Improvised Cover

27 03 2011

The Civil War battlefield was a dangerous place.  This was partially due to the fact that there were tons of people with guns shooting at you and partially because the tactics of the day dictated that you should stand up and take it.  It did not take long for veterans of both armies to realize that cover improved during the fight improved survivability and if the battlefield did not provide you cover then you needed to make your own.

There was no “ideal” technology for creating cover in battle.  Soldier could get access to tools when entrenchment was a known strategic objective but during the battle shovels and picks would have been hard to come by.  Improvised cover appears to have come predominately in two types; digging and debris such as logs and rocks. 

Digging would be done with whatever was at hand including cups and plates.  This type of work could be time consuming.  If troops were able to stay in a single position  for a period of time they would invariably improve there position notably.  At the battle of Malvern hill the 22nd Massachusetts held a seemingly open position for well over an hour by lay flat in a field and alternating digging in using mess tins and firing at the enemy. 

Far preferable to digging was using available debris.  A position could be considerably improved by moving logs and rocks that might be available .  If the fight is within easy distance of a forest or close to split rail fence that could be disassembled then solders would take advantage and create a barrier that would provide measurable protection.  Though I call this type of cover “Improvised cover” throughout this blog other games would also refer to this type of feature as a “Hasty Work”.  Both are correct.

Factors that contribute to the amount of time it would take to produce effective cover would be determined by

  • Distance from debris
  • Skill of the soldiers
  • Condition of the soldiers
  • Luck

Improvised Cover rules

Orders can be given to create improvised cover to one or more infantry regiments (or dismounted cav) as an “order”.  Each regiment being ordered to create cover will make “rolls for effect” to accumulated enough successes to create cover.  The number of successes required depends on the distance to either a forest, fence or building.  In all cases this terrain feature must NOT be closer to an enemy than it is to the unit trying to dig in.

The number of successes needed to produce cover is indicated below along with a distance

Distance Successes
2” or less 2
4” or less 4
More than 4” 8

As usual, these distances and values come directly from my butt.  Play testing will bear these values out.  My inclination though is that nobody is going to go more than 200 yards to grab a log though.

Morale will modify these rolls. I haven’t explained morale yet so I don’t want to tip my hand here but units that are not ok are either shaken or routed.  Shaken units will have a –1 on each dice rolled making it harder to succeed.  Routed units can’t create cover.  They are to busy trying to create distance.

If a roll for effect does NOT generate enough successes then the number of success will be noted (by a dice most likely.  Haven’t made up my mind yet.)  Subsequent attempts to dig in will add to this accumulated total

If a unit moves before establishing cover then the accumulated successes are lost.

Once the number of successes indicated has been accumulated then the regiment is marked as being in cover and all rolls against it are modified as though the unit is in “light cover”.  I have NOT discussed the concept of cover yet.  Cover will be either light, heavy or entrenched.  More will be revealed once I get to “fire and morale” in a few weeks.

If a fence is the object the unit creates their cover from then the fences will be removed when the cover is added.  (It got moved!)

If a unit moves out of cover then the improvised cover remains on the table and can be assumed by a different unit later.

Creating Improvised Cover

I have become a big fan of using popsicle sticks.  Not sure when it happened.  They are absolutely the right price when it comes to buying a lot of stands.  I have created cover of this type before using metal bases but these had to be stored on magnets as the sharp heavy metal bases would have damaged each other had I placed them in a container.  Popsicle sticks are really light.

I start by painting short popsicle stick with raw umber paint

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I then cover the popsicle stick in white glue…

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and cover with static grass.

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I am not wanting to limit the actual type of cover that can be used by soldiers but I do have to model something.  I have chosen to create long thin stands of fallen trees.

Next I take Woodland scenics plastic tree armatures…

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… and paint them brown…

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and drybrush them with a lighter color.

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Now that I have painted tree branches I cut them up using a pair of wire cutters and bend them into more plausible shapes.  Where I cut I paint a light brown to look like cut wood.

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I next glue the branches to my popsicle sticks along with some rocks.

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I then finish up by gluing bits of clump foliage.

