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 Gun Position 
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Post Gun Position
I have to say I was surprised when I saw this image: The "Constitution" in action with the "Levant" and "Cyane." (1890)

Is this just an error on the artist's part or were there instances where the guns would be turned inboard like that? Scary!

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susan


Thu Aug 12, 2010 6:34 pm
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Post Re: Gun Position
Susan!

I would put my money on 'error'. Indeed the depiction of the 'Constitution' is one of the most incompetent I have ever seen. The American frigate was well know for having a 'spar deck' - that is the space between the forecastle and the quarter deck was almost entirely planked over and filled with guns making her (as British observers were keen to point out) almost a two decker. British ships of course had gangways (ie planked passageways along the sides of the ship linking the forecastle and the quarter deck), but these were narrow and two weak to be armed.

Your artist, instead of giving the 'Constitution' a spar deck has given her gangways. Or to be precise one gangway, since he has forgotten to draw in the one on the port side.

Likewise, there can surely be no possiblility of guns ever being turned inboard. If fired like this, not only would they have caused enourmous damage to the scantlings of their own vessel, but without breaching tackles to secure them, the recoil would have flung them over the side.

Brian


Thu Aug 12, 2010 7:21 pm
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Post Re: Gun Position
A couple of accounts of the battle here.

No mention of turning guns inward...! :P

More by the same artist, here.
In case anyone wants to examine the other images for inaccuracies.

(edit: Learned to do the link thing (I think); thanks to Susan)

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Last edited by Alison on Sat Aug 14, 2010 10:40 pm, edited 2 times in total.



Thu Aug 12, 2010 10:59 pm
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Post Re: Gun Position
Brian Vale wrote:
I would put my money on 'error'. Indeed the depiction of the 'Constitution' is one of the most incompetent I have ever seen.

Hi Brian,

I agree with you there. When I saw it, my first thought was, "This is just so wrong!" But I wasn't going to assume anything.

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susan


Fri Aug 13, 2010 1:41 am
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Post Re: Gun Position
Alison wrote:
A couple of accounts of the battle here:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Capture_of_HMS_Cyane

No mention of turning guns inward...! :P

Hi Alison,

Thanks for checking! I did think about looking at the accounts, but didn't have the time.

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Fri Aug 13, 2010 1:43 am
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Post Re: Gun Position
Having looked at the images supplied by Alison, and the original accounts of the action of the Constitution with the Levant and the Cyane, I think I have done the artist a slight injustice. My comments about the lack of a spar deck; and the mistaken depiction of a starboard gangway only remain true. Likewise the turning of the starboard side cannonades inboard is an obvious error - particularly as Captain Stewart says that, having despatched the Levant with his port broadsides, he was about to engage the Cyane with his starboard battery, the guns of which must have been pointing outboard.

Apart from that, the depicition conforms with the contemporary reports, notably Stewart's statement that he backed his topsails at this point to slow down his ship's progress. The peculiar shape of the sails in the picture indicate that they have indeed been backed. A difficult thing to show.

The artist's other pictures also look reasonably accurate. However, in the depiction of the Constellation in action with La Vengeance, both ships seem to be carrying too much sail. I suppose it is just possible, and the action seems to have been fought in light winds so that both were carrying a great deal of canvas, but it was very unusual - and dangerous - to exchange broadsides with an enemy with the mainsail and foresail set as is shown here. (The Constitution in the other picture has her's firmly furled.) Likewise both ships are depicted as carrying royals at the head of each mast. To control this amount of sail in a battle with so many of the crew manning the guns would have been extremely difficult, and it would have presented a bigger target - particularly dangerous when fighting the French who habitually fired high to dismember the rigging.

In Captain Truxton's report, later printed in the American Naval Chronicle, he only refers to the amount of sail carried during the chase. He says

"Sunday, 2d February. At 1, P. M. the wind being somewhat fresher than the noon preceding and with an appearance of its continuance, our prospect of bringing the enemy to action began to brighten, (and) as I perceived we were coming up with the chase fast, and every inch of canvass being set that could be of service, except the bag reefs, which I kept in the top-sails, in case of the enemy finding an escape from our thunder impracticable, should haul on a wind, and give us fair battle; but this did not prove to be her commander's intention: I however got within hail of him, at 8, P. M. hoisted our ensign, and had the candles in the battle lanthorns all lighted, and was in the lee gangway ready to speak to him, and to demand the surrender of his ship to the United States of America, when at that instant he commenced a fire from his stern and quarter guns, directed at our rigging and spars....."

He makes no further reference to the sails under which he fought, although he implies above that he intended to reduced it if the enemy gave battle. I feel sure he would have done so: but it would have been perfectly understandable if the artist had missed the nuance and made the opposite assumption.

Brian


Sat Aug 14, 2010 7:50 pm
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