Our ACW campaign has come to a close, with victory for Jackson.
The last two turns of our campaign saw Jackson, played by Matt, gaining a significant advantage over Banks’ forces led by Spencer. In the west, Banks’ attempt to outflank the rebels in the valley, which had been so promising after the battle of Franklin, was thwarted when he withdrew a third of the outflanking force just as Jackson was reinforced. The outflanking force was repulsed at the battle of Harrisonburg and then trapped and nearly annihilated between Jackson’s force and General Johnson’s brigades advancing from McDowell.
Meanwhile, in the valley, Banks drew in his forces and advanced to Mount Jackson along the Valley Pike, leaving the Luray valley road in the east uncovered. At just this time, Jackson sent two brigades and a strong cavalry reconnaissance through Luray and Front Royal, to find the federal supply line back to Harper’s Ferry exposed. On turn 5 of the campaign, rebel cavalry occupied Strasburg behind the main federal army and captured rear area troops, ammunition and grain supplies. Before he cut the telegraph, Ashby, commander of the 7th Virginia Cavalry, wired the following message to Banks from Strasburg:
“From the officer commanding the Confederate garrison of Strasburg to the General commanding, federal forces. Thank you for provisions and ammunition. There is no need to send more as we now have a proficiency of both. Respectfully, Ashby, Lieutenant, 7th Virginia Cavalry.” (I stole this idea from a French bonapartist pamphlet of 1815, in which Napoleon thanks Louis XVIII for the troops he has sent and says he doesn’t need any more).
The closing positions of the active game therefore had Banks at Mount Jackson with his supply line cut, and Jackson, reinforced by Ewell, with forces to the south, east and north of the federal army. Banks was still formidable but Spencer decided at this point that he had been outmanoeuvred and conceded to Matt.
I played out the following turn myself, presuming Banks would try to escape encirclement while Jackson would attempt to catch him. The only way Banks could get clear was to retreat all the way back to Winchester, while Jackson ended at Kernstown and Middleton. The Federals were back where they had started the campaign, with one very badly mauled division, the other virtually unbloodied and a great many supplies now equipping the rebels.
So Banks is still in the valley and will no doubt be ordered to resume hostilities very soon but our small part of the campaign has ended.
Post campaign analysis: a game of two halves
The campaign divided quite starkly into two phases. Spencer started well, with the idea of getting one division around behind the rebel army from the west, while advancing steadily down the Valley Pike with the other division. At this point Matt seemed to lack a plan, for example, sending a brigade westwards only to recall it the next turn. He very nearly lost this brigade between Spencer’s two divisions. The high water mark for Spencer was the Battle of Franklin, ably generalled by Dan as General Shields.
Then it seemed the initiative shifted the other way. Spencer recalled one of Shields’ brigades despite ordering him onwards into the rebel left rear. The recalled brigade spent the rest of the campaign marching through the Alleghenies when it could have been critical in helping Shields to deal with Jackson’s reinforced army at Harrisonburg. At the same time, the other federal division stopped its southward march and dug in at Strasburg. This allowed Matt to put greater numbers into the battle at Harrisonburg, while observing Banks with a much smaller force.
It is always too easy for an umpire to pronounce on who should have done what. Both players were working with limited knowledge of enemy whereabouts. But I believe that if Spencer had continued to advance his central Division down the valley as the victorious Shields came east from Franklin, Matt would very likely have been doubly defeated. It was the easing of pressure in the centre that allowed Matt to defeat Shields in detail.
I also think Matt handled his scouting more effectively, probing for gaps and exploiting the opportunities. Cutting Banks’ supply line was a fine move and, while I made clear that this was not a disastrous development as long as Banks reopened the line, it did mean that Spencer was now having to respond to Matt’s moves. I agree with Spencer that his only real option now would be to retire northwards, staying ahead of the jaws of Matt’s pursuit, and to regroup ready for future operations.