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Here is a finished batch.

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This project went really well and was a pleasant surprise.  It too very little time to create this.  Had a known this would have gone this well my first batch would have gone larger.

As an interesting aside I had an aborted prototype for this project using wires instead of tree armatures.  I had intended to glue small pieces of wire to the the popsicle stick, paint the branch brown and then glue on the grass.

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My prototype ended up a train wreck.  I would have had better results if I started with brown wire but the glue and the grass just went wrong.  Applying glue to a surface with wire attached made for strange surface tension experiment.  The grass ended up everywhere.  Fail.





Union Infantry Part 1

20 03 2011

Infantry formed the backbone of both the Union and Confederated armies during the American civil war.  In my union order of battle I have 31 regiments of on average 5 stands a pop (155 stands).  By contrast I have 10 artillery batteries (20 stands) and 5 battalions of Cavalry (40 stands).  The vast majority of work in painting an American Civil War army is tied up in painting infantry.

Rather than painting a nearly infinite number of units all at once and NEVER finishing, I have divided the painting of regiments roughly into thirds.  Like to paint whole units when I can so rather than drawing the line at 10 regiments I have decided to paint the 12 relatively small regiments  of Garrard, Lindsey and Hovey’s brigades.  Of these 12 regiments one contains 3 stands and rest have 4. 

A stand of infantry represents 90 men so a 4 stand regiment equals 360 men which is  about the size of a “veteran” unit.  A 3 stand regiment (270 men) or smaller is most likely an “elite” unit on its 3rd or 4th campaign.  5 stands(450 men) could be either “veteran” or “green”.  6 or more stands is most certainly a “green” unit on its first campaign.

To begin with I count out 12 command strips and 82 regular infantry strips.  Command stands (of which each regiment get one) has one command strip and one regular infantry strip

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The Command strips are different in that they have flag bearers, a drummer and officers.

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The flag poles on these stand are frankly pathetic.  Soft metal has a low melting point and is easy to work with but it not NEARLY as stiff as it needs to be not bend during play.  I have just painted flagpoles on a miniature before and its super distracting to someone as anal as myself.  I end up spending the whole game straightening the flags.  To get past this I replace the flag pole with a .025 gauge piece of piano wire.

To do this I first remove the tip of the vestigial pole…

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Next I trim as much of the pole as I can away from the unit…

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I then use a craft knife to cut the pole away just above the left hand of the flag bearers…

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I don’t bother to cut away the bottom half of the pole.  Its really small, not in the way and I couldn’t get to it with wire cutters if I really wanted to.  Next step is to drill really small holes using a #71 .026 pen drill into the tops of hands/arms of the flag holders…

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Finally I attach using super glue a short piece of piano wire in the new hole…

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This is faster than it looks.  I did all twelve stands in less than an hour.

Next step is to white glue all the stands to popsicle…

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Popsicle sticks are a GREAT solution to the “how the hell do I hold these guys while painting” conundrum.  Sometimes you can paint them on their final base but this won’t work here because I will be mounting them two deep.  Also… white glue works best here because the miniatures stick until I want them to come off.

Next step is to prime them black…

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Black is THE right color at this scale.  Purists prime with white so the colors pop but you mistakes really stand out in white.  If a bit of black sticks out on the minis it looks good.  In fact it looks like will defined lines between colors even.

Time to start painting!  As a rule you should paint the bottom garments first and move towards the items on top later.  This has me painting either pants or coats first.  I choose coats (and hats) because it harder and I can be sloppy as its my first color…

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This is an icky step.  The soldiers have bags and guns and stuff all over them and I need to squish the paint into all the gaps.  Blue is hateful on these guys. 

I know what you are thinking… I could spray-paint them blue.  I have tried this before… it sucked… a bunch. 

  1. Spray-paint, despite its reputation, does NOT get into all the gaps.  You WILL miss things. 
  2. I don’t have a pot of paint that matches the spray paint so when I mess up later, I can’t cover it up with matching paint
  3. I don’t get the cool black undercoat advantages.  If I make a mistake then blue sticks out. (imagine a line of blue between a face and hair.  ick.

