Ships in the night
Dimensions: 240 feet X 30ft X 13 ft (draft?)
Armament: 4X 32 pounders, 1X 84 pounder,
Machinery: 2 X 200 hp steam engines; 2 screws;mast and sail
Speed: 20 knots
Cyrus had been a happy Marine in the British Royal Navy, and had quite the reputation in combat leading to far more leeway in his actions than most officers enjoyed. Even more than some of the highest ranking admirals. However, during the American war for independence, Cyrus switched sides after a particularly nasty incident in his camp involving two Native Americans that were captured snooping around the camp. He then served the Colonies with a determination to right such wrongs with a fervor that frankly scared even his target turned friend Horatio. That is until one night came along and a very strange thing happened to him. While he was asleep after helping in the humiliating defeat of Cornwallis at Yorktown, he was transported to the time right before the start of the American Civil War. After the initial shock of this change wore off, Cyrus made a name for himself as a blockade runner for the CS navy since for some reason he saw justice in the Confederate cause even though it flew right in the face of the ideals he fought for in the Revolution. This is a story of that rise to prominence.
Vicksburg, MS 1861
Cyrus Marsh stood on a dock in the busy Confederate port city of Vicksburg and stared at the vessel that would be under his command as soon as his orders were cut. To him she looked a bit odd since she had two funnels and a small cabin like structure sitting in the middle of her main deck and only was armed with five guns. He knew those guns were much better than he had been around in his original time but he still found it odd to have so few. Also something that struck him as odd was that his ship had what looked to him to be light armor plating running around the outside of the gun deck protecting the guns and he had been told that the hull was double thick around the engine areas. He didn't really understand engines but they would move his ship faster than anything of equal size that was under sail alone. " This time period is so weird to me still." Cyrus mumbled to himself and would have swished his tail but he was hiding in human form since he knew the Confederacy would not be so accepting at this time of his real identity. " Why did I join this side again?" He asked himself as he turned and headed up the river bank towards the Courthouse that would be where he received his orders from. He knew the Union forces would soon be making their moves to cut off Vicksburg from supply and it was his job to break out and run the naval blockade that the Union had on the ocean ports of the South and then reach Europe or the Caribbean to get supplies in and out to provide funding to the war effort. Maybe it was the underdog feeling that had drawn him to the CS side even though he detested the slavery system. " Why do I always seem to join what should be the loosing side? Although the south most likely will loose and I will have to figure some way to keep my ship and commission." He mumbled to himself to keep others from hearing.
A few days later
Cyrus stood at the wheel of his ship that was oddly located in the open on the stern instead of the structure he had been told was the bridge but there was a secondary wheel there for when the weather got too rough or if they ran across a hostile ship.
A call was heard at the bow of the ship and the lines were cast off that had been holding the ship to the dock while the anchor was raised." All ahead one third!" Cyrus called out and the order was passed to the engine room. Seconds later, the propellers were heard biting into the muddy water and Cyrus turned the wheel hard to starboard to swing the ship away from the bank and out into the main channel. Once there he called out again. " Back down a bit leaving me enough to maneuver but we're gonna let the current carry us for awhile. No need to tax the engines in a decent current like this. Run up to foresails to give us a bit more speed to take the strain even more!" The orders were rapidly passed along as the odd but elegant looking ship slowly moved away from the city of her birth for most likely the last time. A parting full firing of her guns was fired as she passed under the big guns of South Fort before she rounded the bend of the river and disappeared into the early morning fog.
Three Weeks Later
Key West Florida
C.S.S Vicksburg had made it safely through the Gulf of Mexico without encountering a single enemy ship. She was now making a short stop to refill her coal bunkers even though she had been under full sail and no steam while on the way out, a decent amount had been used to safely navigate the treacherous Mississippi River and Cyrus wanted to have a full load before trying to run the gauntlet up to Charleston before making a run for England and France. He hoped he wouldn't need to use the engines until after Charleston even though it would take him longer than if he did use them but he was still learning his ships performance in open water and wasn't quite ready to stress the engines unless he had to since he was wary of the tech to begin with. He knew sails would work unless there was no wind and didn't require fuel or send up a tell tail smoke column. He knew with a good wind behind her his boat could make almost 15 knots on sail alone. 18 with engines alone but if he combined sail and engines he could get up to 20 knots in the right conditions. He knew he would need everything his ship and crew had to get past the picket boats and the long range interceptors the Union ran. Another part he really looked forward to was taking on a raider roll to sink and capture Union shipping if he so chose to do so. He would only be sent to get supplies on an as need basis and sadly this was one of those times so raiding was mostly out of the question unless something came up between Key West and Charleston. " Well this should get fun. I always did enjoy the Southern Seas. Much better climate. " He chortled to himself as he watched his crew finish loading supplies. Shortly after they weighed anchor and headed North with a nice brisk wind behind them pushing the graceful ship along at a pleasant speed that Cyrus was content with. Half a week later they made Charleston and took on the goods to be sold in Europe for weapons and other needed goods. Cyrus would have left in the night as most Captains would do in his situation but he had a favorable wind and felt he could make open sea without being caught. He still had the engines steam pressure kept up and ready to go should the need arise.