I hope the players enjoyed the campaign: I certainly did. While there was no final showdown between two grand armies, we had several encounters between scouts, a running fight through the mountains and two division-sized tabletop games, the first won by the Federals and the second by the Confederates. Given the constraints of lockdown, we couldn’t meet to play these games. I greatly appreciated Dan’s contribution of written orders as proxy commander on both occasions. Dan even responded in real time to an in-game development, allowing me to reflect his instructions for a rearguard action.
All players participated in good spirits and we kept to a pattern of at least one turn a week.
Lessons for the future
I was happy with the basic game engine. The map is quite simple but it still posed challenges to both players. Submitting orders for three impulses in a turn worked well, as did the limit on how many units may use a road at a time. This slowed the Federals down somewhat while the smaller rebel forces were more agile.
In retrospect I should have provided strength points for the fighting units. As the campaign wore on I developed a system of putting minus signs against damaged brigades and the letter F for fatigued units. By the last turn, a couple of brigades were marked ‘- - F F’. I knew what this meant but it could have been clearer for the players. Next time (!) a brigade will begin at, say, strength 4. Permanent losses will reduce that number. Fatigue will continue to be marked by one or more letter F, which will reduce the strength until the unit can rest and recover.
So that is that. In case anybody is curious, I have put the campaign rules and map on the ACW scenarios page here.
Congratulations to Matt on his win and thanks to him, Spencer and Dan for engaging so readily and cheerfully in this piece of silliness.
For the past few weeks Matt, Spencer, Dan and I have been playing a campaign based on Jackson’s Valley campaign in 1862. Matt is playing the man himself, Spencer is Federal General Banks, Dan is supplying instructions for devolved commands and I am umpiring and playing battles out where necessary on the tabletop. So far Banks has had the numbers and Jackson the speed.
The map and play mechanics are explained in previous blog posts. To keep a bit of pace, each ‘turn’ the players provide orders for three impulses at a time. I then play these out, interrupting the turn to resolve clashes, either with simple dice rolls or, as has now happened twice, to fight a figure wargame. If a player’s character is ‘present’ at the battle I ask them for instructions. If they are absent, Dan steps into the role of the detached commander.
The story so far
I am having to delay these reports a little to keep the opposing generals in an appropriate state of ignorance. But the bones of the campaign so far are as follows. Banks began the campaign by sending half his army westwards out of the valley into the Allegheny mountains, then southwards to try to get around and behind Jackson’s army. The road net outside the valley is not good and so this movement took some time, during which the other half of the federal army sat tight at Strasburg. Jackson was alerted to the movement and in turn warned General Johnson, commanding the tiny Army of the North West in the Alleghenies, to block the Federal advance. Meanwhile Jackson withdrew his own small army southwards and took a portion with him to support Johnson. There followed the battle of Franklin, at which the Federal force, ably led by Dan, broke the rebel left and pushed them back on Harrisonburg and McDowell.
The momentum then swung Jackson’s way. Unknown to Banks, Jackson was reinforced by Ewell’s division arriving from the east. While still outnumbered in the Valley overall, Jackson now had local superiority as well as the benefit of surprise. His odds further improved when Banks recalled part of his detached command to Strasburg, leaving the victors of Franklin only two brigades to continue their advance against Jackson’s left rear. In the next eventful turn, there occurred two significant combats, in both of which the rebels began with a marked advantage. Had the time come for Jackson to show his mettle?
The Battle of Harrisonburg
Following up on his victory at Franklin, Federal general Shields advanced eastwards into the valley. He caught up with Jackson at Harrisonburg, where he saw the rebels deployed on a line of three low hills west of the town. Shields’ role was once again taken by Dan, who planned to attack first on the right, then to close with his centre and left once his right wing had taken the leftmost rebel hilltop. This plan saved him from total destruction. His right wing advanced on the enemy hill, which was occupied only by dismounted cavalry. The rebel horse mounted and charged down from the hill into Shields’ cavalry, the combat continuing for a couple of turns on the far Southern flank of the table. As Shields’ leading regiment neared the crest of the seemingly empty hill, a line of Louisianans charged into view and bowled the federals back down the slope. It was Trimble’s brigade of Ewell’s division, freshly arrived to reinforce Jackson. At the same time Taylor’s brigade from the same division appeared round the side of the hill and charged towards the federal centre.