The Blue is the hardest step.  All told it took me 4 hours to paint all 47 stands.

Here is a stand painted blue front and back…

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I paint the pants next a light grey blue…

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This step took me 2 hours.

Next I paint black onto the minis.  All Civil War soldiers carried a leather ammo bag on their left shoulder across their body so that it would be sitting handily on their right hip so they could use their right hand to draw new cartridges during a fight.  This bag would have been very dark and in virtually all drawings I have seen, black.

I also painted officer belts and the bills of the soldiers kepi’s black…

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If you can’t tell what I painted here then you are not the only one.  I could not talk myself out of doing this step but it really is hard to tell what I did.  This step took two hours.

Next I paint haversacks.  Soldiers of this era kept their food and stuff in a giant canvas sack they wore over the other shoulder.  Think a man-purse with raw bacon and apples in it.  This bag was made out of a natural fabric and was a shade of off white…

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Though not pictured, drum heads also get a shot of off white.

Next I paint  canteens and some of the guys hair a mediums shade of brown…

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After this I paint rifles, drum sticks bases and some hair dark brown…

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Next, I paint the blonds in my army.

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Finally I paint the units faces and hands a flesh color…

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This is a magic step.  Once you have flesh colored dots poking through all the darker colors they look like something.

Here are the completed units…

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Next time I will walk through basing, labeling and flags for these 12 regiments!





Generals and the Battle

13 03 2011

Generals are the basic command and control unit of McPherson and Revenge.  As discussed previously,  in fifteen minutes of game time all generals represented in the game will have a chance to influence the battle by issuing orders, improving unit moral, resupplying units and just being there.  In general, the better the general, the more they can get done.

Quick Review; The bag o’ destiny contains a chit for every brigadier and division commander in the game.  Once drawn, players determine if that general will go now or go back into the bag.  Once it is established that it is a generals turn, he will issue an order.  Generals can issue additional orders, once the effects of a previous order is complete, if a successful skill roll is made using the generals command efficiency.  Each new order is modified with an additional +1 thus making each additional order  increasingly difficult.  Once a general fails to issue an order they are done for the turn.

The options for commands available to a general depend on whether the general is a brigadier or a division commander.

Note: “Generals” are not really a single guy on a horse but rather a general and his entire staff.  This might be hundreds of men including several with sufficient rank to assume command or make decisions.

Brigadiers

Cumming Chit

A brigadier commands a number of regiments, usually between 3-5, and is responsible for the tactical operation of these units.  Regiments are unlikely to do anything without a brigadier issuing a direct order.  Think of brigadiers as having the ability to make soldiers shoot and move.

Order options for a brigadier include:

  • Issue an “order” to units to move, change formations and/or fire
  • Replenish ammo to a depleted unit
  • Recover a unit’s morale
  • Order an assault
  • Order units to improvise cover
  • Increase Battle Karmatm
Division Commanders

Logan Chit

Division commanders typically commanded between 2 and 4 brigades and were responsible for coordinating a series of attacks, making sure that support was available and coordinating battlefield data between other units.  If units are reinforced just in time or earlier, then somewhere a Division commander was doing his job.  The Division commander had a meaningful job on the battlefield but the civil war battle was the brigadier’s fight.

Order options for a division commander include

  • Issue orders to “reserve” units (Fire and or move, improvise cover, assault)
    • Replenish ammo to a depleted unit
    • Recover a unit’s morale
    • Hurry a Brigadier
    • Increase the command efficiency of a subordinate brigadier
    • Increase Battle Karmatm
Corp and army commanders

Corp and army commanders also have a place on the battlefield but because of the tactical scope of McPherson and Revenge I have deliberately chosen NOT to represent them.  I reserve the right to change my mind later and I have created chits and intend to create a miniatures for Generals Pemberton, McPherson and Mclernand.

If I change my mind I will likely treat corps and army commanders as Division commanders.

Reserved Units

Reserved Units

One of the quirks of my command and control system is that it likely that some units can end up not receiving an order with the rest of their brigade.  Additionally it may be unwise to issue an order to a unit this is operating in conjunction with another brigade.

