Navigation

  Home
  American Civil War
  Civil War Time Line
  Battle of Fort Sumter
  Battle of Gettysburg
  Battle of Vicksburg
  Battle of Johnsonville
  Battle of Shiloh
  Battle of Belmont
  Gunboats
  Links








Civil War Gunboats

In the age of sail, a gunboat was usually a small undecked vessel carrying a single smoothbore cannon in the bow, or just two or three such cannons. A gunboat could carry one or two masts or be oar-powered only, but the single-masted version of about 50 ft length was most typical. Some types of gunboats carried two cannons, or else mounted a number of swivel guns on the railings.

The advantages of this type of gunboat were that since it only carried a single cannon, that cannon could be quite heavy -- for instance a 32-pounder -- and that the boat could be maneuvered in shallow or restricted waters, where sailing was difficult for larger ships. A single hit from a frigate would demolish a gunboat, but a frigate facing a half-dozen gunboats in an estuary would likely be seriously damaged before it could manage to sink all of them. Gunboats were also easy and quick to build; the combatants in the 1776 Battle of Valcour Island on New York's Lake Champlain were mostly gunboats built on the spot.

All navies of the sailing era kept a number of gunboats on hand. Gunboats were a key part of the planned Napoleon's invasion of England in 1804, and were heavily used by Denmark-Norway. Between 1803 and 1812, the US Navy had a policy of basing the naval forces on coastal gunboats, and experimented with a variety of designs, but they were nearly useless in the War of 1812, and went back to being special-purpose vessels.

Continue article


Copyright © 2009  Gunboats.com
(GNU Free Documentation License, Wikimedia Foundation, Inc.)