Last weekend we had the first figure wargame within the framework of our Shenandoah Valley campaign. It took place at Franklin in West Virginia, between Shields’ Federal division of Banks’ army and Johnson’s Army of the Northwest, reinforced by Jackson and a brigade of his foot cavalry. Shields had been sent in an outflanking manoeuvre by Banks, played by Spencer.
The mechanics of the game: playing with a split personality
I played the game using Sam Mustafa’s Longstreet rules and my 12mm Kallistra figures. The 72 x 48 BW map came from a Google satellite map of Franklin WV. I drew on the historical orders of battle for the troops present.
Matt, who is Jackson, was present and so gave me his instructions for the battle direct. As Banks/Spencer was not present on the field in person, I recruited Dan to provide orders for the Federal force. Each had a scenario briefing as if for a face to face game. Matt supplied general instructions for the Confederate side while Dan really went to town, with full instructions and four maps showing his intended dispositions and movements.
Between them, the instructions from the players supplied all I needed to play the game in accordance with their wishes. The use of an action deck in Longstreet adds a random quality to solo play. I decided that the federals would hoard/play cards favouring attack and the rebels would use those with a more defensive benefit, - although I made sure to keep Rebel Yell cards for counterattacks. At the start of each turn, I checked what interrupt cards were in the passive player’s hand and rolled a die to see if they would be played this turn. This worked very well, - almost spookily in the case of the so-called “couldn’t hit an elephant” card which represents the enemy general being hit. The union side played this card at a key moment with devastating results, which was a parallel with the wounding of general Johnson at the battle of McDowell in the historical campaign.
A brief account of the battle
The rebels deployed along the south bank of Friends Run, which flows from west to east above the town of Franklin. Two batteries were entrenched on high ground to the left and certain infantry units were also behind light earthworks along the run. Johnson’s brigades were in the left and centre while Fulkerson was in reserve on the right. Most of Johnson’s Command were recruits while Fulkerson commanded two regiments of veterans.
The Federals deployed their artillery on a ridge at the right of their position. Next to them was 2 brigade, in depth to the west of Petersburg Pike. Then came 1 brigade to the east of the pike, with cavalry at the far left, by the south branch of the Potomac. Each federal brigade was much bigger than a rebel equivalent and overall the Federals had significant numerical superiority, although they had no veteran units.
The federal attack consisted of an advance in the centre by a line intended to engage the rebels with fire but not to assault. Meanwhile two assaults were made against the rebel wings, each containing two regiments, one behind another. Their cavalry was to try and get around behind the rebel right if the chance arose. In the event it failed in the face of cavalry on the rebel right.
Overall, the rebel right and centre held and even counterattacked successfully against the left hand federal assault. On the rebel left however, the union assault rolled right over the front line, helped by the supporting fire from their artillery, which both reduced the Confederate infantry and made some successful counter battery fire. Just at the point when the rebel second line were poised to counter attack, general Johnson was severely wounded. (If you don’t know these rules, the ‘elephant’ card involves removing action cards from the victim’s hand. On this occasion the rebels lost 5 cards out of their hand of 6, which seriously restricted their options at this crucial juncture). This allowed the Federals to press their advantage and push their whole right wing over Friends Run while the rebels were off balance. The rebels could not restore their line and soon found their position unhinged by a federal force deep behind their left and in a position to roll up their position.
One of Matt’s instructions was to preserve his troops as a force in being and as the federal position was now so favourable, I decided the rebels should withdraw now or face major losses. Fulkerson was still in good shape, so his brigade formed a screen behind which Johnson’s brigades retreated. The Federals tried to catch as many rebel units as possible and nearly cut off their retreat along the Pike but the rebels left the field in reasonable order.
So the first battle has gone the Federals’ way. The players have received their status reports and I am waiting for their orders for the next turn. Dan has won his place as go-to surrogate for future games in the campaign. For my part, I spent two very happy days in the shed, remembering just how much I love these rules. I also realised you can never have too much split rail fencing, so have started work on some new lengths in preparation for the next round in the campaign.
I think the time lag is enough to report on the opening moves in our Lockdown campaign, based on the Shenandoah campaign in 1862. We began with Union General Banks in Winchester and Stonewall Jackson a bit further down the valley at Mount Jackson. The federals began with a big numerical advantage but the rebels had a significant edge in cavalry, which combined with a local population that is mostly friendly means the rebels had good intelligence on the Federal forces.
Matt and Spencer know each other’s playing style well and they went in for some interesting second-guessing. With two divisions, each significantly larger than the whole rebel force, Spencer sent the forward-most one (Shields) westwards from Winchester into the Allegheny mountains, intending to outflank Matt and enter the Valley from the South West. Meanwhile his second division (Williams) advanced down the Valley Pike, in order to locate and fix Jackson in place.
Matt on the other hand suspected Spencer would try a flanking move and sent one of his brigades westwards along a parallel road into the Alleghenies. Meanwhile he withdrew with another brigade to Newmarket where his troops began to dig in.
