Dead Confederates, A Civil War Era Blog

Aye Candy: U.S.S. Hatteras, Version 2.0

Posted in Media, Technology by Andy Hall on September 2, 2013



Updated renders of a digital model of U.S.S. Hatteras, a Union warship sunk in battle with the Confederate raider C.S.S. Alabama on January 11, 1863. This model replaces an earlier version that, while similar in general configuration, I now believe to be wrong in several respects. This model, which is about 75% new, is based on a detailed drawing of Hatteras‘ sister ship, the Morgan Line steamer Harlan (see that set), in the Bayou Bend Collection. Thanks to my colleague Ed Cotham for locating the Harlan image and sharing it with me. As always, full-resolution images available on Flickr.









Moving the Big Guns on Alabama

Posted in Technology by Andy Hall on October 21, 2012

Over at Civil War Talk, there was an inquiry as to how the big, mounted artillery on ships like Alabama were moved about. When you look at a model or drawing of a CW-era ship, the deck often seems to be covered with metal arcs, obviously related to moving the gun, but in no clear pattern that’s easy to discern. (See this example on a model of U.S.S. Kearsarge.)Fortunately, Andrew Bowcock covers this procedure in some detail in his C.S.S. Alabama: Anatomy of a Confederate Raider. Although he described the procedure for a specific gun on that vessel, the process would be similar on other ships.

There are three basic components to the gun — the tube, the carriage on which the tube is mounted, and the slide in which the carriage was run forward and back (with recoil). It’s the arrangement of the slide here that’s important. The key to the whole process is that each end of the slide is fitted with a hole through which a brass pivot pin could be dropped, going through the carriage and into a matching, iron-reinforced hole in the deck. The key to shifting the gun from one position to another was to swing the slide on one pivot to line up the pivot hole at the other end with another point, put that pin in place, remove the first pin, and then swing the whole thing from the other end. It sounds complicated, but it is practical and (relatively) safe on a rolling deck, since the slide will (at worst) swing in an arc, rather than go barreling across the deck like a loose gun on trucks.

Here is a diagram of the eight pivot positions (marked in red) used for Alabama’s aft 8-inch smoothbore pivot — the one Captain Semmes was famously photographed with:


And this shows the pivot points on the slide for that gun:


And here is that process illustrated on the digital model:

Gun positioned on center-line of deck, normal stowed position.
Back end of slide is swung to an intermediate pivot point on the port side and pinned there.
Front end of the slide in unpinned and swung toward the port side.
The swing complete, the forward end of the slide in pinned at the ship’s side, and the back end in unpinned to allow the back end of the slide to swing freely.
The gun is now ready for action.

The model is simplified for clarity, and omits all the block-and-tackle, breeching ropes, and the dozen or more crew members required to provide the muscle power to do this. (Bowcock notes that the official complement to work this gun in action would be sixteen men.) Anyway, I hope this makes the process a little clearer.


NatGeo’s Secret Weapon of the Confederacy

Posted in Technology by Andy Hall on September 14, 2011

Update: I didn’t see the show myself, but I hear (from some highly-discerning folks) that it was pretty good.Anybody here catch it? Let me know in the comments.


On Thursday evening the National Geographic Channel will air “Secret Weapon of the Confederacy,” exploring the short, eventful life of the submersible H. L. Hunley. From the website:

It was the first submarine ever to sink an enemy ship, but after only one successful mission the H.L. Hunley vanished with its crew and lay hidden for more than a century. The circumstances surrounding the disappearance of the Confederacy’s secret weapon have remained an enduring mystery since the Civil War era, but now NGC has uncovered what may have brought it down.

Hunley has always been a favorite of mine. Some old renderings of my model of the boat, based on plans by Michael Crisafulli, after the jump:


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A Strained Composition

Posted in Media by Andy Hall on June 26, 2010

John Paul Strain is a successful artist whose specializes in Civil War subjects. His style is precise, with vibrant colors, but tends too much toward treacly sentimentality for my taste. He does, however, do “magic hour” lighting very well.

He doesn’t do much marine work, a genre that interests me greatly, but he did do one of a Confederate privateer, called “Cavalier of the Sea.

By the summer of 1861, President Lincoln had placed into motion his plan to isolate the secessionist Southern States by imposing a blockade of their shipping ports.  The South’s economy was based on “King Cotton” and trade with England and other countries.  Four million English textile jobs relied on the importation of southern cotton, and in turn southern leaders would need immense amounts of arms and equipment from Europe to defeat the oncoming threat from the north.  Blockade runners would become the lifeline of the Confederacy.

Before the Federal blockade was fully in place in the latter part of 1861, supplies were primarily carried across the Atlantic on sailing ships able to handle large quantities of goods.  One ship could supply thousands of Enfield rifles and enough ammunition for 30 thousand troops in the field.  As the blockade became more fully implemented, newer, faster and smaller steamships were utilized to elude Union vessels.

On May 28, 1861 Charleston received notification that it’s port was to be blockaded and that any ship approaching the city would be warned off or seized.  A fifteen day grace period was to be given to neutral ships to leave the harbor.  Undeterred, Confederate leaders went into action and readied war ships and privateers to counter the threat.  The exploits of these bold sailors serving in the Confederate Navy, on privateers and supply ships became greatly romanticized in the newspapers as “Cavaliers of the Sea”.

Man, that composition seems familiar. . . .

“Cavalier of the Sea” (l.) and 1877 Iron Barque
Elissa at Galveston, June 26, 2010.