Friday, November 8, 2013

Damn the Passaic, full speed ahead!

The three monitors and their accompanying wooden ships moved slowly against the current.  Drawn close together the captains reviewed their plan by megaphones.  "We'll move directly ahead then make a turn to port to skirt the worst of the Rebel shore batteries.  Get through and we'll reduce that Rebel hotbed to ashes before sunset."

Ahead they could see wisps of smoke rising from stacks as the defenders awaited their approach.  In line abreast were the Milwaukee, a double-turret monitor; the Passaic a fine modern monitor; and the Keokuk, which didn't really belong on such a mission.  A pair of Ellett rams, the Monarch and Mingo, along with 90-day gunboat Itasca made up the formation.  Somewhere astern was the monitor Tecumseh, but they just couldn't wait.

At the other end of the wide channel were three casement ironclads.; the Neuse, Albemarle and massive Tennessee.  Two Maury gunboats and the Gaines supported them.  Action would be joined soon.

As the two "fleets" moved to meet each other, the Union forces advanced at a steady six knots, the best the Milwaukee could do.  The Rebels meanwhile had the fast(er) Tennessee pulling farther ahead every few minutes.  The Neuse with her poor top speed of only four knots was left to follow.  The Rebel wooden ships moved to sweep around the main channel island, under cover of the guns mounted there and physically shielded from the Yankees.  The Union wooden wonders held back, looking for an opportunity to dash out for a ramming attack.  At least for the Mingo and Monarch.

The 6.4" Brooke Rifle on the island opened the engagement, though to no effect.  The height of their position was such that they could not be engaged without special efforts by the Yankees, so they were ignored in favor of the waterborne company.


As the fleets closed a few shots were scored, but in general shooting was poor on both sides.  As the Union ships began their planned turn to port the Tennessee accelerated to close and use her powerful ram.  Aboard the Monarch, gallant Captain Hamburger saw an opening and poured on the steam.  The powerful side wheeler shot forward and with a quick turn to port the ram crunched into the side of the Tennessee.  Far from a perfect hit, it did manage to induce limited flooding.  But the fire from the Tennessee as her assailant lay helpless was devastating.  Worst of all was a hit to the pilothouse that turned the structure and Captain Hamburger into... well... hamburger and toothpicks.

As the engagement became general, the Neuse with her low speed hung back and didn't get into the dance of death, content to blaze away with her two good guns.  The Albemarle attempted to thwart or delay the advancing Yankees.  The wooden Confederates swept around the island and began an annoying fire on whoever was in view.

In the next few minutes of the action several ramming attempts were made, but all resulted in just glancing blows.  That is until the Milwaukee swept up on the stern of the Keokuk.  The latter was in pretty good shape considering all the shot and shell fired at her; at least until the Passaic came roaring up and hit her from behind.  This too induced a limited flood, something the Tennessee had not been able to control yet.

Just as the Monarch was getting up some speed and was looking for potential targets, disaster struck.  A solid shot from a 9" Rebel Dahlgreen tore through the startboard side wheel.  As she began to absorb a mass of attention from Rebel gunners, there soon was little above the waterline intact.  Most of the crew lay dead or incapacitated and while the hull was mostly intact, the upper services didn't even look like the former vessel. 

As the crew of the Tennessee struggled to contain the flooding, things turned very bad for the Itasca.  A large fire was started on deck and the well intentioned crew, forgetting which as a bucket of turpentine and which was water, made the fire into a raging inferno.  As the water swept over the gunwales as she sank, the crew understood the fire-fighting methods they should have been using.

As the battle drew to a close, the Keokuk (which had stopped the flooding) and Passaic headed upriver and their appointment with a burning town.  All the while a Maury gunboat nipped defiantly at their heels.  The other gunboat was no so fortunate as the managed to drift in front of the Albemarle during the engagement.  While she represented just a speed bump for the Albemarle, the other command would not be moving on.

As the action ended the suddenly mindful Tennessee attempted to run aground, but settled with her main deck submerged.  An easy salvage, but by whom?  The Gaines was badly damaged and a strong gust of wind might sink the remaining Maury.  Neuse and Albemarle were damaged, but only mildly. 

The Monarch was still afloat but was looking for someone to strike her colors to.  The Itasca was of course gone though the Mingo still had plenty of fight left.  The monitors had managed to get past the Rebel ironclads and shore guns and now were using their speed to get into position to shoot up town.

A fun little game that introduced the system to new players and finished in the afternoon.  The game system is Smoke and Black Powder by Neil Stokes, ships are 1/600 Thoroughbred Miniatures with two scratch built gun positions to supplement the Thoroughbred one.

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