Thursday, 19 May 2016

A Model for Grant: Nick Leeson

A recent discussion whether Grant was simply lucky at Vicksburg got me thinking about what find of man US Grant was. When he agreed to let McClernand cross the Mississippi he was at the end of the line - for six months he had continually failed and the order had come down to put Banks in charge. Rather than accepting an order from Halleck Grant decided to gamble his entire army on an extremely risky scheme that could easily have resulted in its utter destruction.

After mulling it over I was reminded of some City of London/ Wall Street "rogue traders" who as the markets kept going against them simply kept "doubling up". Some of these were lucky, but some destroyed centuries old financial institutions; most notably Bearings.

Thus I give you Nick Leeson, a 1980's US Grant. He was profile by the superb Adam Curtis in this documentary (1/6):

He was played in the film dramatisation by Ewen "Obi-wan Kinobi" McGregor:

Tuesday, 10 May 2016

Fort Monroe etc. in the Early Civil War

Time to look at a really well defended area - the mouth of the Chesapeake.

Fort Monroe

The drawing above is a contemporary drawing of Ft Monroe and clearly shows the structure, the Water Battery (top right, facing E and SE), the Lighthouse (by right-hand pier) where the experimental battery was and some south facing casemates, with the barbette tier being full.

The Water Battery has 40 casemates each with a 42 pdr mounted.

The barbette of the fort has roughly 73x 32 pounders, 2x 7" James rifles (rifled 42 pdrs), 11x 8" shell guns and 10x 10" shell guns.

Some additional 32 pdrs (upto 37) may be in some of the forts casemates.

Down by the lighthouse is a beach where experimental weapons were trialed. In the winter of 1861/2 here we find the only 15" Rodman gun (dismounted) and an experimental 12" Rodman rifle (mounted, but unusable). Neither is really operational, with the 12" not even being fired for proof until 1864 and displacing the 15" on the carriage (another carriage was later provided).

In the wake of the Monitor-Virginia fight the Union dismounted the 12" rifle and remounted the 15" smoothbore, and one can assume this would be done in the event of a foreign war. That said it is not clear it could be done rapidly and took well over a month historically.

Out to sea (east) the fort can engage with probably 40-50 guns (42 pdrs, 32 pdrs and shell guns). To the south maybe 25 guns can engage.

Fort Calhoun (later renamed Fort Wool)

On Rip-rap Island ca. 1,000 yards south of Ft Monroe is Fort Calhoun (google earth). The island is artificial and built on Crumps Bank, which is a major navigation feature and blocks large ships getting to Norfolk south of Rip-rap, being only 4 ft in places (see a contemporary chart here). However, if you have good charts you can roll a frigate upto 150 yards off the SE corner of Ft Calhoun, and of course light draft gunboats will have little problem navigating in that area, especially at high tide.

The fort was planned to be a three tier and barbette fort, but was never completed. The back (south) side was essentially completely open, and the second tier was only just getting started and was a building site, not even providing a solid barbette.

Armament was provided in the second half of 1861 - 7x 8" shell guns (4 facing west in the casemates and 3 east), 2x 42 pounders on open second tier and the experimental rifled 48 pdr Sawyer gun was down to the wharf. There are indications not all the guns were yet mounted. A few additional guns (experimental rifles) were moved to the fort early in 1862.

In the early part of 1862 her garrison was about 150 men - 2 companies of 99th New York, a particularly poorly trained and disciplined regiment that enlisted to be sailors, not gunners.

Much of this was drawn from a book on the Fort.

Norfolk and Defences

South of Fort Wool is the fortifications and defences of Norfolk, but in a Trent crisis war these aren't held by the Union, but rather the Confederacy. The Confederacy has a large infantry force of 4 brigades manning the fortification that actually boast more guns than Fort Monroe.

Attacking the area

The most obvious point of attack is Fort Calhoun (Wool). Her open back and lack of firepower make her easy prey to a short bombardment followed by a landing. This would give the attackers a firm base to bombard Fort Monroe at length, especially utilising the north facing casemates.

Attacking Fort Monroe directly would require a large force - probably a dozen heavy ships (battleships and frigates) plus gunboats and ideally some ironclads (like Terror) would demolish the fort in less than a day. A smaller force might smash it over a longer period.

