Monday, July 22, 2013

The Ships of Rebel Raiders - The Ironclads

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 III – Rebel Ironclads: CSS Ablemarle – “SEALS” vs. an  “Unsinkable Ram”

Though she bore only two guns – a pair of fine 6.4-inch Brooke Rifles mounted on pivots - the “unsinkable ram” CSS Ablemarle (CSN Card 75 in Rebel Raiders) was very well protected, with a thick bunker and iron shutters for her gun ports.  An officer aboard the USS Miami, one of a pair of double-ender Union gunboats the Rebel ironclad dueled on the Roanoke River in April 1864, reports firing over 30 shots at point-blank range into the armored beast – “but they had no effect on her.”   One of those shots was an explosive anti-personnel shell personally fired from the bow gun by USS Miami’s captain.  The shrapnel bounced off the armor and killed the Union officer.  His ship retired but its companion, USS Southfield, went down, holed by the CSS Ablemarle’s ram.   The ram then went on to support the Confederate ground attack to regain the town of Plymouth – the only such combined arms operation involving a Rebel ironclad in the war.

 A month later CSS Ablemarle broke out into the Sound for which she was named, only to be swarmed by six Union gunboats.  She took over 60 hits, but it was only when her smokestack was so badly damaged her engines could not draw oxygen that she turned back to Plymouth.  Fearful that she would emerge again, the Union developed a bold plan worthy of a WW2 commando raid or a modern SEAL team operation.

Lt. William Barker Cushing, renowned for several cutting-out expeditions (one of which had captured a Confederate general) developed a plan to plant a torpedo in her hull.  He and 15 men went up the Roanoke on the night of October 27, 1864 in a small cutter.  The guards on the ram spotted them and her gunners sank the cutter – but not before Cushing had planted his torpedo – which ripped a hole in the waterline “big enough to drive a wagon” through.

No comments:

Post a Comment