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:

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.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Adieu, CSS Georgia, Adieu

 Adieu, CSS Georgia, Adieu

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.

May 21, 1864 – Iron-Hulled Raider CSS Georgia Sold

Historical Event:   The CSS Georgia was not the most famous of the dozen cruisers that set out to raid Union commerce, but the raider did have a unique and colorful if short-lived history.  First of all, she had an iron hull.  This made her stronger and more formidable as a warship than her wooden-hulled cousins, yet it also made her more difficult to service, as once befouled she could only be scoured clean in a full service dry dock.  In March 1863 Confederate agents purchased the newly completed vessel, then called the Japan, from the yards in Dumbarton, Scotland.  A month later after receiving her guns, she was rechristened CSS Georgia and for the next six months cruised the South Atlantic.  The raider took only nine prizes before limping into Cherbourg, France in October 1863.  An initial plan to transfer her armaments to CSS Rappahannock did not come to fruition, and rather than risk their ship being seized, the Confederates decided to sell her off.   In May 1864 she was towed to Liverpool, where despite the objections of the American ambassador the Confederates were on June 1 able to sell her off to a buyer who planned to use the CSS Georgia as a blockade runner.  On her first and only voyage as such that August, she was intercepted and seized by the USS Niagara.   Sold as a prize of war, she entered the merchant service in Boston, was later sold to a Canadian firm and steamed on as SS Georgia until foundering on a pile of rocks off the coast of Maine in 1875.

PS:  CSS Georgia was one of very, very few blockade runners taken in foreign waters.  As she had been a raider, the CSS Georgia (even though unarmed at the time) was considered a warship and the USS Niagara gave chase when she left England, running her down four days later off the coast of Portugal.  Almost all other blockade runners that were captured were seized within sight of the American coast.

Game Connection:  Although the CSS Georgia herself is not individually represented in Rebel Raiders on the High Seas, there are six generic Raider counters for her and her cousins – as well as special counters and cards for her more famous and more effective relatives, notably the CSS Shenandoah (CSN Card 64) and CSS Alabama (CSN Card 63), the later of which’s picture graces the cover of the game.   The Confederate raiders are prickly thorns in the side of the Union, and if left unchecked can contribute greatly to the Southern Cause.   (CSS Georgia image below, a sepia wash drawing from 1895 by artist Clary Ray is from the Navy Art Collection)

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Like CSS Alabama and USS Kearsarge, Rebel Raiders Goes to France

Like CSS Alabama & USS Kearsarge, Rebel Raiders Goes to France

150 Years Ago the CSS Alabama limped into European waters, having made what would be her final pair of captures in late April.  The Rockingham and Tycoon, were the 64th and 65th prize of the storied rebel raider (whose picture graces the cover of my game, Rebel Raiders on the High Seas). Badly in need of repairs for her overworked engines and an overhaul of her befouled bottom, the Confederate warship sought refuge in the French port of Cherbourg.  Within days, the Union steam frigate USS Kearsarge arrived to blockade and taunt CSS Alabama and her captain, Raphael Semmes, into coming out for what would be a fateful yet epic duel on June 24. (The two warships appear in the game as individual counters and as cards USN 14 and CSN 63, respectively.)

In the meantime, Semmes and his crew were well-received and feted by the French, who saw the Confederates as figures out of a romance or adventure story.   Just as the French of 150 years were kind to and appreciative of Semmes, his crew and ship, so, too, are wargamers in France saying nice things about Rebel Raiders on the High Seas, as an article in the latest C3i magazine notes - and as the picture shown below indicates.  On behalf of myself, my editor, my publisher and in memory of the gallant men of the CSS Alabama and USS Kearsarge, both of which appear in the game, a hearty "Vive La France" and a "merci" to mes amis Francais!

