Sunday, 13 December 2015

Battle of Chancellorsville, Fredericksburg and Salem Church May 4th-6th 1863 - Regimental Fire & Fury

This month saw our traditional end of year big game at the Devon Wargames Group where all members present take part in a single game. The club wheeled out its large collection of 28mm American Civil War figures with three members fielding their collections on the table amounting to just over two-thousand figures.

The scenario selected modelled the fighting towards the end of the Battle of Chancellorsville just outside Fredericksburg in May of 1863 as General Lee moved his Confederate forces to attack and destroy General Sedgwick's VI Union Corps astride Marye's Heights. Our battle was constructed around twelve generic Confederate brigades and eight Union brigades each of three, eight base regiments with an attached two gun battery (Confederate) or three gun battery (Union). All troops for convenience were classed as Trained, all guns were treated as "light rifled". Each Division had an eight base cavalry regiment attached.

The Confederate Army of North Virginia was:
McLaw's Division with Wofford's, Kershaw's, Semmes' and Barkdale's brigades.
Anderson's Division with Wilcock's Mahone's, Wright's, Posey's and Perry's brigades
Early's Division with Gordon's, Hoke's and Hays' brigades

The Union VI Corps was:
1st Division (Brooks) with Brown's, Barret's and Russel's brigades
2nd Division (Howe) with Grant's and Neil's brigades
3rd Division (Newton) with Shaler's, Browne's and Wheaton's brigades

The rules used for the game were Regimental Fire & Fury which always give a fun game with, some might say, the occasional extreme swing of fortune, but are easily picked up and allow a large game like this to played fairly seamlessly. As you can see, we adopted a generic approach to the scenario that allowed the rules to perform even better with minimal complexity, with the simple mechanism of standardising all regiments at eight stands making the process of identifying "Fresh", "Worn" and "Spent" troops a quick process for noting the condition of the various units.

The picture below shows the parameters of our battlefield, with the Union escape route off table, centre top. The blue lines mark the set up positions of the various Union divisions with a corresponding Confederate force set to enter the table from the three approach directions.

The scenario was a straightforward withdrawal in the face of the enemy whilst holding ground to enable that withdrawal to happen - perhaps never straightforward!

Table set up with the troop dispositions indicated
As your roving reporter I took on the role of commanding two of General Early's brigades, ably supported by Nathan taking the other brigade of infantry and the attached divisional cavalry. Our Union opponents for the day were the two Steve's, Steve M and Steve H, commanding the brigades of Howe's 2nd Division.

Playing in a game of this size whilst stopping occasionally to do circuits of the table, snatching conversation with commanders on other parts of the battlefield and catching pictures of the action makes reporting on a game like this an interesting exercise in memory management. It makes you appreciate the job of the senior commander in any sizeable action of the period having to write a report home to his political masters attempting to do the same thing, pretty much, only on a much larger and even more complicated scale with often greater consequences for not capturing the essential details.

So what I propose is to give an over view of the day's game coupled with examples of the battle as seen by this general officer in the Confederate ranks (note the implied bias)

Players arrive and are briefed by Chas our "Gamemeister" for the day. Plenty of festive snacks are available on the table far right
The briefing over, time for the opposing sides to decide their tactics for the day
The Union Command team, otherwise known as that famous boy band, "The Three Steves"
The first Union defenders are placed on table by Jack and Charlie, as Brooks' division sets up on the road to Scott's Ford
With the briefing concluded the Union team was invited to set up it troop dispositions, followed by the advance on to table by the lead Confederate brigades.

Nathan and myself were commanding General Early's division attacking the Union left flank, and our plan was simple; drive the blue bellies from the field, capture and hold the road to Scott's Ford and let the the other chaps round up the prisoners. I like a simple plan, it makes it so much easier to explain it to the men.

With General Howe's Union Division set up and a skirmish line pushed forward, General Gordon leads forward his Confederate brigade, two up one back with his guns in support
 I therefore boldly lead on General Gordon's brigade and awarded my command figure his special attribute ticket that announced, when the time was right, that my character was known as a "Flamboyant" Southern Gentleman, well turned out in a magnificent uniform and feathered hat, which made me a rather obvious target in the heat of battle and gained me a +1 on the "Fallen Leader" table, but given the inspirational impact I had on the men also implied a +1 to any "Manoeuvre" Test my chaps were required to take.

These attributes allowed my General Gordon to pull off some nifty marches across the table resulting in some well timed charges but inevitably lead to my character taking a light flesh wound from some ill-directed Federal musketry. All the players had selected other such chits before play and added that little spicy piquant to our game during the day. A piquant that matched the Madras spicy peanuts that accompanied the early play.

Red Butler and Scarlet O'hara look on from the Union line
The battle on Early's flank began with some initial exchanges of musketry between the opposing forward infantry groups with honours fairly even, but my artillery boys came up trumps early on with a bit of cool gunnery that knocked out one Union piece, disabled another and severely reduced their fire as my infantry advanced with great dash across the open ground.

