Monday, October 28, 2013

150 years ago today in Rebel Raiders - Last Raid of the CSS Georgia

Historic Event:  On October 28, 1863 the Confederate commerce raider CSS Georgia finished her first and only cruise, limping into the French port of Cherbourg with her bottom so badly fouled that she was deemed no longer fit for military duty.  Her commander, Commander William L. Maury agreed to have her decommissioned and to sell her off, but first removed her armament for transfer to another raider, CSS Rappahannock, which he had purchased through Confederate agents in Britain.

CSS Rappahannock was ordered seized by the British government, but Rebel agents managed to get her underway in late November 1864 and made it out of English waters – only to develop engine trouble in the Channel.  She was commissioned while at sea and made it to Calais – but before she could be armed with the Georgia’s guns the French government ordered her detained.  The Rappahannock never sailed under the Rebel flag again, nor did Georgia’s guns ever fire again.

The CSS Georgia had only a brief career – purchased in Britain and armed and commissioned at sea in April 1863, she too nine prizes during her six month cruise in the Atlantic. Maury removed their cargoes and set the ships afire, causing over $400,000 in damages to her Yankee owners.  (Image below is a photograph of an artwork, mounted on a carte de visiteproduced by Rideau, Cherbourg, France, circa 1863-64, and is part of the U.S. Navy Historical Center's collection).

CSS Georgia and CSS Rappahannock in Rebel Raiders

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. Neither CSS Rappahannock nor CSS Georgia are represented by a named counter, but are represented by one of the generic Raiders counters. The purchase, detention and eventual seizure of the CSS Rappahannock is represented in the game, for all Raiders are built in one of the two European ports on the map (England, or France & Spain).  Through play of USN Card 55 – Diplomatic Pressure – a die is rolled for each Raider and Blockade Runner in one of those ports:  on a 1, 2 or 3 it is seized, as was CSS Rappahannock, and on a 4,5, or 6 it is forced to sea, where it may be hunted by any waiting Union warships.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

October 27, 1863 Opening the “Cracker Line” at Chattanooga

This day 150 years ago in Rebel Raiders’ History

-Dedicated to Civil War episodes, battles, people and ships that also appear in my game, GMT’s Rebel Raiders on the High Seas

October 27, 1863 Opening the “Cracker Line” at Chattanooga

Historical Event:  During the night of October 27, 1863 a Union infantry brigade stealthily moved by boat downriver and past the Confederate batteries on Lookout Mountain to land and establish a bridgehead on the west bank of the Tennessee River at Brown’s Ferry.  The brigade repulsed Rebel counterattacks and opened a supply path to the embattled defenders of Chattanooga, a route that would become famous as the “Cracker Line.”

Game Connection:    Although primarily a naval game, the land war is represented in Rebel Raiders on the High Seas, and Chattanooga is a lynchpin in the defense of the Confederate west.  Cards represent many of the leaders who fought in and around that city, including Union General Ulysses Simpson Grant  (USN Card 8) and Confederate Generals James Longstreet (CSN Card 79)  and, at least in image and intent, Braxton Bragg (USN Card 7 – “A Lack of Brains”).

Monday, October 21, 2013

A Happy Rebel Raiders Birthday to "Old Ironsides!"

Happy Birthday, "Old Ironsides

Today in 1797 the 44-gun frigate USS Constitution was launched in Boston.  The oldest commissioned warship afloat (and capable of moving under her own sails!) "Old Ironsides,"  which earned her nickname from the shot bouncing off her thick hull is still going strong, as visitors (this blogger/game designer for one) who walk her decks in Boston Harbor can attest.

Scheduled for demolition in 1830, she was saved from the scrapyard thanks to Oliver Wendell Holmes, whose poem "Old Ironsides" moved the nation - and more importantly, the White House and Navy Department, to spare the gallant warship.  Repaired and refitted, USS Constitution went back to sea with the Mediterranean and Pacific Squadrons, and became the first U.S. "territory" a Pope ever set his slipper on (Pius IX).  

Although  the USS Constitution played no appreciable role in the Civil War, as she was converted to a training ship in 1857, she did contribute to the fight against slavery:  her last capture was a slaver, the H.N. Gambril, which she stopped and boarded off Angola in 1853.  When the war began, USS Constitution was stationed at the Naval Academy, but was sent north rather than risk falling into Confederate hands.

In 1862 the Navy honored this, the last of the famous "Six Frigates," by christening an ironclad New Ironsides  (which appears in Rebel Raiders as USN Card 26).   Her sides clad in real iron, New Ironsides survived many a pounding from Confederate batteries in multiple battles in and around Charleston - and although struck by a spar torpedo from CSS David (a torpedo launch that appears in the game as CSN Card 65),  New Ironsides did not live on much past the war, succumbing to fire in December 1865.