Thursday, May 8, 2014

150 Years Ago: Grant Moves On After the Wilderness and Spotsylvania

150 Years Ago in Rebel Raiders History: Grant Moves On After the Wilderness and Spotsylvania

Historical Event:  On May 8, 1864, Union General Ulysses Simpson Grant once again hurled the Army of the Potomac into the meat grinder that his Confederate counterpart, Robert E. Lee, had designed to trap, frustrate and hopefully repulse the superior Northern forces that were heading toward Richmond.  Although Grant had taken horrific losses earlier in the week in what became known as the Battle of the Wilderness, he refused the advice of his generals to retire and regroup, as they had done so many times before when confronted by Lee.  Grant pushed on without so much as a day's respite, initiating another two days of combat around Spotsylvania Court House and Laurel Hill.  Lee pulled back, only to dig in and create the deadly defensive position that came to be known as "The Mule Shoe."   The attack on that position four days later, on May 12, was initially successful, but for nearly 24 straight hours both sides fed more and more men into the fight - a fight that would claim 17,000 casualties - as many as were lost at Antietam.  Grant would come on again on May 18, hitting the "Bloody Angle" - but even after that repulse he refused to pull back, instead slipping to the side to continue his march to the James - and on toward Richmond.

Game Connection:  Although primarily a game of naval strategy, Rebel Raiders on the High Seas  also covers the land combat side of the American Civil War.  Each turn the Union player receives and may purchase additional attacks to advance on and take key Confederate cities and forts, and those attacks are resolved by a combination of dice and cards rolled and played by both players.  While most of the cards in the game represent individual ships or naval tactics, many also represent some the generals, strategies, events, triumphs and tragedies of the land war.  Among these are the two principal antagonists of the Virginia campaign of 1864:  Robert E. Lee (CSN Card 60 )and Ulysses Simpson Grant (USN Card 8 ).  Although the quote on USN Card 4, is from General Sherman, Grant's refusal to retreat in the face of horrific losses and to only come on again is represented by USN Card 4 - "We cross the ford, never to retreat again to this side."

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Ironclad CSS Albemarle: One Ship vs. a Union Blockading Squadron

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.

May 5, 1864 –  Ironclad CSS Albemarle:  One Ship vs. a Union Blockading Squadron

Historical Event:   The Battle of Albemarle Sound was a rare event in the Civil War, as it was one of the few times a Rebel fleet initiated combat, let alone sortied to break the Union blockade in an amphibious operation, no less.  On May 5, 1864, however,  the Confederate Navy did just that, sending its newest and most feared ironclad ram, CSS Albemarle, into the body of water for which it was named.

 The Albemarle came down the Roanoke River with the gunboat CSS Bombshell and the troopship CSS Cotton Planter.  The goal of the operation was to recapture the key port of New Bern and thus break the Union blockade on North Carolina.  As Commander J.W. Cooke brought the ironclad out into the Sound, he found Captain Melancton Smith and his fleet of eight Union warships waiting for him.   Although heavily outnumbered as well as out-gunned, Cooke plowed ahead, confidant that Union shells would bounce off the thickly-armored, sloping casemate of the CSS Albemarle

Cooke’s faith in his warship was well placed, for the Yankee guns (even those firing 100-pound shot ) did little harm.  CSS Albemarle carried only two guns, 6.4-inch Brooke Rifles, but Cooke used them to good effect, gingerly moving them on their pivots to fire out of the six gun-port positions.  The captain of the USS Sassacus, frustrated and declaring that he might as well have been “firing blanks,” poured on the coal, built up to a speed of nearly a dozen knots and rammed the Confederate ram, knocking her so hard as she nearly foundered.  Cooke, however, righted his ship and poured fire at point-blank range into the Union vessel, causing many casualties and inflicting heavy damage.

Three other Union double-ender side-wheel gunboats circled about, adding their fire but each taking more damage than they gave.  USS Wyalusing and USS Mattabesett gave covering fire as USS Miami, armed with a spar torpedo, moved in for the attack, but Cooke evaded successfully.  Unfortunately, his consort, CSS Bombshell, being a mere gunboat, was so badly pounded that she was forced to strike her colors.  At that the troopship turned about and Cooke retired, his reason for fighting the Union fleet now moot.  

 Game ConnectionCSS Albemarle is one of the many named ships in Rebel Raiders on the High Seas.  Represented by a counter and card (CSN Card 75) she is one of the most powerful warships in the small but plucky Confederate Navy.  While the gunboat that accompanied her and the types of Union warships they fought on May 5, 1864 are represented by generic counters of their type, many another individual Yankee man-o-war is present with its own card and counter, as are the big Dahlgrens and other “Yankee Guns” they carried (USN Card 3).  New Bern is a key port in the game, as it was in the war, and holding on to or recapturing it is of great importance in Rebel Raiders on the High Seas.