Demonstration shows naval strength in Civil War
By James Peacemaker, Jr., Managing Editor
Mar 18, 2013, 14:12
JAMES PEACEMAKER JR./HOPEWELL NEWS/NEWS-PATRIOT Randy Watkins demonstrates how to use a sextant as John Holt watches.
When in comes to naval warfare, much has changed since the Civil War. But then again, much has stayed the same.
While modern-day sailors don’t use sails and cutlasses, the knots, uniforms and even some parts of navigation haven’t changed all that much since the 1800s.
“The principles are the same,” said Petersburg National Battlefield Park Ranger Randy Watkins during an event at City Point in Hopewell on Saturday. The area along the James River was used by Union Gen. Ulysses S. Grant as a headquarters during the Siege of Petersburg in the Civil War.
While there wasn’t a huge amount of fighting at this location, Watkins said Grant worried greatly about the Confederates’ dangerous James River Squadron. City Point was a major supply point for Union troops. At one point it was one of the busiest ports in the world with hundreds of ships visible in the surrounding waters.
Watkins discussed how Confederate and Union ships fought along the James River, not necessarily with the goal of sinking each other. Watkins said it was much more lucrative to capture the opposing ship, especially enemy merchant ships, because they could then sell off the ship and loot. Everyone on a ship got shares depending on their rank, sometimes equalling thousands of dollars.
They would try to maneuver alongside each other use grappling hooks to latch on. Marines boarded with cutlasses and revolvers and sometimes even grenades.
While fighting tactics are much different in today’s navy, other aspects are the same.
Watkins, a veteran of the Navy himself, demonstrated different types of knots that are still used today. He also demonstrated a sextant, a navigation device that is used to get an angle between two far-off points -- sometimes horizontally for landmarks and sometimes measuring the angle between the sun or stars and the horizon.
The device is still used today on modern ships as a backup in case GPS systems or other technology fails.