Monday, December 31, 2018

DANG 2018 - The Siege of Charleston

This year’s DANG (Dave's Annual Naval Game) was The Cradle of the Rebellion – The Siege of Charleston. The game covered Union attacks on Confederate fortifications and the blockade of Charleston, South Carolina between July and September 1863. Historically, there were only a couple very minor naval skirmishes during this time. But Confederate General P.T. Beauregard, who oversaw Charleston’s defenses, had requested that the Confederate ironclads attack the Union forces to break the attack on the forts, setting the stage for a nice hypothetical action.
A little something to get players thinking about the action
Everyone began arriving at my place around 9:30 AM and we spent the next hour catching up on things and talking about the projects we are all working on and planning.
I too a pre-game photo of George's Housatonic, since I wasn't sure it would get into a battle
After that we split into two sides with three Confederate players (David S, George, and Arthur) and five Union players (Kevin, Bill, Dave C, Dale, and Scott).

The Union players had to pick an avenue of attack (Sullivan Island or Morris Island) and work to reduce the Confederate forts and batteries along that route so the Union Army could capture the island, while maintaining a tight blockade on the city. The Confederate players got to choose the ships for their fleet (based on available designs and limited resources) to support their fortifications and blockade runners.

Each campaign game turn represented action for a week, with the campaign lasting for a maximum of 8 weeks. During a campaign turn, each side assigned their ships to missions for the week. The missions included attacks on enemy ships, bombardment of the fortifications, escorting supplies or blockade runners, and blockade duty. After resolving the missions, a check was made to see how far the Union Army advanced during the week.

With the background and rules covered, both sides selected their ships for the campaign and the Union players decided to assault Sullivan Island (a departure from history). We started the first week with two potential battles – one over getting supplies through to Sullivan Island and the other in a blockade zone.

In the first battle, the Union sent a monitor and two 90-day gunboats to stop the Confederate resupply run. The Confederates got an early warning of the approaching ships and called out their ironclads to support the wooden cruiser that was covering the resupply. This was a night action, so visibility and firing ranges were short.
Union monitor and two 90-day gunboats hunting for rebel supplies
Confederate cruiser escorting the supplies
The Confederate ship, CSS Ajax, kept its distance as the Union ships approached. But the appearance of two ironclads, CSS Palmetto State and Chicora, changed the situation.
CSS Palmetto State
The ships traded shots, but an early critical hit on the gunboat USS Chippewa slowed down the gunboat, allowing Palmetto State to close.
Things don't look good for Chippewa
Chippewa tried to run, but it kept taking hits. Eventually catching on fire and then surrendering. Outnumbered in ships and ironclads, the remaining Union ships decided to withdraw from the action. The Confederates had some light damage done to their ships, but were happy with the overall results of the battle.
Chippewa on fire and running out of luck
In the blockade zone, the Confederates spotted three Union ships and the escort decided to cut loose the blockade runners and return to Charleston. The Union ships went after the blockade runners – catching one while two others escaped into the night.

With the missions resolved, the results of the Union Army advance were Checked. Sullivan Island had seven batteries (four small and three medium size) and Fort Moultrie. The Union troops landed at the north end of the island and on the first week took two batteries.
Battery Marshall and Battery A fall during the first week
Seeing the Union advance on Sullivan Island, the Confederate defense council talked over the best ways to slow the advance. They knew they had limited ships and that the Union could easily withstand or replace their losses. Talking through their options, they believed their best option was to make a major attack on the Union ships bombarding Sullivan Island, which they hoped would stall the Army’s advance. The Charleston shipyards had promised to deliver three new gunboats and an ironclad over the two weeks. So, the decision was made to wait two weeks and then conduct a daytime attack on the Union ships off Sullivan Island with all their ships in the Charleston fleet.

On the Union side, the initial plan seemed to be working – so they maintained their blockade and bombardment strategy. This set up the naval battle of Sullivan Island.

