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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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



Defending Pensacola

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Front view of the Bay Area Fort Jackson star fort. The miniature is pretty good sized, with the interior sans bastions about six inches across.

I’ve blathered on about my plans for Enfilade and my Ironclads game.  Well, I’m prepared to reveal just a little bit more.  I’m thinking a Sunday game, if that works for my partner David. Sunday is a good time, though it often excludes Canadian attendees.  If David is selling stuff at the B and B, he has incentive to be there on Sunday.

Our game is a hypothetical action in late 1864.  Admiral Farragut’s attack on Confederate defenses in August 1864 are disrupted by a Katrina-like event that severely damages many vessels in the Gulf Squadron as they lay at anchor at the mouth of the Mississippi. With Farragut unable to act, Confederate admiral Franklin Buchanan takes the matter into his own hands and launches an assault on the outer defenses of Pensacola with vessels from the Mobile defense forces, and meets some of those nasty ships abuilding in British yards, led by Confederate Commodore Raphael Semmes.

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Another look at the miniature. It was a true pleasure to assemble and paint, but unfortunately it’s no longer available.

Pensacola was occupied by Confederate forces April 1861-May 1862.  They took control of Forts McRee and Barrancas that provided two angles of the “triangle of fire” controlling the ship channel into the city. They also laid siege to and tried unsuccessfully to capture Fort Pickens, the great star fort on Santa Rosa Island. McRee was shelled mercilessly by Pickens and the Federal sloops Niagara and Richmond in September 1861. When the Confederates evacuated Pensacola in spring of 1862, they destroyed what was left of McRee’s defenses, and it’s unclear what happened at Barrancas. Pensacola’s fortifications went largely unimproved as it became a backwater, an ignored enclave in Confederate Florida, the action moving on to Kentucky, Tennessee and Georgia

One of the stars of the scenario will be Fort Pickens, the 1830’s era star fort that anchored the defense of the ship entrance to Pensacola Bay.  In my previous entry I shared a photo of the Bay Area Yards model of Fort Jackson, which has to be a reasonable substitute for Pickens.  First let me just say it’s a beautiful miniature.  Steven Taylor and Dave Brandon have my salute, because there’s nothing about it I found to be a problem.  Well-cast in resin, I think I found one small inconsequential bubble. Unfortunately, a limited number of these babies, together with Fort St. Philip, were cast and are no longer available.

I’ve never been to Fort Jackson or Fort Pickens, but I have been to Fort Pulaski in Savannah.  Though Pulaski is pentagonal like Fort Sumter, rather than a classic star, I was struck by the beautiful brick work, like Jackson.  I painted the brick areas, the exterior and interior walls, the ground colonnades Vallejo cavalry brown.  I dry brushed it with Ceramcoat Trail Tan, and then washed it with Vallejo brown wash.  Same with the interior citadel. I decided on Vallejo neutral gray for the horizontal surfaces and then dry-brushed with Ceramcoat light gray.  The citadel roof was painted Ceramcoat charcoal and again dry brushed with light gray.

The model comes with a passel of guns for the fort, and if I made a mistake in my painting choices, it was with the guns. I painted them the same neutral gray and should have painted them any other color.  I also glued them to the fort before painting–another “doh!” moment. I found the model required lots of handling, so I made sure to dull-coat it multiple times along the way.  Really a pleasure to build and paint with some very moderate challenges. I really like it. IF THERE IS ANYONE OUT THERE READING THIS WHO HAS THE FORT ST. PHILIP MODEL AND DOESN’T THINK THEY’LL EVER BUILD IT, PLEASE CONTACT ME.  I’D LOVE TO TAKE IT OFF YOUR HANDS.

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Rear view of the Bay mortar battery and brick water battery.

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Another sizable model, the Bay Battery Buchanan miniature is quite nice. My friend, Al Rivers painted it for me. Thanks Al.

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This is my tub o’ land based leavin’s. It includes fortfications, buildings and one must have a Martello Tower-always. No, really.

I completed a few more Bay pieces.  They may or may not make it into our game.  A few years ago, my friend Al gave me a miniature of Battery Buchanan that was part of the Fort Fisher defenses of the Cape Fear River. Al did a super nice job with it, and all it needed was armament.  Thankfully I had plenty of surplus guns.  In addition I had the Bay brick water battery and a seacoast mortar battery and I wrapped those up too.  There going to have to be more landbased pieces acquired, probably both from Thoroughbred and from Bay Area Yards.

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Weisfield’s Jewelers. There are countless things I would do differently with this miniature. Too many to list here.

Last on my list of finished pieces was another picklefork hyroplane, the Weisfield’s Jewelers from 1974-5.  It’s unique tail simply had me.  Not an easy miniature to paint with all the lining required. Still, it’s always fun to paint these miniatures, though I confess I don’t quite have the same attachment to the later boats I do to the 50’s and 60’s boats.

What’s on my painting table?

Well, with the fortifications done I can spend all my time working on the dismounted men-at-arms I started working on a while ago. Still a ways to go, but I’m hoping to have them finished by the end of the Thanksgiving weekend.  Why?  Well, because I just received to Thoroughbred ships in the mail.  I bought the T-Bred Gaines.  The Gaines was a small, but well-armed gunboat that served on Mobile Bay together with her sister ship Morgan, and the Selma.  They became consorts to the ironclad Tennessee. They look nice, and they should be fun to build and paint.

Music to paint by. 

David GilmourYesterday I picked up a vinyl copy of the first solo album by David Gilmour.  Gilmour is the lead guitarist and sometime vocalist for Pink Floyd.  His first solo record was released in 1978.  I bought it after hearing “There’s No Way Out of Here” on the radio when the album was released.  I had a 1974 Ford Pinto and I installed an eight track player in it.  Gilmour’s album was one of my first eight track purchases. The album is more accessible than Pink Floyd’s Animals, which was released at the same time.  The songs are reflective, wistful and generally, a very pleasant listen.  This record also has a Hipgnosis cover, which made it a must-have for my collection.