Tuesday, December 30, 2014

The Rebel Raider and the Lady: 150 Years Ago

The Rebel Raider and the Lady: 150 Years Ago

or Captain Waddell meets his match...in a "tall, finely proportioned woman of twenty-six years..."

150 Years Ago on December 29 the Confederate raider CSS Shenandoah stopped, captured and burned the commercial bark Delphine.  Captain James Iredell Waddell, however, got more than he expected or bargained for, as among his captives as he wrote in a his private journal, was "a tall, finely proportioned woman of twenty-six years, in robust health, evidently possessing a will and a voice of her own." 

That woman was Lillias Lervene Nichols, and she was the young wife of William Green Nichols, captain of the Delphine.  The raider found their ship just west of St. Paul Island in the Indian Ocean,  The Delphine was en route from London in ballast to Aykab, Burma, where the ship was to pick up a cargo of rice to take back to her home port of Bangor, Maine.  Claiming that his wife was deathly ill, Captain Nichols pleaded with Waddell to spare his ship so that he could take her to the nearest port for much-needed medical attention.  Mrs. Nichols and her maid put on quite a little melodrama to try to convince the Confederates that she was on death's door - but Waddell saw through the ruse.  He was, however, apparently quite smitten with the young beauty, and gallantly offered her the comforts of the best quarters aboard the warship.   When she asked him what he intended to do with her, Waddell said he would put her and her family ashore on the little island of St. Paul, which they would reach on January 2.   

Lillias and James became quite the shipboard item over the next few days as the CSS Shenandoah made for Australia and much-needed repairs.  The two were often seen strolling on deck or deep in quiet conversation.  Other officers mumbled that she had become the captain's "confidante."  (Lt. William Conway Whittle apparently was also quite fond of her, noting that she was a "fine-looking person, rather pretty."  Whittle added that although initially a "little frightened," the officers were able to "soon drive fear away by providing kindness" and showing her that "we are gentlemen.")

Waddell and his officers fell under her charms and put on a special New Year's Eve party for Lillias and her little boy Phineas (or "Phinizy" as the crew came to call the playful lad).    When they reached the little French colony and whaling station at St. Paul, Waddell again offered to put her ashore.  Her response? "Oh, no, never. I would rather remain with you."

...and so she did for nearly a month, until the raider reached Melbourne on January 25.  

Captain Nichols was not entirely amused by his wife's flirtations with Waddell.  He wanted off the ship quite badly, and gladly signed a pledge not to reveal any information about the raider to the American consul ashore.  Lillias, however, balked when her husband demanded she also sign the document.  As the Shenandoah's ship's surgeon Charles Edward Lining reports, "she let loose with her tongue, pitching directly into her husband for telling her to sign it and say nothing, by telling him that she did not intend to hold her tongue, nor did she consider herself bound by what she was going to sign, that she would talk, for at least they could not stop her tongue."

When she finally did give in to her husband's demands, Lining says she asked the Confederate officer if he wanted her little boy  Phineas to sign as well.  "No, madame," Lt. Sidney Smith Lee replied, "we are much more afraid of you than we are of him."  Lining reports that she was not amused, and "went out in a towering rage."

Although Lillias Nichols had flirted with the Rebel captain, she was a Union lass through and through.  Once ashore she hurried to the offices of U.S. Consul William Blanchard, who reported to his superiors in Washington that while Capt. Nichols kept mostly silent in an attempt to honor the terms of his parole, that "Mrs. Nichols felt no such constraints."   Blanchard reports that Mrs. Nichols provided a great deal of information as to the layout and condition of the CSS Shenandoah,  These included reports on Waddell's difficulties with his crew and officers, and how that the vessel was so "leaky" and in such poor condition that she could not take the strain of firing all of her guns at once.

The CSS Shenandoah remain in Australia for a month to undergo badly needed repairs.  She set out again on February 26, and would take no prizes until April 1, when she captured and burned four ships.  On June 22, however, she reached the whaling grounds in the Bering Sea, and over the next week burned 20 ships and bonded four others, inflicting over $1 million in damages - and in the process dealing a death blow to the New England whaling industry.   Sadly, it was all for naught, as the war had been over for nearly two months....

Monday, December 22, 2014

Porter Unleashes Hell on Ft. Fisher, Xmas Eve 1864

Porter Unleashes Hell on Ft. Fisher, Xmas Eve 1864

The largest U.S. naval force yet assembled unleashed hell on Ft. Fisher on Christmas Eve, 1864.  Admiral David Dixon Porter's fleet of over 60 warships, including five ironclads, mounted 624 guns - and Porter intended to use every one of them to bury the Rebel fort under a torrent of iron.

Porter's ships fired over 8,100 rounds - with a combined weight of more than half a million tons - into the sandy bastions guarding the approaches to Wilmington, N.C.   Colonel William Lamb had only 44 guns inside the fort, and Porter hoped to so batter the defenses that General Benjamin Butler's troops could just walk into Fort Fisher unopposed.

Porter's massive bombardment was the greatest the Western Hemisphere had ever seen, yet it had minimal effect on the brilliantly designed fort.  Three guns were dismounted, and four defenders were killed and another 19 wounded.  Porter's fleet sustained heavier losses, with three ships forced to retire due to accurate fire from the fort.  Most of the 91 sailors killed or wounded in the action were victims of their own guns, a number of which exploded.

The Navy landed a portion of Butler's troops, but the assault never went in.   Reports from the advanced guard that the defenses were nearly intact convinced Butler, still offshore, to call off the attack. Much to Porter's fury, Butler re-embarked most of his men, except for about 700 who were forced to spend Christmas Day huddled on the beach, without food or water, due to a sudden storm.  Despite pleas to General Braxton Bragg for permission to attack and capture the remnants of the landing force, Bragg refused to give the order.  The last of Butler's men were pulled off by the Navy on the 26th, and the fleet retired to Beaufort.   

Less than a month later, Porter would return - and with troops commanded by the much more aggressive and competent General Terry.  Porter's fleet bested its own record, firing over 180 rounds a minute in a sustained and much more accurate bombardment that began on January 13 and continued through the day and night of the 14th and into the early hours of the 15th.  Porter's guns fired close support right up until Terry launched his assault - with ironclads and gunboats coming close in shore to rake the defenders when they came out of their bombproofs to battle Terry's infantry and a column of 2,000 sailors and marines that Porter had landed to support the assault.   Although the naval landing force was handily repulsed and with heavy losses, the infantry carried the fort - with help from the Navy's guns.