A landward attack would be suicide - there is a well sited infantry redoubt controlling the causeway and a huge amount of artillery sweeping it.

The US Fleet and Virginia

For "what-ifs" the question of whether the US fleet gets bottled up in Hampton Roads is important, and whether the CSS Virginia still exists.

Milne indicated that if war were declared by the United States (which is essentially what the US would be doing if they refused the British ultimatum) he'd take all available ships and steam at once to the mouth of the Chesapeake to attack or blockade the US squadron there. In early January 1862 his force is fairly weak, but probably capable of taking the main US squadron*. As time progresses and reinforcements arrive the matter ceases in be in doubt by mid-January.

In a what-if, when Milne turns up maybe 5 days after the US declares war the US squadrons needs to decide whether to come out and fight or be blockaded in Hampton Roads (and Ft Monroe cut off from supplies). Eventually even if the British don't go in to get the USN the Virginia will come out on schedule in March.....

* 20 December 1861 with the crisis cresting Milne had only the screw battleship Nile (without her new rifled guns yet, which are being carried in the hold Mersey), screw frigates Immortalite and Diadem, the paddle sloop Medea and the screw gunvessel Nimble disposable at Bermuda for this operation, even the ironclad HMS Terror was still out cruising. For those who like naval wargames, this group vs the screw frigates Minnesota and Roanoke, sailing frigates Congress and St. Lawrence, sailing sloop Cumberland and a couple of gunboats would not be an unbalanced scenario.

Monday, 9 May 2016

Coastal Defences of New Hampshire and Maine in the Early Civil War

North of Boston we have a wealth of information, as Totten wrote very candidly about the area on 4th January 1862 (ref). Totten as of 31st March 1862 says that no additions or improvements to the Maine and New Hampshire defences are recommended (ref). Totten has essentially written them off as indefensible.

Portsmouth Navy Yard

Portsmouth Harbor was defended by two old forts, Fort Constitution on the NH side and Fort McClary on Maine side. The forts occupy two sides of the strait, but can be taken in detail. Fort Constitution is here on google earth, and is a very weak masonry fort on a spit off New Castle Island.

The geographical of the fort is clear - an enemy can land on the island on the south side without opposition. The forts armament of 1x 32 pounder, 20x 24 pounders and 4 field guns thus has to defend all four sides. The heavy guns were all mounted on the barbette (no casemates or bombproofs). In August '63 reports still show 20 heavy and 4 field guns (ref) even as slow progress rearming other forts occurs.

Fort Constitution garrison on parade. Note the 4 field guns and the 24 pounders on the barbette. (the source of the photo suggests these are 100 pdr Parrotts, which is obviously wrong, and a circular reference results is it's chased)

The arcs of the fort seem to be entirely into the straits, with a few guns facing E and W, but the majority facing NW. The SW bastion is the likely site for the 32 pdr on loan from the navy in Jan '62.

Fort McClary is a typical old pentagonal fort, but in Jan '62 only mounted 4x 32 pdrs (on loan from the navy? She was unarmed earlier in the year) and by 1863 she was demolished to make way for a planned new fort.

Coast of Maine

Portland is pretty indefensible looking at the myriad ways of getting round the islands to the harbour, but two forts were built on the main (but not only) shipping passage. Fort Preble is an old work mounting 13 guns in 1862 (1x 8" mortar and 12x 24 pdrs) and Fort Scamell is an unarmed fort on House Island.

Geography kills any hope of defence - lighter draft ships (gunboats and sloops) can easily pick courses through the islands in daytime and bypass the forts. Landings on Cushing Island would allow land batteries to be constructed to demolish the forts if the navy didn't want to risk things.

Further up the coast there is the incomplete and unarmed Fort Knox in the Penobscot Narrows, and a plan to build a fort on the Kennebec river that hasn't been started.


It's not likely that Portland or Portsmouth Harbour would escape being taken for long in the event of a war with Britain. There is little defensible along the coast.

Attacking Fort Constitution from the south would likely occasion return fire from a single 32 pdr, and the fort would be reduced even by a couple of cruisers in a day. Attacking Portland is not hard, with at most 12x 24 pdrs shooting back from Fort Preble.

