Rearguard Action – a Sharp Practice AAR

After doing other stuff, I started to crave for a game of Sharp Practice – it seems I can’t go too long without wanting to play what is still my favorite game. Fortunately, Sigur was willing to take command of the Confederates and join me in a scenario that I’ve played twice before – once years ago with the Wars of the Roses variant of the old Sharp Practice and once as an ACW scenario.

table2
The set-up.

As my aim was to capture the Confederate Deployment Point, my basic plan was to feel out Sigur’s position with my skirmishers and trying to get him to deploy his troops. I would then identify the weak point (either the road through the village or the ford) and deploy all of my line troops to push through there.

As so often in Sharp Practice, this plan didn’t even survive the first turn.

The game started with my skirmishers deploying in the field on my left flank while the dismounted cavalry deployed to the right, heading towards the ford. To my great surprise, Sigur deployed his three main line units into houses right at the edge of the village. I was pretty happy about that, as I thought that I could easily pin him there.

earlygame union skirmishers
My skirmishers advance under fire.

However! After Sigur’s troops had fired at my skirmishers, they suddenly let loose a Rebel Yell and charged out of the houses towards my stunned men (Random Event). Sigur decided to go with the flow, moved the rest of his troops out of the houses, formed line and poured lead into my poor boys. 

earlygame union skirmishers2
I didn’t see that coming!

The skirmishers immediately skedaddled behind the fence but the Confederates kept up a murderous fire and managed to wipe out the whole group, while its NCO was knocked out by a spent bullet.

earlygame skirmishers pummel
What just happened?

While his line troops were pummeling my left flank, Sigur had also deployed a group of skirmishers at the river banks. Those managed to rough up my dismounted cavalry, which was about to sneak up on his line’s flank. The troopers fell back behind the toll house to regroup.

Things were definitely not going as planned.

At least I had managed to advance my other two groups of line infantry to the ford, where they were getting into a firefight with another group of Confederate skirmishers. However, I was unsure what to do now – should I push ahead and risk getting flanked?

midgame bad duel
Meanwhile at the ford…

It seems that this was exactly what Sigur had in mind, as he suddenly formed an open column and marched right towards the bridge. Well, I couldn’t let that opportunity go by! Luckily enough, my main commander’s card came up and I could deploy my three groups to enfiladed the cocky rebels.

midgame hubris
Surprise!

That hurt! The Confederates were in a bad spot, but Sigur was up to his game. He swiftly about-faced his column and, using two flag cards, double-quickly marched them right back through the village. I also formed column and followed, but was much slower. The Confederate meanwhile established a second line of defense behind the fences on the other side of the river.

midgame union grp1 advance 2
Step lively, lads!
midgame overview2
The Confederates have successfully established a second line of defense.

At the ford, the Confederate skirmishers were losing the musketry duel with my line and retired behind the horse stable to take a breather. I had regained some of the momentum but was still unsure how to proceed. Should I cross the ford, only to be pitted against Sigur’s reserve, which was not yet deployed, or should I push my left flank guys – after all, my enfilading fire did weaken the retreating rebels?

lategame1
What now?

So I marched my left flank column up to the field and formed line, starting a firefight that soon devolved into a contest of attrition. To stack the odds in his favour, Sigur finally deployed his last two groups, forming one long line of five groups. That certainly looked impressive (and the number of dice he had to roll when shooting was ridiculous!).

lategame 2nd line of defence2
The thin grey line.
lategame standoff
Face-off.

I knew I could not stand indefinitely against those numbers, but if I could hold long enough I might push my other troops over the ford and towards the Confederate Primary Deployment Point. Unfortunately, it took me a while to get the guys going, and all the while my left flank line took an incredible pummeling. But still, to our mutual surprise, they held. 

When the right flank groups (infantry and dismounted cavalry) finally trudged through the ford, Sigur’s skirmishers had prepared an ambush for them and, moving swiftly out from behind the stables, they enfiladed the blue column!

We both knew the battle’s crisis had come – something had to give. Fortunately, for once the cards were on my side and I drew four command cards before my leaders were activated. I decided to make a final crashing volley with my valiant line and use the other cards to double-quick the dismounted cavalry towards the Deployment Point. This plan finally worked and my troopers rushed the Confederate position, capturing the Deployment Point and winning the game.

This was a very hard-fought affair full of surprising twists and turns. At times, it looked like my luck had run out. Sigur showed cunning and skillful generalship and several times threw the Union attack off track. If not for the steadfastness of my left flank line, my whole attack would have broken down.

Again, Sharp Practice produced an exciting and dramatic narrative. Especially the staunch determination of my left flank line was the stuff legends are made of – their casualties were atrocious, but they just didn’t break.

Another thing I really like about Sharp Practice is that it is one of the few wargames I know where, with skill and some luck, you can actually pull off a fighting retreat. I’ve seen this done by K. in our Ambush game and now Sigur did something similar, pulling his boys out of a tight spot and forming a second line of defence.

A great game with a congenial gaming partner – this is what wargaming is all about!

The photos are by Sigur, thanks for letting me use them!
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7 thoughts on “Rearguard Action – a Sharp Practice AAR

  1. Mikko July 13, 2018 / 9:20 am

    Seems like such a fun game! Great write-up – I hardly ever bother to read battle reports but yours are a great exception.

    • cptshandy July 13, 2018 / 1:53 pm

      Thanks Mikko!

  2. Sigur July 13, 2018 / 2:40 pm

    Ha, great battle report. Always interesting to see how different our writing styles are on these things. My report should be up within a few days.

    Thanks for the flattering words, but when that enfilade hit my column. If anybody’s curious as to what my “Sigur being up to his game” face looks like …

    Anyway, great game. Sharp Practice is just fun and your collection of 15mm minis and terrain is a joy to behold. Looking forward to the next game!

    • cptshandy July 13, 2018 / 2:50 pm

      Thanks, I’m looking forward to reading your report. For some reasons, I decided to write this report more as a game report than as a story – it’s just what happened when I started hitting the keyboard 🙂 Anyway, thanks again for the game, it was a great pleasure!

  3. J Wertjes July 13, 2018 / 5:10 pm

    Great write-up, very entertaining. Always enjoyed Sharp Practice, both editions. The ACW campaign options in Terrible Sharp Sword are very useful.

    • cptshandy July 13, 2018 / 6:24 pm

      Thanks! I’ve got Terrible Sharp Sword but I’ve never tried the campaign… might be a good idea to have another look at it.

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