In GMT's strategic naval game of the Civil War, Rebel Raiders on the High Seas, the Union player can build powerful fleets of screw sloops, ironclads and gunboats and recruit key admirals, Porter among them, to wear down the Confederate player's coastal defenses, which, through card play and careful planning, can be every bit as resilient as those constructed by Col. Lamb at Ft. Fisher.

150 Years Ago Today: Savannah, Sherman's Christmas Gift to Lincoln

150 Years Ago Today:  Savannah, Sherman's Christmas Gift to Lincoln

On December 22, 1864  President Abraham Lincoln received an early Christmas present from General William Tecumseh Sherman - the city of Savannah.  He announced this in a now famous telegram which stated:

"I beg to present you, as a Christmas Gift, the city of Savannah, with one-hundred and fifty guns and plenty of ammunition, and also about twenty-five thousand bales of cotton."

Sherman's army reached the outskirts of the city on December 20.  Confederate General William Hardee could not hope to hold Savannah, as his small force of 10,000 was outnumbered six to one.  Hardee managed to save his army and their field artillery, but was forced to abandon the many guns in the harbor forts.  One of his final orders was to scuttle and burn the CSS Savannah, a powerful casemate ironclad that had been built to help defend the city and harbor. Union forces entered Savannah on December 21, just as the ironclad was blown up by her crew.  Sherman officially took possession of the city on the following day.

Confederate ironclads play a vital role in the defense of ports in GMT's strategic naval game of the Civil War - Rebel Raiders on the High Seas - at least when those ports are attacked from the sea by the Union Navy.  When city's such as Savannah are taken from the land side, as Sherman did, they are lost.  Although Rebel Raiders is primarily a game of naval strategy, the land war is represented, and the Union player has many cards at his disposal, including Sherman himself, to help replicate that general's famous March to Sea.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

150 Years Ago Today: Death of a Rebel Army at Nashville

Oh, my heart is feeling weary
And my head is hanging low
I'm goin' back to Georgy
To find my Uncle Joe.
You may talk about your Beauregard
And sing of Bobby Lee
But the Gallant Hood of Texas
He raised Hell in Tennessee

-These lyrics from the third stanza of Yellow Rose of Texas tell only part of the story of General John Bell Hood and the disasters that befell his ill-fated Army of Tennessee.  When President Jefferson Davis replaced General Joseph Johnston (the "Uncle Joe" referred to in the tune) in mid-July 1864,  General Robert E. Lee warned in a telegram that although "Hood is a bold fighter.  I am doubtful as to other qualities necessary." Prophetically, Lee added that  "We may lose Atlanta and the army too. "  On December 16, 1864, the second part of that warning came true outside of Nashville.

Two months after Hood took command, Atlanta did fall as Lee predicted. Hood evacuated the city in September after four bloody, pointless and disastrous attempts to break General William Tecumseh Sherman's ever-tightening ring around that vital urban center.   Rather than fight a delaying action, as Joe Johnston had done earlier in the year, in mid-October Hood struck north and "raised Hell in Tennessee."  Although he won a victory of sorts at Franklin on November 30, it was a hollow and Pyrrhic one.  Sherman, rather than follow Hood whom he said could "twist like a fox," left General George Thomas to deal with the situation in Tennessee while he the struck out for his infamous March to the Sea.  Thomas gathered Union forces at Nashville, and Hood obligingly followed.

For two weeks Hood laid an ineffectual siege around Nashville.  Despite a flood of telegrams from President Lincoln and General Ulysses Grant urging him to attack or be replaced by someone who would, Thomas waited until he was ready, and on December 15 launched his first major attack.  Although bloodied, bested and outnumbered nearly two to one, Hood does not use the cover of night to retreat.  He stubbornly holds his ground.  In the morning Thomas renews his attack, and the Confederate Army of Tennessee disintegrates.   

Hood lost 6,000 men at Franklin, and another 6,000 at Nashville (including 4,500 taken prisoner).  The remaining 25,000 fell back over the barren winter landscape,  abandoning over 150 cannon to the victorious Yankees.  Although elements of it would fight again,  on December 16 Hood's army ceased to be an effective military force.

Ironically, December 16, 1864 would have been the one-year anniversary of the date when Joseph E. Johnston took command of the Army of Tennessee.

Hood's invasion of Tennessee can be recreated by the Southern player in Rebel Raiders on the High Seas.  Although primarily a naval strategy game of the Civil War, the land campaigns are replicated on an abstract scale through the use of cards, dice and point-to-point movement.   Hood, Johnston, Sherman and other generals and events relevant to the Western theater are represented by cards  (the one-armed, one-legged Hood is CSN Card 89,  and Sherman is USN Card 50).

Saturday, December 6, 2014

150 Years Ago Today: US Marines Fight Citadel Cadets Outside of Savannah

150 Years Ago Today: U.S. Marines Fight Citadel Cadets Outside of Savannah: Battle of Tulifinny

On December 6, 1864 warships of the mighty South Atlantic Blockading Squadron demonstrated against the Confederate batteries defending Charleston and Savannah.  These actions were meant to distract the Rebels from two other major operations being undertaken by the Navy.  The first was the assembly in Hampton Roads of a massive fleet for the amphibious attack on Ft. Fisher, the main defense work protecting the big blockade running port of Wilmington, N.C.  The second was the landing of United States Marines in support of General William Tecumseh Sherman's March to the Sea.  That landing resulted in the Battle of Tulifinny, and one of the very few occasions in which U.S. Marines fought in a land battle with Confederate infantry.

By late 1863 both Charleston and Savannah had effectively been shut down as blockade running ports by the Navy.  After the loss of Mobile Bay in August, Wilmington remained the last major haven for the runners, upon whose cargoes the Confederacy and especially General Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia depended for munitions and other staples.  Charleston and Savannah, however, remained key political objectives, and if taken would give the Navy a port to supply Sherman's army.   To help open the path for Sherman, the Navy landed 5,000 troops and a detachment of Marines on the banks of the Tulifinny River, not far from the town of Yemassee, about 45 miles from Savannah.  A dozen Union gunboats supported the landing on the swampy peninsula.  As the Yankees advanced they were met by 900 Confederate troops, among whom were the entire corps of cadets of the South Carolina Military Academy (now known as The Citadel).

