Mobile Bay – “Damn the Torpedoes!” Rebel Raiders’ Style

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Mark McLaughlin is as interesting a guy as you’re going to find at a game convention. When I think of Mark, I think “learning and laughter,” as I always learn something when I talk with him, and there’s always a lot of laughter involved! I’ve really enjoyed the few occasions (Mark is East Coast, I’m West Coast, so we don’t see each other very often) we’ve had a chance to sit down and talk about history, games, and even science fiction! Mark is one of those cool guys who takes great care and pride in his work, but doesn’t let his many accomplishments inflate his ego. He’s a down-to-earth great guy who is a terrific fit with our teams here at GMT. He and Fred Schachter, his developer, are a joy to work with, and I look forward to you guys getting to know them both in this blog.  In terms of GMT game credits, Mark is the designer of The Napoleonic Wars, Wellington, Kutozov,  Rebel Raiders on the High Seas, and an as-yet-unannounced series coming to P500 soon. Mark is a professional journalist and author, who publishes his own blog at Check it out!  – Gene



August 5 is the 150th anniversary of the biggest naval battle of the Civil War:  Admiral David Glasgow Farragut’s massive assault into Mobile Bay.  In GMT’s strategic naval game on the Civil War, players can recreate that epic fight – in which this time, thanks to cards and dice, going “full speed ahead” may not be the best tactic.

Recreating the Historical Battle….in Rebel Raiders on the High Seas

-I. The Union Fleet

On August 5, 1864 Admiral David Glasgow Farragut led 18 warships into one of the most heavily defended ports in the Confederacy:  Mobile Bay.  His four armored monitors and 14 screw sloops and gunboats mounted nearly 180 guns.   Among the larger ships were the “unsinkable” USS Brooklyn and the mighty USS Hartford – from which Farragut flew his flag.

Both of those big ships are represented in Rebel Raiders by cards and counters, as his Farragut himself.  Generic counters represent the other big warships, as well as the ironclad monitors and wooden gunboats.  Each counter represents one or more ships of its class (this is, after all, an abstract, strategic level game).    Normally the Union may stack no more than six warships in any one space on the map; but with Farragut present and play of The Grand Fleet  (USN Card 33), the good admiral can command up to 10 ships.

In an historical reenactment of the fight, such a Fleet would consist of  2 ironclads, 4 gunboats, 2 screw sloops and the USS Hartford and USS Brooklyn.

RRCrd#13 RRCrd#37

The Union player would also have the cards for Farragut (USN Card 1 – “Damn the Torpedoes…” and those two ships (USN Cards 37 and 13) as well as USN Card 3 – “Yankee Guns” – which simulates the improved weaponry aboard the Union warships. Card01(1)

 -II. The Rebel Squadron – and Other Defenses

The defense of Mobile Bay was based around three of very strong forts:  Fort Morgan, Fort Gaines and Fort Powell.  Fort Morgan, however, was by far the strongest and most important of the three, as the massive ship-blasting guns in its casemates dominated the main channel.  The harbor was also mined (with what then were called “torpedoes” among other “infernal machines.”

Mobile Bay also had a flotilla.  It was led by Admiral Franklin Buchanan – who before going South was the first superintendent of the U.S. Naval Academy and a long-time rival of Farragut’s.  “Old Buck” flew his flag from the ironclad ram CSS Tennessee.  In support was the armored gunboat CSS Gaines and the wooden gunboats Selma and Morgan, all of which together mounted 22 guns, none of them a match for what Farragut’s mighty warships carried.


In an historical re-enactment of the battle in the game, the Confederate player would have the Buchanan counter, and the counters and cards for CSS Tennessee and CSS Gaines (Cards CSN 86 and 72), as well as a third ship – a generic gunboat counter.   The South would also have three Batteries, and would have the “Infernal Machines” card (CSN Card 56) to represent the “torpedoes” that Farragut would in legend tell his captains to “damn” while going “full speed ahead.”

The Battle: A Near-Run Fight

Despite the discrepancy in naval forces, Mobile Bay was actually a very close, fair fight.  The wooden gunboats and screw sloops in the Union fleet – even the massive USS Hartford and USS Brooklyn, were at risk from both the guns of the forts and from underwater mines.  One of those mines sunk the lead ship, the ironclad monitor, USS Tecumseh.  The CSS Tennessee also proved herself to be a formidable if somewhat slow monster, eventually requiring the combined and coordinated efforts of almost the entire Yankee fleet before “Old Buck” finally struck his colors.

….And Adding in the “What If’s” of Wargaming…..

Rebel Raiders on the High Seas is a game – and that means that a battle need not have the historical outcome.  The Union player, for example, could find himself steaming into a trap.  The Confederates had two more ironclads near completion and a third, the massive CSS Nashville, was also under construction, waiting for her armor.  There are cards in the game that could add more ships to the Confederate defenses, as well as tactical surprises such as “Ring of Fire” (CSN Card 101) and “Hulks, Rafts, Chains”(CSN Card 110) which would give the Confederate forts a very lethal opening shot at the incoming Yankee ships.

The Union, too, might draw and play cards to gain an advantage, including cards that swamp out generic ships for their more powerful sisters (such as USS New Ironsides – USN Card 26 or USS Passaic – USN Card 28), or “Engine Breakdown” – USN Card 47, which could stop “Old Buck” and his monster ironclad ram from participating in the battle.

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