In the first turn both commanders tried to make contact with their sister commands in the Alleghenies, who were Frémont, commanding Federal forces and Johnson leading the rebels. I ran both as non player characters, drawing on a bit of chance combined with their historic performances. The upshot was ready agreement from Johnson to cooperate with Jackson, whereas Frémont declared his readiness to work together with Banks but was very slow mobilising his force. At the end of the turn Jackson received news that General Early was expected in the valley within a couple of turns.
Turn 2 saw Matt changing his mind about his move westwards and recalling his flanking brigade. This about face nearly lost him the brigade as Spencer had ordered Williams to march south and take Strasburg. Williams vey nearly caught the returning rebels on the road and would have done so, had it not been for the presence of rebel cavalry to slow down the Federal advance. Fortunately for Mattt, Williams’ force had no cavalry of its own in the vanguard, which added to the efficacy of the rebel rearguard. The returning brigade squeaked through and out of Strasburg while Williams was still held up north of the town.
Meanwhile out west, Shields advanced down the Alleghenies towards Franklin, where Johnson was digging in with his small army. Frémont, bless him, made no move to support Shields. The dice were helping the wargame Frémont to behave much as the real man did: with the energy of a slug. So the second turn/sixth campaign day ended with an apparent stand off in the valley and a battle imminent in the Alleghenies.
Umpiring the campaign
In a few cases so far I have had to establish who got the better of a skirmish or whether a brigade could escape the jaws of a trap. For simplicity, I have rolled competing dice on behalf of the two sides and the result has gone the way of the higher scorer. The bigger the margin, the more emphatic the success. For even chances I have compared the rolls of two D6. If one side has an advantage, such as superior numbers, better training or a proactive leader, that side rolls a D8, D10 or even D12, depending on how many advantages affect the matter. I also use a competing die roll to see if a non player character complies with a player’s request. So far this approach has worked ok.
For the impending battle of Franklin, I will fight it this weekend using Sam Mustafa’s Longstreet rules. One player’ character is present on the battlefield so he has given me his orders for the battle. As the other is absent, I have recruited Dan to act as the detached general and he has submitted a full set of instructions complete with maps. We shall see how it all pans out.
Three weeks into the Covid 19 lock down, I am making progress on some gaming projects. I have been painting more 6mm Napoleonic figures for a multiplayer Lasalle scenario later in the year (Lord knows when!) and then plan to rebase my oldest collection of figures, two 6mm armies for the War of Spanish Succession. While these are quite satisfying solitary chores, I miss actually playing games. So last week I floated the possibility of a small campaign with Spencer and Matt. They were ready to indulge me and I started looking for a theme.
I have run only three campaigns in the past: two set in classical Greece and one in the American Civil War. Matt, Spencer and I play a lot of Ancients and I kicked around a couple of options, one set before the rise of Philip of Macedon and one in Sicily. Neither got me excited enough to turn the idea into a game. Turning to the ACW, I recall playing an enjoyable short campaign in the early 1980s with my friends Keith Blackmore and Andy Finkel. The idea of an ACW campaign grew on me. I have played ACW since the 80s, both figure and board games, and have good source materials with maps and orders of battle. I particularly like the mechanics of A House Divided, Frank Chadwick’s strategic game with a map consisting of a network of boxes connected by different forms of road (the game is still available, now published by Mayfair Games). So ACW it is! As for subject, I decided on the Shenandoah Valley in 1862 as a great candidate for a limited but interesting game.
Now, the aim of many wargame campaigns is to lead to face to face games. That isn’t going to be an option for now of course so I want the map turns to be engaging in themselves. As umpire, I hope to encourage a bit of role playing, assisted by some messages from non-player characters. When opposing troops collide, we will play it by ear. I can resolve small encounters with a dice roll. For larger engagements I have Longstreet for brigade level games and On to Richmond for bigger encounters. We shall have to work out how much the players will be involved in table top battles. We can cross that bridge when we get to it...
I started with the map, mainly based on the National Geographic Atlas of the ACW and the Osprey Campaign book, Shenandoah Valley 1862 by Clayton and James Donnell. I decided to copy the connected boxes idea used in ‘A House Divided’. I added a wrinkle from another Frank Chadwick game, Attack in the Ardennes, in which the different road types limit the number of units that can travel between two boxes in a turn. This brings out the importance of the major roads and junctions and poses tricky choices to a commander: do they keep their forces moving slowly together, or move fast and get strung out across several boxes? What happens if they meet the enemy in this state?
I started the map on a drawing app but found this too fiddly and so resorted to the old standby of pens and gridded paper. I spent a happy day with rulers, eraser and coloured pencils and ended up with an unattractive but, I hope, serviceable game map.
The campaign rules shared with both players are below. In addition to the common rules, each player had a personal briefing, with their own campaign objectives and order of battle. I won’t share these yet as both players read this blog (or they pretend to!).
As of today, the first turn has completed and the players have submitted orders for turn 2. I don’t know if they are enjoying it yet, but I am already Having a ball!
