U.S. Navy Plan Gray:
The Story

By Mike Bennighof, Ph.D.
January 2016

Note: Our Second War of the Rebellion setting began with Confederate States Navy: Plan Blue. You can read about that supplement’s story arc here.

The “popular sovereignty” clause of the 1854 Kansas-Nebraska Act touched off a wave of terrorism on the Great Plains as supporters of slavery sought to dominate the vote on whether the territory would be “slave or “free.” Less noticed but equally passionate were the demands to expand the number of slave-holding states, not only within the territory of the United States but outside it as well.

Slavery advocates called for the annexation of Cuba, through either purchase or conquest. The “Cuba Movement” led by former Mississippi Governor John Quitman attempted to organize filibustering expeditions to seize the Spanish-ruled island every year from 1851 through 1859, while Presidents Franklin Pierce and John Buchanan tried to buy it outright in 1854 and 1859 but could not overcome anti-slavery opposition in the U.S. Congress. The “Knights of the Golden Circle,” a pro-slavery paramilitary political society, called for the South to secede from the United States and subsequently annex the entire Caribbean Basin including Mexico.

Note: This is all true. Slavery’s supporters weren’t content to defend their despicable institution; they wanted to expand it. Presidents like Pierce and Buchanan hoped that acquiring new “slave” territories would fend off a domestic crisis.

Our Great War at Sea: U.S. Navy Plan Gray picks up the story from C.S. Navy Plan Blue, in a world where the Confederacy managed to win its independence in 1862, but soon fell under British economic and political domination. The South fought to defend and expand slavery, and its advocates believed that the system had to grow in order to survive. Humans have an enormous capacity for rationalization, and while “slavery” might have received a new label, there’s no reason to believe it would have gone away of its own accord. Slavery isn’t a very efficient economic system, but it provides slave-owners with a thrill of power like none other: to order other humans about, to buy and sell them, to rape them, to kill them. And they can do so not only without penalty, but can gain increased social status through these actions. For a certain type of depraved human, there’s no drug that can match it.

The South of our Second Rebellion story arc is a sad and repressive place for most. A primary producer economy exports cotton, sugar, tobacco and other agricultural goods, mostly to Britain, and imports most finished products, again mostly from Britain. The Confederate Empire stretches well to the south, having acquired Cuba, Santo Domingo and Puerto Rico from Spain by way of purchase and Haiti via conquest. The very top tier lives very well, enjoying the riches produced by a miserable class of wage-earning whites and an even more miserable class of blacks working under the lifetime labor contracts that have replaced chattel slavery (lifetime for the worker, that is; it’s breakable or transferable at will by the contract holder). That change salves British consciences, but does little to uplift the dignity of the South’s working people. The situation appears ripe for social revolution, but neither group has a great deal of unity or class consciousness as the Confederacy’s ruling oligarchy skillfully plays each against the other in contradiction of their own interests.

As told in C.S. Navy Plan Blue, the United States declared war on Great Britain in April 1917 over British interference with neutral U.S. shipping, with the ever-obedient Confederacy in turn declaring war on the Yankees a few scant hours later. Plan Blue’s scenario set takes place on the North Atlantic map from our U.S. Navy Plan Red game, as each side tries to disrupt the other’s international commerce and the Confederates attempt to import desperately-needed munitions from Britain.

The action moves to the Caribbean in U.S. Navy Plan Gray, as the Union fleet strikes at the economic heart of the Confederacy. This time the battlefield is the map from U.S. Navy Plan Gold. The United States Navy is out to disrupt enemy shipping and commerce in what has long been considered a Confederate lake, and to seize bases for further operations. A longer-term objective is to re-open shipping lanes leading to and from the Trans-Oceanic Canal across Mexican-ruled Nicaragua, and to seal off routes leading to the competing Confederate-owned canal across Panama.

The Union’s objectives also include support for their ally, Mexico’s Second Empire. Emperor Francisco Fernando, nephew of Maximiliano, has extended his uncle’s program of land and labor reform to the Central American Provinces recovered in the 1890’s before the Confederates could add the small defenseless republics to their own domain. But the Confederacy thwarted his attempt to purchase Cuba and the other Spanish possessions – all formerly part of the Viceroyalty of Mexico. With North American help the Emperor hopes to recover these lands by force of arms as well as the portion of northeastern Mexico lost to the Confederacy in the late 1860’s, and overturn what he sees as an unjust system and an affront to his deeply-held Christian faith.

Note: Central America’s small republics were part of the First Mexican Empire, becoming independent after its fall. The real Emperor Maximilian, an Austrian archduke, died childless before a firing squad in 1867. Though he adopted a pair of young Mexican boys, the grandchildren of the First Mexican Empire’s ruler Agustin Iturbide, he did not name them as his heirs and instead pressed his brother Karl Ludwig to provide his son, Maximilian’s nephew, to follow him as Emperor. Karl Ludwig refused and the boy, Franz Ferdinand, would eventually become heir to the thrones of Austria-Hungary. In our fractured history, he has escaped an assassin’s bullet and rules in Mexico.

The Mexican fleet is not large, and will depend on help from the Yankees to spread Francisco Fernando’s crusade for freedom from the Confederates. It includes a single British-built dreadnought plus some pre-dreadnought battleships and armored cruisers built in French and Austrian shipyards. The U.S. Navy can deploy ships from its Pacific Fleet to transit the Nicaraguan canal as well as units of its Atlantic Fleet. The Confederates have successfully kept the Yankees from obtaining bases on the opposite side of the Caribbean, but remain apprehensive about U.S. attempts to purchase islands or simply basing rights from the Netherlands or Denmark, who still hold small colonies in the region.

The Confederate Navy can’t match the Union in constructing heavy ships; as it stands, the British are subsidizing most of the cost of Confederate battleships. To defend the islands they depend on large numbers of torpedo boats, backed by some torpedo cruisers. The defensive doctrine calls for this first line of defense to wear down the Northern enemy before the Confederate battleships fall on the survivors. It has worked well in paper wargames.

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Mike Bennighof is president of Avalanche Press and holds a doctorate in history from Emory University. A Fulbright Scholar and award-winning journalist, he has published over 100 books, games and articles on historical subjects. He lives in Birmingham, Alabama with his wife, three children and his dog, Leopold.