The federal right was all but destroyed. Fortunately for Dan, his centre and left were still some distance from the rebel positions and so avoided being caught in the flank. They were able to withdraw, but the rebels pursued vigorously, obliging the Federals to detach a regiment of infantry, their last unrouted cavalry regiment and a section of smoothbore as a rearguard. Under the protection of this rearguard, the rest of the command fled westwards back to the Alleghenies. The brave rearguard was eaten up however and four cannon were lost.
I played Harrisonburg using Honour Games’ Longstreet. It was at the limit of the rules’ applicability: a couple more brigades and I’d have used On to Richmond. The mixture of random cards and orders from absent players worked well again. I felt sorry for Dan that he was walking into a trap but on reflection, that is the appeal of a campaign: surprise attacks are harder to set up in a one-off encounter. It was also an advantage that Dan wasn’t there in person. When a player gives up their time to play a face to face game, one wants to give them a fair chance of winning. In this case, the only question was how badly Dan would be beaten up. As it happened, his plan probably gave him the least bad outcome, since his initial attack revealed the rebel reinforcements before the rest of his army had advanced too far. When I sent him the news of the trap in mid-game, he supplied the orders for the rearguard defence, which again helped save men (at the cost of the rearguard and 4 cannon). He also didn’t seem to mind having been set up!
While Shields was retreating in the south of the valley, a lone federal brigade at Front Royal was manoeuvred out of its position by superior rebel numbers. This brigade withdrew to Middleton in good order, to cover the road to Winchester. But it seemed at turn’s end that Banks’ position in Strasburg was at risk of encirclement.
Remove me from this hell!
I would say that fully half of the campaigns I’ve played in over the years have ended through a trailing off of interest rather than the achievement of a set objective. I don’t want this campaign to go that way. I have included the following text in the latest situation reports for both sides:
“Many wargame campaigns don’t so much finish as fizzle out. They continue without a clear end point, until eventually one or both players lose interest. That will not be our fate! The historical campaign ended when troops in the valley were called away to take part in a major operation in Virginia. In game terms, I am now checking each turn whether that moment has arrived, at which point I will adjudicate the effect of the campaign on your personalities’ reputations.
I want to be sensitive also to your ‘real world’ wishes. In submitting your orders you may express your preferences for continuing the fight in the valley or for requesting to join the impending operations in Virginia. These will affect the dice roll for campaign’s end.”
I must say this small campaign has been fascinating, watching the player’s shadow box with limited knowledge of each other’s dispositions. I think both have several reasons to be pleased with their performance. I also think the campaign can still go either way, but the next turn or two should produce a decisive result.
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!
While in Devon last weekend I played a game laid on by Keith, my ancient and constant wargaming opponent. He had set up a scenario for Longstreet, adapted from Warlord Games’ Glory, Hallelujah! ACW supplement, in which a Federal force of two divisions has the job of capturing a Confederate-held riverside fort, itself supported by two field brigades. I think the original scenario is called Wright’s Farm.
I took the Confederates and Keith the Federals. Both of our break points, based on my outnumbered force, was 44. If Keith captured the fort, it would be worth an additional die towards rolling for my demoralisation. Keith had the option of bringing a steamer down stream to bombard the fort, although this would bring it in range of my heavy guns.
Keith set up on a chain of hills overlooking the fort. I put a regiment in garrison with four heavy rifled artillery pieces in the fort on my left. The valley between the fort and the hill in my centre was filled with an entrenched regiment, then I placed one brigade in the centre and the last on high ground on my right. The frontages of our two forces were therefore about equal at the start, although Keith was deployed in more depth.
