Monday, 17 October 2011

Mayhem on the Mississippi

The home-made ACW ships had another outing last week. The scenario was that a Confederate force was gathering at Knot's Landing with a view to disrupting Union operations further down river. At the core of the Confederate force were the ironclads Raleigh, North Carolina and Manassas, and they were supported by four wooden ships, (General Beauregard, General Polk, Water Witch and Little Rebel), plus the torpedo launch David. The anchorage at Knot's Landing had been strengthened by the construction of a battery on Fisherman's Neck, a peninsula of land which jutted out into the river opposite the small island of Rogers' Folly. The battery dominated the narrow passage between the island and the eastern bankad this gave the Confederate commnader the confidence to allow the crews of the Raleigh and North Carolina a little R & R at the local hooch parlour, a decision he would come to regret.

Having discovered the location of the Confederate force the Union commander decided to act swiftly and gathered a force of two ironclad monitors, (Catskill and Saganaw), three wooden ships,(Donnelson, Shenandoah and Sumpter), and the tinclad Potomac. He raised his flag in the Hartford and set off up river ordering the Potomac to take a mortar barge in tow to help shell the new battery. His plan was to use the ironclads to engage the battery and shield the wooden ships as they passed up stream. Once above the battery the Hartford would land a force of marines to destroy the Confederate base and burn any ships at anchor.

Alerted by lookouts down river the Confederate commander ordered his ships to raise steam; only to find that the engineers for the Raleigh and North Carolina were still absent. Sending a platoon of guards off to retreive them he called upon the captain of the Little Rebel and ordered him to tow a fire raft out into the channel and then release it to float down and disrupt the Union fleet.

As the Union fleet moved up river the Potomac moved towards the eastern bank and cast off the mortar barge to begin its bombardment of the battery. As the first shells began to fall they were joined by more from the monitors as they came into range. he battery's response was not effective, only light damage being sustained by the Catskill as it sailed past. Of more concern to the Union commander was the lack of manouevering room between Fisherman's Neck and Rogers' Folly. He therefore ordered the Sumpter to pass between the island and the western bank. What he failed to notice was that a string of mines or torpedoes) had been laid across the channel.

Meanwhile the Catskill had now passed the battery and began to fire on the Little Rebel. The captain of the Little Rebel decided that it was now time to release the fire raft and withdraw and therefore did a quick turn to port and cast the raft adrift. Just when he needed full control the captain of the Catskill found that his steering had failed. As the raft approached the Union engineers frantically worked away, but the rudder refused to move. The damage control crew went on deck and prepared to put out any dangerous fires as the raft bumped along the hull of the Catskill. Luckily for them only small spots of tar and cotton fell on deck and they were quickly dealt with.

The Saginaw behind them was not so lucky. The captain's attention was fixed on the raft and he failed to spot the David approacing from the cover of Fisherman's Neck. The David's captain deployed the spar torpedo, ordered full speed ahead and braced himself for the explosion.

As the torpedo struck the explosion was followed by a huge jet of water and then dull red flames as fires began inside the Union vessel. Within a minute another explosion rent the vessel asunder and she slid beneath the waves. The David did not escape unscathed. Shaken by the force of the explosion she became the target for the wooden Union vessels sailing by and was pounded to pieces.

Just then a further explosion was heard, this time from behind Rogers' Folly. The Sumpter had struck a mine. In true Farragut style the captain had taken a chance on the mines being faulty; he had not been lucky, the explosion tore a large hole in his bow and as his ship slowed to a halt to aid damage repair it was rammed by the Water Witch. The Sumpter could not survive this second shock and sank. This was not the last of Water Witch's victories. As the Donnelson moved past on the other side of Rogers' Folly it was fired upon by Water Witch and one of the shells penetrated the magazine and the Union ship was destroyed in an instant.

With three ships lost, the day seemed to be going against the Union fleet, but the Confederates were still trying to get their two ironclads moving. If they remained moored in the anchorage they would be sitting ducks. It was then that the decision to bring the mortar barge began to pay dividends. In quick succession three shells fell directly on the battery, knocking out one of the guns and causing severe casulaties amongst the crews.

With all of the Union ships now upstream of his guns the battery commander decided to withdraw and the gun teams were called forward.

The Confederate ironclads had gun crews on board and began to fire on the Union ships. The Hartford was hit and had its steering damaged, just as the captain ordered it to move towards Fisherman's Neck to land the marines. A long range artillery duel began. Meanwhile the General Beauregard and General Polk tackled the Catskill. Although they suffered damage they did manage to damage the Union ship's engines,reducing it to a floating battery. Emboldened the captain of the General Beauregard decided to ram the monitor. The wooden ship steamed forward at its best speed and crashed into the Union vessel; seemingly to little effect.

However, some damage must have been done because the Catskill seemed unable to hit any target, even at point blank range for several turns. As the General Beauregard backed off it became clear that it had suffered considerable damage in the ramming manoeuvre. Whilst the damage control parties worked to repair the bow, the Sheandoah steamed past firing a point blank broadside. This was too much for the Confederate ship and it sank.

At long last the first of the Confederate engineers returned to Knot's Landing and began to prepare the Raleigh for casting off. As the Raleigh moved forward it began a gunnery duel with the Sheandoah. Meanwhile the General Polk was exchanging shots with the Hartford. In an unequal duel the Confederate ship began to suffer damage and finally succumed to a full broadside from the larger Union vessel.

Down river the Water Witch was now engaging the Potomac. The latter vessel had successfully seen of the ironclad ram the Manassas, but as it moved out into the main channel a shell from the Water Witch started a fire on deck. Desperately, the crew rushed to extinguish the flames and eventually succeeded. As the Potomac resumed its move up river it fired on the Water Witch. The heavier guns of the Union ship soon reduced the gallant Confederate vessel to a drifting hulk and the captain beached on Rogers' Folly.

The second ironclad North Carolina had now raised steam and it also mved out to attack the Union vessels. The Confedrate commander felt confdent that his two ironclads were more than a match for the wooden vessels opposing him; a view encouraged when the Raleigh sank the Shenandoah and then moved alongside the Catskill.

Several point blank salvoes proved ineffective and Raleigh moved round beind the Union vessel. The North Carolina joined the fray and exchanged shots with the Hartford, causing minor damage. However, the Hartford's shots started a fire on the Cofederate vessel. This was extinguished, but the captain was concerned about the engine machinery. After several neffective salvoes the Catskill evenually hit the Raleigh, knocking out its engines.

With darkness falling the Union commander decided to move into mid river and try to sail down river in the daylight so he could avoid all the wrecks caused by the days fighting. For the Confederates, they beached the North Carolina and scuppered the Raleigh rather than let it fall into enemy hands.

The rules we use for these actions are very simple home grown ones (just over two sides of A4). They cover most eventualities, but for the mortar barges firing is by rubber band rather than dice. That is the player throws the band as you would on a hooplah stall, trying to 'ring' figures or models.


  1. What absolutely brilliant little ships. A most enjoyable report Thank you.


  2. Interesting scenario