If a unit ends NOT getting ordered over the course of its brigadiers turn then it will get marked as being “Reserved”.  Reserved units are eligible to receive orders from their division commanders or from other brigadiers in conjunction with their own units.

Issuing an order

An order is not just telling one or more regiments to do stuff.  An order must have a certain consistency across all units.  Units must move in a block, maintaining their relative positions

The number of units affected can include all regiments in a brigade and adjacent reserved units from other brigades that can moved together.  Units may not change formations differently or at different times.

Additionally units may be ordered to “quick time” which will allow them to move and extra distance but will impact the unit adversely by restricting their ability to react and by producing stragglers.

“Movement” (including quick time and formation changes) along with “Fire” will have their own rules summaries later.

Replenish ammo

When a regiment fires it could run out of ammo.  Once a unit is low on ammo it will receive negative modifiers.  A unit may be ordered to check to find more ammo.  Usually a regiment that was low on ammo would be pulled briefly off the line and would go to where ammo was available.

This check will be conducted using the units skill dice (2 dice if green, 4 dice if elite) and will be modified by the range to the nearest enemy.

+3 if within 4” of the enemy

+2 if within 12” of the enemy

+1 if within 24” of the enemy

Running out of ammo will be covered when I explain “Fire”

Hurrying subordinates

Hurry

A division commander can make a brigadier go potentially earlier in a turn.  A successful “hurry” check, will cause an extra activation chit to be placed in the bag o’ destiny.  Only one such chit can be put in the bag for each brigadier.

If either chit is drawn then an normal activation check is made.  If the general successfully activates on either chit then then the other one is fished out of the bag o’ destiny.

Improving command efficiency

A division commander can lower his own command efficiency by one point and raise the command efficiency of one of his subordinate brigadiers by one point.  Its that simple.

Officer casualties might decimate a particular general (or rather the general and his staff) and a division commander might order some of his own staff to go and help prop up the disordered brigade.

Other Orders

Morale checks, assaults, improvised cover and Battle Karmatm will each be covered in their own rules blogs.

Officer casualties

Officers (and their staffs) become less effective as the battle goes on.  In battle commanders would become increasingly less informed, and casualties were shockingly common amongst officers.  To model this, every time an order is issued there is a chance that the command efficiency of the general can be lowered.

When an order is given, the range of the effected unit at its closest to the enemy is measured and an appropriate number of dice is rolled.

1 dice – within 4” (this distance is a total swag.  I am also considering 2”)

2 dice – within 12”

3 dice – greater than 12” (and orders that DON’T involve troops)

The command efficiency of the general is lowered by one whenever all dice roll a “6”.

Interestingly, the more able the general, the more orders it issues, the more casualties it receives.  Makes sense to me!

Written orders

Generals could fail to give their initial order.  Dice are fickle that way.  This brings up a fairly unpleasant scenario where troops are unable to do the most basic thing (such as fire at a nearby enemy or march straight up a road).  To mitigate this, at the beginning of a new turn (where the bag o’ destiny is reloaded) each general may write orders to their troops.  This order should conform to one of the options listed for brigadiers and division commanders above.  An order should be spelled out, such as “Buford: march up the road, quick time and take the left fork by the farm”.  Nothing too fancy, but relatively precise.

Once the general is activated, the controlling player has the option to use the order and automatically make their initial order check.  Officer casualties still need to be checked however. 

General influence on the battlefield

Each general has a number of dice equal to its command rating that it may give to units to supplement rolls over a turn.  These dice must never be more than a third of the dice being rolled (or, stated differently, must be outnumbered at least 2:1 by the units making the roll)   Dice, once used are removed, and are replenished when a general is done issuing orders.  Please be sure to use your bonus dice… they don’t keep.

These dice actually sit on the table next to the general’s miniature.  Incidentally, generals do not occupy space or literally exist on the table.  They are abstracted.  They are everywhere and nowhere.  They do not move and may not be targeted.  Casualties are caused when issuing orders only.