Several miles off the South Carolina coast.
" Sail ho!" The lookout above shouted. " Two points off port bow and coming fast. They ain't alone either!."
" s**t!" Cyrus cursed out loud. " All hands to battle stations! Run out the guns and prepare for surface action port should they get in range! Full canvas and all ahead flank! I want to get out of here before they can catch us!" The Vicksburg's sails unfurled completely and smoke poured from her stacks as the propeller blades began to bite into the sea and speed gradually built lifting the bow up out of the waves a bit and putting a bow wave halfway up the prow of the ship. The big 84 pound gun swung out to port on it's circular track on the bow as the smaller 32 pounders on the port side were rolled out through their gun ports. Cyrus really hoped he could get ahead of the approaching ships and just straight out run them but his hopes were dashed as his own eyes say the ships turn and make for an intercept course in a line that would put all their guns on one side on him to his one big gun on the bow. " Swing the bow gun forward and prepare for action forward. Damage control do what you can if we get holed!" The big gun slowly swung forward to an angle that would allow it to engage the enemy hopefully outside of their range and keep them at bay long enough to get away.
" Alright Cyrus lets see if we can get out of this one. It isn't like in the old war or on land. Cyrus was startled as the bow gun went off with a roar. Sending the roughly five inch diameter ball screaming toward the enemy at what Cyrus felt was too long a range for the gun but was surprised once again when he saw the shell take top of the foremast off of the lead ship but his joy was short lived as the sides of both ships were engulfed in a cloud of white smoke and close to 30 rounds came screaming in towards him. Thankfully all but a few missed and those that did hit only hit the armor around the top of the deck. The range was all that saved his ship from damage as the force of the shots was spent in the air. Cyrus swung hard to starboard and ordered the sails angled to keep the wind in them leading his ship angling away from the enemy forcing them to turn again as his bow gun continued to spit rounds towards them making a few more noticeable hits.
" Thank God they are only frigates and don't have more guns to shoot at us than that or we would be in trouble."
" Sir They appear to be breaking off! That last hit looks like it took a big chunk out of the bow of the lead ship and the other is stopping to help!" The lookout called down once more.
" Thank god. Secure from flank to all ahead full. We'll run at that speed for awhile and then return to only full sail!" Cyrus swung his ship back onto a more easterly course but still angling away from the enemy to gain ground away from them if the second ship decided to pursue them further.
Hampton Roads Virginia
The two ships that Cyrus ad engaged slowly limped back into port and their captains gave their report of the encounter.
" Sir a new blockade runner made it through. This time though in broad daylight unlike previous ships. Also her gunnery was quite good for what undoubtedly is a new crew. Took the bow of my ship almost clean off, and then hauled a** to the east while we had to retire. I would have sent my escort after her but there was no way they would have caught that ship. It's captain knows how to get every ounce of speed out of her and would have left us in the dust."
The admiral in charge sighed and looked down at his desk. " Thank you Captains. Was there anything you could see of the crew on deck? Or was the range too great to tell detail? "
" Sir I got a glimpse of the Captain at the wheel. All I could tell was that he wore a rather odd looking jacket and wore a rather short looking saber on his hip."
" I see." The Admiral said as he rubbed his chin." What did this jacket look like?"
" It was like an old British Marine's officer jacket but the color was all wrong. Instead of read and white, it was black and brown."
The admiral raised an eyebrow." Thank you captain that will be all." Both captains left the room and headed back to the docks to oversee the repairs to their ships
" Well well well. Seems like you finally showed back up Cyrus my friend. Buy what drove you to join the Rebels instead of the Union? Most troubling and puzzling conundrum you have now put me in." The admiral mumbled to himself as he ran his palm against the handle of the fighting knife hanging from his belt and eyed the slightly battered crossbow hung on the wall. " Do we once again have to cross blades against each other or can i find you and bring you to your senses old friend?" Horatio slowly stood up and stretched his old muscles with a sigh." I'm too old for this kind of thing these days. Surely you must have aged after your disappearance that night." Horatio left his office and headed towards the offices of his superiors to give them the news of the new raider/runner on the seas. He would however retain the possible identification of the captain to himself until further evidence was gathered.
Mid Atlantic around the same time
Cyrus was rather pleased with his ships performance up to this point. So far he and his crew had sunk three ships, damaged two warships while managing to escape once again and were making good time still to make France within the proper window assigned. However, He was not pleased with how much he was having to use his engines currently. The wind had turned to a unfavorable direction not allowing for use of full sail and the last thing He wanted to do was run out of fuel and then need it if more warships were encountered, Thankfully though, there shouldn't be any hostile warships this far out to sea according to reports he had been given before leaving the 'friendly' waters around the Confederacy. Cyrus looked up at the main mast where the Confederate Naval flag fluttered in the wind fitfully. "Curse this weather. We could be moving more stealthily if we could run full sail. I only dare run at ahead half right now to conserve fuel but damn do these engines chew through coal like nobodies business. May have to stop in the Canary Islands to get some more coal just to make France at the consumption rate we are going at." Cyrus turned to his second in command " You have the helm. I'm going to go stretch my legs for a minute."