The Cadets made up about a third of the defending force, and were deployed to defend the key railroad bridge over the river. Told that Union forces were encamped nearby, the Cadets moved out in the pre-dawn darkness of December 7 to participate in a surprise attack on the Yankee lines.  The attack succeeded in driving the Union infantry from their camps, and the Cadets and the men of the 5th and 47th Georgia infantry and a militia unit dug in to await the inevitable counterattack.  That came on the morning of December 9th. The right flank of that attack was spearheaded by Lieutenant  George G. Stoddard and his Marines - who ran right into the positions held by the Cadets.  The Marine attack stalled, and when the Union forces on the left flank fell back, so did the Marines.  The Union forces then retired to the fleet, which evacuated them.

The success of the Cadets and other Rebel forces was short lived, and although it bought time for the Confederates to evacuate war materials by rail, Savannah fell to Sherman on Christmas Day.

As for the Navy's assault on Ft. Fisher...that is a story for later.

Blockade Runners and the ports they dart in and out of are vital to the Southern player's hopes for victory in my strategic naval game of the Civil War, GMT's Rebel Raiders on the High Seas.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

150 Years Ago Today: Lincoln Re-elected!

This day in history in 1864: Lincoln Re-elected!

150 years ago today voters in the North overcame their war-weariness to re-elect Abraham Lincoln.  Whatever hope the South had of a negotiated settlement died its final death that day.   Even had Lincoln lost to Little Mac (George McClellan), however, the Union would still have had nearly five months to finish the job.

Just prior to the election, Lincoln met with Generals Grant and Sherman and told them that no matter how the vote went, they were to continue to press the South - and press hard.  Moreover, if he lost, they were to redouble their efforts and do all in their power to bring the war to an end before the new president could be inaugurated on March 4, 1865.

The election plays a big part in my strategic naval game of the Civil War,  Rebel Raiders on the High Seas.  Each turn is four months, and the last turn of the game begins in December, 1864.  There is, however, a card which if drawn by the North gives the Union player a chance for an extra, 13th turn - one that begins in April 1865.  The card, however, like the election of November 1864, is not a sure thing:  a die is rolled and modified in the Union's favor based on which key cities the North controls.  If the North is doing well, the Yankee will get that extra turn to drive old Dixie down....but if not, the pressure is on, just as if Lincoln had indeed lost the election.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Tale of Two Raiders: Goodbye, CSS Chickamauga, Hello CSS Shenandoah

150 years ago: A Tale of Two Raiders: Goodbye, CSS Chickamauga, Hello CSS Shenandoah

150 Years Ago this week the storied Confederate blockade runner captain, John Wilkinson, went a-raiding aboard the mighty CSS Chickamauga.  In four days of raiding off Long Island, he burned, bonded or scuttled seven Union merchant ships - but as his raider burned coal at such a voracious rate, on November 3 he had to cut short the raid and go in search of coal.  The governor of Bermuda refused to sell Wilkinson a load, claiming he had new orders in regards to the neutrality acts.  Fortunately, Wilkinson, an old hand at this sort of thing, was able to bribe a lesser official (after first getting him roaring drunk), but while taking on coal nearly half his crew jumped ship.  The governor, moreover, got wind of all of this, and put a stop to the coaling.  Warned that four Union cruisers were converging on Bermuda,  Wilkinson upped anchor and set a course for Wilmington, the last major port still open to the raiders and runners.

As the CSS Chickamauga neared Wilmington, a Union squadron intercepted her.   Despite being heavily outgunned, Wilkinson refused to surrender, and fired shot and shell in an unequal duel with four Yankee warships, all while pouring on speed to seek safety under the guns of Fort Fisher.  Although he made it, his ship would never raid or go to sea again.  The CSS Chickamauga, however, did have one last fight left in her:  when the Union finally stormed Fisher, the Rebel raider was there, adding her guns to the fort's in defense.  When it was obvious that the fort would fall, the raider retreated to Wilmington, where she was scuttled and burned let she become a prize of war.

Just as CSS Chickamauga was ending her career as a raider, however, the last - and in may ways the greatest and also the most tragic of the raiders began hers.  CSS Shenandoah made her first capture on October 30  (the day as CSS Chickamauga also made her first capture).  The bark Alina was Captain James I. Waddell's first victory, and while there would be 37 more, 2/3s of those were taken after the end of the war - which Waddell did not know had concluded until reading newspapers found aboard his final prize, the bark Covington, which he burned on June 28, 1865.   Fearful of being held accountable for piracy, Waddell spent months seeking a harbor where he could safely retire his ship and crew, which he did on November 6, 1865....149 years ago this week.

While in my strategic naval game of the Civil War, Rebel Raiders on the High Seas,  the CSS Chickamauga is represented by a generic Raider counter, the CSS Shenandoah has her own counter and card, CSN Card 64:

Monday, October 27, 2014

Happy Navy Day from Rebel Raiders on the High Seas!

October 27th is NAVY DAY!

In 1922 October 27th was designated "Navy Day" by the United States Government.  The date was chosen because October 27th was also the anniversary of Theodore Roosevelt's birthday.  As assistant secretary of the Navy in the last years of the 19th century, Teddy Roosevelt pushed for the modernization of the fleet and as such is considered by many to be the father of the modern Navy.

In 1949 the Department of Defense decided that it would no longer officially celebrate Navy Day, and that instead of having its own unique day, that the Navy would instead join with the other services to mark Armed Forces Day each May.   Navy Day, however, is still marked by the Navy League and many veterans groups, with parties, dances and other celebrations.

A hearty "Happy Navy Day"  from the designer of GMT's strategic naval game of the Civil War, Rebel Raiders on the High Seas.....

