|"Berdan's" Sharpshooters covering the retreat of the Corn Exchange Regiment by Tim Kurtz|
Following the bloody battle of Antietam, both battered Union and Confederate armies drew breath and held their respective positions the next day, near Sharpsburg and the Antietam Creek in Maryland.
General Lee, after discussions with his senior officers, had decided to withdraw the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia by crossing the Potomac River at Boteler's Ford, as the Shepherdtown bridge had been destroyed earlier in the war.
As the Confederate army conducted its withdrawal over the Potomac, General Pendleton posted the reserve artillery on the Virginia side of the river to cover these movements. On the 19th of September 1862 the Union Army of the Potomac closed on the crossing point with the arrival of V Corps under General Fitz John Porter whose initial probes were driven back by the Confederate artillery. Shortly before dusk, Union General Charles Griffin led a small force of 500 infantry and sharpshooters across the ford, scaled the heights and captured four or five artillery pieces, before being recalled.
|Map borrowed from the Civil War Trust site that is worth a thousand words in |
understanding the relative positions of the forces involved - see link below
On the morning of the 20th September Union General George Sykes led two of his Northern brigades over the fords and moved up on to the heights forming a line centred on the Cement Mill. In the centre of the Union line the 118th Pennsylvania or "Corn Exchange Regiment" with 737 green recruits carrying wet defective ammunition advanced and took position in the open terrain. Further forward the US regular 17th Regiment formed an open order screen covering the road leading to the ford. The Union artillery, that was to have a telling effect during the upcoming battle, was massed on the heights on the Maryland side of the river, able to fire, in support, over the heads of the Union troops.
General Pendleton reported to Lee that Union troops were now on the Virginia side of the river and that he had lost part of his artillery. General Jackson ordered his rear guard, General Hill's 2000 strong "Light Division" to about turn and march the five miles back to the ford and drive the Union troops back over the river.
As the commander of the Confederates in this game and knowing nothing of the history or the battle before playing it, I was pleased to see my overall battle plan broadly follow the original devised by General Hill. I decided to put the weight of my attack on the Union right and centre around the Cement Mill which was the objective, detaching a single brigade to pin, for as long as possible, the Union left flank, thus hopefully crushing the Union right and centre before their other forces could come to their support.
|Union positions lining the Potomac River with their massed artillery on the heights on the far side of the river|
In the end this proved relatively straight forward, with both flank forces covering the open ground in two moves to close with the Union line. However the centre proved to be more of a challenge and the corn and wheat fields interspersed with rail fences degraded my troops movements and caused them to linger under the fire of the Union guns longer than I would have chosen.
|The two lines close as the Confederates brave the Union artillery fire|
With my forward line of infantry arriving pretty much together, the US 17th decided discretion was the better part of valour and retired behind the poor old 118th Pennsylvania boys, and boy did these chaps live up to their billing, all though the size of the regiment demanded the respect of giving them the attention of several of my crack rated Confederate regiments.
|Pender's troops deal with the 25th and 13th New York Regiments and move into the gully on the Union right|
|As Pender's men consolidate, the Confederate first line charges into the Union line|
|A bitter fight developed in front of the Cement Mill|
|As the first line was engaged General Archer was busy getting the second line up in the face of difficult terrain and heavy Union artillery fire|
With a blood curdling yell, the grey line swept over the summit and smashed into the blue line driving it back but not breaking it.
Looking like the two forces would hold each others attention for a while yet, Lovell's brigade detached itself in a determined attempt to come to the aide of the hard pressed defenders around the Cement Mill.
|General Brockenbrough's brigade was detailed to pin Lovell's and Warren's brigades on the Union left|
|The Confederate second line starts to arrive as the Union troops are forced back to the Cement Mill|
|The tide of Confederate troops mass towards the Union forces desperately trying to hold the Cement Mill and protect the ford|
|General Sykes pulls Lovell's brigade off the bluff to attack the Confederate right flank|
Step forward General Lane, who giving a rip roaring plea to avenge all the wrongs committed by the blue bellies too date, pointed his sabre at the flank of the union brigade and personally led the first three of his five crack regiments in with the bayonet.
|To counter the attack from Lovell, General Lane leads his Confederate brigade and attacks Lovell's flank|
And then it was time to go home. With five turns played and the battle at its deciding point we stopped. On balance it looked like a Confederate win, with all but a couple of regiments still "Fresh" status and now given their proximity to the Union infantry, mostly away from the loving attention of all that Union artillery. With Lovell's counterattack met by the charge from Lane's troops, both sides had committed their reserves and the casualty count certainly favoured the Confederate cause.
On putting this AAR together I noticed a report from a Confederate commentator describing the fire from the Union guns as "a terrible storm", and after yesterday's game I can appreciate what he meant.
During the approach to contact and during the fighting on the lines, those guns kept picking away some very weak Confederate regiments that meant that every base removed really hurt. Without the support of the artillery, the Union infantry musketry was relatively feeble and their guns certainly kept them in the game.
Thanks to Steve H for setting up this interesting scenario and bringing along his figures and terrain. As a confirmed Napoleonic man I must say I quite enjoyed this little "Napoleonics on steroids" clash. The Fire & Fury Regiment level rules were good fun and like the original divisional level set easy to use and follow giving what feels like a good simulation.
For more information on the battle I have added the links I referred to