" Aye Sir."
Cyrus made his way to the bow of the ship and leaned against the railing that kept people from falling overboard. " Looks like a small storm might be headed this way from the South East." He mumbled to himself. " Have to prepare for that here in the next little while." Turning, he returned a salute from one of the gun crew members manning the big forward gun that was proving to be quite useful lately but he wished it was a touch bigger to give better range. " Oh well. I'll have to see about getting that fixed when we get back to home." He said as he headed below decks to go see the engine room. He hated going down there for all the noise hurt his more sensitive ears and the heat was oppressive. but it as a necessary evil to keep up with all the functions of his ship so if something went wrong he would understand what was going on. He passed through the forward fireroom that contained the boilers providing the heat to boil the water into the steam that powered the screws to his ship. He found them odd looking but understood the principle behind how they functioned. the actual 'engines' of the ship were a set of pistons pushed by that steam that then turned the propellers. That room was in the next compartment and Cyrus especially hated going there thanks to all the noise. he saluted the boiler crews and winced a bit as he entered the actual engine room but was greeted buy an unusually cheerful head of engineering. " Afternoon sir. Always nice to see you down here. What is the reason for your visit today?"
Cyrus smiled and allowed the man to relax." I just decided to take a stroll around the ship to stretch my legs. Got tired of being stuck at the wheel."
" I see sir. Odd path to take but you're the boss. Just try to not get us holed if we run into any damn yanks or something else hostile. My engines and boilers don't like getting wet." The engineer said with a laugh before retuning to his duties as Cyrus returned the chuckle and headed for the crew quarters up above. Once there he was greeted by several salutes from those of his crew not on duty at the time and returned them with a slight smile. " Afternoon boys. I'll have to see what I can do about making these quarters better once we reach France. You boys have certainly earned an upgrade of some sort." Cyrus figured that was enough time away from the main deck and swiftly moved back towards the main deck amid a chorus of cheers from the few crew he had just left. " That ought to make their days for awhile. I definitely want to upgrade this ship a bit. I like her but she needs a bit more to really get the most out of her." He mumbled to himself as he shielded his eyes from the sudden change in light when he climbed back onto the main deck and headed slowly back to the wheel at the stern. " Ned to move the wheel fully into the pilot house as well. We're far to exposed out here to the elements and to enemy fire which just won't do."
Cyrus relieved the man at the wheel and returned to what was becoming his favorite part of being the captain of such a wonderful ship. " I think I'll avoid that storm for now" He said as he swung the ship onto a heading that would skirt the storm.
Two weeks later
Busy port in France
Cyrus let his crew have leave as soon as the cargo was offloaded and paid for along with the loading of a few oddly heavy crates that Cyrus had no idea what they contained which bugged him greatly but he would figure out what they were eventually. He chuckled at the thought of it though." I have all the time in the world on the way home to figure out what they are. Who knows. " Cyrus left his ship with a skeleton crew to stand watch and went off into the bustling port town to enjoy himself for awhile and prayed his crew maintained their discipline so he wouldn't have to deal with the police while here. He just wanted to get back to England and then back to America. He did so dislike these French towns at times.
Several hours later the crew returned in mostly sober states but Cyrus didn't mind. They had earned it and it might keep them from causing trouble in England. As the lines were cast off, The whistle mounted on the front funnel let out its perfectly pitched low tone and the cypress grey ship eased away from the dock and made its way back out to sea on engines alone. Cyrus planned to make the run up he coast and across the channel entirely under the engines to really put them through their paces.
Off the coast of Britain.
Cyrus was less than pleased with their progress. A storm had come upon them in the night and the engines had not performed to his expectations. It required sails just to keep the ship going where he wanted it to despite the wind still almost drove them into a shoal that only fast thinking and a skilled crew kept them form hitting it.
" Damn these crummy seas. This is why I stayed over in the Colonies." He mumbled to himself but his second in command heard him this time.
" Sir? What colonies?"
Cyrus shook his head in a startled way." Nothing my good man. Just the ramblings of a tired captain. Nothing to concern yourself with." He looked off in the distance and saw the entrance to the Thames River. " Ah good now we just get to London and then we can head home after repairing the damage that storm did."
" Aye sir. We in need of it and some rest on solid ground before returning home. Hope we don't run into any damned Yanks on the way."
" Indeed. I would rather not ding up our ship anymore than we already have."