Old Ironsides, however, lives on...and long may she sail!

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Another Bad Day for the CSS Hunley

150 Years Ago in Rebel Raiders History:

October 15, 1863- Another Bad Day for the CSS Hunley

            Historical Event:   On this day in 1863 the experimental submarine CSS Hunley sank for a second time during trials in Charleston. (The first time was August 29, when five crew members drowned).   The vessel was raised but a second trial on October 15 proved even more catastrophic – as the ship’s inventor, H.L. Hunley, and seven others drowned.  The Confederate Army, which despite the Navy crew remained in charge of the vessel, raised her again.   CSS Hunley did go on to attack the Union fleet in 1864, becoming the first submarine to sink a warship.

            Game Connection:    The CSS Hunley is represented in Rebel Raiders by CSN Card 73.  The target of its attack in 1864, the USS Housatonic is also represented in the game (USN Card 27).   

Sunday, October 13, 2013

A Happy Rebel Raiders Birthday to the U.S. Navy!

Today is the day the U.S. Navy celebrates its birthday...238 years young!   It is a much happier birthday than the one it celebrated 150 years ago today - when the Navy, like the country, was so divided.

When the Civil War broke out, the U.S. Navy was a proud but almost pitifully small force, and one made much smaller by the defection of 259 of its officers to the Confederacy.  These 259 included 13 captains, 33 commanders and 94 lieutenants.  They helped build a small but potent and technologically forward fighting navy for the South.  Meanwhile, the North, to which 40 Southern and the great majority of Northern-born officers remained loyal, grew to become the largest and most powerful fleet in the world - one which if needed could have taken on the Royal Navy (which is represented in Rebel Raiders by CSN Card No. 62)

At war's end, the Union had 671 warships, notes James McPherson in his War Upon the Waters.  Of these "all but 112 were steamers, and 71 of them were ironclads."  They mounted over 4,600 guns - many of them powerful Columbiads, Parrot Rifles and Dahlgrens  (as represented in the Yankee Guns card in Rebel Raiders - USN Card No. 3)    (This does NOT include the large number of river warships run by the U.S. Army).   The Navy built over 200 ships and purchased or pressed into service another 400-plus  (many of them Blockade Runners, such as  CSS Advance (CSN Card 67) which was caught off Wilmington in September 1864 while attempting her 21st run, and recommissioned as the gunboat USS Frolic - and then sent back South on blockade duty.

According to McPherson, the North spent over $6.8 billion on the war effort - of which less than 8 percent ($587 million) went to the Navy.   "By any measure of cost-effectiveness," however, says McPherson "the nation got more than its money's worth."

That assessment holds true today - as it has in two world wars and many other conflicts large and small in which the Navy played a signature roll.

Happy Birthday, U.S. Navy....and many more.


Friday, October 11, 2013

Running the Blockade – in Rebel Raiders on the High Seas

A gamer who ordered and “eagerly awaits the arrival” of Rebel Raiders on the High Seas asked if and how the game system handles the vagaries of running the blockade,  and the abilities of Blockade Runner captains to find “the ideal moment of tide, moon and wind to make the dash to open sea” and to navigate the “danger of a dark shoreline” on the way back in.

Blockade Runners have an advantage over the Union patrols, in that in the die roll to evade interception they gain a +2 and win ties.  That means if they roll a 4 or higher, they are safe, and if they roll less, the North still has to beat them by 3  (i.e. if a Blockade Runner rolls a 1, the Union ship needs a 4 or better to catch her).  In addition, there are some Blockade Runners that are even more difficult to intercept, as are represented by certain cards.  Here are a few examples:

The Don (CSN Card 66) was a particularly fast twin-screw vessel.  Capable of 14 knots and drawing only six feet, The Don was hard to run down and could slip into coastal inlets to hide. 

Most blockade runners made a profit by their second voyage; the CSS Advance (CSN Card 67) made 20 such successful runs, making her one of if not the most profitable of all of those ships that ran the Union blockade

The Banshee (CSN Card 68) was one of the first ships built specifically to run the Union blockade.  She was also one of the first commercial vessels to build of steel.  Under Joseph W. Steele (ironic how the name and the ship match) the ship made eight successful runs, giving her owners their investment seven times over. 

CSS  Robert E. Lee (CSN Card 69)  began her career as a blockade runner in  the fall of 1862.  For nearly a year the schooner-rigged, iron-hulled, oscillating-engine, double-stack paddle-steamer ran in and out of North Carolina’s inlets and harbors to bring in war materials and other desperately needed supplies.