Fooling with Mother Nature

6 03 2011

January of 1863 found U.S. Grant in command of all Union forces tasked with taking the Confederate fortress of Vicksburg.  President Lincoln, Secretary Stanton,  General Halleck and, most importantly, General McClernand all knew that Grant would be the Union general to capture Vicksburg.  Now only General Pemberton needed convincing as to the identity of of the Gibraltar of the west ultimate conqueror.

Grant now had to figure out a way to take the city and plans A and B had already been tried and had proven terrible failures.  Marching overland from Memphis through the heart of Mississippi resulted in a hasty return trip thanks to the efforts of Nathan Bedford Forest and Earl Van Dorn.  Sherman’s assault on the cliffs of Normandy Chickasaw bayou had been even more disastrous resulting in the loss of 1700 men.  It was now time to consider Plan C.

Grant’s Canal

Vicksburg’s Value as river fortress cannot be understated.  It was mighty.  Given that removing the fortress from the river was a nearly impossible task, the solution that seemed most obvious to union planers in the winter of ‘63 was to remove the river from the fortress.

Rivers as big and old as the Mississippi have a wonderful way of changing courses over time.  Oxbow lakes are formed out of stretches of river that have been cut off from the main waterway due to erosion and flooding.  The more a river meanders, the thinner the neck of the land the river goes around gets, until, at last some natural event occurs and the river once again goes in a strait line abandoning its old course.

The De Soto Peninsula, a thin strip of land in front of Vicksburg, seemed a great opportunity for Grant’s men to create just such a “natural” event.

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By altering the flow of the river, Grant would have removed Vicksburg from the primary course of the river and opened the river to ironclads in transports.

Starting in January, Sherman’s men began work to scour out a channel across the strip of land .  This was, at best, a crappy job.  The land in question was quite swampy and unsuitable for equipment heavier than shovels and axes.  Furthermore, the strip of land was within extreme range of the guns of Vicksburg.  Union batteries had to be constructed to cover the troops while they worked.

In March, a canal 60 feet wide and 7 feet deep had been dredged across the De Soto Peninsula but prior to its completion the Mississippi flooded revealing an number of engineering issues with the project.  For one, a retaining dam on the west side of the river collapsed causing not only the flooding of the canal but the loss of virtually all equipment and animals used in the digging.  It also appears that 7 feet may not have been quite deep enough.  Rather than scouring out the channel and rerouting the river, the channel became clogged with sediment and much of the peninsula melted into the hole.  Attempts at scouring out the channel using boats was deterred by cannons fired by the amused defenders of Vicksburg.

 

Lake Providence Expedition

Plan D then!  One oxbow lake near the Arkansas border offered an unique opportunity for circumnavigating Vicksburg.  Lake Providence, separated from the Mississippi by only a narrow levee, didn’t drain into the Mississippi at all.  It was connected by a series of bayous and tributaries to the red river over 100 miles away.  The Red River itself reconnected to the Mississippi just above, Grand Gulf (the only other notable confederate fort left on the river).

General McPherson’s men set to work channeling from the Mississippi to Lake Providence and McPherson and his engineers set to work scouting Bayou’s Baxter and Macon to see what work would be needed to create a channel navigable to river transports.  As it turns out, quite lot of work would be required. 

Trees where the primary culprit preventing free navigation.  It’s not enough to just chop down a tree in a bayou.  You have to move a boat over it afterwards.  There is such a thing as an underwater saw it appears and McPhersons men employed these devices to fell a clear path the Tensas River.  Even after clearing a path, the result would have required a more shallow drafted fleet of ships than were on hand to transport soldiers and there seemed little prospect of opening this path to the types of boats readily available to Northern shipping.

Yazoo Pass Expedition

As late as 1856, boats freely navigated from the Mississippi to the Yazoo river by a series of bayous and lakes just below Helena, Arkansas.  While this provided a much shorter path to the areas of Mississippi bordering the delta, there was just too much unusable land in the delta to be ignored and cycles of flooding made its settlement problematic.  A considerable levee was laid across the mouth of the Pass and the century of effort to drain and transform the delta was begun.