Friday, October 24, 2014

"Hitler's Reich" is "Favorite New Game" of GMT Fall Weekend of Blogger Charlie Lewis

"Hitler's Reich" is "Favorite New Game" of GMT Fall Weekend of Blogger Charlie Lewis

"Great entry game for a new wargamer" says Charlie

Charlie Lewis of The Game Box blogger fame, just posted that my new WW II design "Hitler's Reich" was his "favorite new game" at GMT's Fall Weekend gaming con.

Hitler's Reich is WW2 for two players in two hours - it is a quick set up, fast-playing strategic game where combat and other conflicts are resolved  through a modified version of the classic card game of "War" - but with dice and Event Cards to modify the total.  Colored wooden pieces mark the march of armies as players battle it out across Europe, Russia, North Africa and the Middle East in a military, political and economic struggle to create or take down "Hitler's Reich."

A full description of the game and links to postings on GMT's blog can be found at:

As Charlie says in his blog, however,:

"This is one where the P500 blurbs don't get even close to doing the game justice, that's why I included them from the top.  At one point I was asked what my favorite game of the weekend was, and without hesitation, I answered this one.  Why? Because this is unlike anything I've ever played before, and it works, and its fast, and its not a game that requires a lot of rulebook flipping."

Charlie adds later in his review that:
"It's a fast moving game, as the conflict resolution is quick.  You spend the whole game juggling your own priorities with deciding how hard you want to disrupt your opponent's plans."

He also notes that:
This could become a great entry game for a new wargamer, as it gets a player used to direct conflict but without fiddling with stacks of counters or worrying about ZOCS and terrain costs.  My 10 year old, for example, would probably have fun with this, and I look forward to trying it out with her some day, but my buddy and I also really had fun with it - he even got in a second game of it later in the weekend while I was trying Fields of Despair. I really had fun with this, and the minute the wife gets a new job, I'll be joining the P500 for it."

For the full text of Charlie Lewis' review, please go to:


Monday, October 6, 2014

150 Years Ago: Rebel Raider CSS Florida Taken in Brazilian Port

150 Years Ago: Rebel Raider CSS Florida Taken in Brazilian Port 

Historical Event: In an illegal action that nearly sparked a shooting war with Brazil, in the early hours of October 7, 1864 a Union warship opened fire upon and then rammed a Confederate raider in a neutral port. With Capt. Charles Morris and most of his crew ashore, the CSS Florida was defenseless when Commander Napoleon Collins of the USS Wachusett defied international law and attacked the raider.

Collins had chased CSS Florida for many months. He caught up and berthed next to her in the Brazilian port of Bahia on October 4. Although U.S. Consul Thomas F. Wilson assured the president of Bahia Province, Joaquim da Silva Gomes, that the Union would respect his nation's neutrality, the president took no chances; he placed the raider under his personal protection – and that of a squadron of sloops, corvettes and other warships under Commander Gervasio Macebo. The governor granted the CSS Florida time to take on coal and provisions and make emergency repairs, but also demanded her guns be unloaded while in port.

Wilson and Collins had no intention of respecting Brazilian neutrality.  Together they planned a “cutting-out” expedition to capture the raider – knowing full well that if the CSS Florida left port the slower Union warship would be unlikely to catch her. Even worse, if the USS Wachusett did, she might lose the fight – as most of her guns were short range smoothbores, while the CSS Florida had a battery of long-range rifles. Those would have enabled Capt. Morris to stand off and pound away at the Yankee vessel while keeping out of the range of Collin's heavier but shorter-ranged guns. Wilson and Collins decided to damn international law and go after the raider, in port, while she slept.

Shortly before dawn on October 7, Collins built up steam and bulled his way past a sleeping line of Brazilian warships.  As he entered the harbor he opened fire upon, rammed and with pistols blazing, boarded the Rebel raider. The skeleton crew of Confederates aboard were surprised, outnumbered and overwhelmed. Collins put a prize crew aboard, tossed over a hawser and began towing the raider out to sea.

The Brazilians were enraged at this breach of international law – especially after having been assured   that Brazilian neutrality would be respected. The harbor fort opened fire.  Commander  Macebo raised sails and steam and ordered his squadron to fire upon the Union warship as it sped by. Macebo gave chase, but Collins even with his prize in tow, was able to outdistance the Brazilians.

Collins and Wilson were hailed by the press for their boldness, and were privately praised by Lincoln, Secretary of State Seward and Secretary of the Navy Welles. Unfortunately, to ameliorate the Brazilians they had to be made an example of. Wilson was dismissed from the foreign service and Collins was court-martialed, found guilty of violating the territory of a neutral government and similarly dismissed from the Navy.

Collins remained unrepentant, saying he would do it all again “for the public good.” None disputed that he had acted so, for in her two-year career the CSS Florida had sunk 46 ships and captured 14 others, inflicting damages that her victim's owners claimed had cost them over $4 million – ten times the cost of the Rebel raider.

Confederate commerce cruisers like CSS Florida play a key role in GMT's strategic naval game of the Civil War, as one would expect from a game entitled Rebel Raiders on the High Seas.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

150 Years Ago: CSS Florida Makes Her Last Capture At Sea

150 Years Ago: CSS Florida Makes Her Last Capture At Sea

On September 26, 1864, the Confederate raider CSS Florida, then under the command of her second captain, Charles M. Morris, made her 37th and final capture: the bark Mandamis. She was a commercial vessel out of Baltimore that was returning “in ballast” because of the difficulty in finding shippers who wanted to risk their cargo on American flag vessels – vessels which, like Mandamis, were the prey for CSS Florida and other Rebel Raiders on the High Seas.

After setting the bark afire, Morris made for Bahia to take on coal and provisions. He did not know that no fewer than 24 Union warships were after him – one of which, the USS Ticonderoga, was assited in that hunt by one of the CSS Florida's own men: A. L. Drayton. The sailor had been captured when the fishing schooner Archer, which when captured by the CSS Florida had been pressed into service to do some raiding of her own off the New England coast.  Rather than suffer imprisonment, Drayton piloted the Union warship throughout the chase, but always arrived at foreign ports of call just a week or so after the raider. Another of the hunters, however, USS Wachusett, was more timely in her search – catching up with and capturing the CSS Florida on October 7...but that is another story....