A few hours later the Vicksburg entered the main channel of the river and made her way up to the port in London. Cyrus was surprised at how much London had changed since the last time he had been there but shrugged it off. It pained him knowing that most of the people he had known in the area were most likely dead but at least it wasn't as bad as it would have been if he had put in at a port in Scotland. That dug into his heart the most that he wouldn't be able to return home for at least the next several years until all those he had had contact with died off so there wouldn't be any trouble. He would return to his home though before he died. That much he knew, it still left a hole in him since he really wanted to see how it had changed but he didn't want to take any longer than he needed to in Europe and actually deep down found himself desiring another encounter with the Union so he could get in another fight. Maybe even actually capture a ship and get to fight hand to hand once more. A dark smile lit his face at the thought of that and it warmed him back up. " When did I become so blood thirsty? I used to hate combat. Hmm oh well I suppose it is for the better." He said with a chuckle and ran his hand along the handle of his saber. The offloading of supplies went off without a hitch other than the Vicksburg needing to pull in at a pier further down river than Cyrus would have liked thanks to the deeper draft of his ship and this led to delays in the turn around of getting his ship unloaded and then reloaded again. Once again, he took on more odd shaped cargo. This time it was two long boxes that were heavily reinforced, obviously holding rather heavy cargo. The rest of the load was normal provisions and small arms to be taken back to the South for the war. Cyrus was pleased however, with how efficiently his crew got everything stowed and ready to go along with the repairs to the damage the storm had done were finished in a pleasing amount of time. A few days later, the sleek ship left the river. The ship angled out to sea and headed back for the South. Cyrus hoped for clear sailing but this time of year the North Atlantic had a tendency to get rather frisky so he didn't put too much faith in that dream. Also on his mind was the chance of running into Union Blockade ships just off the coast or the longer range 'cruisers' that he knew patrolled the whole Atlantic if there was a chance that a CS ship was out there. He thought back to the two ships they had gotten away from and chuckled dryly."Probably should have taken the little extra time to sink those two so they wouldn't know we were out here. On second thought though, I feel sure there were spies in key west or Charleston that let the union know to expect us so it probably wouldn't have made much difference." Cyrus shrugged to himself and let out a shivering sigh. " I do so hate this area of the Atlantic. Always too damn cold." He said before retiring to his cabin for hopefully the rest of the evening baring a run in with the enemy or something potentially worse. The next few days however were quite pleasant and the ship was able to run on sail alone with a stiff wind directly from the stern pushing the ship along at an acceptable rate. On the horizon however, a storm loomed that had Cyrus worried. He could tell there would be no sailing around this one without putting himself way off course and another week behind schedule. " Damn it to hell. Looks like the old sea gods wanna have some fun with us. Alright well then when it gets here, we'll so our best to flip them the bird and keep on going." Cyrus would come to regret saying those words though as the storm they sailed into was one of the worst he had seen in his life. Multiple times the ship was almost capsized. One time even going over almost completely on her port side and Cyrus had to hold onto the rail just to keep from sliding down the deck and into the water. Thankfully the cargo did not shift in the hold during the storm. That would have doomed the stout ship and they would be swimming with the fishes so to speak. Vicksburg's masts were snapped off just above the top of the main sails and the wreckage had to be cut away to keep the ship from being slowed down by the sails still attached to the fallen tops. They were cut away not a moment too soon as a monster wave hit them directly in the bow and nearly rolled the ship backwards into the ocean but the engines saved them and the ship clawed her way up and over the wave and plunged down into the trough behind it and then back up a mercifully smaller wave. However, the wave did cause damage to the hull as several seams popped and began flooding water in. Cyrus's crew worked fast but still almost lost control of the flooding and water almost reached the bottom of the boilers. Cyrus was at the stern helm since the rain had stopped some time ago and the storm had become just a wind storm for the time being. Either that or they were in the center of the storm and that was why it seemed calmer currently. Cyrus heard the cry of a lookout " two points off the port bow Sir! Sails! And by the looks of it, a damned Union flag is flying form their main mast. They're waiting for us at the edge of the storm seems like. Judging by the shape the ship is in, they didn't go through the storm."
Cyrus cursed his luck and every deity of the seas he could thing of." Well that is depressing news. Let's see if we can't get ahead of them and not have to tangle. I would rather not try to fight an essentially fresh ship in the condition we are in boys. All ahead flank. Let's see what the engines really have in them after that storm!"
Cyrus felt the engines begin to build steam to push the ship faster but far too slow as he clearly saw the enemy turn to cross their path and the plan would be successful if the engines didn't get up to speed in time. " Run out the guns and swing the bow gun to port bow. Begin firing with bow gun once in range. If we can't out maneuver them then we sure as hell are gonna try to out shoot them!" Cyrus narrowed his eyes at the ship vectoring to intercept them and cursed the added weight in his hold keeping the engines from getting up to full speed as fast as they would have normally." Alright my Yank friend. Let's see who is the better man today. "
"Sir we're making 17 knots and engineering says they are getting everything they can out of the engines without risking damage to them."
Cyrus sighed. " Not quite what i hoped for but with the damage from the storm and that damned heavy cargo, it will have to do. All hands to stations and be ready to repel boarders if it comes to that. Break out the small arms. This is about to get brisk."
"Aye sir!" The sailor sprinted off to spread the order around the ship. Cyrus's blood ran cold though when he heard the look out call out again. " Sails off starboard bow. Two ships! Smaller than the one to port but they look to be trying to catch us between them!"
