Sunday, October 30, 2011

Building a Cairo Class Ironclad

In preparation for the American Civil War DANG 2011 game, I've started to get together the ships needed for the game. I'm going to be able to borrow most of the ships needed for the game from the local ironclads buffs (Kevin, George and David), but I still wanted to put together a ship for the game. I will have to assemble some terrain for the game, but I always like to have at least one ship that I painted up on the table. I was able to talk Kevin into loaning me one of his un-built Thoroughbred Figures Cairo ironclad gunboats, so that I would have something to put together for the game.
USS Mound City
First a little history. The Cairo class gunboats were ironclads used on the Mississippi River and its tributaries during the American Civil War. These are also sometimes referred to as City class gunboats, "Eads gunboats" or "Pook Turtles." The class was designed by James Buchanan Eads, a wealthy St. Louis industrialist who risked his fortune in support of the Union.

The seven gunboats in the class were named for cities on the Mississippi or its tributaries. They were: Cairo, Carondelet, Cincinnati, Louisville, Mound City, Pittsburg, and St. Louis (later renamed Baron De Kalb). The first four gunboats were built at the Carondelet Marine Ways (today part of St. Louis). This was a logical choice since the area had the dry dock facilities and was a machinery center and had a ready supply of skilled tradesmen to do the required work. Most importantly, since the gunboats were to be used on the Mississippi River, building them at St Louis meant that at completion, the boat could be quickly put into service. The three other gunboats were built at the Mound City Marine Railway & Shipyard facilities.

The Cairo class gunboats formed the core of the US Army's Western Gunboat Flotilla, which later was transferred to the US Navy and became the Mississippi River Squadron. The gunboats took part in almost every significant action on the upper Mississippi and its tributaries.

The Thoroughbred 1/600 scale Cairo class is a nice kit. Out of the box the kit has instructions, the main body for the boat, two smokestacks, four vents, three ship's boats (one large and two small), a brass wire for the flagpole and a paper flag. All the parts were cleanly cast and I didn't need to do much before starting assembly.
Thoroughbred Cairo Class parts
Putting the ship together was pretty easy (due to the limited number of parts), although I decided to leave the ship's boats off for the moment. The instruction sheet has some painting tips and lists the color bands used on the stacks to identify the different ships in the class. Here you can see my initial painting effort.
Cairo Class 3/4 view
Cairo side view
I was trying to get a lighter black on the hull (historically I believe those area were covered with creosote), but I think I might need to go back and dry-brush the hull with a grey or dark brown color to give it a more weathered look. The deck was painted a wood tan and the paddle box for the wheel was painted a dark brown. I touched up the guns with a deeper glossier black, but it is hard to see. I haven't decided if I will add the ship's boats or leave them off. My initial feeling is that the boats would have been left behind if the ship was expecting action (fewer things to cause splinters if hit or catch fire), so I'm leaning toward leaving them off. That way I won't have to worry about making davits for them.
3/4 view with the ship's boats and civilian pilothouse

I've also been thinking about adding a wooden "civilian pilothouse" on top of the armored one. There are several photos on the Navy History site that show ships of this class with the modification (the photo at the start of the blog is one of those). But, like the ship's boats, I wonder if it would have been in place if the ship was expecting action. If there is more than one Cairo class gunboat in the game, the wooden pilothouse would make this ship look a little different than others. But I guess that is what the stack color bands are for.
Side view with boats and pilothouse

Comments on if I should include the boats and pilothouse are welcome (general comments are welcome too). 


  1. Dave, it looks great. It's been a busy weekend and I'll try to get my list of ships to you some time this week.

  2. Nice work, Dave. Ironclads are cool! Best, Dean

  3. Thanks, it was a nice kit to put together. But I'm still undecided about putting the pilothouse and boats on the ship.