The Confederate commerce raiders play a key role in GMT's strategic naval game of the Civil War, Rebel Raiders on the High Seas. For more on the game visit the GMT website on the game at:

or read a review of the game inissue #27 of Rodger MacGowan's C3i magazine: http://www.gmtgames.com/p-462-c3i-magazine-issue-27.aspx

Friday, September 12, 2014

150 Years Ago: A Rebel Blockade Runner's Last Run

150 Years Ago: A Rebel Blockade Runner's Last Run

Few Confederate ships ran the blockade more often than the Advance.  The fast, Scottish-built 900-ton sidewheeler made more than 20 voyages - paying back her owners many times over as she brought in not only badly needed war supplies but also highly sought after luxuries.  Named in honor of North Carolina Governor Zebulon Vance, the sleek double-stack vessel originally designer as a fast passenger liner eluded capture over 40 times as she zipped in and out of Wilmington and other ports in the Tar Heel State.  Unfortunately, the 41st Union warship she encountered was one of the fastest ships in the Union navy: the USS Santiago de Cuba - which ended the blockade runner's storied 15-month career on the night of September 10, 1864.

The Advance, however, was not sunk by the USS Santiago de Cuba when the Yankee vessel caught up with her in Cape Fear Inlet; she was instead taken as a prize to New York  and then selected for service by the Navy.  Even with a 20-pounder rifled gun and four 24-pound howitzers aboard the now rechristened USS Advance could still make 12 knots, which made her suitable for service in tightening the blockade around the very ports she had been running in and out of under the Rebel flag.   Her capture, however, was a severe blow to Confederate captains, fewer and fewer of whom risked going out where even the Advance had been unable to escape.  

Although she never chased down any of her fellow blockade runners, as USS Advance the vessel did see action in the battle for Fort Fisher at the mouth of the Cape Fear River that Christmas.  Under the command of  Lt. Cmdr. John Upshur  she exchanged fire with the fort's Half-Moon Battery, reportedly silencing its 8-inch gun, then came closer inshore to help rescue and tow away the gunboat USS Osceola,   Upshur's vessel finished out the war as a dispatch and supply ship, and after war's end was renamed USS Frolic and, with Upshur still in command, was sent to the European Squadron.  The vessel was finally decomissioned in 1877 and sold to a private owner in Virginia in 1883.

As CSN Card 67, CSS Advance is one of the many blockade runners that appear in the strategic Civil War naval game, Rebel Raiders on the High Seas.  Successfully running the blockade is vital for Confederate victory in the game, as it was in the war.  Stopping such ships is equally vital for the North, which in attempting to do so makes use of such ships as the gunboat USS Osceola, which also appears in the game as USN Card 9 and which, ironically, as noted above, was saved by Advance when that former blockade runner was in Union service.

Monday, August 25, 2014

150 Years Ago: Guns Blazing, Rebel Raider Returns Home

150 years ago today, August 25, 1864CSS Tallahassee battles its way back home.

Historical Event:  On the night of August 25, 1864 CSS Tallahassee became one of the few Confederate raiders to exchange fire with Union warships – and one of the fewer to live to tell the tale.  Running the blockade back to Wilmington, she ran afoul of a pair of Yankee gunboats.   The raider easily outdistanced them – for the sleek, iron-hulled, two-stacker could make 14 knots, even weighed down by her three heavy guns.  Unfortunately, the gunboats were but the hounds, herding the raider to the hunter: USS Monticello.  As Captain John Taylor Wood heaved his ship about to avoid that mighty man of war, another pair of gunboats appeared – and opened fire, expecting that what they believed to be an unarmed blockade runner would heave to and strike her colors. 

Wood’s ship may have begun her career as a blockade runner, having made four highly profitable runs from Wilmington to Bermuda and back under the name Atlanta, but as the raider CSS Tallahassee she carried a potent battery:  a Parrott Rifle aft, a 32-pounder forward and a massive 100-pounder amidships.  Wood ordered his gunners to return fire – and then to reload and fire again.  The battle attracted the attention of Fort Fisher, whose guns added their booming voices to Wood’s own battery, which convinced the Yankee squadron to break off the chase. 

Returning to port after a three-week raid that captured or burned over 30 Union ships, many in sight of the coastal towns of New Jersey, New York and New England, the  CSS Tallahassee, and her captain and crew, were given a heroes’ welcome – and a 21-gun salute from Fort Fisher, an honor which the raider returned.  Those were the last shots she fired as CSS Tallahassee.

The rest of the story:  Wood was ordered to Richmond, and North Carolina Governor Zebulon Vance and his local officers agitated to have the coal-gobbling iron warship disarmed and her guns distributed to local forts.  They argued that while still active, the raider was only drawing more and more Yankee ships to Wilmington – making it even harder for other vessels to run the blockade. (The week after CSS Tallahassee battled her way back into port, seven blockade runners were intercepted by the now reinforced blockading squadron).   President Jefferson Davis and Secretary of the Navy Stephen Mallory intervened. They saved the ship, had her rechristened CSS Olustee, and sent her back out to sea for a brief raid in November, where the raider burned, bonded or scuttled six merchant ships.  Governor Vance, however, finally won out – as by 1865 the Confederacy needed food more than it needed to wreck Union commerce.  Disarmed and renamed (again) as the Chameleon, she ran out to Bermuda – but upon her return found that Wilmington and even Charleston had fallen.  Her captain, John Wilkinson, set course for Liverpool – arriving there the day Lee surrendered at Appomattox.

Game Connection:  Confederate raiders and blockade runners are vital to the Southern cause in GMT’s strategic naval game of the Civil War: Rebel Raiders on the High Seas.  Many of the more famous raiders appear by name on counters and cards, while others, like the CSS Tallahassee (in her many incarnations) are represented by generic ship counters of that type.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

150 Years Ago: "That Devil Forrest" Attacks Memphis

150 Years Ago: "That Devil Forrest" Attacks Memphis

On August 21, 1864 the daring Confederate cavalryman General Nathan Bedford Forrest attacked Memphis, which had been in Union hands for over two years.  The raid - which had it been just a little more successful might have turned into a full-scale counterattack to regain the Mississippi city for the South - was a major embarrassment to the North - and especially to the two generals in charge of the garrison, both of whom very narrowly escaped capture.  Major Generals Oren Hurlbut and especially his superior, Cadwallader C. Washburn (who fled his quarters barefoot and clad only in a thin nightshirt), were ridiculed and humiliated for the laxity of their defense. While "That Devil Forrest" and his 2,000 horsemen were too few to oust a defending force three times their size, the Rebels nevertheless "raised hell," riding down the main street at 4 AM firing their pistols, shouting taunts and, of course, letting loose a resounding "Rebel Yell" that echoed through the city - and was heard all the way back in Washington.