"s**t!" Cyrus cursed once again and his eyes flashed with a rage that boiled up from within. " out of the frying pan and into the fire as they say. Very well. Let's see if we can deal with the big guy before his friends get here."
As the words left his mouth the big gun up front boomed and the ship rattled a bit from the shockwave coming out of the muzzle. Cyrus smiled as he saw splinters flew visibly into the air from the hit." Damn fine shot at this range." Cyrus mumbled as thw crew reloaded and fired again. This shot must have hit something important because in response the whole side pf the enemy ship blossomed with smoke and fire as ten shots rained in and to Cyrus's horror, took the bow gun clean off its truck, sending it tumbling into the sea and the ship shuddered as the others struck home on the main hull or the armor around the top of the deck. Cyrus frantically swung his ship to port to try and force the enemy to change course and maybe let them get away in the time it would take for them to correct again and pursue. The starboard guns barked sending a volley of four shots flying towards the enemy in an attempt to get revenge for the lost gun. Cyrus then thought again about his cargo. There were three boxes down below that all to his mind looked like they were the right size to carry a cannon barrel. He looked at the man nearest to him and grabbed him by the arm, pulling him in close enough to be heard over the noise of the smaller guns firing at a surprisingly brisk pace considering what it took to load them. " Get below and crack open those big crates. Get a crew together to open up the cargo hold and rig the crane for action. If my suspicions are correct or cargo may just save us. If you see any munition crates that are too big for regular musket or rifle ammo crack those open as well and report back when you find out what is in them!"
The man stared blankly at Cyrus for a second.
" Go you idiot! Unless you want us to all die when those other ships get here to help sink us!" He had to smack the man in the head to get him moving but it worked and the man vanished to the cargo area.
"Sir it looks like we took out their bow gun by chance. We should have them now."
" Never underestimate your enemy's capabilities even if they are handicapped like our foe is now. Their gunnery is frightfully good considering what they are firing at us with. At least our friends to the north are almost here and will soon be in range." The captain paused as the confederate ship swung to port rather quickly for a ship as damaged as it was and he cursed." See that is why you don't say such things my boy! Hard to starboard and fire as we bear until we get a better angle!"
Back on the Vicksburg.
"Sir the crates contain a pair of 110 pounder breech loading tubes and another 84 pounder like we just lost."
"I see. Hm wil the 110 fit the truck of the old 84? I have an idea it it will."
" I can check but i doubt it sir. And there isn't much ammunition for the bigger guns. I say we use that other 84 and just keep using our own rounds. But i will check."
The original sailor ran off again to check the measurements as the starboard guns barked again in unison save for one that fired a second later.
Cyrus chuckled. " there's something about that gun that just ain't right. I suppose Thomas was a good name for it." he said with a trace of irony in his voice.
The sailor ran back and saluted. " Sir i am pleased to inform you that the bigger gun will just barely fit the old truck. Might not get very many shots before it falls apart from recoil but it just might work if you can get us the distance to have time to rig it up."
Cyrus smiled. " Thank you for that report. I'll see what i can do about that time you requested but get to bringing the gun up now since that will take the longest time to do. Spread the word to hold onto something cause it might get a little bit frisky for a bit." he looked to his left and saw a small storm in the distance and swung the ship towards it. "That'll work i suppose. Hope you don't mind getting wet again. Dismissed."
The sailor nodded and ran off to gather the crew needed to accomplish the task given to him and he chuckled as he left. " Damnedest thing i have ever seen a captain try. But why not? We've done other weird stuff before so what is one more thing to the list?"
"Sir they're turning to run again. What do we want to do?"
"We pursue them as fast as we can to try and keep them under our bow guns. Maybe we will get lucky."
" Sir? I think you might want to take a look at this. They have their crane rigged up and are lifting something out of their cargo hold.......my God it's a cannon barrel! I think they are trying to replace the gun we took out but this one looks much bigger!"
The captain looked through his own telescope and shook his head. " I'll be damned. They aren't running. They're buying time to finish that crazy in combat repair. And you are right about the gun being bigger. That looks like a 110 pounder breech loader. They get that up then we are going to have a really bad day. Engines ahead flank! We have to catch them before they can finish getting that gun in place!"
The ships bow lifted up a bit higher as speed built up from the engines moving the heavy ship gradually faster but would it be enough in time the captain wondered to himself.
Back on the Vicksburg.
Cyrus had left the wheel in capable hands as he assisted with moving the gun out of the hold and to the truck at the front of the ship. " Come on men we've almost got it!" as he finished the statement though a pair of shots straddled the ship and the water thrown up drenched the deck right as they entered the storm and it began to rain." Well at least the rain should make it harder to find us. Drop canvas to further conceal us in this gray rain!"
The sails dropped as quickly as was safe while the gun was dragged forward to the bow where a second crane was jerry rigged to lift the gun into the truck. " alright let me know when this thing is ready to go i need to get back to the wheel and get us out of this mess so we can start really shooting again! Good luck!"
