|The Irish Brigade attacks at the infamous 'Bloody Lane' by Mort Kunstler|
This was our first attempt at Picket's Charge (PC) and as such, a couple of explanatory notes might be useful before recounting the action.
Pickett's Charge ACW Rules
An initial read of the rules and solo run through suggested that the game is designed for each player to command a roughly division sized force. We would have four players so this might require more troops than were immediately available. However, as a first attempt, the start point for this game was the intro scenario in the rule book.
This gave each player a Brigade each to control initially with more forces arriving as time went on. The idea was that players would become familiar with the rules before adding hordes of troops.
As ever though, the umpire couldn't resist tinkering. The original scenario was modified and eventually owed more to Scenario 4, 'Bloody Lane' from Brad Butkovich's 'Brave hearts trembled.' The maps in this series are the best I've come across and the orders of battle appear very well researched. This meant we played length ways down an 8 x 5 table.
Brave Hearts Trembled Regimental Wargame Scenarios For the-Battle of Antietam
Battle of Antietam
|Map depicting the setting for the game around 'Bloody Lane'|
The other change to help the game work for four players was to the historical deployment of the initial Union Brigades. Rather than deploy each Brigade in line across the the Divison front, the two lead brigades deployed alongside each other, either side of the road to the Clipp Farm, just off table to the North. More on that at the end.
We started playing at 1130, having taken about forty-five minutes to set up and explain the basics of the rules. The scenario started at 0900, slightly earlier (1 game turn) than the book suggests. However, the initial Union Brigades started closer to the table edge, effectively giving us a turn to learn the play sequence before making contact.
On the Union right, 2nd Bde, 3rd Div led by Col Morris immediately became hesitant, eyeing the deep scary cornfields in front of them nervously. In the centre Brigadier Weber’s 3rd Bde stepped off sharply towards the Bloody Lane.
As they crested the rise, they came under fire from two Confederate batteries deployed on the rising ground behind the Bloody Lane. This fire caused some casualties and some green regiments became unformed crossing the snake fences.
Meantime, an off table battery of 20lb Parrots engaged the right of the Rebel line in the sunken lane. Whilst being at extreme range, they did inflict a few casualties and caused some nuisance.
Around 0915, Morris Brigade finally moved into the cornfield, crested the rise and approached the sunken lane down the forward slope. In doing so, although invisible to the Rebs in the lane, Boyce's battery were able to see them. For now though, the battery continued to engage Weber in the centre.
Weber's Brigade made good progress towards the lane. As they came down the forward slope they were engaged by Anderson's Brigade in the lane. This fire over thirty minutes (2 turns) crippled the leading regiment, which dispersed. The brigade faltered in the open under sustained fire. Another thirty minutes and the brigade was effectively finished for the day.
At 0930, Kimball's first Brigade entered as the last brigade of the 3rd Division. This brigade followed up Weber's, however these regiments deployed in skirmish order. This made a significant difference to the casualties sustained, kept them in the fight and allowed them to start doing some damage to the Rebs. Concurrently the Division's only artillery battery deployed and opened fire on the Rebel batteries.
At about the same time, Morris's Brigade emerged from the cornfield right on top of Rodes' Brigade in the lane. Unfortunately, the Rebs were ready for them and one good volley sent the whole Brigade packing, back over the rise they'd just clambered over.
At this point, the Rebs appeared to be sitting pretty. Two Union brigades had both been repulsed with a third stuck in a losing fire-fight in front of the lane.
Help was at hand. First, Morris rallied his brigade in dead ground and began a second advance on the lane. At the same time, the lead brigades of the 1st Division began to arrive. First in was Meagher's Irish Brigade. This brigade followed up Kimball. Behind Meagher came Caldwell on the right behind Morris.
Perhaps more importantly, a dismounted cavalry squadron entered on the extreme left of the Union line, in a position to enfilade Anderson's Brigade in the lane. After fifteen minutes, they'd caused enough discomfit to prompt the right hand Rebel regiment to leave the lane and charge the cavalry. Deployed in skirmish order, the cavalry had to evade.
At the same time, the centre regiment of Anderson's Brigade charged Kimball's skirmishers to their front, partly to protect the flank of the those taking on the cavalry. These two charges on the right cleared away the skirmishers but then left the rebels exposed to the advancing regiments of the Irish Brigade.
At 1130, Colquitt's Brigade of Hill's Division could be seen moving up the road from Sharpsburg towards the sunken (Bloody) lane. The question was whether they could arrive in time to stabilise the Rebel line.
By 1200, after three hours of combat, two Union brigades were 'chewed up,' but now both lead Confederate brigades were feeling the pressure. Boyce's battery had been forced to withdraw by counter battery fire. Anderson's Brigade on the Rebel right was exposed and on the left, two Union brigades were poised to charge Rodes' Brigade.
At 1215, Morris made a second charge out of the cornfield on the right. Morris made good use of his supports. The same could not be said of Rodes, whose supports appear to have fired on their own troops. Rodes' Brigade was badly beaten, the lead regiment routed and the supports whipped. They retreated over the rise to the Piper Farm orchard. Morris took the ground and occupied the lane.
On the Union right, the remains of Kimball's Brigade along with Meagher's Irish, inflicted more casualties on the centre regiment of Anderson's Brigade, causing them to disperse. The whole brigade faltered.
At this point, approximately 1245, General D H Hill decided his Division had done what it could for the day. He had one uncommitted brigade, but the two lead brigades were in a bad way. The Bloody Lane was untenable so the decision was made to fall back to the area of the Piper Farm.
On the Union side, the 3rd Division wasn't in a state to do much more. The 1st Division was still reasonably intact and had time permitted, could have made a fair fight for the Piper Farm. However, Lee and Longstreet still had troops to feed in to the fight so the outcome was by no means certain.
The scenario played out to a historical outcome. We arrived at it by a slightly different route, partly because as umpire (I) allowed the Union commanders to use reinforcing brigades where they chose. Nevertheless, the Rebs inflicted serious losses on the leading Union Division as they did historically. On the Confederate right the decisive moment was probably Anderson charging out of the breastworks, leaving regiments exposed in the open.
On the Confederate left, Union right, it was Morris's ability to rally his brigade and make a second attack about the same time as Caldwell arrived.
The rules worked very well, for a first outing. None of the five of us had any major 'tooth sucking' moments. As the umpire, I could leave most of the gaming to the players within three turns, just needing to coordinate the two sides of the table.
Personally I really liked the way it all worked, the game had ups and downs for each side. In about five and a half hours we played sixteen turns and used nearly all the rules. Artillery fire, counter battery, musketry, skirmishers all came into play. I thought the charge and melee mechanics were particularly good, something which breaks a lot of rules in my opinion (which is worth exactly what you paid for it). With half a dozen charges, we only had one melee and one pursuit, both of which were decisive.
Perhaps the best part of the rules though, is the command system and the use of Staff Officers. Much simpler to use than almost any other attempt I can think of to create command friction but creates lots of decision points for the players.
Our experience should be seen in the light of a first attempt, with smaller troop numbers per player than perhaps intended by the author. Nevertheless I get the impression everyone walked away happy to give the rules another go. For my part, I think these are now my ACW rules of choice.
We made a couple of mistakes, entirely my fault as the umpire. First, we should have diced for Staff Officer availability before posting them. There were a couple of occasions when one of two officers failed to appear, thus wasting an extra officer. Second, we missed the need to spend a movement phase reforming unformed regiments. This probably had a greater effect in favour of the Union, whilst the Staff Officer mistake probably favoured the Rebs.