Forrest took over 500 prisoners and many wagon loads of supplies.  The Union high command drew troops from all over the theater to go hunting Forrest, but to no avail.  Hurlbut, who had only recently been superseded as commander of the garrison at least got the last laugh, quipping to reporters that while he had been reduced to second in command for his failure to keep Forrest out of Tennessee, at least he had done better than Washburn who "cannot keep him out of his own bedroom."

Rebel Raiders on the High Seas game connection:   Although principally a strategic naval game of the Civil War, Rebel Raiders on the High Seas  also has a strong land element.  The Confederacy can mount counterattacks to attempt to regain cities and forts it has lost, and can harass the Union with numerous actions, including play of CSN Card 85, subtitled  "That Devil Forrest."

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Developer and Designer, Reunited!

Fred Schachter and Mark McLaughlin at WBC in Lancaster - with our game, Rebel Raiders on the High Seas.

That is Fred in the tropical themed shirt, and me - wearing a Red Shirt  (my homage to all those Red Shirts on Star Trek)

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

150 Years Ago: Rebel Raiders Off New York!

150 Years Ago: Rebel Raiders Off New York!

150 Years Ago this week New York merchants were in a panic, as a Confederate raider was sinking their ships almost within sight of the city!   Between August 11 and August 20, the CSS Tallahassee sunk, burned, scuttled or bonded over 30 Union merchant ships - most of them off the coasts of New Jersey, New York and New England.

In late July, Commander John Taylor Wood and 120 volunteers, most drawn from the Confederate James River Squadron, arrived in Wilmington, N.C. and took charge of a the blockade runner Atlanta.  They strengthened her hull and decks and fitted her with three massive guns: a 100-pound rifle, a 32-pound rifle and a Parrot gun.  Wood not only had a ship that could fight most Union gunboat; he also had what he boasted was "the fastest warship afloat" - one that could run down or out run any vessel flying Yankee colors.

Wood, who had been on the CSS Virginia in its epic battle with the USS Monitor, had no illusions about battling his way through the blockade.  He steamed out quietly and stealthily under cover of night (and the guns of Fort Fisher) and ran for the open sea.  Eleven Union warships chased him for 50 miles, even firing shells that flew between the raider's twin stacks, but CSS Tallahassee sped on, eventually outdistancing his pursuers.  Instead of heading for the broad Atlantic, Wood set a course for the Yankee coast: his goal, to bring the war to the North.

On August 11 off the coast of Sandy Hook, New Jersey, Wood did just that, capturing seven ships in a single day.  On the 12th, Wood captured another six..  On August 13 he took a pair of vessels - the bark Glenavon and the schooner L. Du Pont.  He scuttled the first and burned the second - the smoke from which reportedly was seen from Long Island.   The New York Board of Underwriters shot up their insurance rates and telegraphed Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles, demanding he send all available ships to hunt down the raider.  Welles complied, but while his fleet gathered, Wood went on up the coast to New England, capturing another 17 vessels before reaching Halifax to take on coal on August 18.   The CSS Tallahassee left the harbor only hours before a mighty Union warship (USS Pontoosuc) arrived.  Knowing that Welles had sent dozens of ships out to look for him, Wood made a beeline for Wilmington, taking one last prize before dashing through the blockading squadrons, guns blazing, at 14 knots, to triumphantly return to port on August 26.

The strategic Civil War naval game Rebel Raiders on the High Seas captures the drama of such daring captains as John Taylor Wood.  Confederate blockade runners and raiders must elude the net the Union player casts for them, hoping their efforts will keep the Southern economy going long enough to frustrate the march of Yankee armies south.  

Monday, August 4, 2014

Farragut At Mobile Bay 150 Years Ago: "Damn The Torpedoes!" - Fact or Legend?

Farragut At Mobile Bay 150 Years Ago: "Damn The Torpedoes!"  - Fact or Legend?

The ironclad monitor leading one column into Mobile Bay hit an underwater mine, exploded, and sank in under a minute.  The "unsinkable" wooden man-o-war leading the other column reduced speed to avoid striking similar "infernal machines" -  all while gunners in Fort Morgan and two other harbor forts began ranging in on the remaining 13 Union warships.  His ships being pounded, and the mighty Confederate ironclad ram CSS Tennessee and her consorts steaming toward the fleet, Admiral David Glasgow Farragut ordered his captains to "Damn the Torpedoes" and go "Full speed ahead."

That, at least, is how the legend goes.

Or maybe that is not exactly what happened, says Civil War historian, Pulitzer Prize-winning author and professor emeritus at Princeton James McPherson.

As he noted in his latest book, War Upon the Waters, and reiterated in a talk at the New York Historical Society two years ago,  Farragut might - or might not have said exactly those words.. Even if he did, says McPherson, the "damn" part might very well have been an exclamation of surprise (or a curse).   

Other source report that Farragut remained extraordinarily cool, and that "Damn the Torpedoes" Full speed ahead" is an abbreviated version of a a much longer statement, a clear set of orders to the captain of the USS Hartford (Captain Percival Drayton) and the commander of the gunboat USS Metacomet, James Edward Jouet, which was lashed to the far side of the larger warship to give it some protection from the Rebel shore batteries.

"Damn the Torpedoes! Four bells, Captain Drayton! Go ahead. Jouett, full speed!"
Again, there are conflicting reports about whether the "go ahead" was part of the command to Drayton or to Jouett, although it seems more likely that command was meant for the later, as it directed him to separate from the protective shield of the USS Hartford, thus freeing him for action.

Then, again, as McPherson muses, it might all just be a combination of what officers and men present on the deck THOUGHT they heard - and with mines exploding, ships sinking, shells blasting overhead, engines churning and guns roaring on both sides, who can be certain what anybody said?