Sunday, 8 May 2016

Ironclad Naval Reinforcements during a Trent War Scenario

Ironclad Frigates

At the time of the Trent Affair the British had built four ironclad frigates. More were in various stages of building but unlikely to see service in the Americas any time soon.


Warrior was ordered to America on 14th December 1861. Before this she was taken into dry dock at Portsmouth, her bottom cleaned and 3 layers of anti-fouling paint applied. She then ran down to the Tagus (Lisbon, Portugal) where a reinforcement squadron under Rear Admiral Dacres was assembling (along with Gibraltar). Historically she arrived in the Tagus on 30th January and Dacres set off for the Americas on 1st February, arriving at Port Royal, Jamaica on 22nd February. Warrior's movement was suspended, and she remained in the Tagus ready to go, but had the war scare not blown over she would have arrived with Dacres on 22nd February and been available to Milne before USS Monitor completed.

Black Prince

Was also under orders to America, and went into dry dock when Warrior left for the same reason. With the war scare over orders to America were suspended and she had a new, larger rudder installed to attempt to make her turn more tightly.

In the event of the Trent crisis continuing she would have arrived in the Americas roughly in mid-March.


Defence was under orders for America, which were of course suspended 

Defence left Chatham for Portsmouth with a full crew, armament and stores on 20th February 1862, although she'd been in this state for a month (the urgency of the situation had died down). Down at Portsmouth they completed trials on 13th March (occasioned by the addition of hydraulic steering) and thus Defence would probably have embarked for the Americas no later than mid-March, and joined Milne in early April. If war had broken out in the meantime she could have left with Warrior.


Resistance was over by the RN on 5th December 1861 and taken down to Chatham to be fitted for immediate service in the Americas. She entered No. 3 dock at Chatham the week of the 5th-11th January (the report on 11th January says in the last week). She was scheduled to leave dock fully crewed, armed and stored on 18th February and to complete trials the second week of March for American service. This never happened as the crisis abated and the extra workers were laid off and experiments with her rigging etc. were ordered.

If the crisis had continued she'd probably leave for the Americas around 20th March and arrive the mid-April.

The Crimean Batteries

Seven Crimean batteries still exist, and may give valuable service (especially Terror, Erebus and Thunderbolt, all iron-hulled). Terror in January 1862 is Milne's flagship at Bermuda, and is the only ironclad in service in the western hemisphere. Trusty was in the Thames and was fitted with a prototype turret. AEtna and Thunderbolt were refitted in 1860 (shipping 16x 10" 95 cwt in lieu of 68 pdrs) and moored in the Thames. Erebus, Glatton and Thunder are in reserve.

If the RN decides to knock on walls then Erebus, Thunderbolt, Thunder and AEtna are in good condition and can be rapidly recommissioned. It may be Trusty and Glatton are in worse condition - Meteor has already been broken up as rotten, and in 1864 both these will be broken up, and these may not be available.

Ironclads to the Americas

We know for a fact that Warrior, Black Prince, Defence and Resistance were going to the Americas, because orders were given to that effect. Terror was already in the Americas. AEtna, Thunder, Thunderbolt and Erebus will likely be recommissioned to help "knocking on walls". Trusty won't and Glatton might not. Some of these batteries may be to Canada.

Note: Plates

The rate of building is limited by the fact that the 4.5" thick plates for an armoured frigate are made into very precise shapes. Molds are taken of the hull as it's build and the plate manufacturer supplies 4.5" plates of exactly this shape using hot molding (vice cold pressing, see below). Warrior's plates were 3 ft x 12 ft with a tongue and groove to obviate plate joint weakness.

The same was not true in the Americas. The Confederacy could make 2" thick iron bars, but Virginia's plates were apparently only 8" wide and 8 ft long. The two layers were laid normal to each other, but this essentially meant every single hit is at a plate join (even two) and is another factor seriously degrading the armour effectiveness vs a large plate.

