Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Chancellorsville May 3, 1863

A couple of weekends back my friends and I finally managed to get in the second game of what is turning into a Black Powder Chancellorsville campaign.  More than a year ago (actually nearly 2 years ago) we played the first battle which represented Jackson's flank attack against the Union XI corps on May 2, 1863.  This first game was a huge success and we were all sure we would get this back on the table quickly.  Well, that was not to be.  A few months ago we decided to get serious about putting on another game so we got to work to make it happen.

The Scenario

My vision for this was to continue with the Chancellorsville theme and this time tackle the May 3rd attack by A.P. Hill's division against the 1st Division, XII corps astride the Orange Turnpike.  The Union forces for this battle where better led and better prepared than XI corps had been the day before.

The objective for the Confederates was to breakthrough the Union defenses and capture the point where the Orange Turnpike exited the table.  This would be a long haul for the Confederates and success would hinge on a timely breakthrough.

The Union objectives are to hold as long as possible to allow the rest of the army (not modeled in this game) to withdraw and not be cutoff by the advancing rebels.  In game terms this was determined by preventing a Confederate victory within 10 turns.

Each game turn represents 30 minutes of battle.  With a 10 turn limit the Confederate have 5 hours to complete their breakthrough.

Long view of the table from behind the Union line.

The Rules

For this game we would be using selected special rules from the new Glory, Hallelujah! supplement from Warlord Games.  The conventions we used are as follows:

1. Charges - Charges into HtH must be a specific order to an individual unit.  The charge must happen within a single move distance (12").  No initiative charges are allowed nor brigade order charges.

2. Pass through - We used the unit pass through rules from the GH book to limit the ease of passing through lines.

3. Formations - We only allowed infantry units to be in Line, March Column or Attack Column.  Attack Column does not confer any combat or morale save bonuses.

For this game all woods and trees are for decorative purposes only.  In future games we will be looking at the enhanced rules from GH.

Confederate regiments in the deployment zone.

The Armies

The Confederate force is A.P. Hill's Light Division Commanded by Henry Heth.  The division was actually very large, between 5-6 brigades (the histories I referenced a little vague on the exact composition of the division for the battle,  Most map references indicate 5 brigades but the OOB is 6 with an artillery battalion.).  For this battle we went with 6 brigades split among 4 players.  The Confederate forces were as follows:

A.P. Hill's Division (Commanded by Heth)

Heth's Brigade (Commanded by John M Brokenbrough)
40th Virginia
47th Virginia
55th Virginia

Lane's Brigade (Commanded by James H, Lane)
7th North Carolina
18th North Carolina
28th North Carolina
33rd North Carolina
37th North Carolina

Archer's Brigade (Commanded by James J. Archer)
13th Alabama
1st Tennessee
7th Tennessee
14th Tennessee

Thomas' Brigade (Commanded by Edward L. Thomas)
14th Georgia
35th Georgia
45th Georgia
49th Georgia

McGowan's Brigade (Commanded by Samuel McGowan)
1st South Carolina
1st South Carolina Rifles
12th South Carolina
13th South Carolina
14th South Carolina

Pender's Brigade (Commanded by William D. Pender)
13th North Carolina
16th North Carolina
22nd North Carolina
34th North Carolina
38th North Carolina

Walker's Artillery Battalion
Brunson's Battery
Crenshaw's Battery
Davidson's Battery
McGraw's Battery
Marye's Battery

The artillery was divided up among the brigades leaving one brigade with no battery attached.

A view down the line of the Confederate deployment.

The Union force was considerably smaller but they held the advantage of prepared positions.  The 1st Division, XII Corps (William's Division) would be the adversary in the battle.  Their force consisted of the following units:

1st Division, XII Corps (Commanded by Alpheus Williams)

1st Brigade (Commanded by Joseph F. Knipe)
5th Connecticut
28th New York
46th Pennsylvania
128th Pennsylvania
1st New York Light, Battery K

2nd Brigade (Commanded by Samuel Ross)
20th Connecticut
3rd Maryland
123rd New York
145th New York
1st New York Light, Battery M

3rd Brigade (Commanded by Thomas H, Ruger)
27th Indiana
2nd Massachusetts
13th New Jersey
107th New York
3rd Wisconsin
4th United States, Battery F

All unit quality and special rules, as well as the commander ratings for both sides were determined randomly using some hand charts my friend tom provided.  We have used this random quality for our plast several games and they produce some very interesting units.  In this case the best unit on the field for the Confederates in the actual battle was Pender's Brigade and when I rolled up this unit using our random charts it was by far the best unit.

