The Inaugural Truant’s Session: The Guns of Fort Pickens

One of my post retirement goals has been to create one Friday per month for a game day for we ne’er-do-well retirees as well as those who might have Fridays off.  I posted on our Facebook page and our yahoogroup about doing this and received a fair number of responses.  I was concerned  whether it would actually happen or not, but when I pulled up to Game Matrix, Al Rivers was there to meet me, and all was right with the world.

I decided to run an Ironclads game. It was a game I ran at Enfilade a few years ago.  Probably more ships than I should, but at least I knew the game well.  The hypothetical game was based on a hurricane wiping out Farragut’s fleet outside Mobile Bay, followed by a Confederate attack on Fort Pickens and Pensacola.

I set up the fort on its island in Pensacola Bay.  There is a relatively narrow channel, thinned even further by a dangerous bar.  At either end of the shallows are even narrower ship channels.  The Confederate victory conditions required bombarding the 1830’s era fort with their interesting and mixed forces, hoping to compel a surrender.

For the game, Dean and Al commanded Franklin Buchanan’s Mobile Defense force.  Al ran the three wooden gunboats Morgan, Gaines and Selma, as well as the ironclad ram Tuscaloosa, the weakest of the ironclads available to the Confederates. Dean ran the ironclads Tennessee and NashvilleTennessee was the best armed and armored vessel in Buchanan’s fleet.

Scott ran two English-built vessels, the Stonewall and North Carolina (aka, HMS Scorpion) commanded by Raphael Semmes.  Both were well armored and had powerful armament.

Pickens 4

Bay Area Yards excellent Fort Jackson model which stood in for Fort Pickens. Pickens was actually a pentagonal fort, much like Sumter. But I loved having the excuse to play with it. The view across the table shows Scott’s armored frigates. heading away from the fort toward the opposite ship channel

In the Enfilade game the Confederates all gathered at the entry point, closed with the fort and pounded two faces of the fort to pieces, and Pickens surrendered to easily win the game.  I changed things a little bit to even things up.  The earlier game was played on a six foot wide table.  Yesterday we played on a five foot wide table.  That meant the Union relief forces would get into the action that much faster.  I also added two earthworks commanding each of the ship channels to the harbor’s defenses.  Things were about to get tougher for the Johnnies.

Yes, there was Union relief.  For the Enfilade game, there was a complicated series of choices for the Union player to meet about their composition.  I didn’t know who I would have to play and how much they knew about the period, so I chose their forces.  I gave them the Saugus, one of the larger Canonicus class monitors, and the Lehigh, one of the smaller Weehawken class monitors. Ralph ran the Lehigh, and Phil ran the Saugus.

Pickens 7

Al’s gunboat flotilla presses toward the fort. The little wooden ships will suffer terribly from fire.

Pickens 8

Dean’s Nashville and Tennessee begin to line up the fort and earthwork for fire. Phil’s Saugus can be seen around the point advancing on the Confederates.

The game began with both sides moving on to the table. Scott drew his two large ironclad frigates off toward the far ship channel and away from Fort Pickens.  This had an important effect on the game, as his ships had the largest guns, effective for fighting the Union ironclads, but also most effective for reducing the fort. Al and Dean cautiously closed with the fort, firing as they went.  Dean’s ironclads suffered minor damage.  But Al’s wooden vessels, though randomly targeted, rapidly took serious penetrating fire from the fort.

Pickens 3

The North Carolina and Stonewall wait for the Lehigh in left background.

Ralph and Phil split their monitors.  Ralph moved to engage Scott’s ironclads.  At long range, it was a fairly even fight.  The Lehigh, unique among her class, had a heavy rifle to go with its 15″ smoothbore. Engaging the North Carolina with its four heavy rifles kept things fairly desultory, but when the ships closed, the Confederate vessel pounded the little Union ironclad to wreckage.  Though Lehigh managed to wound the bigger frigate, the monitor was forced to strike. However, it bought something just as important-time.

Dean and Al continued to pound Pickens.  But Buchanan’s ships were chiefly armed with 6.4 inch and 7 inch Brooke rifles, an admirable weapon, but mostly a medium gun.  To be effective required pretty close quarters.  Al tried that and his wooden vessels paid the price.  The Selma suffered a steam critical.  Then Phil steered the Saugus into the action, Firing his 15″ guns at Al’s wooden ships at close range, the Gaines was ripped apart and sank, and the Morgan was badly damaged.

Pickens 2

The Tuscaloosa follows Selma, Morgan and Gaines as they get their broadsides ready to unleash on Fort Pickens.

Dean’s ironclads remained at medium range, peppering the fort and doing some damage, engaging the Saugus when it entered the battle.  But the Nashville also began to accumulate damage from fire from the fort and the earthwork.

As the clock neared 3:30 I had to shut down the game.  In the final turn the Lehigh was wrecked and the North Carolina suffered a steam hit, and the Stonewall was sailing toward the fort.  All of Al’s gunboat fleet was severely damaged, except the Tuscaloosa which was relatively untouched. Dean’s Nashville was nicked up, and the Tennessee was still blazing away.  Phil’s Saugus had been knocked around, but could still effectively deal 600 lb projectiles every other turn.  Fort Pickens, while pretty beat up, hadn’t suffered the critical damage in crew, gun losses or magazine explosions that would force its surrender. Union wins.

Our next gathering is October 24th at the Game Matrix.  Maybe we’ll see you there.

Pickens 5

I claim the role as chief truant for this game. Al Rivers studies his charts.



2 comments on “The Inaugural Truant’s Session: The Guns of Fort Pickens

  1. Dean says:

    Another masterfully run game with your most-excellent models, Kevin. I regret that my inexperience with both the rules and the ordnance gave the Union a great advantage. I was more concerned with steering my two ironclads to broadside the fort – and didn’t realize I ended up too far away to be fully effective. If I had known better I supposed I should’ve gotten as close to shore as possible.

    • kgsmyth55 says:

      No biggie Dean. It’s your first time out. There will be other occasions to try it out again. Next time you’ll be fighting ships and the targets will be more evenly matched.

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