The holidays offered opportunity to finally get the observation balloon I’ve built a couple of weeks ago on the table! Historically, there never was any real fighting for a balloon during the American Civil War. There were, however, some pretty close calls. Confederates regularly tried to shoot down Union observation balloons and one time, a Rebel scouting party stumbled upon the balloon train but retreated because they thought it would be guarded by a large force (which it wasn’t). In July 1861, Union balloonist Thaddeus Lowe by accident landed in Confederate territory. Volunteers from the 31st New York scouted to find out where he was. Lowe’s wife Leontine then disguised herself as a farm woman and took a horse and wagon deep into enemy territory, where she collected the balloonist and his crashed vessel. Such is, of course, the stuff Sharp Practice scenarios are made off!
To make the game more unpredictable, I divided the playing field into 20 sectors. On the second Tiffin Card, the balloon would enter in a randomly determined sector at the Eastern table edge where the Union troops were encamped. The balloon’s movement was determined by rolling a dice on the Tiffin Card and moving it from sector to sector. The middle sectors were the crash zone – when the balloon got there, it would land.
I also prepared a table to determine the effect of the crash on the balloonist:
The Union’s objective was to get the balloonist to their camp, the Confederate objective was to get him to their primary deployment point.
In our game, I took the Union while K. commanded the Rebels. While the balloon drifted slowly over the Federal camp, the Union soldiers lingered around and paid a visit to the sutler – it seems no one had looked up and noticed the balloonist’s peril!
The Confederates were quicker on the uptake and deployed a group of skirmishers into the grave yard.
Finally, the Union commander managed to rouse his men and deployed them into line. It became a bit crowded amidst the tents and stuff!
Unfortunately, this chaos seems to have had a detrimental effect on the Union commander, as he started to make mistakes. At first, I had the idea of sending my skirmishers and my cavalry off on my left flank to get in position to stop the Confederates should they grab the balloonist. However, I changed my plan and shuffled the skirmishers over to my right flank soon after – another turn wasted while K. unerringly threw her guys forward towards the balloonist, who had landed in the pond.
They were met by a volley from the Union boys which had taken position behind the fence. This, of course, was just what K. wanted – me waiting passively for her to march forward. Her smaller formation did take quite a beating but in the end, this was not important because her skirmishers managed to snatch the balloonist and carry him back.
My cavalry came to be known as ‘the headless horsemen’ because they darted around without a plan until I finally decided to send them on a flanking journey and try to attack K.’s primary deployment point. This was the only action that could have been dangerous for the Confederates, and had I done it earlier, I might have had a chance. However, the galloping gawks were too late – the Rebel skirmishers managed to get the balloonist back to their commander, who would debrief him properly. Another Confederate victory!
This was a fun scenario, although performance-wise it was probably my low point of 2016. To K.’s amusement, I never even made a serious effort to get the balloonist! Instead I settled behind the fence in the naive hope of stopping the Confederates achieving the objective. How I imagined this was going to work is beyond me…
Still, the balloon looked good and maybe I’ll get my revenge this year!