ACW Naval game using Age of Iron rules
By Spencer Clough
|The end of the game: CSS Livingston (upper left) attempting to back downstream to avoid futher contact with the USS Pittsburg (center). Confederate battery (bottom of photo) hoping for a shot at the Pittsburg|
“We were greatly surprised when we arrived above Island Number Ten and saw on the bluffs a chain of forts extending for four miles along the crescent-formed shore, with the white tents of the enemy in the rear. And there lay the island in the lower corner of the cresent, with the side fronting the Missouri shore lined with heavy ordnance, so trained that with the artillery on the opposite shore almost every point on the river between the island and the Missouri bank could be reached at once by all the enemy's batteries.” Henry Walke, Rear Admiral, U.S.N., Battles and Leaders of the Civil War, vol. I
Following the capture of Forts Henry and Donelson by General Grant in February, 1862, Union forces in Missouri under General John Pope began to concentrate on Confederate forces in New Madrid in early March. Island Number Ten arose in the river at a hair pin bend between Kentucky and Tennessee just a few miles from New Madrid. This would be where Confederate forces stood the best chance to prevent a link up between Union forces on the upper Mississippi and those in Missouri. Once Pope occupied New Madrid he appealed to Rear Admiral Henry Foote commanding the Union naval units to send a couple of ironclads to assist him in keeping Rebels bottled up below his position. Foote had been warned by Secretary of War Halleck to keep his forces safe from needless risks as they would be needed on the advance to the lower Mississippi, so he was reluctant to send any of his fleet.
This scenario poses a hypothetical situation in which Foote sends 2 ironclads and 4 tugboat driven mortar barges to Pope. This flotilla would need to pass the island and a hastily assembled Confederate fleet. Rules for the engagement are Age of Iron, 2d edition, by Leo Walsh. These utilize a split move system in which side A moves ½, side B moves full, side A moves ½ again. Walsh lays out two scenarios for these actions on April 6th and April 14th. These scenarios and forces were combined so that forces involved here were:
Confederate: CSS Ponchartrain, CSS Maurepas, CSS Polk, CSS Ivy, CSS McRae, CSS Livingston, a floating battery with 9 guns, and 3 island batteries with a total of 15 guns.
Union: USS Carondelet, USS Pittsburg, and 4 unarmed tugs with 1 mortar barge each.
Both ironclads, tugs and mortars, would be making way down stream adding to their speed. Conversely, the Confederate navy would be laboring upstream against the current thereby subtracting from their speed. All Confederate vessels were wooden without any additional armor or cotton-clading.
Union mortars were restricted to firing only if tied to shore; tying up or casting off required a turn a piece. The Rebel forces were under the command of Rear Admiral Dick White, ably assisted by Captain Dick Bryant and Lieutenant Ben Clough. Rear Admiral Jack Breen of the U.S.N., was ably assisted by Captain Dick Messier. Game length was to be 10 turns. Game points were awarded as: 1 or less Union vessels exits board = major Confederate victory, 3 union vessels = minor Confederate victory, 4 vessels = minor Union victory, 6 Union vessels = major union victory. Unlike the historical reality, the scenario was played in full daylight under a clear sky. Historically, it rained heavily and the Union ships sailed at night.
Rear Admiral White, from the shore batteries, held his fleet in line across the river as the Rear Admiral Breen launched his attack down the north side of the river at the helm of the Pittsburg. When the smoke cleared two and a half hours later much carnage had been wreaked upon the Rebel fleet. The Union had succeeded in sinking the CSS Maurepas, CSS Ivy, CSS Polk, and the flag ship, the CSS McRae. The CSS Pontchartrain had taken severe damage and the CSS Livingston was attempting to back downstream to avoid futher contact with the USS Pittsburg. However, the USS Pittsburg had taken severe damage and was nearly a hulk. The USS Carondelet was in good condition as she had been slower to engage. All Union tugs and mortars were in one piece. When the game was called it seemed evident that the Union would be able to escape with at least 4 pieces by turn 10 thereby awarding the boys in blue a minor victory over the forces in gray.
After battle chatter concluded that Age of Iron made for an enjoyable “beer and pretzels” game in a genre often overlooked by gamers.