The Union was limited to only 1-inch* plates by their rolling mills, but they could make bigger plates - the Passiac's plates were 5 ft x 5 ft in the hull and 3ft x 9 ft on the turret and bent to an even curve on a cold press. Cold pressing means the plates were not annealed, and hence would be very stressed - they would naturally want to be flat again. This is one of many detail failings that caused American iron to be inferior to British iron for resisting shot (that said, it would appear the forged plates of New Ironsides were equal to the forged plates of the 1854-5 ironclads, but both those were inferior to rolled plates). Harper's magazine contained a description of how the monitor turrets were built.

The result was that the US and CS foundries could produce an armour plate for use quicker (although note the UK had a lot more foundries with much higher capacity), but it was inferior, even assuming the same grade of iron and simple metallurgical content. However the RN was perfectly happy with simple plates for armoured batteries, and the warplans of September 1862 on file in the National Archives (box WO 33/11) include putting out contracts for "90 day" floating batteries on the Meteor/Aetna/Thunderbolt pattern to be delivered in 90 days at a fixed contract cost of 60,000 pounds.

*As an aside, US "one inch" plates were usually 40 lb plates, which equals 15/16ths of an inch (yes, Monitor's 8-inch turret was only actually 7.5 inches). The two mistakes that Stimers made when building the light draft monitors were (a) to calculate weight based on seasoned wood when green wood (25% heavier) was used and (b) to insist that all plates used be the "whole inch" whilst calculating on a 40 lb plate (lead to a 10% increase in weight of iron). 

Note: The French

English speaking sources get the dates the French vessels came into service quite wrong (compare the English and French wikipedia entries for the Couronne). The in-service dates for the French armoured frigates were:

Gloire: April 1860
Invincible: March 1862
Normandie: 13th May 1862

Couronne: 2nd December 1862
Magenta: 2nd January 1863
Solferino: 17th March 1863

Provence: 1st February 1865
Flandre: May 1865
Heroine: 7th June 1865
Magnanime: 1st November 1865
Savoie: 9th November 1866
Valeureuse: 25th March 1867
Revanche: 12th August 1867
Surveillante: 21st October 1867
Guyenne: 6th November 1867
Gauloise: 5th December 1867 

This needs considering in some arguments.

Thursday, 5 May 2016

Narragansett Bay Defences in the Early Civil War

We have an oddly large amount of information about the armament of Fort Adams, the only defence of Narragansett Bay, because the Mayor of Newport wrote to the local Newport Mercury newspaper a letter detailing the exact state, and it was taken to Congress by the representatives of Rhode Island. The Mayor was arguing for fortification of the bay and the mounting of the 140 unmounted guns in store at the fort. (ref)

Mounted guns
Barbette: 5x 32 pdr, 16x 24 pdr
Casemate: 18x 32 pdr, 11x 24 pdr
Bastions: 9x 24 pdr flank howitzers
Other: 1x 8" mortar, 2x 12 pdr field howitzers and 2x 6 pdrs

Unmounted guns: 77x 32 pdrs, 15x 24 pdrs, 48x 24 pdr flank howitzers

The 92 unmounted 32 and 24 pdrs don't have carriages, but 48 old and broken down carriages are available for probably the flank howitzers.

These unmounted guns represent a very large chunk of the ca. 600 seacoast guns in inventories that weren't mounted. Between the fortification of Washington, the Act to arm Fort Adams and issuing of guns to other forts this reserve of guns was used or committed to use in early 1862.


Fort Adams is still there (see Google Earth) and sits on an interior spit of Rhode Island (the big island the whole state is named after) inside Narragansett Bay, defending the East Passage, one of the two channels into the bay - the deeper one that can easily admit ships-of-the-line with more the 50 feet of water in the channel. There are two other inlets of importance, the West Passage to the west of James Island with Dutch Island in it and the Sakonnet River to the east of Rhode Island. The West Passage is navigable to frigates at all tides, but only to ships-of-the-line at high tide. The Sakonnet is navigable for ships-of-the-line only upto Church Point, frigates upto Sapowet Point (with a tricky bit at Fogland Point) 2 miles south of the bridge joining the island to the mainland, but sloops and gunboats can steam literally right upto the bridge.