In summary, the game began with Keith marching out all along his line, with a little more pace on his two flanks. His right wing assaulted the fort three times and each attack was repulsed. On his left, shortly before his line came within small arms range, I withdrew my right hand brigade and started moving them to reinforce my centre and left. I wanted the Union left flank to land its punch into mid-air and then be too far away to affect the fight for the fort. This nearly worked perfectly except Keith played a Confusion card on my rearmost regiment, which allowed him to catch and maul it. Apart from this I was pleased with the timing and execution of the withdrawal. In the centre, Keith’s initial intention had been to screen but he attacked four of my regiments at the same time as his last assault on the fort. This turn increased my losses but my line held. Shortly after, a very successful round of Confederate shooting pushed Keith over his morale limit and the game ended. The steamer never arrived to bombard the Confederate shore.
This was a tense and fun game. I didn’t fancy my chances at the start since I was so heavily outnumbered but the fort was tough and I was able to inflict a lot of damage on the assaulting troops as they closed.
As ever, the Longstreet cards dealt some memorable incidents that few other rule sets can allow unless they have an umpire. Foremost was the catching of my retreating right wing, which I would not have allowed to happen without the interference of an Interrupt card. Keith also inflicted a ‘couldn’t hit an elephant’ card (ie general hit by enemy fire) that removed 5 cards from my hand in one terrible turn. The Longstreet cards are a finely balanced device, keeping uncertainty high but never overwhelming the mechanics with too much arbitrary luck. Throughout a game, you still play your opponent rather than the system. I have said this before and it is still true: Longstreet is my favourite rules set, for any period. These simple, taut and flavour-filled rules are just masterful.
Longstreet is quite hard to come by these days, at least in the UK. That said, the introductory rules and cards are still available to download for free on the Honour Games website. The combat rules are only slightly less comprehensive than the main rules, although they lack the campaign system. But the free rules and cards are still a great starting point.
The figures were from Keith’s 15/18mm collection, mostly by Peter Pig. Buildings by Timecast and cloth by Cigar Box Battles.
We played our first game of Pickett’s Charge last Saturday evening. I bought the rules soon after their release and made up some casualty markers, but somehow didn’t get around to trying them. I think I was daunted by the four pages of charts and tables and when the chance came to play our next ACW game we went with the tried, tested and much loved Longstreet. However, a visit by Keith coinciding with Warfare 2017 at Reading provided the incentive to try out the new set. Keith and I have broken in a great many rules sets over the years and generally manage to work out what we should be doing.
The scenario was Payne’s Farm, November 1863, the most lively encounter during the Mine Run campaign. In this operation, Meade set out to turn Lee’s right flank while Lee hurriedly shifted round to his own right to stop this happening. At Payne’s Farm, Meade’s right hand Corps under French and Lee’s left hand division under ‘Allegheny’ Johnson came to blows as they both converged on the same road junction. French had superior numbers but his advantage was largely cancelled out by the close wooded terrain, his own hesitancy and by Johnson’s aggression. Only later in the battle did Federal numbers start to count and night fell before they could make a decisive difference.
I originally wrote a scenario involving Johnson’s whole command and the 2nd and 3rd divisions of French’s Corps. I’d hoped we could have a four player game but in the event, only Keith and I played so I cut the forces to the 2nd Federal division versus Steuart’s brigade of Johnson’s Division, plus a battery of Andrew’s artillery battalion.
We started the game at the point where Steuart’s rearguard Brigade, strung out along the Racoon Ford Road, faced left to confront Prince’s division as it approached down Jacob’s Ford Road. Steuart’s task was to hold up the Federals while Johnson brought back his other three brigades from further along the Racoon Ford Road.
In our game Keith’s Federals mounted a rapid assault on my Rebels. While his leading Brigade attacked along Jacob’s Ford Road, he moved his second Brigade in column around his left, using staff officers to move it double quick. I advanced my two left regiments to threaten his right. My centre held for a time but Keith’s second Brigade deployed at right angles to my line. I turned my right hand regiment to face it but it was pushed back on the centre, just as the centre itself gave way. End of game. The Confederate reinforcements would arrive on the scene to find French already advancing along Racoon Ford Road.