The Union, however, had gunboats and sloops that were expert at catching these ships, and many of them are in the game.  The Union can also stack ships in the Blockade Stations off the ports, and can either roll one die for each ship or roll a single, modified die for the stack – the bigger the stack, the better the chance on that die.   The Union can also set up an outer blockade in the Coastal Zones; the sloops there can do not get the modifier for a stack, but each ship does roll.

Eventually, in the game as in the war, the Blockade Runners DO get caught.  There are 17 Blockade Runner counters in the game.  In the last three games I played, we kept track, and the Union intercepted 30 to 35 of them; which means that every Blockade Runner the South started with and built was caught not just once but TWICE….

Many of the Blockade Runners (all but one of the above, for example) were captured and pressed into service on the blockade stations.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

A Big Thank You! To Rebel Raiders Fans!

A big thank you to Rebel Raiders fans!  Most of the initial print run has been sold - and GMT is already talking making this a "reprinter."   The game went on sale in April, and as of the end of June over 60 percent of the print run was sold...and GMT says third quarter figures look great!

For all of you who have bought, played, commented on, reviewed or otherwise expressed interest and support in my strategic naval game of the Civil War, a big THANK YOU....if I wasn't such a Yankee at heart (an ancestor in the Irish Brigade, 69th NY), I'd give a big rebel yell!  

So instead, here's a hearty HUZZAH!  HUZZAH! HUZZAH!

....and by the way, I started this blog at Easter (when my son built it for me) and it just topped 10,000 views!


Wednesday, October 9, 2013

A Rebel Raiders’ Happy Birthday to the USNA - & Its Rebel Admiral

On this date in 1845 Franklin Buchanan – who later became the first admiral of the Confederate navy – opened the doors of the United States Naval Academy at Annapolis.    “Old Buck” was the academy’s first superintendent, and many of the midshipmen who studied while he was at the helm of the academy would see him again through the smoke of battle during the Civil War.

 Buchanan did not stay long at Annapolis, as the old salt longed to go sea – which he did as second in command of Commodore Matthew Perry’s expedition that “opened” Japan. At the start of the Civil War he was commandant of the Navy Yard in Washington, but resigned his commission and went South after the Baltimore riots in 1861.  (Although when his native Maryland failed to secede, he tried to get his federal commission back, but Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles would have none of that and sent him packing, with a curse).

Buchanan’s reputation and service, however, propelled him up the ranks of a grateful Confederacy, which named him its first admiral.  “Old Buck” was a fighting admiral, a combat sailor in the finest tradition of the USNA, personally taking charge of the South’s first ironclad, the CSS Virginia at Hampton Roads in 1862 and later the CSS Tennessee in the fateful battle at Mobile Bay in 1964.

Buchanan is represented three ways in Rebel Raiders on the High Seas; first, as a leader counter for the South, and then twice more in the cards – for the two ironclads he commanded during their historic encounters with the Union navy.  Those ships are represented by CSN Cards 70 and 86.  Despite having “gone South,” Buchanan has not been forgotten by the Navy or the Academy: three U.S. Navy destroyers were named for him, as is the house that serves as the superintendent’s quarters at Annapolis.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

France and England in the Civil War – and in Rebel Raiders

Last week a gamer asked about how Rebel Raiders on the High Seas handles “the interplay between Southern military fortunes and how far Britain and France would risk war by building Southern ships?" 

As a strategic naval game of the war, Rebel Raiders has to account for the role played by the great powers of Europe.  It does this in several ways:

-1. Ship Building: One Raider a Turn
-Each turn the Confederacy can build one Raider in either of the two overseas map spaces that represent England and France.  Doing so uses up one of the South’s allotted builds (usually five a turn, but fewer as the South loses cities), and also requires the expenditure of a Victory Point (this reflects the cost of purchasing and arming the Raider).  There are also cards that provide the South with a free Raider in one of those ports, and special Raiders at that (CSN Card 63 – CSS Alabama, CSN Card 64- CSS Shenandoah and CSN Card 74-CSS Stonewall).

-2. Ship Building: Blockade Runners
-Each turn the Confederacy may build one or more Blockade Runners overseas.  In 1861 the South builds one abroad, in 1862 they may build two, in 1863, three and in 1864, up to four.  Again, these count toward the South’s allotted builds (although by 1864 the South usually has been reduced below its original build level, and is also less likely to build Blockade Runners as there are either few ports left to unload in, or those ports are so heavily blockaded by the Union as to make getting in or out of them extremely risky. There are also cards that give the South free Blockade Runners in Europe (CSN Card 84 – The Douglas) and in the other overseas boxes, most of which were part of the British, French or Spanish empires (CSN Card 108-War Profiteers)

-3.  Investment: European Front Companies provide Arms to the South
The South relied on European companies for much of its war material (as well as luxury goods and civilian necessities).  The loading/unloading of Victory Points (VPs) reflects that, as these VPs may be used to purchase ships and batteries and counterattacks, and are needed to fend off the degradations of the Supply Roll and penalties for losing cities.  Several cards reflect this trade, and the establishment of front companies in their colonies by European interests which fed arms and other goods to the South.  These include CSN Card 99 – The Queen’s Artillery – which allows the South to cash in one 2 VP European cargo counter for a battery …which normally costs 20 VPs, and Cards 87 –Cotton is King, 93 – Herrera & Co. and 94 – To the Dark Shores, each of which offers the South increased opportunities to gain additional VPs. 

