I recently purchased a collection of painted and assembled 1:600 model Civil War boats, all of which are from Toby Barrett‘s Thoroughbred Figures. I went out and bought two yards of dark blue denim from Wal-Mart in historic Hanover, Pennsylvania, to use as coastal waters, and will later pick up some black denim when available for the darker, muddier look of the Mississippi River. At the suggestion of veteran naval wargamer Tim Marshall, I also purchased 2 yards of clear, thick vinyl to add gloss and sheen to the layout, and to make it very easy to move the boats (they tend to catch on the fabric). The denim has some directionality, so the ridges follow the direction of the water movement and the hint of white adds to the look of the layout.
The Union boats include the heavy ironclads Benton and Essex, as well as two City class ironclads (the Cairo and Mound City; this class was often called “Pook’s turtles” or “Eads’ turtles” for their distinctive shape and appearance in the water). In the back are a pair of Ellet rams, the Monarch and Queen of the West, plus the timberclad gunboat Tyler, which served at the Battle of Shiloh.