I really like these rules. In spite of the four pages of charts, they played smoothly and we quickly got the hang of the sequence of play. Staff officers are a great device. Frankly our game was a bit small to really benefit from them but I can see them posing some interesting choices in a bigger action. Brigade morale is handled simply and effectively. Shooting has the particularly interesting result of loss of Fire Control, representing the degeneration of firing into an ineffective firefight. Melee (or the lack of it) is especially well handled: a competitive dice roll produces a range of results, most of which involve one side giving way without actually fighting hand to hand.
How does Pickett’s Charge compare to Longstreet? Using 1” figure bases, the ground scales, unit sizes and ranges are similar. PC has more period chrome incorporated in the rules, whereas the flavour in Longstreet mostly comes out in the Action cards. A big visual difference is that casualties are not physically removed in PC. A Longstreet battlefield can look a bit empty towards the end of a game! Longstreet doesn’t have explicit morale rules whereas these are important factors at both unit and brigade levels in PC.
As I have said before, Longstreet is my favourite rules set for any period. It flows so well and provides period feel and excitement. It also produces occasional situations that historical reports are full of but players almost never permit, when units do something unexpected or unwise in the face of the enemy. I love those moments. But Longstreet has its limitations. With house rules, we were able to use it in a divisional game with four people, but it doesn’t pretend to challenge the player to think beyond the level of brigade commander. Pickett’s Charge on the other hand does this well. So I think the answer for me is that I will continue to use Longstreet for Brigade and small divisional actions and bring in Pickett’s Charge for bigger battles.
On Friday Keith and I replayed Bristoe Station, using Honour Games' Longstreet rules. The details are on the Scenarios page of this website, here. The game covers the attempt at the start of the combat by Heth's Division to cut off Warren's line of retreat. The shatter point for both armies was 24.
As Warren, Keith deployed his centre and right brigades behind the railway embankment (and so benefitting from cover), and his left hand brigade across the railroad in the woods. He supported his line with three batteries: one at Bristoe Station itself, one on the far side of Broad Run with a good field of fire across his front; and one on high ground behind his front line. As Heth, I put Cooke's stronger brigade on the left and Kirkland's brigade on the right. The front is quite restricted so I deployed Cooke's regiments in double lines.
For the first few moves I tried to close the distance quickly, having nothing to counter Keith's powerful artillery. I used up a lot of morale cards and still lost a good few bases. I also lost an entire turn as Keith shot my general (playing the 'couldn't hit an elephant' card) and rolled 6, wiping out my entire hand. On my right, Keith's brigade in the woods came looking for Kirkland, forcing me to refuse my right. I tried not to divert too many units from the main assault but as Keith reinforced his troops on my side of the railroad, more Confederate regiments got stuck into firefights with Federals.
However, I was pretty happy with Cooke's progress and approached the embankment with promising local superiority over the Yankee right. But my losses rose quickly as we came into small arms range and I was pushed over my shatter point with Cooke just a couple of inches from the railroad.
This was a great game and brought out some of the best aspects of Longstreet. The rules are really easy to remember and strip out unnecessary gloss, but the action cards bring in the flavour of the period- and of the specific stages in the war- perfectly. I came off worse partly due to the Yankee guns card, which made his artillery particularly deadly. Losing 6 Action cards and a whole turn due to my general getting shot increased the time my troops spent in the artillery killing zone.
A good test of any rules is how close a refight comes to what actually happened. Well, we couldn't have got closer to the real outcome. On the day, Heth made it to within yards of the railroad before his men were broken by weight of Union fire. At a couple of points in our game, the positions of the troops almost exactly mirrored the map of the actual battle. Very satisfying. Hats off to Keith who had not read about Bristoe Station but saw and exploited the benefits of the terrain pretty much as Warren did in real life.
I now want to rerun this scenario using Pickett's Charge, which uses the same ground and units scales. To be honest, they'll have to be pretty amazing rules to shift me from Longstreet. Friday's game reminded why Longstreet is still my favourite rule set for any period.
