The Civil War Connections Blog

Always Faithful

Hey there folks, and welcome back to the good ol’ blog! Today’s tidbit about me is: I think that the entire concept behind “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter” is so ridiculous that the REAL Abe Lincoln must have spun in his grave when it premiered. That doesn’t mean I won’t go see it with the right friend/friends, tho.


Heck, I’d go see this one too.


It’s pretty common knowledge that the way ships fight each other has changed dramatically over time. Everyone knows, for example, that during the Revolutionary War and the Civil War, ships shot cannons at each other as the primary method of fighting. In World Wars I and II, ships shot much bigger cannons at each other, and then started shooting at each other with airplanes. Nowadays, most fighting between ships is intended to be with airplanes and missiles. But there’s another component to ship-to-ship fighting: a human component. A marine component.


Airplanes can’t do everything…


Marines have been serving in the United States Navy since the Revolutionary War. Their purpose was not to help fire the cannons – instead, they shot their personal firearms at the other ship’s men, and if the enemy tried to board their vessel, they would fight them off in hand-to-hand combat. You may be surprised to learn that before cannons were widely used, hand-to-hand combat was the primary way ships fought each other. In the ancient and middle ages, opposing fleets would shoot arrows back and forth before pulling up next to each other. Then, each ship would try to board an enemy ship and kill all the crew so they could capture the ship itself as a prize.


Here, some Ionian Greeks have rammed into some Athenian Greeks, and are swarming onto their vessel to capture their baklava. Oh, and their ship as well.


Even during the age of cannons, capturing enemy ships was more common than actually sinking them. After exchanging broadsides, one sailing ship might try to board and take the enemy sailing ship using marines. During the Battle of Hampton Roads, the US Navy had marines (or plain old infantry) on their warships to help defend against Confederate boarding parties. When the CSS Virginia attacked the USS Congress, the 99th New York Co. D was on board serving in place of marines as the defensive force for the ship. Sadly, they were completely unnecessary since the CSS Virginia just shot the USS Congress with her cannons and didn’t try boarding her at all.


Well, shucks…


Nevertheless, marines were crucial for helping to defend ships against boarding actions, and for shooting at marines and sailors on board enemy ships. After the Civil War, as ship armor and firepower advanced, boarding actions became less and less important. The focus of naval war turned to the outright destruction of enemy vessels, and the days of capturing an enemy ship as a prize faded away.


Eh, it was probably full of asbestos anyway.


Well that about does it for today, folks. Tune in next time for another fun Civil War topic!