Union troops defending the works.  Reserve regiments in the upper right.

The Table

This game was played on a 12'x8' table which is the largest table we have used to date.  It did pose some challenges but it was really the right size for the battle (I think the Confederate players would have loved to cut off one or two feet from the length).  The Orange Turnpike rand diagonally across the table.  The Union works ran roughly perpendicular to the road on the other diagonal.  Other than some decorative items the only real terrain on the table is the line of Union defenses.

View of the Union center/left with reserve regiments in the background.

Union troops holding the line.

The surgeon has a lot of work to do.
The Battle

The battles begins at 5:30am (game time).  The Confederates are packed into their deployment zone and fill the line of more than 8' of troops.  The plan is to send troops to attack the Union left and right in order to pin the flanks in  place and then to hit the Union center with overwhelming force.  The plan is sound there are some major challenges that will need to be overcome if it is to work.  The Confederate left wing brigade will need to cross more than 6' of table to make contact with the Union right but the Confederate left has only 2' before contact.  This difference in distance could complicate the plan.

In what turned out to be a fortunate turn of events the Confederate center was extremely slow in launching their attack.  History might say this was all just part of the plan but the reality was that the center brigades were just not motivated to get into the fight.  This slowness did allow for both wings of the Confederate army to make contact with the Union works but they were too far away to really benefit from their heroic actions.  Both Confederate flank actions would be repulsed with huge losses. Pender's Brigade, the best in the Confederate force, made their charge and were pushed back, the brigade broken.  But these sturdy troops would rally only to be battered by Union fire.  Again they would rally.  In the end these fine troops were squandered in a futile attack.

Pender's Brigade charges in!

Lack of coordination between the Confederate brigades slows the attach costing precious time.

After misunderstanding an order a Union regiment leaves the works and charges the enemy.

Union reserves are brought up in support of the center of the line.
After an hour and a half, 7am, McGowan's Brigade would finally make their advance and they moved swiftly.  This rapid and aggressive movement seemed to inspire the rest of the Confederate center to launch the main assault.  The full weight of McGowan's Brigade would strike home not on the Union center but closer to the left where they managed to get 3 regiments in a single assault against a single regiment of Union troops.  This fight would last nearly an hour but they succeeded in breaking the Union troops.  McGowan's Brigade pored through the gap followed closely by troops from Heth's Brigade.
McGowan's Brigade breakthrough but they take a brutal beating and the impetus of the attack is lost.
The Union reserve troops, including some untested raw recruits, were re-positioned to block the advance rebels and pored a murderous fire into them.  This fire proved to be too much for McGowan's Brigade and they broke.

Union reserves have been committed to the center but the breakthrough comes to the Union left.  The quickly shift to stop the Confederate advance.
It was at this point with only one hour left (2 turns game time) to meet the timetable for the attack the Confederates conceded the battle.  The loss of the breakthrough brigade and the lack of supporting units in the breach meant that they could not achieve their objective in time.  Union pulled of a victory by the skin of their teeth.

Final Thoughts

This game was a blast and my be the best game we have played.  We had real concerns about the field works and how to rate them.  For our test game we used a +2 morale save modifier.  This made the Union unkillable.  I thought that dropping this to +1 would make it too easy to make the breakthrough.  Since there is nothing between +1 and +2 I was at a loss.  In the end we decided to randomly determine the morale save for the works and the Union lucked out and got the +2.  Had this roll gone the other way I do not think the Union would have been able to hold on.

I was not real sure about the Glory Hallelujah special rules at first.  This game was our first real use of them and I think the ones we used actually worked great.  Much better, in fact, than I was expecting.  The only one we did not use was the Rebel Yell which seems over the top to me.  I am sure we will try it at some point.

Our next game will take place sometime later this year.  Probably in September or October.  I am planning to run the Salem Church battle from the GH book.  I think we will need more Union troops for this game so expect to see some painting progress this summer.

5 comments:

Tom O said...

Looks like a great game. Glad you all had fun. Hope I can be there next time.

Robert Brightwell said...

Thanks Tom! We missed you and I do hope you can make it for the next one. It was a blast!

Charles Martel said...

Sure was a blast, poor Dave was getting it from everyone.

Merle Delinger said...

Very nice write up Rob. The pictures are awesome and the game was a blast to play in! Thank you so much for allowing me to be a part of it.

Robert Brightwell said...

Thanks everyone for the comments. Merle it was great having you to play! We will have to get you out again for one of our big games.