South African Military History Society


The naval history of the American Civil War has not received as much attention as the famous land battles of that period, such as Gettysburg, Shiloh and Antietam, but our speaker at our January Meeting (no.242), Stan Lambrick, rectified this by presenting an excellent slide-illustrated talk, which demonstrated the superiority of fast ships compared to slow moving land-based transport.

The Union Navy had to blockade the Southern ports along a 3 000 mile extended coastline in order to prevent the importation of all requirements that the Confederacy needed for war. This blockade also had to halt or interrupt the export of Confederate cotton to Manchester in the United Kingdom, which was the vital money earner of the Confederacy. Stan explained that the importance of this trade forced the South to establish its own Navy from nothing, consisting of shallow-draught ironclads, to fight the blockade of the Yankees. One of these ironclads was the CSS Virginia, also known as the Merrimac, which engaged the USS Monitor in the first sea battle between two ironclads. Their armour plating was up to 8 inches thick, and the were equipped with 11 inch guns. Fitted with a ram, the ironclads also could and did sink wooden vessels by attacking their vulnerable sides

This new type of blockade war gave rise to the construction of over 100 specially designed blockade runners by shipbuilders in Britain, who recognized the advantage of being able to supply much-needed armaments and war materael on their outward journey and collect cotton for the home journey.

As bases the blockade runners used the islands of Bermuda, the Bahamas and Havana in Cuba, where they met the large ocean-going commercial ships from Britain, but the Union Navy slowly applied its strangehold by closing the essential seaports of New Orleans, Mobile, Savannah, Charleston and Wilmington, one after the other. It led to the total drying up of supplies for the Confederacy, and forced General Robert E. Lee to eventually surrender in April 1865.

This war also introduced new naval tactics, as well as the inventions of the first "submarine", the first "balloon carrier" and the first "rudimentary minefields", called torpedoes. It also led to the casting of 15 inch guns for the ironclads.

When the resources of the Confederacy, both in raw materials and manpower are considered, it is astounding that their Navy accomplished as much as it did during their many engagements with the Union Navy in the four year long war. At the end of the war the Union Navy consisted of 670 ships of all classes, some 8 000 officers and 51 000 seamen, against 3733 officers and 6 000 seamen, and approximately 150 ships of the Confederacy.

Stan has promised to continue his talks about the Navies of the American Civil War later on this year, and we are looking forward to his presentations.



12.Feb 98 Meeting No.243
Slide illustrated talk by Cdr W.M. Bisset, on some of the coastal artillery batteries in the Cape Peninsula, tracing their history from 1899 to 1955.

12.March 98 Meeting No.244
Slide-illustrated talk by Angus McBride, broadly describing the history of military illustrative art from early times, and its service to various regimes. Angus will also include slides of some of his own work which he will discuss.

Major Anthony Gordon advises that the next expert-guided tours of Coast Defences will take place on Wednesday, 18 Feby 1998 and Wednesday, 18 March 1998. These tours tie in with Cdr. Bisset's talk on Thursday evening, 12 Feb 1998, and will be extremely interesting. Tony will shortly contact all those members who placed their names on his list.

Anyone else interested in joining the tours should telephoneTony at: 61 4500.

The 1997 publication from the Castle Military Museum, " FORTIFICATIONS OF THE CAPE PENINSULA 1647 to 1829 " by U.A. Seemann, is now available. The price is R 38,00 including p&p and it can be ordered from the Castle Military Museum, P.O. Box 1, Cape Town, 8000. Tel.: (021)469 1136 Fax: (021)469 1089.
The next publication to be released towards the end of 1998 will be the" CAPE WURTTEMBERG REGIMENT by P. Grobbelaar.

During an early morning drill parade at the old Royal Military College, Sandhurst, a young Prince of Tonga undergoing officer training was ordered by his Sergeant to "double over to a nearby statue of Queen Victoria and apologise to her for being idle on parade and yawning in her presence." When the Prince returned to the squad after obeying the order, the Sergeant sarcastically asked what the Queen had said,whereupon the young man replied: "She said that she was sorry I was feeling tired and that I ought to be allowed to go back to bed." Immediately, the Sergeant snapped to attention: 'Very good,young sir, if that is the Queen's wish, you may fall out and take the rest of the day off."

(From "Fighting Talk", Lt.Col Robert C.W. Thomas OBE. 1987)

Meetings of the Cape Town Branch are normally held on the second Thursday of each month (barring December) at 20h00 (8.00 pm sharp), in the Recreation Hall of the SA LEGION'S ROSEDALE COMPLEX, Lower Nursery Road, Rosebank, (off Alma Road), opposite the Rosebank railway station, below the line. Visitors are welcome. Donation R 3.00. Scholars and Students free. Tea and biscuits will be served.

John Mahncke, (Vice-Chairman/Scribe), (021) 797 5167

South African Military History Society /