Friday, July 19, 2013

The Ships of Rebel Raiders - The Gunboats

Rebel Raiders on the High Seas is a strategic game of the Civil War which focuses on the role of the navies on the rivers, along the coasts and on the oceans.  While most ships are represented by generic counters for Ironclads, Blockade Runners, Gunboats, Screw Sloops and, of course Raiders, there are cards and corresponding counters for many individual vessels.  This series presents those cards and offers a glimpse into the history of these storied ships.

Part II – The Gunboats:  A Victory for The Mosquito Fleet Rams

Not all of the Confederacy’s gunboats were more boat than gun, to paraphrase one of their commanders.  The Rebel River Defense Fleet under Captain James Montgomery (who appears in Rebel Raiders as one of the two Confederate naval leaders counters) had one very good day – that day was May 10, 1862, in what became known as “The Battle of Plum Point Bend.”

In preparation for the attack on Fort Pillow, the Union ironclad USS Cincinnati was escorting a mortar boat (of the type portrayed in Rebel Raiders by USN Card 2 – David Dixon Porter & His Little Mortar Boats) when they were suddenly surprised by all eight ships of  Montgomery’s flotilla.  Three rams steamed quickly to hit the USS Cincinnati in succession (CSS General Price, CSS General Bragg and CSS General Sumter).

 The Union ironclad USS Mound City tried to come to the aid of the sinking USS Cincinnati, but was in turn set upon by another ram,  CSS General Van Dorn, which despite being pounded by “broadside after broadside” from the Union warship, as an officer aboard recalled, the Rebel ram came on, struck and “tore away nearly half of our forecastle (and) opened an awful hole in our bows.” To save the ship and crew, the captain of the USS Mound City ran her aground on a sandbar.

 Montgomery, promoted to flag officer for his victory, upon his return to Memphis boasted that after Plum Point Bend the Union fleet would “never penetrate farther down the Mississippi.”

He was wrong.  The Union raised the USS Cincinnati and repaired both her and USS Mound City, brought in their own rams  (as depicted by USN Card 38 – USS Queen of the West or Ellet’s Ram) and drove down the river to take on Montgomery and his Mosquito Fleet (CSN Card 81) in full view of the citizens of Memphis.  Montgomery went out to meet them, bravely announcing as he left the dock that “you may see Lincoln’s gunboats sent to the bottom by the fleet which you have built and manned.”

That was June 6, less than a month after his victory at Plum Point Bend.  Within minutes of the engagement three of his eight ships were sunk; the other five, with Montgomery aboard, fled downriver, the Yankees in hot pursuit.  During the 10-mile running fight four of the Rebel ships were sunk; only the CSS General Van Dorn got away.


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