General Gordon raises the "Rebel Yell" as his brigade advances into the battle 
On reflection I think our infantry had slightly less ground to cover than did our comrades in arms on the other fronts which enabled our men to close with the enemy before any of the other Confederate divisions.

Howe's skirmish line prepares to confront Early's advance
That said the Union gunners managed to return the earlier compliment paid them by my gunners by rolling a ten and firing at full effect with their remaining pieces in their next fire phase, but thus putting them out of ammunition that allowed my infantry a little more breathing space amid the open ground between our respective lines.

It was then revealed that Steve M, my Union opponent for the day had the option as his special attribute to make the occasional re-roll of firing and combat die rolls. In the end he decided to stick with the damage inflicted on my ranks and hastily summoned an ammo wagon to replenish his stocks. He was less fortunate later in the day when cancelling a well hit shot with another ammo busting ten die roll, re-rolled a two!!

Grant's and Neil's Union brigades hold the front line as Early's Confederates start the advance
As I set off on my first patrol around the other battle fronts I could see that, like us, the Confederate forces were taking casualties in their early advances but closing on the Federal lines never the less.

Brown and Barret's brigades line up astride the main road to Scott's Ford
With the Union guns in some disarray on our front, Gordon's men scrambled over the picket fence, adding their musketry to the artillery fire now brought to bear on the open order Union infantry closest to our intended advance. The gunners kept up their well aimed fire and its heat soon had the Union regiment falling back on its supports as out infantry drew ever nearer.

Grant's brigade look on as Gordon's rebs move up to the first fence line - steady lads!
Howe's cavalry are held in reserve ready to plug any gaps, and snatch the odd pig given any opportunity
The other Union line is Newton's Division held by the men of Saler, Browne's and Wheaton's brigades
My word, now that is a big gun!
The forward elements of Brown's and Barret's brigades, supported by Brook's divisional cavalry and brigade artillery
The wagon behind Newton's line is the ammunition wagon, not just for show but often needed to replenish units that fired off their last shots in desperate attempts to stop the attacks.
The rear area of the Union lines consisted of reserves and units preparing to leave
Newton's Division en mass with the divisional cavalry nearest to camera
The view south towards General Brooks line, with Newton's reserves closest to camera
As Gordon's brigade advances on the right General Early masses his guns and sends in his third (Hays') brigade, as the Union skirmish line is driven in
The first infantry clash was when the open order Union infantry held its ground for one move to long and was caught by my able commander's +1 manoeuvre ability raising the 7 rolled to 8 enabling a double quick rate and contact.

Two regiments slammed into the Union open order line using cold steel to add emphasis to the attack. Amazingly the Federal troops won the first contact and my men recoiled three inches in surprise.

The front units of Gordon's brigade suffer the first casualties from the Union lines, as the Confederate guns help drive off the Federal skirmish line
Not to be undone a second time the next attack had the opposite result, driving the Union line back to just in front of the Union held picket fence, as General Hoke moved his men up quick time in field columns before deploying into line close behind Gordon's men.

Grant's brigade hold their ground as the first units of Gordon's brigade contact their skirmish line and close with the bayonet.
Hoke's brigade can be seen following up top left.
The bayonet fight as Gordon's men close on the Union open order line using "cold steel"
Anderson deploys en mass as he moves on Brooks' Union line
The view of the Union line as Anderson gives the order for Wilcocks' brigade to advance
On the left flank of Early's attack Hay's brigade was caught up in some hot bayonet work as both sides struggled to gain the upper hand. A gap in the Union line allowed the Confederate cavalry to attack the gun battery supporting the Federal infantry and the gunners were clearly unsettled at being attacked with pistols and shotguns at close range.

General Early, closest to camera oversees his left as Hays' brigade closes with the Union line supported by the divisional cavalry. Scarlet O'hara watches in amazement and Red turns away proclaiming that frankly he doesn't give a damn!
The remnants of two regiments in Gordon's brigade keep up a ragged fusillade as Hoke's brigade move up to maintain the momentum and drive in on Grant's Union troops holding the fence line ahead
An overview of the battle as the pressure builds on the Union left, top left whilst the other two lines top right and nearest camera have not yet come to grips.
Overview of Early's attack as Hay's brigade can be seen pressing hard top left and with Hoke's men, nearest camera about to hit the fence line to their front.
Hoke's brigade accompanied by Gordon's reserve regiment sweep the Union guns off the fence line as other units in the brigade hit the forward skirmish line as it attempts to close on the fence ahead.
With the two brigades of Hoke and Gordon up on the Union fence line, the struggle reached a higher intensity as Gordon's reserve regiment cleared the Union gun line and carried the position. Their left flank turned and the infantry occupying the wooden shack to their right succumbing to the attentions of the massed fire of the Confederate guns, the Union regiment in the centre fought like tigers managing to draw their struggle with the two shot up regiments from Gordon's brigade in the first combat and narrowly winning by one point the second fight to hold their position.

