Friday, November 25

"Firing into the Brown" #23 - Riverine action, Wilko and stuff..

"So Carnehan weeds out the pick of his men, and sets the two of the Army to show them drill and at the end of two weeks the men can manoeuvre about as well as Volunteers. So he marches with the Chief to a great big plain on the top of a mountain, and the Chiefs men rushes into a village and takes it; we three Martinis firing into the brown of the enemy".

Kipling "The Man Who Would Be King"

Time for another update..

Lord above, he's only gone and fought a wargame... the first since February in fact, if I am to believe my somewhat archaic filing and labeling system... 😏

Somewhere up the Chippewa (a northern tributary of the Mississippi river), Confederate army engineers are busy building a shore battery in order to stop any further incursions by the Union navy, who up until that time have had almost free rein to raid and interrupt supplies and trade from the surrounding area desperately required by the Confederacy.

While the engineers are busy with their construction, the Confederates have deployed four armed ships (cotton and tin clads mostly) to provide protection and blockade from any Union counterattack, which is expected at any time, as clearly from the Union perspective the battery cannot be allowed to commission and cause further offensive operations to be delayed or indeed cease.

Time is of the essence as the batteries are not yet completed or equipped, so the Union command scrambles to throw an offensive force together as quickly as possible, in the end comprising a smaller gunboat, a side wheeler, but as fleet command, a powerful monitor. 

The Union forces enter from the top of the table, Confederate forces are already on the table as pictured (above), they are anchored fore and aft so as to sit broadside to the flow of the river (NB. the anchors can be dropped with no impact/delay to their ability to manoeuvre). The batteries under construction can be seen to the right...

Move 1: Union win the initiative and get four actions; Confederates go second and have one..

Piling on steam the Union commander orders the fleet to close the range and concentrate all firing on one ship at a time - with some success the Union ships open fire as one and inflict four hits on the rightmost Confederate casemate gunboat. They use the rest of their initiative to close the range and in the case of the monitor, reload.

The Confederates are up against it - they may have numbers, but that armoured monitor is going to be a tough nut to crack. The Confederate commander orders his ships to open fire, but unlike the Union commander, each ship targets its opposite number - fire from the middle sidewheeler screams across the water towards the monitor only to bounce off like they're throwing melons. Confederate fire is disappointing - the only damage scored (three hits) is on the right most Union ship where a lucky shot also causes engine damage.

Move 2: Confederates Union win the initiative and get three actions; Union go second and have four...

Confederate fire continues to be disappointing, all guns blazing but no hits on any of the Union ships - the Confederate gun boat is piling on the steam in order to get a better and closer angle of attack on the Monitor.

Union fire continues to be effective - fire from one of the Tinclads and the Monitor (who throws box cars!) reduces the rightmost Confederate casemate gunboat to a floating wreck, but their flag still flies. Pausing only to reload the monitors heavy guns the entire fleet continues to close the gap.

It's fairly clear at this point that the Confederates have nothing that can damage the monitor - unless they can get a lucky hit...

Move 3: Union win the initiative and get three actions; Confederates go second and have one..

Union fire is heavy but just for once lacklustre - scoring hits on the gunboat and what was the middle of the three tin clads - none of them causing any special damage - Confederate return fire however is "lucky", they score their first hit on the monitor but have had to throw everything but the kitchen sink to get that.

It is clear to the Confederates that they have lost this engagement unless they can pull something out of the hat in the next turn.

Move 4: Union win the initiative and get four actions; Confederates go second and have three...

End game for the Confederates - the monitor opens fire on the gunboat reducing it to little more than a hulk - they pass their strike test however but being forced to break off scarper for the shallows and escape, hopefully to fight another day but only after a long stay in a Confederate shipyard. The other Confederate hulk is not so lucky and strikes to the enemy. 

Having seen the way the engagement is going the Confederate commander in chief orders the two remaining ships to drop their fore anchors swinging their bows downstream - they pile on steam and escape but not without two last parting shots neither of which does any damage...  sums up the Confederates day really!

Fun little encounter but just goes to show how a monitor can swing the odds (even without the diabolically awful dice the Confederates got!) 😏


Pffft.... with the news about Wilko Johnson's death, another good one's gone...  πŸ˜•

There'll not be another one like him...  but what a presence, and what brilliant tunes...   saw him twice, once way back in the day with Dr. Feelgood, and later (2005) with his own band (they were on with The Hamsters and John Otway which was some line up!), in fact I seem to remember offering to buy him a pint when I found myself standing next to him and the band at the bar in one of the intervals.. . he declined...  πŸ˜€


Fresh back from a week on a sunbed in Cyprus where I completed the Hilary Mantel tour de force on the life of Thomas Cromwell - simply stunning - there are no words for how good I thought this was...  read it...   seriously...  READ IT!

