Thursday, July 25, 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 – The  Rebel Ironclads: CSS Tennessee – “Old Buck” vs. Farragut

The CSS Tennessee (CSN Card 86 in Rebel Raiders) features in perhaps the most famous naval action painting of the Civil War:  the “Damn the Torpedoes” by William Heysham Overrend, or as it is formally known “An August Morning with Farragut: the Battle of Mobile Bay, August 5, 1864.

David Glasgow Farragut (a leader in Rebel Raiders and USN Card 1) is in the rigging of the USS Hartford (USN Card 37) as she fires a broadside into the CSS Tennessee, aboard which is Confederate Flag Officer Franklin “Old Buck” Buchanan (also a leader in Rebel Raiders).    Historians Craig Symonds, who wrote a biography of Buchanan, and James McPherson, who chose the Overrend painting as the cover for his new War Upon the Waters,  told an audience in New York last October that they believe Farragut and Buchanan actually saw one another through the smoke at that moment as depicted in the painting….and that Farragut’s “damn” comment (if he indeed said it) was directed as much at his Rebel nemesis as the naval mines (torpedoes) in the bay.

This was not the first time “Old Buck” had led a force into battle aboard an ironclad – he was aboard the CSS Virginia (CSN Card 70) the first day of the Battle of Hampton Roads (he was wounded, however, and was not aboard her the next day when his ship faced the USS Monitor (USN Card 19).  Buchanan climbed out of the safety of the ironclad to stand on her deck firing a musket at Union snipers – and was himself hit in the process. 

CSS Tennessee, like CSS Virginia, was designed to ram as well as to duel with Union warships.  Unfortunately, like so many Rebel ironclads, she had weak engines (as represented in the game by USN Card 47 – Engine Breakdown).  When “Old Buck” tried to ram USS Hartford at Mobile Bay, Captain Percival Drayton was able to maneuver out of the way – yet it was a close miss, for Drayton’s gunners were able to peer down into the hatches of the Rebel monster as they unleashed a mighty broadside into her.  Farragut himself was nearly wounded, as a rifleman aboard CSS Tennessee stuck out his gun and shot at the Union officer.  (As McPherson notes: “If the shooter had managed to hit him, Farragut would have been a martyred hero like Horatio Nelson at Trafalgar instead of merely the hero of Mobile Bay.”)

As CSS Tennessee slid past the Union flagship, Farragut ordered Drayton to turn and to follow her – and signaled USS Brooklyn (USN Card 13) to also engage her.   Buchanan managed to get his ship under the guns of Fort Morgan, but then turned around for another run at USS Hartford – two Union monitors (USS Manhattan and USS Chickasaw) intervened, pouring  solid shot from 15-inch guns and 11-inch bolts, respectively, into the ironclad.  The USS Winnebago, like USS Chickasaw a double-turreted monitor, joined in.  Pounded and rammed repeatedly by these five powerful Union ships, CSS Tennessee was reduced to a shattered hulk,  and “Old Buck,” similarly wounded, struck her colors.

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