ACW Campaign rules: Fire in the Shenandoah, March 1862
The Shenandoah Valley is a picturesque and fertile farming region, bounded by the Allegheny Mountains to the west and the Blue Ridge Mountains to the East. Its axis runs from South West to North East, and it is divided down the middle by its own range, the Massanutten mountains. In 1862 possession of the valley offered advantages to both North and South. For the Confederacy the valley was a vital source of supplies, especially of grain. Also Harpers Ferry at its north east tip, only a short distance from Washington DC, was a potential jump off point for invading the North. For the Union, possession of the valley could deny the vital food supplies to the Confederate army, cut the railroad from Richmond to Tennessee and threaten Richmond from the West.
The campaign began in late February 1862, with an invasion from Harper’s Ferry by a Union army led by general Nathaniel Banks. Heavily outnumbered, Confederate general Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson withdrew down the valley, while calling in his reserves. It is now mid March. Banks is at Winchester, getting ready to bundle Jackson out of the valley completely. Jackson is somewhere down the valley, waiting for the storm to break.
The map is of the Shenandoah Valley, overlaid with boxes connected by a road net. All units occupy boxes and move between them along the road net. There are four types of road: Pike, Road, Track and Railroad. Most boxes are clear terrain but some have a river along one or more sides (blue shading) and others have difficult ground (brown shading). Boxes surrounded by mountains are considered difficult ground
One turn consists of 3 impulses. Turns are resolved simultaneously by the umpire.
The players submit orders at the start of each turn. You must provide an order for each of the 3 impulses. A unit without orders will stand in place.
Orders can be:
Movement and stacking
Space: You may only occupy named boxes on the map. You may have as many units together in one box as you wish.
Roads: Every connecting road has a maximum capacity of units that can travel along it in one impulse. The maximum number of infantry units that can move along a connection in one impulse are:
Turnpike(double line): 4 units
Road(single line): 2 units
Track(dotted line): 1 unit
Railroad(hashed line): unlimited units as long as railroad is friendly. If it belongs to the enemy, it counts as a road.
NB Cavalry does not count towards this limit. Thus, in one impulse, you could send 2 infantry units plus one cavalry unit along a road.
A unit may move in every impulse of the turn but this could cause fatigue and attrition.
Note that, as there is a limit to the number of units that can use a road in an impulse, it could take two or more impulses for a larger army to move from one box to the next.
(Example: a force of 3 infantry units wants to move along a road from one box to another. As only two units can use a road in one impulse, it would take two impulses for the whole force to end the turn together in the destination box. The order might read:
1st unit: move from Staunton to Harrisburg; rest; rest
2nd unit: move from Staunton to Harrisburg; rest; rest
3rd unit: rest; move from Staunton to Harrisburg; rest)
To recap: it is possible to move up to three times in a turn but this is likely to result in a unit becoming fatigued. Also, if a large force moves fast using roads or tracks, it is likely to end the turn strung out between more than one box.
Encountering the enemy
If you enter a box containing enemy troops there will be an encounter. Cavalry on its own will retreat from moving enemy units if outnumbered, unless specifically ordered to stand and fight. Other troops will act in line with any prior instructions from their commander: to stand and fight; conduct a fighting withdrawal or attempt to retreat without fighting.
If you, the player character, are present at the encounter, you will be given information about the situation and asked for your orders. If we can manage it and the battle is big enough to warrant the effort, Tim will arrange to fight the encounter at a time when you are available, so you can be involved via Skype or WhatsApp as the battle unfolds.
If you, the player character, are not present at the encounter, you will receive a report afterwards of how it went.
Some boxes have either a blue or a brown shading along one or more side, representing either a river or difficult ground. If you occupy one of these boxes and the enemy enters the box across a shaded side, you will receive advantages in the combat.
Boxes in the mountains at the left or right side of the map contain difficult ground that is generally favourable to the defender. Boxes in the valley are open terrain, except where a side is shaded brown or blue as noted above.
If infantry is present in a box for some time it can prepare the ground, which will be an advantage in battle. To prepare the ground, a unit must spend a full turn (three impulses) doing so. Note these are not like the trenches developed later in the war, but are light fieldworks.
Scouting and screening
Cavalry’s greatest use is to scout ahead and to screen your army from enemy attention. If Cavalry on its own enters a box containing only enemy infantry, it will retire back one box but can report to you the troops that it sees. If there is enemy cavalry in the box there will be a skirmish. If your cavalry win this skirmish it can report to you all the troops that are in the box. If it loses or the skirmish is inconclusive, it will retire back one box and will only report that it has encountered enemy cavalry.
You are permitted to ask the local civilian population what they know about enemy movements. Note that the population are mostly pro-Confederate so their intelligence might be more reliable when dealing with rebels.
In addition to the common rules, each player had a personal briefing, with their own campaign objectives and order of battle. I won’t share these yet as both players read this blog (or they pretend to!).
The first turn has completed and the players have had their status reports. I don’t know if they are enjoying it yet, but I am already very excited!
I have played wargames for five decades. Recently retired, I have even more time to devote to it. More about me here.