Blowing up levee’s sounds fun.  On February 3rd the levee keeping the Mississippi out of the  Yazoo pass (a confusingly named bayou as it turns out) was blown up.  It took four days before the water level of the  bayou matched the water level of the river.  Once equilibrium was reached, an expedition consisting of two ironclads (the Chillicothe and the Baron De Kalb) 5 tin clads (USS Rattler, Marmora, Signal, Romeo, and Forest Rose) and 13 transports carrying an infantry division were sent into the delta.  If navigation could be opened to the Yazoo then it would be possible to land and supply troops in Mississippi north of Vicksburg in a much easier place to assault than the Chickasaw bluffs

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Navigation did indeed prove possible but only just.  The width of the river did not allow much room for error with the ironclads, boats much bigger then traveled this path a generation previously.  To improve the precision of navigation, row boats would go forward and attach ropes to trees in order for crewman aboard the larger boats to pull their ships towards the farther bank.

Animals in the bayou had been much inconvenienced by the blowing of the levee.  Those that could clambered into the trees to avoid the flooding.  This is an inconvenient place to have critters when a giant gunboat bumps into a tree.  Time and again, showers of all manner of creatures, everything from ants to bobcats, rained onto the decks of the Union fleet with each bump.  The trees were a problem too.  This part of the delta had overgrown since its use as a path of commerce.  Eventually, every ship in the fleet had all protrusions sheered off at the deck by the repeated collisions with trees and their branches.

When Confederates began defending the river system the expedition began to slow down in earnest. Felled trees began to block the path of the union fleet and these had to be removed… by hand.  I should point out that one of the primary effects of flooding a bayou is that there is no dry land.  Troops would stand in chest deep water and pull on ropes to move the obstacles.

After 5 weeks, the union fleet arrived at Fort Pemberton on the confluence of the Tallahatchie and Yalobusha rivers.  Ft Pemberton had two things going for it.  1) a 6.4 inch brooks rifle that could hit what it shot at and hurt what it hit and 2) the Star of the west.

Given well over a month to prepare, General William W. Loring (a man we shall hear more about later) had moved the Star of the west up the Tallahatchie to a place just upstream of perhaps the only piece of dry land left in the delta and sunk it astride the river.  Fort Pemberton was constructed 800 yards from the sunken ship out of cotton bales and dirt and armed with the considerable gun strength of the Star of the West including one first class 6.4 inch brooks rifle.

Arriving at Fort Pemberton, the two ironclads began an extended (literally three days over a week) fire fight.  The plan, if there was a plan, which is doubtful, was for each of the ironclads to fire the two bow facing GINORMOUS 11” Dahlgren smoothbore guns at the tiny fort.  The river was too narrow at this point for either ironclad to turn sideways and use their side facing guns.

Despite the presence of 9 infantry regiments with the fleet, an assault was considered completely unviable.  Soldiers would have to advance in chest deep water nearly half a mile to assault an un-scouted position defended by an unknown number of troops.  Extended time in the water would have meant the only reliable weapon that could be carried by the soldiers were their bayonets.

In the opening day of fighting a rifled shell from the fort went through an opened port on the Chillicothe and <cringe> hit a shell as it was being loaded.  This killed 2 and injured most everyone else. By the second day of fighting crewman on the Chillicothe were being injured by bolts being forcefully dislodged by continuous hits on its front armor.  On the third day of fighting, with the Chillicothe “Kick me” sign clearly visible to confederate gunners, the Chillicothe was forced to withdraw when its so misshapen its guns no longer could be fired out its front ports. 

With this, the Union fleet retired.  If two Ironclads could not hit the lone confederate rifle then this battle just wasn’t going to work out for the Union fleet.  Now all that was left was to go Back up the river one hundred miles, IN REVERSE, and explain to General Grant how 10,000 men and 7 warships got licked by a Fort made of cotton with a single Cannon.  (I bet that was a GREAT conversation.)

BTW…at long range 1 rifle beats the britches off of 4 smoothbores.  It’s not even close.  At 800 yards it not about accuracy but rather rate of fire given how unlikely they are to hit their targets.  Furthermore, Boats tend to bob in the water in a way that dry land rarely does.