Monday, October 6, 2014

150 Years Ago: Rebel Raider CSS Florida Taken in Brazilian Port

150 Years Ago: Rebel Raider CSS Florida Taken in Brazilian Port 

Historical Event: In an illegal action that nearly sparked a shooting war with Brazil, in the early hours of October 7, 1864 a Union warship opened fire upon and then rammed a Confederate raider in a neutral port. With Capt. Charles Morris and most of his crew ashore, the CSS Florida was defenseless when Commander Napoleon Collins of the USS Wachusett defied international law and attacked the raider.

Collins had chased CSS Florida for many months. He caught up and berthed next to her in the Brazilian port of Bahia on October 4. Although U.S. Consul Thomas F. Wilson assured the president of Bahia Province, Joaquim da Silva Gomes, that the Union would respect his nation's neutrality, the president took no chances; he placed the raider under his personal protection – and that of a squadron of sloops, corvettes and other warships under Commander Gervasio Macebo. The governor granted the CSS Florida time to take on coal and provisions and make emergency repairs, but also demanded her guns be unloaded while in port.

Wilson and Collins had no intention of respecting Brazilian neutrality.  Together they planned a “cutting-out” expedition to capture the raider – knowing full well that if the CSS Florida left port the slower Union warship would be unlikely to catch her. Even worse, if the USS Wachusett did, she might lose the fight – as most of her guns were short range smoothbores, while the CSS Florida had a battery of long-range rifles. Those would have enabled Capt. Morris to stand off and pound away at the Yankee vessel while keeping out of the range of Collin's heavier but shorter-ranged guns. Wilson and Collins decided to damn international law and go after the raider, in port, while she slept.

Shortly before dawn on October 7, Collins built up steam and bulled his way past a sleeping line of Brazilian warships.  As he entered the harbor he opened fire upon, rammed and with pistols blazing, boarded the Rebel raider. The skeleton crew of Confederates aboard were surprised, outnumbered and overwhelmed. Collins put a prize crew aboard, tossed over a hawser and began towing the raider out to sea.

The Brazilians were enraged at this breach of international law – especially after having been assured   that Brazilian neutrality would be respected. The harbor fort opened fire.  Commander  Macebo raised sails and steam and ordered his squadron to fire upon the Union warship as it sped by. Macebo gave chase, but Collins even with his prize in tow, was able to outdistance the Brazilians.

Collins and Wilson were hailed by the press for their boldness, and were privately praised by Lincoln, Secretary of State Seward and Secretary of the Navy Welles. Unfortunately, to ameliorate the Brazilians they had to be made an example of. Wilson was dismissed from the foreign service and Collins was court-martialed, found guilty of violating the territory of a neutral government and similarly dismissed from the Navy.

Collins remained unrepentant, saying he would do it all again “for the public good.” None disputed that he had acted so, for in her two-year career the CSS Florida had sunk 46 ships and captured 14 others, inflicting damages that her victim's owners claimed had cost them over $4 million – ten times the cost of the Rebel raider.

Confederate commerce cruisers like CSS Florida play a key role in GMT's strategic naval game of the Civil War, as one would expect from a game entitled Rebel Raiders on the High Seas.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

150 Years Ago: CSS Florida Makes Her Last Capture At Sea

150 Years Ago: CSS Florida Makes Her Last Capture At Sea

On September 26, 1864, the Confederate raider CSS Florida, then under the command of her second captain, Charles M. Morris, made her 37th and final capture: the bark Mandamis. She was a commercial vessel out of Baltimore that was returning “in ballast” because of the difficulty in finding shippers who wanted to risk their cargo on American flag vessels – vessels which, like Mandamis, were the prey for CSS Florida and other Rebel Raiders on the High Seas.

After setting the bark afire, Morris made for Bahia to take on coal and provisions. He did not know that no fewer than 24 Union warships were after him – one of which, the USS Ticonderoga, was assited in that hunt by one of the CSS Florida's own men: A. L. Drayton. The sailor had been captured when the fishing schooner Archer, which when captured by the CSS Florida had been pressed into service to do some raiding of her own off the New England coast.  Rather than suffer imprisonment, Drayton piloted the Union warship throughout the chase, but always arrived at foreign ports of call just a week or so after the raider. Another of the hunters, however, USS Wachusett, was more timely in her search – catching up with and capturing the CSS Florida on October 7...but that is another story....

The Confederate commerce raiders play a key role in GMT's strategic naval game of the Civil War, Rebel Raiders on the High Seas. For more on the game visit the GMT website on the game at:

or read a review of the game inissue #27 of Rodger MacGowan's C3i magazine:

Friday, September 12, 2014

150 Years Ago: A Rebel Blockade Runner's Last Run

150 Years Ago: A Rebel Blockade Runner's Last Run

Few Confederate ships ran the blockade more often than the Advance.  The fast, Scottish-built 900-ton sidewheeler made more than 20 voyages - paying back her owners many times over as she brought in not only badly needed war supplies but also highly sought after luxuries.  Named in honor of North Carolina Governor Zebulon Vance, the sleek double-stack vessel originally designer as a fast passenger liner eluded capture over 40 times as she zipped in and out of Wilmington and other ports in the Tar Heel State.  Unfortunately, the 41st Union warship she encountered was one of the fastest ships in the Union navy: the USS Santiago de Cuba - which ended the blockade runner's storied 15-month career on the night of September 10, 1864.