...and so we come to the final chapter, quite literally, in this novelisation of the life of Thomas Cromwell. At the end the of the second volume after a lot of hard work gathering and cross-checking evidence, Cromwell had seen Anne Boleyn executed leaving Henry free to marry Jane Seymour, which he does at the start of this third and final book - will Henry finally attain the male successor he is so desperate for? At this point in his life Henry is becoming increasingly unhealthy, a leg injury has developed into an open ulcerous would which affects his ability to exercise, and his usual appetite sees him gaining weight. His marriage to Jane is happy, and Henry soon sees her pregnant and she gives birth to a boy (Edward VII) but she dies following the complicated childbirth, and it is at this point that Cromwell's star finally begins to dim...  his choice for Henry's next bride is Anne of Cleeves. The marriage is a disaster and Henry blames Cromwell - the marriage is annulled, and in the political manoeuvring following it, Cromwell finds himself isolated, and even more so in the light of the fact that Henry has his eye on Catherine Howard, the niece of his greatest enemy at court, Norfolk. Cromwell is arrested, charged, attainted, and then beheaded...  all this against a background of the dissolution of the monastery's, the birth pains of the British Protestantism (Henry yo-yo'd constantly between Catholicism and flavours of Protestantism)...  simply stunning..  my second 10+ of this year 10+


Laters, as the young people are want to say...

Tuesday, November 1

"Firing into the Brown" #22 - Canal finale, tactics and stuff..

"So Carnehan weeds out the pick of his men, and sets the two of the Army to show them drill and at the end of two weeks the men can manoeuvre about as well as Volunteers. So he marches with the Chief to a great big plain on the top of a mountain, and the Chiefs men rushes into a village and takes it; we three Martinis firing into the brown of the enemy".

Kipling "The Man Who Would Be King"

Time for another (all too infrequent) update...

This is worth an hour of your time if you have an interest in the development of the Royalist infantry tactics in the First English Civil War .. top level certainly, but well written, coherent, and well argued...

“To what extent did Royalist infantry tactics develop during the First Civil War (1642-1646)?” | Laird Matthew Callen -


With the very sad news of the death of Hilary Mantel earlier this year I thought it more than time that I finally got round to reading her tour de force novelisation of the life of Thomas Cromwell - probably more popularly known as Henry VIII's "hatchet man", but so much more than that as we find out over the course of the three books in the series... more than that it's the first 10+ of the year so worth mentioning here..

This, the first book, deals with the burgeoning British Protestant church, and also the quite extraordinary lengths Cromwell had to go through in order to secure and legitimise Henry's divorce from Katherine (of Aragon) and marriage to Anne (Boleyn) - much like the best story tellers, the book is utterly immersive, unusually, it is told from a first person perspective (you are Cromwell) - it really does feel like you are there in the court of Henry VIII with all the favouritism, wealth, treachery, gossip, danger and social and political manoeuvring that would mean - outstanding, extraordinary even, and it's clear that Mantel would have been more than happy to sit down with a glass of wine with Cromwell..  😊 My first 10+ of the year... 10+
Henry is married to the "Boleyn woman" but the cracks are already beginning to show - she's given him a child, but it's a girl (Elizabeth I to be), and Anne is making Henry's life a misery with her demands for preference for the Boleyn family, and the de-legitimisation of Katherine and his other daughter (Mary). The stress and strain on Anne of trying to bring forth another full pregnancy (she has at least one miscarriage), and more importantly a boy, is brought to life with frightening detail until in the end Henry again comes to Cromwell to request his assistance in getting rid of her for whatever legitimate and legal reason he can come up with in order that he can marry Jane Seymour (chosen purely because of her very opposite nature to Anne by the way). Anne's date with the French executioner was almost pre-ordained once Cromwell started to dig up the "facts" - brilliant! 10


...and finally, I grabbed an opportunity on Sunday to use the last good weather we have a for a while to leap on Gertrude and complete my documenting of the Portsmouth and Arundel canal (click here [clicky] for previous posts) - it was time to document and trace the basin for the canal - this bit (red circle) which would have been the end point of the canal, and the unloading spot...

There used to be a big department store near the basin called Landport's, named after the area where the canal basin was built - Landport is the historical centre of modern-day Portsmouth and developed just outside the dockyard (the area gets its name from one of the gates that controlled access), and as such would have been the logical place to build the basin...

As we learned previously this end of the canal was sold off to the railway, so the current track route provides the best views of what would have been the old canal in terms of size and direction. Starting at the Fratton end (see map) the following was taken looking back at Fratton bridge (I was halfway between the basin and Fratton) - the width of the canal is clear =>

The terminus is now gone of course, and the area is so developed now that it's hard to get an idea of exactly how big it was - Portsmouth and Southsea Station covers a lot of it, but the basin would have been roughly the area covered by the red circle following - also note the giveaway street names, the canal is gone but not forgotten...

Last two shots... this was south side of the track/canal looking towards the basin... would have been quite a sight when it was full of water and 150-ton sailing barges!

South side of the track looking back to Fratton...

...and that's me done - time to find another little local history project to fill the time!  πŸ˜„


 Laters, as the young people are want to say...