-4. “Intervention”: Trent Affair, Maximillian, and Royal Navy  
-While some games and novelists like to toy with the ‘what if’ of French or British armies or navies fighting for the Southern cause, Rebel Raiders sticks to what these great powers did do, as is reflected in the Cards in the game.  The play of the Trent Affair (CSN Card 83) provides an opening for the play of Maximillian (CSN Card 61) and Royal Navy (CSN Card 62).  The first makes Mexico, where the French had installed Maximillian as emperor, very friendly to the South: providing one free Blockade Runner a turn plus a modifier to the Southern Supply Roll die.  The second simulates the movement of British warships and troops to Canada (which occurred as part of Britain’s angry response to the Trent debacle) by requiring the Union to take warships out of play to guard against this threat (as also occurred).   

-5. The Emancipation Proclamation and Diplomatic Pressure

-The Emancipation Proclamation event changes how Europe viewed the war, and reduces European support to the Confederacy.  It  removes Trent, Maximillian and Royal Navy from the game (and if Royal Navy has been played, frees up the Union warships which responded to it).  It also removes two of the six  VP cargo markers from play, which makes it more difficult for the South to bring home large amounts of Victory Points each turn.   Diplomatic Pressure (USN Card 55) forces the discard of Trent or Royal Navy and, if played after The Emancipation Proclamation, closes one of the two European ports.  Any Confederate ships in that closed port are either chased out (where they can be intercepted) or seized by the European government.

Friday, October 4, 2013

The Ships of Rebel Raiders – and their “Yankee Guns”

 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.  Those ships carried a wide variety of weaponry, but among the most popular, at least on the Union side, were the storied Dahlgren smoothbores.  These mighty weapons which could hurl a 130-pound shot almost a mile were the mainstay of the fleet, and along with Parrot Rifles and other big cannons are represented in the game by the “Yankee Guns” of USN Card Number 3.

The inventor of the Dahlgren gun is also in the game: Captain (later Admiral) John Dahlgren,  (USN Card 31, which bears his name), as are many of the ships he armed and later commanded.  Dahlgren chaffed at the bit for years, being told he was too valuable in Washington and was a desk not blue water sailor – a jibe he proved wrong after taking over the South Atlantic Squadron from Samuel Francis DuPont (USN Card 54) off Charleston in 1863.   Although known as the “father of naval ordnance” he showed himself every bit the sea salt of his contemporaries, becoming one of the first five admirals of the U.S. Navy.  (David Glasgow Farragut – who appears on the “Damn The Torpedoes” card (USN Card 1) was the first, and DuPont, as well as David Dixon Porter – who appears on USN Card 2 were among the others in the first crop of those elevated to flag officer status).   Each of these admirals, by the way, owed their successes at least in part to Dahlgren the guns he invented, produced and saw installed on their ships.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Ships of Rebel Raiders: CSS Alabama


The Raiders   - CSS Alabama 

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.


Arguably the most iconic of the fleet of cruisers that sailed the high seas as commerce raiders, the CSS Alabama is not only represented by a card (CSN Card 63) but also graces the box cover.   Under Captain Raphael Semmes, already notorious for commanding the Confederacy’s first (and only domestically armed) raider, CSS Sumter, the CSS Alabama began her career as a raider in the North Atlantic in August 1862.  By year’s end Semmes had taken over two dozen prizes, including a mail steamer packed with passengers off Cuba in December. 

Semmes headed into the Gulf and in January fought and sunk a Union warship, the converted heavy steamer USS Hatteras, (USN Card 16 in Rebel Raiders) near Galveston.  Over the course of 1863 he hunted down and captured or sank more than 40 merchantmen.  By the spring of 1864, however, the ship (and the now ailing Semmes) were badly in need of repair and refit, and the CSS Alabama put into port in Cherbourg, France.

The USS Kearsarge (USN Card 14) followed, and its captain issued a challenge to Semmes, whom the Federal government and Union newspapers derided as a “pirate.”   His sense of honor as a naval officer piqued, Semmes responded to the taunts by sailing out on June 19 to do unequal battle.  Semmes fought his ship for nearly an hour against the much more heavily armed Union warship whose Yankee Guns  (USN Card 3)   reduced her to a fiery wreck.