The Advance, however, was not sunk by the USS Santiago de Cuba when the Yankee vessel caught up with her in Cape Fear Inlet; she was instead taken as a prize to New York  and then selected for service by the Navy.  Even with a 20-pounder rifled gun and four 24-pound howitzers aboard the now rechristened USS Advance could still make 12 knots, which made her suitable for service in tightening the blockade around the very ports she had been running in and out of under the Rebel flag.   Her capture, however, was a severe blow to Confederate captains, fewer and fewer of whom risked going out where even the Advance had been unable to escape.  

Although she never chased down any of her fellow blockade runners, as USS Advance the vessel did see action in the battle for Fort Fisher at the mouth of the Cape Fear River that Christmas.  Under the command of  Lt. Cmdr. John Upshur  she exchanged fire with the fort's Half-Moon Battery, reportedly silencing its 8-inch gun, then came closer inshore to help rescue and tow away the gunboat USS Osceola,   Upshur's vessel finished out the war as a dispatch and supply ship, and after war's end was renamed USS Frolic and, with Upshur still in command, was sent to the European Squadron.  The vessel was finally decomissioned in 1877 and sold to a private owner in Virginia in 1883.

As CSN Card 67, CSS Advance is one of the many blockade runners that appear in the strategic Civil War naval game, Rebel Raiders on the High Seas.  Successfully running the blockade is vital for Confederate victory in the game, as it was in the war.  Stopping such ships is equally vital for the North, which in attempting to do so makes use of such ships as the gunboat USS Osceola, which also appears in the game as USN Card 9 and which, ironically, as noted above, was saved by Advance when that former blockade runner was in Union service.

Monday, August 25, 2014

150 Years Ago: Guns Blazing, Rebel Raider Returns Home

150 years ago today, August 25, 1864CSS Tallahassee battles its way back home.

Historical Event:  On the night of August 25, 1864 CSS Tallahassee became one of the few Confederate raiders to exchange fire with Union warships – and one of the fewer to live to tell the tale.  Running the blockade back to Wilmington, she ran afoul of a pair of Yankee gunboats.   The raider easily outdistanced them – for the sleek, iron-hulled, two-stacker could make 14 knots, even weighed down by her three heavy guns.  Unfortunately, the gunboats were but the hounds, herding the raider to the hunter: USS Monticello.  As Captain John Taylor Wood heaved his ship about to avoid that mighty man of war, another pair of gunboats appeared – and opened fire, expecting that what they believed to be an unarmed blockade runner would heave to and strike her colors. 

Wood’s ship may have begun her career as a blockade runner, having made four highly profitable runs from Wilmington to Bermuda and back under the name Atlanta, but as the raider CSS Tallahassee she carried a potent battery:  a Parrott Rifle aft, a 32-pounder forward and a massive 100-pounder amidships.  Wood ordered his gunners to return fire – and then to reload and fire again.  The battle attracted the attention of Fort Fisher, whose guns added their booming voices to Wood’s own battery, which convinced the Yankee squadron to break off the chase. 

Returning to port after a three-week raid that captured or burned over 30 Union ships, many in sight of the coastal towns of New Jersey, New York and New England, the  CSS Tallahassee, and her captain and crew, were given a heroes’ welcome – and a 21-gun salute from Fort Fisher, an honor which the raider returned.  Those were the last shots she fired as CSS Tallahassee.

The rest of the story:  Wood was ordered to Richmond, and North Carolina Governor Zebulon Vance and his local officers agitated to have the coal-gobbling iron warship disarmed and her guns distributed to local forts.  They argued that while still active, the raider was only drawing more and more Yankee ships to Wilmington – making it even harder for other vessels to run the blockade. (The week after CSS Tallahassee battled her way back into port, seven blockade runners were intercepted by the now reinforced blockading squadron).   President Jefferson Davis and Secretary of the Navy Stephen Mallory intervened. They saved the ship, had her rechristened CSS Olustee, and sent her back out to sea for a brief raid in November, where the raider burned, bonded or scuttled six merchant ships.  Governor Vance, however, finally won out – as by 1865 the Confederacy needed food more than it needed to wreck Union commerce.  Disarmed and renamed (again) as the Chameleon, she ran out to Bermuda – but upon her return found that Wilmington and even Charleston had fallen.  Her captain, John Wilkinson, set course for Liverpool – arriving there the day Lee surrendered at Appomattox.

