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Rhea Cole

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...After off-and-on engagements between Confederate shore batteries and several Union gunboats, Forrest and his men commandeered 2 Union steamers on the Tennessee River.

On November 1st, his "cavalry afloat" moved downriver to Johnsonville while a portion of his force struggled with the artillery pieces along the muddy riverbanks. Following a day of desultory action, the Confederates made their final move against Johnsonville on the 3rd. A combination of bluff and clever artillery emplacement brought about a significant Confederate victory. Union gunboats and great mounds of supplies went up in a wild, wind -whipped inferno as Forrest's massed cannon belched successive salvos of unerring iron on them. The Johnsonville Raid resulted in Union losses of 4 gunboats, 14 steamboats, 17 barges, 33 guns, 150 prisoners, and over 75,000 tons of supplies. Total damages were estimated at $6,700,000. The episode once again showed Forrest's fierce but ingenious capabilities and strengthened his reputation as one of the war's premier field commanders.
The attack on Johnsonville, as documented in Johnsonville, Union Supply Operations on the Tennessee River & the Battle of Johnsonville, November 4-5, 1864 by Jerry T. Wooten, was an example of the too little & too late attempts to interdict Union riverine supply operations. It occurred as Thomas was ordering outlying supply & rail guard units back to Nashville. The U.S.C.T. infantry & artillery stationed at Johnsonville had already been given a vital part in Thomas' attack on Hood's line. It is also worth noting that Forrest & others had engaged in a futile months long effort to interdict the 80 mile long Nashville & North Western Rail Road that connected the Tennessee River & Nashville. So, Forrest's attack did cause damage, but as Ed Bearss pointed out, it was a complete waste of an invaluable asset. When Forrest joined Hood's army as it entered Tennessee, his horses were jaded & he was very short on ammunition. One of the missing pieces of the Spring Hill debacle was the fact that Forrest's men were out of ammunition. The attack on Johnsonville was a brilliant tactical victory that was a strategic disaster.
 

danny

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Hattiesburg
My post was simply regarding the thread reference to boarding parties during the war.

It was not designed to bring to light what some opportunists may want to expand into a diatribe of supposed errors and faults by General Forrest. You have previously stated your opinion of General Forrest on numerous occasions.
 
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mo
Navigating upon the Mighty Mississippi is not for the feint hearted captains, never mind boarding attempts...
Think this is hitting the nail in the head......it not like at sea with ample room to maneuver around, its narrow channels and even then your ability to maneuver within it safely is limited by the capabilities of your pilot.
 

Rhea Cole

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Location
Murfreesboro, Tennessee
My post was simply regarding the thread reference to boarding parties during the war.

It was not designed to bring to light what some opportunists may want to expand into a diatribe of supposed errors and faults by General Forrest. You have previously stated your opinion of General Forrest on numerous occasions.
I am sorry, but you have misunderstood the context & content of my post in every way possible.
 

John Hartwell

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Central Massachusetts
Boarding parties from small boats did occur, though they were stealthy, nighttime operations:
"On the night of 23 August 1863, Confederate “Marine Coast Guard guerillas” under Capt John Taylor Wood, CSN, in 4 boats holding 25 men each, boarded and captured the US gunboats Satellite and Reliance in the Rappahannock River. They took 80-90 prisoners who were sent on to Richmond. Wood noted “I found it necessary to place the captain of the Satellite and one of his officers (they having previously been in our service) in irons as deserters” (also 3 crewmen, 2 of them negroes)."
see thread:
 
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Boarding parties would also seem somewhat superfluous in river actions, as wooden hulled shallow draft riverboats were pretty susceptible to ramming. They would generally try to run to shallow water to sink, where they often could be raised afterwards.

So if it sinks in waters you control, the party isn't needed.......if it sinks in waters you don't control what could a boarding party do but be captured really.

Most the examples I can think of, after being rammed they weren't still navigable for a long enough period a boarding party could have removed it far from the action.
 
