Saturday, December 17, 2011
Nor must Uncle Sam’s Web-feet be forgotten
Above (top): USS Sebago; (bottom) USS Maratanza
In the aftermath of the Confederate evacuation of their defensive lines at Yorktown, the Union navy was unleashed, pursuing the Confederates westward toward Richmond on both sides of the Virginia Peninsula. Scouting, raiding, and generally raising havoc, the navy ranged ahead of the land forces, using the James River in the south and the York and Pamunkey rivers in the north. The navy’s forays beyond the flanks of the Confederates had important strategic consequences, not least among them the reshaping of the theater of operations decisively in favor of the Army of the Potomac – at least for a time. Occasionally too, as at Malvern Hill, the navy was a factor tactically. The joint army-navy operation at Eltham’s Landing was one such instance.
In defining the candidate engagements for my Peninsular Campaign scenario booklet, Eltham’s Landing just popped off the pages of the sources for any number of reasons, not least the presence of Uncle Sam’s Web-feet. Most sources identify the following gunboats as present at Eltham’s Landing:
USS Maratanza, double-ender, sidewheel gunboat (1 x 100-lb Parrott RML; 1 x 9-in Dahlgren pivot SBML; 4 x 24-lb howitzer)
USS Sebago, same as Maratanza
USS Wachusett, screw sloop (1 x 50-lb Dahlgren RML; 2 x 11-in Dahlgren SBML; 4 x 32-lb, 42-cwt)
Without doubt, a powerful force. However, I’m not convinced that all of these vessels were present during the combat. Moreover, the extent and effectiveness of their employment may be questioned. Then there is the matter of how to represent their fire in the circumstances of the historic combat under the rules. All grist for the mill of the scenario design.