Just as Cyrus considered heading to the auxiliary wheel in the pilot house, a pair of shots crashed through it turning it mostly to splinters " Well that settles that I see. Damage control get in there and see if anyone is still alive!" He yelled out as he ran to the stern and took the wheel back. The finishing touches on mounting the new gun were completed and the ammunition was hoisted up on deck along with the powder bags to go behind the shell inside the breech. " Keep that powder dry until we get out of this storm!" Cyrus spun the wheel turning broadsides to the enemy once again on a course to leave the storm behind letting his guns fire again. they only straddled the enemy but it forced a course change to keep from being hit by the next rounds already almost ready to be sent. Cyrus visibly ducked towards the deck when the new bow gun went off for the first time and shook the ship more than the old gun sending the roughly seven inch diameter shell towards the enemy ship. it went wide but Cyrus figured it would get their attention.
" Hit the Deck!" The captain cried as he saw and heard the gun now in place of the one they had shot away go off. The splash from the near miss rained water down on the deck as the crew scrambled back to their posts while the helmsman swung the ship to throw off the aim of the next shot and allow more guns to bear on the enemy.
" You slick b*****d. You managed to pull off a gun repair in a running gun battle and not only get your gun back online but brought in a bigger on to fill it's place. That is fine commanding there. Damned fine. I'd buy you a drink if you weren't on the other side." He mumbled to himself. It would be the last thing to go through his head though other than a timber and the short pain that went with it as the side of his foe blossomed with smoke again and the big gun punched a round through to the boiler room and the resulting explosion ripped the ship to bits like a giant bomb going off.
Back on the Vicksburg
Cyrus really did hit the deck this time along with his crew as the enemy vanished in a cloud of steam, fire and splinters that some of even rained down on his ship despite the range. " God in heaven guide them." Cyrus said aloud as he stood and watched the remains of the ship slip rapidly beneath the waves. It had to be the most violent death of a ship he had ever seen besides one ship getting hit in the powder magazine back during the Revolution and it just exploded in a similar fashion although didn't so much sink as it burned and then what was left sank. The crew all stared at their visibly shaken captain who for the first time actually looked that way to them. " Sir those other ships are coming on fast. What should we do? Run or should we keep fighting? They had to see what just happened. Can't believe they haven't turned away after that."
Cyrus visibly relaxed and shook his head to clear it and a smile spread across his face as he came to the realization that he now had the biggest gun in this fight and he intended to use it to it's full potential. " We fight." Was all he said as he swung his battered ship head on towards the remaining enemy ships. " Target the nearest one first. Fire when in range." He said with a dark smile that actually scared the crew around him a bit and those closest to him could swear that some of his teeth grew a bit more pointed than usual.
" Aye sir." Was the only reply although it was a bit hesitant as the crew of the big gun slowly reloaded since the distance was still too great for any gun to reach out and make a hit. Out of the captains earshot, the gun crew mumbled to themselves." I think the captain has lost it. I mean i know they were Yanks and all but he just shook it off and that smile he gave when he ordered us to continue was down right creepy. It's like he's seen it before or something and enjoyed it. Or maybe it was that we now can take on just about anything the Yanks can put against us and send them to the bottom out of their gun range for sure. Still gave me the creeps. Looked downright animalistic if you ask me." The breech was slammed shut and locked in place. " Gun number one loaded and ready sir!" the crew called out as they trained it slowly to line up a shot on the nearest ship. They wanted to sink the enemy but hoped this new target would have a better chance of getting off the boat before it sank rather than be blown or scalded to death like the last crew.
Helm of the lead ship bearing down on the Vicksburg
" My God sir. The Cardinal is gone. She just blew up and vanished. They must have gotten her boiler. What should we do sir?"
The captain had just seen all that was reported and bits of the ship were still visibly landing in the waves as the ship that had murdered the ship captained by one of his old friends edged out from behind the steam and smoke cloud and swung towards them, his eyes burned with rage at the sight." We fight on boys. They just got lucky and we all knew the danger of joining the navy when we signed up. They are pretty banged up from that storm and the hits form the cardinal both from cannon and her death really tore her rigging up so she can't be able to move very fast right now. We can out maneuver her and wear her down with shot from both of us. Signal the Campbell and tell them to take her down her port side and we will take her down the starboard side on the first pass. Then cross and do it all over again. They surely can't take us both and withstand that kind of damage for long after what they already have taken."
" Aye sir." The message was passed along with simple semaphore flags and the crews of both ships got their minds back in the right place after the violent sight they had just witnessed.
" Looks like they are going to try and catch us between both ships and rake us with full broadsides"
" Good plan. Too bad we will get a lick in or two before that can happen. Ready both Port and Starboard guns just in case though. Load with canister shot instead of round shot. no need to waste it at the close range it will be at." Cyrus paused and got a wicked idea not usually brought into his mind. " Actually add a round shot behind that. Make it like a buck and ball shot instead. might get better results like that."