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Joined
Oct 24, 2019
Location
Texas
On Jan. 1, 1863, In the Battle of Galveston, the USS Harriet Lane was boarded and captured by Confederate "horse marines" aboard the cottonclad steamboat Bayou City. Only example I can think of, although I seem to recall that plans had been made to board and capture the USS Monitor by stealth. Perhaps someone knows more about that.
How could I forget about the seizure of the Harriet Lane! She was one hell of a prize.

Harriet.jpg
 
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@Rhea Cole "Tinclads in the Civil War, Union Light-Draught Operations on Western Waters, 1862-1865 is an encyclopedic source. The daily attacks by regular & irregular Confederates on river traffic & the counter attacks by tinclad gunboats was constant & intense. In no way did it resemble the broadside to broadside boarding party battles of the Napoleonic age of sail. The big City Class gunboats had a small crew of engineers, boiler keepers & coal shovelers. Unlike a sailing ship, there were no top men who went aloft to manhandle the sails, men rated ordinary who stayed on deck were they haul on lines & idlers such as the sailmaker, carpenter & others needed to maintain the ship. Riverine gunboats did not carry the contingent of marines that were the shock troops of boarding parties. There simply weren't the crewmen available to form boarding parties.

There was only one fleet on fleet battle on the Mississippi River. At no time was there any opportunity to board an enemy vessel. In very short order the Confederate vessels were disabled or sinking, thus not the potential objects of boarding parties."

Conversly, I've wondered what it would take for a strike team to knock out a City-class Ironclad. Where is its weak point? I suppose you could pry the gun ports open with something like a crow bar if they were closed. How thick was the metal on the smoke stacks? Was it thin like pig iron? If so, that's not hard to punch through. Punch a hole and drop a shell down the stack?

Carrondelet.jpg
 
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In my mind the Battle of Memphis was an incursion that the Rebs could've really benefited from had they won. Even if they lost there entire squadron, imagine if the had at least put some of those gunboats out of action for a couple months, or god forbid capture a couple.

Hindsight is 20/20, maybe in a different universe blah blah blah etc etc lol.

I gotta hand it to the Ellet brothers, they knocked the CSN river fleet like it was nothing.
 

NedBaldwin

Major
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Feb 19, 2011
Location
California
Steam powered vessels were seldom demobilized. And on the rivers, the captains stranded an injured vessel before it went down in the main channel. They were hard to board.
USS Diana was captured by land forces after they shot away her tiller rope and she drifted into shore
At the battle of Sabine Pass, both the Clifton and Sachem were hit in the boiler by confederate artillery, which demobilized them leading them to surrender before the boarding parties arrive
So demobilizing steam vessels doesnt seem that unlikely
 
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mo
@Rhea Cole "Tinclads in the Civil War, Union Light-Draught Operations on Western Waters, 1862-1865 is an encyclopedic source. The daily attacks by regular & irregular Confederates on river traffic & the counter attacks by tinclad gunboats was constant & intense. In no way did it resemble the broadside to broadside boarding party battles of the Napoleonic age of sail. The big City Class gunboats had a small crew of engineers, boiler keepers & coal shovelers. Unlike a sailing ship, there were no top men who went aloft to manhandle the sails, men rated ordinary who stayed on deck were they haul on lines & idlers such as the sailmaker, carpenter & others needed to maintain the ship. Riverine gunboats did not carry the contingent of marines that were the shock troops of boarding parties. There simply weren't the crewmen available to form boarding parties.

There was only one fleet on fleet battle on the Mississippi River. At no time was there any opportunity to board an enemy vessel. In very short order the Confederate vessels were disabled or sinking, thus not the potential objects of boarding parties."

Conversly, I've wondered what it would take for a strike team to knock out a City-class Ironclad. Where is its weak point? I suppose you could pry the gun ports open with something like a crow bar if they were closed. How thick was the metal on the smoke stacks? Was it thin like pig iron? If so, that's not hard to punch through. Punch a hole and drop a shell down the stack?

View attachment 378033
I would count the battle at plum point bend as a 2nd fleet on fleet battle.

The Confederate fleet rammed the union ironclads Cincinnati and Mound City which both then went to shallow water to sink. So the city class wasn't immune to ramming.
 
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