The Reb attack looks irresistible especially with a bit of atmospheric gun smoke provided by Nick "vaping" over the figures as the camera timer clicked. No effort spared to entertain at the DWG
The writing was well and truly on the wall for Grant's brigade or rather what was left of it and deciding on discretion over valour made their escape back to the next fence line and the last before the Scott's Ford road.

The decision was taken to draw the Confederate attack closer together to enable better support to both wings and thus a rather unique event occurred that in all my years of wargaming and playing the odd ACW game I can't remember seeing, namely a successful charge in the saddle by cavalry.

Meanwhile Anderson's Division push in the forward elements of Brook's Division
Breakthrough! The lead battalion of Gordon's brigade follows up its victory over the Union guns by moving into the woods beyond as Hoke's brigade smash into the rest of Grant's line on the fence just as General Early arrives to oversee the attack of his right wing.
With Union resistance collapsing in front of Early's division, the cavalry move forward looking to exploit any gaps and opening up with pistol and shotguns on a nearby Federal gun battery.
Mr Steve can be seen performing some sort of shuffling movement, not strictly covered in the rules, as the first Confederate attacks hit his Union troops on and around the fence nearest to camera.
Anderson's Confederates close on the Southern Union line as the pressure starts to build
The picture below caught the action just at the critical moment as Steve M can be seen measuring out his planned withdrawal back to his next stop line as the Confederate infantry can be seen taking the position on the fence line prior to the decision to bring Holk and Gordon's troops closer to the centre road via the cover of the wood to their front loosely held by a regiment of Union infantry and dismounted cavalry sniping from the edge of the tree line at Hay's advancing brigade.

As Hoke's Brigade clear the fence of Union troops(centre right) that tape measure being used by Steve M. indicates him working out if he can get Grant's remaining regiments out of the way
Again the Confederate troops managed to manoeuvre with elan as the lead unit from Gordon's brigade charged into the back of the dismounted cavalry closely supported by the nearest fresh regiment from Hoke's brigade, whilst another regiment pinned the Union infantry to its front by advancing on it.

At the same time Early's divisional cavalry slammed into their dismounted enemy who were broken and swept from the position. In the subsequent breakthrough charge, they then slammed into the flank of the Union infantry behind sweeping them away also.

As if to rub salt in the wound, the Union troops in reserve attempted to fire on the victorious Confederate masses on the edge of the tree line but due to another well timed special attribute were persuaded not to when the Confederate commander revealed himself as the gentleman who had saved the Union brigade commander from a very embarrassing incident during their time at West Point.

Now here is something you don't see often in American Civil War games - a successful mounted cavalry charge
A hard battle as the Union division under Newton puts up stiff resistance to the advance of McLaws division
The close proximity of Early's division to the Union escape route seemed to inspire even greater resistance from Union troops as Hay's brigade was subjected to an all out counter-attack by Neil's brigade. This assault forced the Confederates back from the fence line they had fought hard to occupy.

The rear area of the Union position as the battle grows in intensity. Civilians gather all their prized possessions, like the odd cannon on their roofs? Well it is the former colonies! Only joking, it is Xmas 
On both the other fronts progress was slow and difficult and although Sedgewick's Corps was battered and had given ground it was decided that they would be able to pull out over night and so honours were even. Just as it should be.

Brooks' Union troops fall back behind the stream as Anderson's advance becomes irresistible
Confederate cavalry victorious in routing two Union regiments are cheered on by Gordon's regiment as the Union line drops back.
The club line up; Front seated left to right Ian, Chas, Steve L,
Centre standing JJ, Jack, Charlie, Nathan, Steve H and Mr Steve. Back standing Steve M and Andy
As always, the end of year game was great fun with lots of banter and played in a great spirit and a round of applause was given to Chas for pulling the whole thing together and herding the cats that make up our club membership. There were some significant absences from this year's line up and they were missed, so I hope this report makes fun reading.

Highlight of the day was surprisingly not the Confederate cavalry charge, but the discovery that Mr Steve does bake exceedingly good cakes as he turned up with a prize winning coffee sponge that went down very well with a mug of tea in the afternoon.

So that is it for another year at the Devon Wargames Group. We all wish everyone a very happy Xmas and lets pray, a more peaceful New Year and we will be back in January with a play-test game of Dr Phil Hendry's Ancient rule set "Augustus to Aurelian", "Chain of Command", Battle of Mirbat 19th July 1972 and "Black Powder" AWI.


Saturday, 28 November 2015

Dux Britanniarum - Big Game Warm Up

The club project for the next twelve months is for members to contribute a collection figures for an end of year dark ages clash.

The anticipated rule set to be used is Dux Britanniarum and a few of the chaps got together this month to test our the rules with  a view to using them for a big game.

I managed to grab a few pictures of  some of the figure collections already assembled, going at it in the play-test.