Kit Used: Peter Pig 1/600
Review & model by:
History: The American Civil War was one of the most revolutionary periods
in the history of naval warfare, as sail-power was giving way to steam, wooden ships were being
replaced by iron, and weapons such as submarines and mines were beginning to play a major
role. While many people are aware of the battle between the Monitor and the Virginia
(ex-Merrimack), few know of the hundreds of other vessels that took part in the battles that
shaped the Civil War. Today, little remains of these ships, with the exception of one or
two which fate dealt a special hand. One of those is the U.S.S. Cairo.
The Cairo was built in the shipyards of James Eads, in Mound City, Illinois, on the Ohio River. Created at a cost of $89,000, she was launched in October 1861, and was commissioned in January of 1862. She was 175 feet long, with a beam of 51 feet and a draught of 6 feet. Power was provided by two steam engines driving a large center mounted paddle wheel. The Cairo bristled with 13 cannons (3 8-inch smoothbores, 3 42-pound rifles, 6 32-pound rifles and 1 30-pound rifle) and carried a crew of 251 men at a top speed of 9 knots.
Immediately after commissioning, she went into combat, supporting the assault on Fort Pillow, Tennessee from February to May 1862. She then participated in the Battle of Memphis in June 1862, and spent the rest of that year operating on the Yazoo River in Mississippi. It was during these operations that she met her end, at the hands of a new device; the mine. (Although at the time, they were called "torpedoes.")
|On the morning of December 12, 1862, the Cairo, under the command of Lt. Cdr. Thomas O. Selfridge, was on a reconnaissance mission up the Yazoo with the gunboats Marmora, Signal, Queen of the West, and Cairo's sister ship Pittsburg. With the Marmora in the lead, the flotilla headed up the Yazoo, near Drumgould's Bluff. As the Marmora rounded a sharp bend in the river, her crew spotted mines in the water and began shooting at them. Believing the shots were from Confederate forces on the bank, Selfridge took the Cairo forward to investigate. While discussing the situation with the captain of the Marmora, the Cairo began to drift towards the riverbank, and Selfridge ordered the ship forward, out of the shallows. As he did so, the ship was rocked by two massive explosions; one along the port side, the other under the starboard bow. Cairo's pilot drove her into the bank, which allowed the crew to abandon ship without loss of life, but she slipped off and disappeared into the deep, muddy, waters of the Yazoo within 12 minutes. That afternoon, Selfridge mustered his crew, which had been picked up by other vessels in the flotilla, and reported to his superiors that the Cairo had been destroyed by the enemy's "infernal machines". It was the first time that a mine had destroyed a warship in combat.|
|That would have been the end of the story except that in 1956, historian Edwin Bearss set out to find the Cairo. Having located the wreck in August 1956, Bearss' group worked to assemble resources to raise the ship. It took 4 years, but in 1960, ninety-eight years after she sank, parts of the Cairo began to see the light of day again. Over the next five years, the remains were raised and reconstructed at the Ingalls shipyard in Pascagoula, Mississippi. Today, the U.S.S. Cairo is on display at the Vicksburg National Military Park, one of the last remnants of the vessels that pioneered the age of iron ships.|
|The Kit: I began with a 1/600 scale resin kit by Peter Pig, which was designed for war gamers and is very basic. It consists of 3 parts, the resin hull and two white-metal smokestacks, so a lot of scratch building was needed. Luckily, the basic shape is pretty accurate. I started by using strip styrene sheet to make the bulwarks on the upper deck and to create a raised "edge" all the way around the vessel. Next, I added all of the stanchions along the edges of the upper deck, and the supports for the center rail using thin brass rod. The center rail, which on the real ship was used to support a canvas awning, was made out of rectangular styrene stock. I then added the smokestacks after trimming them down a bit (as supplied, they were too tall) and added the cross brace of stretched sprue between them.|
|Next, I turned to the guns. Only a couple of the gun hatches are molded in the open position and I figured that since Cairo was in combat conditions, she would be fully ready with all hatches open and guns in position for a fight. I removed all of the molded-on details, added guns made from styrene rod, cut new hatches out of strip styrene and glued them in the open position. The undersides of the hatches were painted white, as the gun decks of most ironclads were white to reflect light and provide added illumination to the dark interior. I then added boats and davits from a Skywave 1/700 scale ship accessories set, and modified a couple anchors out of the set to look more like Civil War era anchors. To finish off, I added rigging made out of invisible thread for the support cables around the smokestacks, up the main mast, and as a line for the flag on the rear mast. The last step was to add the awning attachment rod on top of the deck-edge stanchions with stretched sprue.|
|Finishing: One of the nice things about this project is that it was all hand painted. The decks were painted Testors Wood, with a wash of Polly S Mud to highlight the planking. The casemate, deckhouse and pilothouse were all painted with Floquil Weathered Black, while the smokestacks, fittings and cannons were all painted with Tamiya semi-gloss black. The colors of Civil War naval vessels have long been subject of much conjecture since, of course, no color photos exist. Although some of the City class gunboats appeared to be medium grey, the only photo of the Cairo shows it to be very dark; thus I felt the Weathered Black would be appropriate. Also, for identification purposes, all of the City Class boats had colored bands around the smokestacks. The Cairo's were gray, and I used gray decal material to create the bands. Decals were also used for the ship's flag, as I assembled a pair of 3-part flag decals for airliner models and attached them to the rear mast.|
Creating the Diorama: Since Cairo's most famous moment was when she
was sunk by the "infernal machines," it was my choice for an action diorama. To make the
riverbank, I used Crayola Modeling Magic, which is light, easy to form and air-dries in 24 hours.
(I found it in the crafts section at Michael's.) After it was shaped and dried, I painted it
several shades of brown using Polly S and Floquil. I then added some Woodland Scenics Fine Turf
for some greenery. Trees were made of dried Yarrow (also from Michael's) with the trunks painted
a variety of browns, blacks and grays.
For the water, I started by painting the wood base with a yellow ochre acrylic paint. On top of this, I built up several layers of Acrylic Gel Medium. This was put on straight from the jar with a small spatula and when dry, is clear and shiny. I then added a layer of gel medium that was tinted a slightly greenish brown with acrylic paint. At that point, I glued on the ship and a couple of floating logs made out of twigs from the back yard. After that had dried, I added still another layer of gel medium, working it with the spatula to create the bow wave, the surface waves and the wake.
Then I started working on the mine explosions. These were made with blobs of gel medium, which
I allowed to dry for several hours, then "teased" with a needle to simulate the erupting streams of
water. As they dried, I propped the base upside down so that gravity would keep the teased
areas from relaxing back into the blob. The process of adding gel, teasing and allowing it
to dry was repeated several times to get the explosions into their final form. Gloss white
paint was used to add highlights to the explosions, the wake and the waves in the water.
For the smoke rising from the stacks, I used cotton, pulled from the end of a cotton swab. I glued a piece of stretched sprue up inside the cotton pieces to help give them support. They were then airbrushed with a dilute mixture of flat black and mounted into the tops of the stacks.
Hardluck Ironclad: The Sinking and Salvage of the Cairo, Edwin C. Bearss, Louisiana State University Press, 1980.
Union River Ironclad 1861-65, New Vanguard Series #56, Angus Konstam, Osprey Publishing, 2002
Naval Warfare: Courage and Combat on the Water, John C. Wideman, Michael Freidman Publishing Group, Inc., 1997
Ironclads and Blockade Runners of the American Civil War