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.