Friday, August 16, 2013

USS Kearsarge “Semme’s Bane”

The Ships of Rebel Raiders    - The Men o’War

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.

   USS Kearsarge  “Semme’s Bane”

Named after a mountain in New Hampshire, USS Kearsarge (USN Card 14 in Rebel Raiders)) is best known for its epic duel with the CSS Alabama (CSN Card 63), in the Battle of Cherbourg, fought off the coast of France in June 1864.   That was not the first day the Union warship plagued the Raider’s captain, Raphael Semmes, as it had been part of the force that blockaded him and his previous ship, CSS Sumter (the Raider counter that starts the Rebel Raiders’ game in New Orleans) when the Union caught up with Semmes at Gibraltar in 1862.  When Semmes took over the CSS Alabama a few months later, it was USS Kearsarge which was tasked with hunting him down.

That hunt took 20 months, during which Semmes sank or captured 65 U.S. merchant ships.  When Semmes, ailing and, like his ship, worn out, went to Cherbourg for a rest and refit, USS Kearsarge followed.  Piqued into action by allegations that he was a mere “pirate,” the Confederate Navy officer accepted the challenge from his Union counterpart, Captain John Winslow, and steamed out to fight.  While CSS Alabama did mount a more powerful 100-pound Blakely pivot rifle, she was otherwise outgunned by the Union sloop-of-war, which carried a pair of 11 inch Dahlgrens, four 32-pounders and a 30-pound Parrot rifle.  USS Kearsarge had another advantage: an armored belt of single-link iron chaincladding  and chain cables protected her most vital areas.

The duel lasted about an hour, at which point Semmes struck his colors and asked Winslow for help in saving his crew – although Semmes along with 41 other sailors were picked up by a nearby yacht which spirited them to safety in England.   The action was recreated by   Edouard Manet in his famous painting (see illustration below).

USS Kearsarge earned a battle star on her Civil War campaign streamer, and 17 members of the crew received the Medal of Honor for this action.  After repairs, she was sent to hunt down the Confederate ocean-going ironclad ram/raider CSS Stonewall (CSN Card 74), but the war was over before they met.

In the Game….recreating the epic duel

In Rebel Raiders on the High Seas, when a Yankee Sloop meets a Confederate Raider, the Union player has to win a speed roll; the odds are in the Rebel’s favor, as the Confederate ship adds a +3 to its die and wins ties.  CSS Alabama is even harder to catch, as it gets an additional +1 …but so does the USS Kearsarge, making it one of the few sloops that can catch her.

In The Battle of Cherbourg, however, it was the Rebel who initiated the combat, which a Confederate player may do if he wishes in Rebel Raiders.

When a Sloop and a Raider do fight, the Union ship gets two dice, and the Rebel one.  A “5” or “6” on any one die will sink the other.  Both CSS Alabama and USS Kearsarge each get a plus to their die/dice respectively, and if the Yankee Guns (USN Card 3) is in play, the Union ship also gets to re-roll one die in one round of the combat.   Should the Union player miss, the Confederate can escape...and live to raid another day.

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