Saturday, 18 April 2015

Blast from the Past - Devon Wargames Show, 1992-93

Some of our younger club members can't remember 1992, neither can some of our older members for that matter.

This year with another Exeter Legionary Show looming next month, I thought it might be fun to show the origins of our local show and its very first incarnation back in 1992, when JJ still had hair and was known to like a beer or three.

In 1992, there was no Internet and the only way to get any advertising was to get the local press to come out and write daft stuff that might attract local people to see what our hobby was all about.

The Leader from 1993
So the next time anyone asks when the Exeter Wargames show got going, you can now say with some assurance that it was in August 1992 at the Clyst Vale Community Centre, Broadclyst, hosted by the Exeter & East Devon Wargames Group that became the Devon Wargames Group when the tanks rolled into Barnstaple and we annexed Chas, Clive and Nick in the North Devon anschluss.

Sunday, 12 April 2015

Shepherdstown, Virginia 1862 - Fire & Fury Regimental

"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.

The Confederate battle plan, with General Hill's Light Division drawn up in its two lines preparing to advance on the Union forces. The Cement Mill circled was the objective for the battle. The large Pennsylvania Corn Exchange Regiment can be seen posted in the centre with the US 17th Regiment forward covering the road and fence line
Thus the scene is set for our classic bridge head battle set during the early years of the American Civil War.

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
With no artillery support and some weak, battered, but very effective veteran and crack infantry, the Confederates have little choice other than to run the gauntlet of the Union guns and close with the bayonet as quickly as possible.

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
Not only did the terrain have its effects, but the stubborn resistance put up by the US 17th Regiment caused two of my charges to bounce off their open order line, which was a bit of a surprise, but that is what comes from rolling poor dice in the combat. Oh well better to get it out the way early, things picked up significantly after that.

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
On the Union right, General Pender's brigade made rapid progress and were on the two New York Regiments before they knew what the time was. Despite the attention of the Federal artillery the Confederate regiments drove the Union troops back to the banks of the Potomac and with no where to run, they surrendered en mass.

As Pender's men consolidate, the Confederate first line charges into the Union line
In the centre, the 118th Pennsylvania (I can see why the Americans shorten their states names to two letters) were hit on both flanks, front and centre by four small but very good Confederate regiments supported by a couple more behind. They broke and fled back across the ford, forcing the Union to commit a regiment of breech loading sharpshooters into the Cement Mill as the "do or die, last man last bullet" force.

A bitter fight developed in front of the Cement Mill
The fight in the centre rolled forward with the flight of the Corn Exchange Regiment and the second line of Union troops were locked into a battle of attrition as their right flank was turned at the gully and with a second line of Confederates crossing the fields starting to close on the fight.

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
On the Union left, the second part of the Confederate plan started to kick in as General Gregg led General Thomas' brigade up the steep bluff against Warren and Lovell's Union brigades, overseen by General Sykes.

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
With the forward line of veteran Confederate regiments stating to take casualties in the too and fro fighting in the centre, the second line of Confederate troops moved through the ranks to take up the fight, with Archer leading Turner's brigade (Archer on the map) forward and Brockenbrough's men moving through Edwards' (Gregg on the map). Leaving General Lane's troops clearing the fields and acting as the final Confederate reserve.

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
The game was in the final moves as Union General Lovell led his men down from the heights on the Union left and poured on a mass of musketry all but destroying the flank regiment of General Edwards' brigade.

General Sykes pulls Lovell's brigade off the bluff to attack the Confederate right flank
With the Federal position around the Cement Mill becoming more precarious with each turn, the attack by Lovell's brigade was a major threat and had to be countered immediately.

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!

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