Game Connection:  Confederate raiders and blockade runners are vital to the Southern cause in GMT’s strategic naval game of the Civil War: Rebel Raiders on the High Seas.  Many of the more famous raiders appear by name on counters and cards, while others, like the CSS Tallahassee (in her many incarnations) are represented by generic ship counters of that type.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

150 Years Ago: "That Devil Forrest" Attacks Memphis

150 Years Ago: "That Devil Forrest" Attacks Memphis

On August 21, 1864 the daring Confederate cavalryman General Nathan Bedford Forrest attacked Memphis, which had been in Union hands for over two years.  The raid - which had it been just a little more successful might have turned into a full-scale counterattack to regain the Mississippi city for the South - was a major embarrassment to the North - and especially to the two generals in charge of the garrison, both of whom very narrowly escaped capture.  Major Generals Oren Hurlbut and especially his superior, Cadwallader C. Washburn (who fled his quarters barefoot and clad only in a thin nightshirt), were ridiculed and humiliated for the laxity of their defense. While "That Devil Forrest" and his 2,000 horsemen were too few to oust a defending force three times their size, the Rebels nevertheless "raised hell," riding down the main street at 4 AM firing their pistols, shouting taunts and, of course, letting loose a resounding "Rebel Yell" that echoed through the city - and was heard all the way back in Washington.

Forrest took over 500 prisoners and many wagon loads of supplies.  The Union high command drew troops from all over the theater to go hunting Forrest, but to no avail.  Hurlbut, who had only recently been superseded as commander of the garrison at least got the last laugh, quipping to reporters that while he had been reduced to second in command for his failure to keep Forrest out of Tennessee, at least he had done better than Washburn who "cannot keep him out of his own bedroom."

Rebel Raiders on the High Seas game connection:   Although principally a strategic naval game of the Civil War, Rebel Raiders on the High Seas  also has a strong land element.  The Confederacy can mount counterattacks to attempt to regain cities and forts it has lost, and can harass the Union with numerous actions, including play of CSN Card 85, subtitled  "That Devil Forrest."

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Developer and Designer, Reunited!

Fred Schachter and Mark McLaughlin at WBC in Lancaster - with our game, Rebel Raiders on the High Seas.

That is Fred in the tropical themed shirt, and me - wearing a Red Shirt  (my homage to all those Red Shirts on Star Trek)

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

150 Years Ago: Rebel Raiders Off New York!

150 Years Ago: Rebel Raiders Off New York!

150 Years Ago this week New York merchants were in a panic, as a Confederate raider was sinking their ships almost within sight of the city!   Between August 11 and August 20, the CSS Tallahassee sunk, burned, scuttled or bonded over 30 Union merchant ships - most of them off the coasts of New Jersey, New York and New England.

In late July, Commander John Taylor Wood and 120 volunteers, most drawn from the Confederate James River Squadron, arrived in Wilmington, N.C. and took charge of a the blockade runner Atlanta.  They strengthened her hull and decks and fitted her with three massive guns: a 100-pound rifle, a 32-pound rifle and a Parrot gun.  Wood not only had a ship that could fight most Union gunboat; he also had what he boasted was "the fastest warship afloat" - one that could run down or out run any vessel flying Yankee colors.

Wood, who had been on the CSS Virginia in its epic battle with the USS Monitor, had no illusions about battling his way through the blockade.  He steamed out quietly and stealthily under cover of night (and the guns of Fort Fisher) and ran for the open sea.  Eleven Union warships chased him for 50 miles, even firing shells that flew between the raider's twin stacks, but CSS Tallahassee sped on, eventually outdistancing his pursuers.  Instead of heading for the broad Atlantic, Wood set a course for the Yankee coast: his goal, to bring the war to the North.

On August 11 off the coast of Sandy Hook, New Jersey, Wood did just that, capturing seven ships in a single day.  On the 12th, Wood captured another six..  On August 13 he took a pair of vessels - the bark Glenavon and the schooner L. Du Pont.  He scuttled the first and burned the second - the smoke from which reportedly was seen from Long Island.   The New York Board of Underwriters shot up their insurance rates and telegraphed Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles, demanding he send all available ships to hunt down the raider.  Welles complied, but while his fleet gathered, Wood went on up the coast to New England, capturing another 17 vessels before reaching Halifax to take on coal on August 18.   The CSS Tallahassee left the harbor only hours before a mighty Union warship (USS Pontoosuc) arrived.  Knowing that Welles had sent dozens of ships out to look for him, Wood made a beeline for Wilmington, taking one last prize before dashing through the blockading squadrons, guns blazing, at 14 knots, to triumphantly return to port on August 26.

The strategic Civil War naval game Rebel Raiders on the High Seas captures the drama of such daring captains as John Taylor Wood.  Confederate blockade runners and raiders must elude the net the Union player casts for them, hoping their efforts will keep the Southern economy going long enough to frustrate the march of Yankee armies south.