The gun crews looked at their captain with a bit of horror but put the order up to a bit of desperation do to the situation that was rapidly developing into a s**t storm of an attempt by fate to do them in.
The bow gun boomed again sending another round screaming towards the ship coming towards the Starboard side, striking home on their own starboard side sending splinters flying into the air.
"Sir what the hell did they just hit us with?" The executive officer yelled up to the captain from the gun deck that was filled with smoke from the hit they had been dealt.
" I'm not really sure or how they hit at that range. Must be one of the really big guns like a 110 or bigger. Only guns i know of that can do that! That also explains how they dealt with the Cardinal so easily! Steady on course and pray they don't get any more hits in like that before we get close enough to shoot back!" As if to punctuate or maybe just flip the bird to his statement, the Campbell was struck by a round from the big gun right along the main deck sending bits of ship flying from one end to the other. " God damn it those boys are good shots with that thing!"
Back on the Vicksburg
Cyrus was more than pleased with the results of the temporary bow gun and smiled when the most recent shell went the length of the main deck of the ship to his port. However the range was close enough that the bow guns of the enemy were opening up and he only had the one to split between them. However something was off about the port ship. Cyrus raised his telescope to his face and smiled when he saw the source if the odd behavior. " Their wheel has been shot away so they are having to manually move the mizzen mast to direct their ship. A most brave gesture but they have doomed their strategy. Hard to port! Put that ship between us and the other. Fire as we cross them with everything!" Cyrus felt his ship slowly roll to the left and smiled again as the big bow gun turned to add itself to the other two guns that would fire with it. He almost felt bad for the men on the ship he was about to fire upon. It wasn't really their fault they were in this situation but he had to get back home and he had to go through them to get there. His ship shuddered as the three guns went off sending a hail of small shot mixed with round shot and the big shell of the 110 scything into the hull and rigging of the enemy ship. There were audible screams from the ship just as her own gun went off and the shots punched several holes in the mid section of the hull of the vicksburg but cyrus thanked his lucky stars it was only solid shot. Then a loud crack was heard and the main mast of the enemy ship toppled into the sea. Cyrus sighed with relief as he knew that ship was out of his hair for now and focused his attention on the other ship that by now had swung around to port and was about to run parallel to the Vicksburg. Cyrus winced as more shot thumped against the hull of his ship but these struck the armor thankfully, unfortunately to his horror, several sections broke off and fell into the sea leaving the starboard side of his ship horrifically weakened.
" Hard to starboard! Keep the damaged side away from their guns! Starboard battery only fire on the other ship if they shoot at us but their mast is in the way for now so stay in your toes. Port battery open fire as the shot presents itself. Bow gun aim for her waterline! I want that ship sunk now!"
The two ships spit fire at each other at the same time and the buck and ball shots from the 32 pndrs did their job at shredding the rigging and damaging the masts and funnel of the enemy ship. The bow gun however really struck home sending a small column of water into the air beside the hull as the big shell punched through the hull and into the bowels of the ship. The balance of the enemy changed rapidly, heeling over to port. Undoubtedly the ballast had been hit and was pouring out into the sea. This took her guns almost completely out of action until they could be aimed up to the higher angle needed to actually fire on target, Cyrus smiled as their deck was exposed and his next shots ripped into the deck and crew sending splinters and body parts flying into the air followed by a deep rumbling sound and a crack as the ships boilers ruptured and blew the ship apart. Cyrus's crew hit the deck as more splinters and other unidentifiable objects slammed into the hull thanks to the shorter range. " Get us out of here.make all sail possible and bring the engines down to half. We need to have. The fuel to get back home so we aren't slowed down more by just having to run sail only." the battered ship swung back to port and headed on a south easterly course to take it back towards the CSA.
Deck of the Campbell
The captain stood and watched as his slipped away into the distance. " That is twice that man has left me unable to pursue him. There will not be a third time he gets away." He mumbled to himself as he looked around at the wreckage strewn seas around his nearly useless ship. " Admiral Horatio will not be happy about this." He turned to the nearest officer he could find. " Gather a crew and get that mainmast over the side but see if you can't at least get a short mast out of it to hold the rest of the rigging in its proper place. See what you can do about rigging up a new wheel as well. I need to go and see about rounding up survivors and any bodies of the dead we can find."
" Aye sir. Grisly business that but it has to be done. Say haven't we seen that ship before sir?"
" Indeed we have. Now we know her name. She has left us alive twice now. Next time we'll have to see about putting her down to avenge our lost friends today."
The captain looked at his ragged ship and went about his own mission of gathering the few survivors from the two destroyed ships.
Two weeks later.
