Thursday, July 29, 2010

Truants 3: Closing Wilmington-ACW combined arms

In June I read Under the Blue Pennant by Grattan Schneller.  It' a memoir by a young man who served with the Atlantic Blockading Squadron during the Civil War.  He was a lieutenant in volunteer service with the Union navy and served on the USS Malvern, a converted blockade runner that also happened to be the Union flagship for the actions against Fort Fisher in 1864-65.  After the fall of that fort, the Malvern was also involved in actions to clear Confederate batteries and minefields on the Cape Fear River and ultimately capture the city of Wilmington. Grattan's account inspired me to try my own game on the topic and that was our third Truants activity.

The Union fleet had eight ships-the monitor Montauk, two double-end gunboats, three 90-day gunboats, the gunboat Pequot, and the flagship Malvern. They had many tasks they could undertake, from clearing minefields to salvaging a wrecked blockade runner.  But chief among their goals was capturing or silencing the forts that controlled the river.  In addition to the ships, the Yankees had a division of infantry marching west toward the city. The Confederates had less to work with.  Nine guns in fortifications, half of them Brooke rifles, were the chief defense.  They also had fewer and less effective infantry.  Later arrivals were the Cape Fear Defense Force, including, a Richmond class ironclad, two Maury gunboats, and a torpedo armed steam launch. The Confederate mission was simply to inflict as much damage as possible on the Union fleet and hold as many of the forts as possible.

Most of the ships were  Toby Barrett's excellent 1/600 Thoroughbred models.  I've had them for years and still love to drag them out. One of the 90-day gunboats came in a scratch-built haul I made from Larry Enoch some time ago and had never seen battle, so I was glad to pull it out of the box.  I run all my ACW naval games with the old Yaquinto Ironclad rules.  David Sullivan and I adapted these for tabletop years ago and I still like them compared to other rules sets that are out there.  Only David Manley's Iron and Fire has made a positive impression on me, but only for large fleet actions.  Toby Barrett owns the copyright to Ironclads and I sent him my annual bitch note (as he calls it) to beg for something new and updated.  He hedged as usual. Still a nice guy.

There are no rules for infantry in Ironclads.  Of course not, it was a board game.  However the Civil War is replete with examples of combined arms actions, from Fort Donelson to Wilmington.  I painted up some of my 20 year old passle of 6mm ROS figures and wrote up some simple DBAish rules.  I didn't have a copy of the Humberside extensions to DBA so I sort of made it up myself.  Kept it as simple as possible. 

Anyway, the Union entered the board sneakily to avoid the first Confederate battery.  This would be their strategy for most of the game.  Five of the Confederates nine guns were large smoothbores, so the Yankees would obligingly stay out of their range.  The other guns, however were three 6.4" and one 7" Brooke rifles designed to reach out and touch the Union vessels wherever they could. However, while the big rifles hit, none did any catastrophic damage to force Union vessels to drop out of the game-a chief factor in the scenario rules.  No telling hits from the first battery, and the fleet trashed Battery Johnston pretty rapidly, while the Union land forces quickly advanced up the road toward Fort Smith.

The Confederates didn't have much luck with their naval arm either.  On turn four the ironclad Wilmington entered the game with its tiny consorts.  The ram quickly duelled with the Montauk only to take a crushing blast to its front casemate that cost its forward firing Brooke rifle.  Things went even less well for the tiny Maury gunboats that received loving attention from Sassacus, Maratanza, and Pequot. It did not turn out well.  The end came quickly for the Confederates.  The forts were clearly outclassed by the Union vessels, and could not offer sufficient support to the tiny flotilla.  Though Wilmington did provide a bit of redemption when it inflicted a nasty critical flotation hit to Montauk and forced the monitor from the game, it was the only bright spot.  Even on the land side the Confederates were clearly thumped.

I enjoyed the game.  With the addition of land forces, it was clear, to me at least that it was possible to do a combined arms game.  I am looking forward to running the game again on August 20th with some additions to the Confederate side to balance things out.  Can you say Martello tower?

Photos once again by Adrian Nelson.  The first picture is a Richmond class ironclad by Thoroughbred miniatures.  Wilmington is a fictional vessel based on the Richmond.  The port of Wilmington was defended by two Richmond class ironclads, North Carolina and Raleigh.  Both met untimely ends: North Carolina sank at her berth, her hull eaten by worms, Raleigh ran aground and broke her back. The second photo shows the Yankee infantry preparing to engage the Confederates.  The Union had thousands of infantry available at Fort Fisher after its fall in January 1865.  Their advance was delayed more by the swampy conditions than Confederate resistance. The next photo shows Scott Murphy's 90-day gunboat observing the earthworks of Fort Smith.  This is my only large piece of terrain that I seem to drag out every five or six years.  Battery Johnson is burning in the foreground.  Finally, a view of most of the Union fleet maneuvering in the river.  A beached blockade runner is on the left, and two Confederate minefields are on the right.

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