Whatever he really did say, or how he phrased it, Farragut did get his fleet moving from underneath the batteries and into the bay, where they could engage the Rebel flotilla and direct their broadsides at the Confederate ships and forts.   The attack started out looking bad for the Union, but by the end of the day, Farragut had won the U.S. Navy's greatest victory of the American Civil War.

Rebel Raiders on the High Seas allows players to recreate this epic fight at the strategic level, with ships and cards and counters for the forts, ironclads, warships, admirals and even the "torpedoes" that Farragut allegedly damned that day 150 years ago.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

150 Years Ago: Two Weeks That Doomed the Confederacy


Late July – Early August 1864:  Atlanta, The Crater and Mobile Bay

Historical Event:   If July 1863 was the turning point that showed the South could not win the Civil War, late July-early August 1864 was the turning point that showed it was doomed.  Hood’s incredibly wasteful offensives around Atlanta, the carnage of the Crater at Petersburg – where Lee’s army was finally immobilized by chaining itself to Richmond- and, finally, Mobile Bay, where a triumphant Union Navy damned the torpedoes, stormed past massive forts, battled a monster ironclad and brought a great port city to its knees.

Game ConnectionRebel Raiders on the High Seas focuses on the naval aspect of the Civil War, but also represents the land campaign, albeit in a more abstract way.  Thus the battles around Atlanta and the siege of Richmond can be fought with cards and dice, and Mobile Bay can be played out in the game – complete with a card with Admiral David Glasgow Farragut’s famous phrase (which according to historian James McPherson he may or may not have actually said) and cards and counters representing the great sailor, his rival, Confederate Admiral Franklin Buchanan, and some of their mighty ships (Farragut’s flagship, USS Hartford; Buchanan’s own ironclad ram, CSS Tennessee;  the giant “unsinkable” screw sloop USS Brooklyn,  and the armored gunboat CSS Gaines but to name a few).

Many stories of those ships, and of Farragut, Buchanan, their encounter at Mobile Bay have appeared before in this blog over the last year, and more will appear again – especially on the date of the 150th anniversary of their epic contest of August 5, 1864.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

July 17, 1864 – J.E. Johnston Sacked – Hood Takes Command

This day 150 years ago in Rebel Raider’s History

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

July 17, 1864 – J.E. Johnston Sacked – Hood Takes Command

Historical Event:   On this day in 1864 President Jefferson Davis removed General Joseph E. Johnston from command of the Army of Tennessee – and replaced him with John Bell Hood.  The revered Johnston, who although outnumbered by more than two to one had skillfully delayed William Tecumseh Sherman’s advance into Georgia, was revered by his troops.  His use of  Fabian tactics (similar to those used by the Roman general Fabius against the Carthaginian invader Hannibal) earned him the nickname “The Gray Cunctator” (Latin for Delayer).  Like the Roman general, however, Johnston was derided for being too cautious and even cowardly – and like Fabius was replaced – and replaced with a fire-eater who vowed to bring the enemy to battle.  Acting on the advice of his friend and chief adviser, General Braxton Bragg, Davis gave Johnston’s command to General John Bell Hood.  The 33-year-old Hood, youngest man on either side to take command of a full army, was brave. He had lost an arm at Gettysburg and a leg at Chickamauga, and had to be strapped to the saddle.  He was also reckless. Within 72 hours Hood made good on his promise to fight – inaugurating the first of four epic battles that would bleed his army white and lead to the evacuation of Atlanta – the very thing Johnston had hoped to prevent or at least delay as long as possible.

Game Connection:  Although primarily a game of naval strategy, there is a strong land war element to Rebel Raiders on the High SeasAtlanta is a critical objective of that land war.  It is one of the only two cities in the South that provide the Confederate player with the means to build batteries and ironclads (the other is Richmond).  Its loss costs the Confederates dearly in victory points not only when it falls (the total on two dice) but also every turn (adding a die to the Confederate supply attrition roll).  Atlanta is also one of the key cities whose fall can bring victory for the North,  and holding it helps the Union win the 1864 election – which (with USN Card 36 “If it takes all Summer…” can extend the game for a 13th and devastating turn.  Generals Sherman,  Hood and Johnston are also included in the game (cards USN 50, CSN 89 and CSN 91, respectively).  Bragg, who advised Davis to remove Johnston, is also represented – not by name, but by his picture on the appropriately named USN Card 7 – A Lack of Brains.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Rebel Raiders "highly recommended" by Mataka.org

Rebel Raiders "highly recommended" For Civil War Fans by Mataka.org

Rebel Raiders on the High Seas is "highly recommended for devotees of the American Civil War and the Civil War Gamer," concludes the popular and respected game review site Mataka.org.  In a well-illustrated review published on July 14,  Mataka.org describes the components, game play and basic strategies of the game, and notes with satisfaction that at a time when "there are very few Civil War Naval Action Games" that "Rebel Raiders, and its sister game Iron and Oak, are two games that fill this void and can be easily recommended."

Mataka.org hails the design not only for its "low complexity" but also for being "an excellent game to play solitaire."

For the full text of the review, see:

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Rebel Raiders on the High Seas Soon Set Sail for WBC

Rebel Raiders on the High Seas To Set Sail for WBC August

From August 7th-9th Editor/Developer Fred Schachter and I will be showing off our strategic naval game of the Civil War, Rebel Raiders on the High Seas game, at the WBC (World Boardgaming Championships) in Lancaster, PA.  The convention is at the Lancaster Host Resort on Route 30.

Fred and I are scheduled to run teaching demos in the demo area on Thursday afternoon and evening, and there is a tournament - the first ever for Rebel Raiders at WBC. 

We also will be demonstrating our newest design - soon to be up on the GMT game company's P500 list - Hitler's Reich: A Card Conquest System Game.  It is a simple, fast, quick-playing game of the European Theater of Operations (including North Africa and the Middle East).  The game is unique in that it does not use any land playing pieces and is fought out through card play - with colored wooden pieces marking the progress of the opposing sides.  We can teach the game to new players - even players new to wargaming - in a few minutes.

For more on the convention, please check out: 

In the meantime, enjoy Rebel Raiders on the High Seas!