I have spent the last couple of weeks painting ACW casualties. I picked up a copy of Pickett's Charge from Too Fat Lardies and they have really caught my imagination. Longstreet is my favourite game for brigade actions (actually it's my favourite game full stop) but it was over its limit when we used it to play day one of Gettysburg. On to Richmond by Paul Koch is excellent for army level actions, with its brigade sized units and streamlined mechanics. But Pickett's Charge strikes me as a good set for divisional and Corps level battles. Unlike Longstreet, these rules require casualty markers, so I needed to get equipped. I bought 30 casualty dials from Warbases, which show numbers from 1 to 12, and painted up some Kallistra 12mm casualties I have had for a year or so. I stuck them on the dials and added sand, tufts and flock. I am pleased with the results. The casualties don't stand out too much but my aim is for the dials to blend in to the rest of the table, which I think they will do.
I decided against splatting ketchup everywhere. The most I'll paint on a wargame figure is a red stain on a bandage. I think this is a generational thing. Zulu is my favourite war film and I wanted my sons to share my enthusiasm. They quite enjoyed it but both thought it odd that with all the shooting and stabbing, virtually no blood was visible throughout the film. This had never occurred to me! Anyway, I prefer my casualties to be nearer the spirit of Zulu than of Saving Private Ryan.
Perhaps I should have waited to see if I enjoyed playing Pickett's Charge before making the markers. But I'm pretty confident it will go down well.
For our first game, I am looking at Bristoe Station in late 1863, the one after which Lee told Hill to bury the dead and say no more about it. I am attracted to the fog of war in this battle, when a force pursuing a retreating enemy was suddenly assailed from a new direction entirely. It is a situation that most wargame rules make very hard to pull of: usually the players can see too much and the rules allow them to do too much. I'm hoping that Pickett's Charge will provide the balance between restricting player omnipotence and still giving a satisfying game.
Meanwhile I have just finished reading Rebel Yell, the biography of Thomas 'Stonewall' Jackson by S.C .Gwynne . It is a great book, showing the contrasts in Jackson's character and bringing his campaigns vividly to life. The accounts of fighting are authoritative and clear. This isn't a biased account: Jackson's frailties are scrutinised as closely as his strengths. There is plenty of inspiration here for the wargamer. The author doesn't speculate on what would have happened had Jackson not died after Chancellorsville, but is certain that the loss to the Confederate military cause was immense.
On 24 February Matt, Ian and I played a game of Longstreet, using a scenario based on Yellow Tavern, available here. It only focuses on the first stage of the battle, when Lomax's Brigade was assaulted by Devin and two of Custer's regiments as he stood facing West along the Telegraph Road. We chose this because as the battle progressed, the Federals came to outnumber the Confederates by more than two to one. They still had the advantage in the first stage but not by so much. Also, we don't have the figures for a bigger fight. As it was, I was painting Federals late into the previous evening.
The battle began with the Federals trying a wide outflanking attack on their right, while pinning the Rebels to the front with Custer's regiments. But the main attack went too wide and lost contact with the Federal left. This allowed Matt, commanding the Rebels, to bring his only reserve regiment out to maul the Federal left before the main Union attack struck home or was able to help out. The Confederate reserve then turned about face and went back to improve the odds against the Federal right.
The result was a decisive win for the Confederates. Of course, as Federal numbers grew there would have been no option but to withdraw to join Wickham as happened on the day, but within the confines of our slice of the battle, the Federals were whipped.
This was an absorbing game and one of the smallest we have played with Longstreet. But it was every bit as challenging as others we have played and a reminder that more units don't necessarily make for a better game. Once again, the rules provided a clean, fast-moving game with plausible actions and a clear outcome. Would a more detailed rules set represent cavalry combat more faithfully? Perhaps. But as with other Sam Mustafa systems, the elegance of Longstreet is its capacity to provide period flavour and tactical choices without bogging down in chrome and spurious detail.