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Ozzy

What if...?

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Always good to send the Old Year off with a bang...  Imagine, for a moment, that the placement of Dr. Saunder's submarine battery, 3000 yards downstream from Fort Henry, had been withheld until after the Union reconnaissance of February 4th; and all of the torpedoes were positioned correctly, fully functional, with appropriate length of cable and sufficient anchor weight.

 

What do you suppose would have happened, if on the morning of February 6th, 1862, as Foote's Flotilla of seven gunboats powered up the Tennessee River, one of them engaged a hidden mine and suddenly blew up? Would the destruction of one or more Union gunboats have had any impact?

 

[There are no right or wrong answers: all responses are welcome.]

 

 

Ozzy

 

 

n.b.  Happy New Year!

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It would have stopped the union navy attack at the most, at the least, it would have delayed the attack.  It would be useless to get too specific in this situation because hypothetically, anything could happen.  However, I believe that Grant and Foote would have regrouped, screwed their heads back on and devised a new plan.  Forget moving up the Tennessee River for now, perhaps a plan to attack Fort Heiman, occupy it and attack across the river against Fort Henry.  Another plan could be to move up the Cumberland River against Fort Donelson, land troops below the fort (as they did do in the actual campaign) and advance against the fort, capture it and Dover and its depots.  Now, it would be possible to attack Fort Henry from the rear and again from the Tennessee River.  BUT, this move would have been unnecessary as the river, by now, would have risen beyond flood stages, the fort would have been evacuated by the confederates.  Result would be the same as actually happened in almost the same time frame.  

OK, now what do you think of this plan devised by a genius? (or not)

Ron     

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Ron

 

I believe the idea you've put forward has strong plausibility... Does anyone else? Or do you believe Flag-Officer Foote would have shouted, 'Damn the torpedoes; full speed ahead!'

 

To me, it seems as if the 'submarine battery' offered potential as the 'force multiplier' the Confederacy was needing, at that moment. If successful, it bought them time: to build their army; strengthen their defenses; and acquire their own gunboats. Knowing torpedoes were coming, and soon, helps explain the confidence behind the report of November 1st, 1861 [posted in 'Fort Henry (CSA)']: even though Fort Henry was not finished, and Fort Heiman was barely pegged off by the engineer, this was the 'ace up the sleeve.' In fact, so confident were they of positive results, that not all the available torpedoes were deployed: some were held back, aboard the Samuel Orr, for later use.

 

Ozzy

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To expand my post of January 1st... 

 

It must first be appreciated that torpedoes (submarine batteries) were not 'Quaker guns.' Over the course of the war, the infernal machines destroyed more Union warships than every other attack-method. Money, time and scarce resources had been invested to develop a viable weapon that offered the potential to neutralize the Federal advantage in gunboat production. And, I believe there was every expectation that at least one gunboat would come to grief in vicinity of Fort Henry (which is why Major Gilmer was there, watching.)

 

Now, the loss of one gunboat, although remarkable to all concerned, would have had little effect on the ultimate outcome. A prudent Foote would have re-ordered his force (timberclads to the front), and slowed his single-file advance, to attempt to avoid, or sweep away, any other torpedoes. Barring any other unfortunate events, the bombardment would have occurred an hour or two later, with the result we are familiar with.

 

However, a second mine encounter... this is what was required to bring the attack to a halt: if the pilots did not turn their boats around, one mutinous crew would have set the example, leading all the other gunboats back downriver. Good luck, trying to get them back upstream. And while the delay persisted (probably days, if not weeks) until a proven method of sweeping away torpedoes was developed, the South would have time:

  • to try to finish the Eastport (or, at least, make her 'serviceable');
  • to acquire more torpedoes (now proven, as a weapon of war);
  • to recruit more troops (nothing like success to spur a recruiting drive);
  • to acquire, and place, more heavy guns, upstream from Fort Henry.

Meanwhile, Grant's attack would be downgraded to a feint, and all troops returned to Paducah and Smithland.

 

That's how I see it.

 

Ozzy

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In honour of the 153rd anniversary of the Battle of Fort Henry, the February 5th order from Foote to Walke, directing the attack (on file with the Naval History and Heritage Command.)

 

 http://www.history.navy.mil/research/library/manuscripts/e-f/rear-admiral-andrew-foote-letter-from-andrew-h-foote-to-commander-walke-of-uss-carondelet.html

 

 

Ozzy

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From the 'Civil War Trust' website, here is Commander Walke's report, following the Battle of Fort Henry; Walke was in command of USS Carondelet. (Notice the comments concerning torpedoes, in the fourth paragraph.)

 

http://www.civilwar.org/education/history/navy-hub/navy-history/primary-sources/the-battle-of-fort-henry.html

 

 

Ozzy

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Click on the link below, to see the Civil War 'Navy Monument,' (not located at Fort Henry, for obvious reasons.)

 

http://www.nps.gov/vick/historyculture/navy-memorial.htm

 

 

Ozzy

 

 

N.B.  At the base of the Memorial, on each of the four sides, a particular Naval Officer is recognized with his own 9-foot high statue... Would you have selected the four chosen, or perhaps substituted one or two others?

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It is a known fact that the tallest Civil War memorial at Vicksburg... is the Navy Memorial. 

Yet, incompetence by the U.S. Navy is how the Confederate 'Gibraltar' of Vicksburg came to be: Flag-Officer David Farragut misunderstood his orders (after taking New Orleans) and simply cruised north past the growing threat of Vicksburg, instead of reducing/taking possession of that high bluff.

The ultimate humiliation: while making a leisurely cruise -- a victory lap -- back down the Mississippi River, in company with Flag-Officer Davis (who replaced Andrew Foote as commander of the Western Gunboat Flotilla), the CSS Arkansas 'broke out' from the Yazoo River, and gained the riverbank beneath Confederate Vicksburg on July 15th, 1862. Farragut's wooden ships had to sneak past the iron-plated ram and plunging fire of bluff-mounted guns at night... and leave behind the 'problem' of Vicksburg for another day.

 

Ozzy

 

 

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