The Confederates sent their whole fleet out for the early morning attack – the ironclads Palmetto State, Chicora, and Milledgeville (a hypothetical ironclad design), the wooden cruisers Ajax, Tallahassee, the cottonclad sidewheeler Calhoun (based on the CSS Oregon), along with two Drewry type gunboats named Ashley and Cooper. On the Union side, the bombardment group was made up of the New Ironsides, the Passaic class monitors Passaic, Lehigh, and Catskill, and the sloop Housatonic.
Union bombardment force arrayed for battle
Confederate gunboats and Palmetto State
The rest of the Confederate ships
The battle started off with the Tallahassee trying to use its speed as armor and get behind the Union line. But long-range fire from Union ships damaged the cruiser, set it on fire, and eventually forced it to surrender.
Tallahassee taking early damage
Tallahassee on fire and screwed
The other confederate cruiser, Ajax, did not have much luck either. Ajax got a little to close to shore and ran aground, then was pounded by Union monitors as she was trying to get up to speed.
Ajax aground
Ajax under attack from the monitors
On the other side of the Confederate fleet – the gunboats Cooper and Ashley moved forward and took shots are the trailing Housatonic. The gunboats hit the sloop several times and started several fires.
Housatonic takes some damage
But the Housatonic’s well-trained crew was able to put out the fires and return fire on the gunboats, inflicting a magazine critical hit on one and damaging the other.
Gunboat goes boom
In the center, the three Union monitors moved to take on the Confederate ironclads, while New Ironsides provided long-range support.
Confederate ironclads move forward
Closing with the Union monitors
The Calhoun steered clear of the center, taking long-range shots at the Union ships. But return shell fire set the cottonclad on fire. Other damage would slow down the sidewheeler, putting the ship out of action.
Cottonclad on fire
The iron ships traded shots, with the Union's 11 and 15 inch guns causing heavy damage to the Confederates and a critical steam line hit on Milledgeville.
Ironclad close action
Steam line damage to Milledgeville
Chicora took heavy waterline damage from a New Ironsides broadside. Damaged and slowly flooding, Chicora almost rammed Housatonic (or maybe it was the other way around), but her fate was sealed as she was caught between the two big Union ships.
Chicora and Housatonic slide by each other
Chicora caught in the middle
With most of the Confederate ships heavily damaged or out-of-action, the remaining forces announced a withdrawal, ending the battle.

The Confederates did succeed in disrupting the Union fleet’s support of the land action for the week, but it was at the cost of most of the Charleston Fleet.

With our gaming time drawing to a close, we decided to roll off the rest of the Union Army advanced for the remaining weeks of the game. Both sides made die rolls to support their land forces (Confederate resupply and Union bombardment and Army assaults). At week 8, Fort Moultrie was the only Confederate fortification left on the island and the Union players rolled their final attack – but it failed (the Union side needed to roll an 84 or higher on a d100). The Confederates won the overall campaign, but their fleet and most of Sullivan Island were in ruins. If this was a historical situation, the Union probably would have stopped the attacks on Charleston and pursued attacks elsewhere along the east coast, leaving the city for Sherman to attack.
The land map showing Fort Moultrie still in Confederate hands
Another DANG is in the books. Overall, the game turned out pretty well and everyone seemed to have a good time. We used Sail and Steam Navies for the tactical battle rules. They worked out fine, but the Confederates did not really have much of a chance against the Union monitors. We did talk about how the battle might have turned out if we had used different rules and the game seemed to rekindle some interest in the era. So, we might seem some more ironclads battles in 2019.
DANG 2018 players


  1. Good to hear of another successful DANG, Dave! I must say that artwork of the ironclads is most intriguing!

    1. Thanks. The print is a contemporary Civil War image showing the Union attack on Fort Sumter. It did seem to fit in with the mini-campaign theme.

  2. An excellent report on what loomed like (as always) a very enjoyable day's gaming. A lovely way to end the year. DANG goes from strength to strength!

    1. Thanks! Even though it is normally a lot of work to organize everything, I always enjoy putting on the game.

  3. Thanks for hosting this Premier Event yet again! I have dug out the ACW stuff here for completion in 2019.