The geography makes the entire bay undefendable unless all three inlets are heavily defended. If the Sakonnet isn't blocked then a single enemy gunboat can steam up the river the drop the bridge (a simple wooden affair, the stone bridge was built in the 1890's) and cut the island of Rhode Island off from New Hampshire. The Western Passage means that (a) the fort can be bypassed and the cities of Providence etc. put under the gun without any intervention and (b) landings of James Island can be affected and the Fort reduced by a land battery. Historically in 1863-4 the state built an earthwork battery of 8 guns (7x 8" shell and 1x 32 pdr) on Dutch Island to defend the West Passage, but that's in the future.

Fort Adams

The fort is a pretty standard single tier fort of the period. The casemates prettymuch all point northwest and north to fire into the shipping channel, thus those 19 guns all play on any force coming through the channel.

Fort Adams Plan, showing that the casemates all point NW and N

The barbette had 21 guns in early 1862, but we don't know what arcs they were in. Probably the majority were on the bastions.

The field pieces were probably in the redoubt, an infantry defence to the south of the fort proper.

Redoubt of Fort Adams

Attacking Fort Adams

Any enemy (probably the RN) will have a surprisingly easy time in 1862. The fort can be isolated easily with a few shells at the bridge and one can land a few guns on James Island and reduce the fortification. Being on a spit any attacking squadron can run down the shipping channel and get behind Fort Adams in Brenton Cove, which is very lightly defended. Once there they can basically reduce the fort without danger.

Given the geographical problems the fort had, and the fact that it's pointless and doesn't defend Providence at all due to an alternate channel, despite being one of the strongest and best armed forts in the US in 1861 it would not hugely worry the RN.

Wednesday, 4 May 2016

Boston Harbor Defences in the Early Civil War: Draft

I was going to post about Boston's Harbor Defences in late 1861 but reading this it turns out I don't have to - not a single fort was armed. In April '61 was a single condemned old gun at the main fortification (Fort Warren) and about 20 small guns facing landward at Fort Winthrop (ref) and nothing had been done since..

Of course, in Spring 1862 the state government got concerned and were basically told by the Federal government to contract for their own guns, which they did. By late 1864 the armament was more substancial but that's then.

In spring 1862 the only thing stopping, in event of war, a British cruiser steaming into Boston and taking possession of the city is a bluff in the papers that the forts are armed, which will disappear about 30 minutes after said cruiser appears on its blockading station.

Sunday, 1 May 2016

New York Harbor Defences in the early Civil War (3): The Backdoor

The other approach to New York is via the East River. Now the Long Island Sound separates this approach by a long distance from the southern approach. Along that stretch of coastline are a series of harbours the RN intended to blockade. To enter the East River from Long Island Sound one has to pass a fort at Throg's Neck.

Fort Schuyler

Fort Schuyler was a two-tiered fort with the three smaller walls having 20 embrasures each and the northern wall 28. The back (longest side) was accommodations and had no casemates. Thus 88  casemated mounts for 32 pdrs were available in the curtain walls. The 3 caponiers (the sticking out bits) each have embrasures for 16 flank howitzers firing across the walls to shoot down any infantry attempting to escalade and a pair of heavier guns (32's) firing outwards. The barbette including the back apparently can be crammed with 90 guns, but (without a plan) roughly one gun above each casemate embrasure plus 1 on the caponier is reasonable.

In January '62 she had 96 guns of the 283 full establishment (listed here). All the small guns were meant for the back of the fort to stop an escalade.

Essentially any attackers not running past are only fighting the north wall with 28 casemated guns (a mix of 8" shell guns, 42 pdrs and 32 pdrs) and the barbette armament of 1x 10" shell gun (maybe a second) and roughly 14 other barbette guns of the same sort in the casemates. Probably some 42 guns - roughly equal to a single ship-of-the-line in firepower, assuming that is the 96 guns including filling the north wall (which is sensible).

The lack of sea room is more of a problem than the actual fort. It's relatively tight, which limits the size of the force that can be deployed. However, if one is not in a hurry then gunboats can actually stay out of range of the fort (effective range ca. 2,000 yds) and use rifled guns to smash it to pieces from the area E-NE of City Island. If an ironclad or two is available (such as Terror or Thunderbolt, not necessarily Warrior) then they can lay off a few hundred yards and shatter the walls in probably less than an hour.