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Happy 201st Birthday, Adm. David Dixon Porter

Happy 201st Birthday, Adm. David Dixon Porter

Admiral David Dixon Porter would be 201 today.   The storied Union naval officer and Civil War hero is represented by both a counter and a card in my strategic naval game of the Civil War – Rebel Raiders on the High Seas. Judicious use of USN Card No. 2 “David Dixon Porter & His Little Mortar Boats” can greatly ease the Union Navy’s attacks into Confederate river and ocean ports.

Porter is USN Card No. 2 because he was the second officer to attain the rank of rear admiral in the Union Navy.  David Glasgow Farragut was the first – and hence he is on USN Card No. 1 (“Damn the Torpedoes…Full Speed Ahead”) – a little inside joke of mine.  Porter was also the adopted brother of Farragut, and their sibling rivalry was infamous.  Farragut also appears on USN Card 33 – “The Grand Fleet,” a card which allows the Union to stack 10 warships instead of the usual maximum of 6.  Porter, alas, being the junior of the two admirals/brothers, is limited to the lesser number.

Porter, however, made many contributions to the war effort and is also remembered by USN Card 25 – “The Black Terror.”  Although not listed on the card, it was his idea to build the phony ironclad that so frightened the Rebels on the river.

Porter and his mortar boats were vital to the Union victory at New Orleans (where he served under his elder brother), and to the first naval attack on Vicksburg (where he again served at his brother’s side).  Porter was promoted to a command of his own, leading the Western Gunboat Flotilla – renamed the Mississippi River Squadron – during the Vicksburg campaign.  He was named “acting” rear admiral in recognition of his role in its capture. 

The importance of Vicksburg is noted in Rebel Raiders, as it is one of the critical victory cities the Union needs to take to win the game.

Porter also took part in the abortive Red River Campaign (which is represented in the game by CSN Card 76 – “Red River Fiasco”).  It is a Rebel card because it was such an ill-conceived plan that no Union player in his right mind would willingly attempt it.

Porter redeemed himself by saving his fleet from disaster on the Red River (thanks to an Army engineer who built a damn to float his ironclads over the rapids to safety) and again by leading the naval forces that pounded and helped capture Fort Fisher in January 1865. 

After the war, Porter went on to become superintendent of the U.S. Naval Academy.   In 1866 Farragut became the nation’s first full admiral, and Porter became its first vice admiral – and when Farragut died, Porter was promoted, becoming the nation’s second full admiral.   He died in 1891 at the age of 77.

Monday, June 2, 2014

150 Years Ago June 3: The Slaughter at Cold Harbor

150 Years Ago June 3: The Slaughter at Cold Harbor

The Battle of Cold Harbor began on May 31 when General Philip Sheridan's Union cavalry seized a keycrossroads between Bethesda Church and the Chickahominy River.  Confederate General Robert E. Lee responded with a series of counterattacks as Cold Harbor was astride his line of communications back to Richmond.  Both armies continued to hurl men at each other for days along a front that grew to seven miles as they kept attempting to turn each other's flanks.

On the morning of June 3 and impatient General U.S. Grant tried to bludgeon his way through the Rebel line with a massive human assault.  Three Corps (IInd, VIth, XVIIIth) were packed tight into a block and as the sun rose they moved forward - into a hell of Confederate fire.  In one 20-minute period over 7,000 Union soldiers fell; most of them new or green recruits from the heavy artillery regiments that Grant had ordered to leave their fortress positions around Washington and take up rifles.  The assault collapsed, many of the survivors taking cover behind the bodies of the fallen.

Grant, who rarely responded to charges that he was a" murdering officer" and for whom the "butcher's bill" was part of his war of attrition strategy, is on record as saying that he "always regretted that the last assault at Cold Harbor was ever made."   After the attack, Grant changed his strategy, first going to a war of trenches and then beginning his grand turning movement toward the James, a wide swing that would eventually bring the armies back face to face at Petersburg, whre they would remained locked in trench warfare until war's end.

Although primarily a game of naval strategy, Rebel Raiders on the High Seas also replicates the land war.  Many of the key figures in the land campaigns, including Grant (USN Card 8), Sheridan (USN Card 11) and Lee (CSN Card 60) are in the game, and many of the tactics, events and blunders of that war are similarly represented, among them a Cold Harbor card (CSN Card 105).

Monday, May 26, 2014

McPherson, MacGowan, McLaughlin & Memorial Day

 Happy Memorial Day to All!....My friend Rodger MacGowan - who did the cover for Rebel Raiders on the High Seas and many other games of mine not only followed my lead in honoring Civil War historian James McPherson - but also did me one better (as any artist of Rodger's caliber should) by putting up this tribute. For more from Rodger on Memorial Day, games and his magazine, please visit his C3i magazine ops site:  http://www.c3iopscenter.com/currentops/

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Civil War historian McPherson wins lifetime award

Congratulations to author James McPherson, whose book on the Civil War at sea and on the rivers was one of the favorites of all of those I read while doing research for Rebel Raiders on the High Seas.  Prof. McPherson has just been awarded the Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. Award for distinguished writing in American history.

I have been fortunate to meet and talk face-to-face with McPherson three times, most recently at the New York Historical Society in 2012, when I not only was able to go to the microphone to ask him a question about Confederate Admiral James Buchanan and Commander James Montgomery (both of whom appear in my game) but also afterward, as we were leaving the building. (See below for a link to the video of his talk - I am on camera at the 39 minute mark).


 Two years before that I met him at the Hotchkiss School, where he gave a talk on Lincoln as a commander - and I was able to have a brief one-on-one conversation over a drink with him afterward.  Many years before that I met him after he did his signature work on Antietam.  Grand, great historian and wordsmith of the old school;  a master of easy to read yet elegant prose.   Congratulations, Professor McPherson, couldn't happen to a nicer and more deserving guy!

Here are the details of the award, as reported by the Associated Press (for whom I used to work many years ago)

Civil War historian McPherson wins lifetime award

NEW YORK — One the country’s greatest Civil War historians has won a lifetime achievement award.
James M. McPherson is best known for the Pulitzer Prize-winning “Battle Cry of Freedom.” He received the seventh annual Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. Award for distinguished writing in American history. The award is named for the late Pulitzer-winning historian and was announced Monday by the Society of American Historians.