Cyrus finally could see the Eastern Coast once again and after stopping in Bermuda for a bit more coal to make it home, it was a welcome sight. His ship was a bit low in the water from the storm damage still being an issue that was compounded by the battle damage but he thanked his lucky stars that another storm had not rolled up on the ship because it most likely would have sunk them. As they neared Charleston, he had the big bow gun cleaned, removed and re crated so it could be delivered to its intended place. He knew his ship needed major repairs and was prepared to accomplish that in anyway possible. What he didn't know is that his ship was about to receive a major upgrade and be turned into a full raider rather than just a blockade runner. Over the next several months the ship was repaired and given a full layer of iron on her wooden hull but still retained her lines. Her batteries were upped to four guns per side but still the same 32 pndrs. The biggest upgrade though was an additional 'turret' at the stern of the ship and was given not only a replacement 84 pndr but also one of the 110pndrs and the wheel was moved to the new pilot house that was now armored as well to prevent it being blown away like its predecessor had been. Her engines remained the same but were still powerful enough to move the ship along at nearly 20 knots.
C.S.S. Vicksburg (1863)
Displacement: 700 tons (fully loaded)
Armament: 8x32 pounders, 1x 110 pounder, 1x 84 pounder
Machinery: 2x 200 hp engines, 2 screws, mast and sail.
Cyrus stood in the office of the Naval commander in Charleston waiting to receive his new orders but he knew he was also probably about to get a stern talking to about the report he had given on his last assignment. He pushed the thoughts from his head as the Commander entered the room and cyrus snapped a salute.
" At ease Marsh. Let's get this started then."
" Aye sir." Cyrus relaxed and sat after the officer sat down
" Quite the interesting report you gave me. First i would like to congratulate you and your crew on a successful mission and commend you on your bravery and ingenuity under fire. You sank five ships and damaged another five although i believe you said you damaged the same ship twice, once on the way out and once coming back. Quite the record for a first time captain with a new ship and untrained crew. Not sure what kind of magic you work on that ship but your men seem to love and respect you. However that is where my congratulations end for now. It seems like your last engagement could have been avoided or you could have sailed onward after gutting that one ship I think it was the Tacitus and damaging the Campbell. Why did you sink an already doomed ship and risk further damage to your already battered ship? And although the use was genius, what made you think you could just crack open your cargo and use it?"
Cyrus had expected something along these lines and sighed before answering.
" I wanted to avoid the fight all together but as i stated in my report, the enemy had me out numbered and out maneuvered at the onset. It was like they were waiting on me. And true i could have continued sailing away and left the Tacitus to sink from her wounds but I lost my cool when the armor on the side of my ship was shot away and a touch of desire for revenge crept into my mind. Also I felt it was best to reduce the blockade abilities of the Yanks for a bit by taking another ship out of the equation. Although afterwards i did have a touch of regret sending so many to meet their maker in such a fashion. I especially felt bad about the Cardinal. That was a fine ship and crew to fight against and I initially desired to capture her and bring her back here for service in the Confederate Navy. I feel it really was a lucky hit that blew her apart compared to the planned shots against the boilers of the Tacitus. As for the use of the cargo, the thought simply came to me out of desperation for survival of my ship and crew. The Cardinal was bearing down on us and would had sunk us I feel if I had not made the decision to try and use the 110 pounder. Although i could have rigged up the other 84 instead since it would have worked for sure but I wanted the longer range to deal with the other two ships after dealing with the Cardinal. I apologize for risking valuable cargo in such a manner but i figured at the time that it was better for it to be used than be lost having not gotten the chance to do its job. I tried to get it back to original condition as best as possible before returning it."
The Commander nodded as Cyrus finished. " I agree with you Marsh. You knew the risks that it might not work but put your desire to complete your mission at whatever cost before anything else. We need more captains with guts like yours. Too many of our captains get scared or feel they are beaten and return home rather than push through and finish the mission. I'm going to throw you a bone here. Your ship will not only be repaired but improved. Your new orders are to escort other runners out through the blockade and sink or capture any ships that get in your way either while doing this or on your own if there is not a ship to escort. Sound fair to you?"
Cyrus was dumbstruck. " Yes sir. That sounds splendid to me. Although i probably won't capture much cargo. If i do it will remain on its ship so as to not slow my ship down. The cargo i was carrying nearly doomed us in the storm and combat afterwards."
" I saw your mention of that in your report. You will receive the gun you uncrated and the 84 pounder along with and increase of four more guns per side. Your ship might just be the heaviest armed ship on the seas when we finish. Oh and you will have a full iron coating on you hull this time. We don't need you having so many holes knocked in you this time. In addition to your new assignments, you may be called in to bust blockades on some of our ports or help ships break out of those ports as part of your escort missions. I hope this will not be a problem."
" None what so ever sir. I look forward to it in fact. I want the name Vicksburg to be one that brings fear into the Yankee minds while they are at sea. "
The commander chuckled. " Oh from the messages we have heard of form our spies, your ship has raised quite the amount of noise in Washington. Don't be surprised if you run into heavier ships from now on."
Cyrus chuckled as well." Bring it on. We can take them."
" That's the spirit. Dismissed Captain. I hear it will be some time before your ship is ready to sail again so take some time and enjoy the city as you can. You have earned it."
" Thank you Sir. Good day." Cyrus saluted and left the room, heading out to the city.
" I swear there is something downright odd about that man. And that name is familiar as well from somewhere I just can't place it." The commander mumbled to himself as Cyrus left.
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