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.