I know I haven’t posted in a while, but I was kind of uninspired and then the whole COVID business started and suddenly other things occupied my mind. This also means I didn’t get much miniatures gaming in. I do, however, play a lot of D&D nowadays – using Discord, it’s easy to get together a group that is physically distant!
There is one thing I started, though: a new blog! As you all know, I have been fascinated by the American Civil War for a couple of years now. I have now decided to put all this together on a new blog. This will feature essays on historical topics (which feel kind of out of place at The Raft) as well as scenarios for wargames (mainly Sharp Practice).
2019 was a good year for gaming. It was also the year of Dungeons & Dragons! D&D was my most played game last year. This is due to several reasons: After our old group disbanded, we started a new one with K. and my gaming pals Sigur and Virago. Sigur’s brother was kind enough to take on the task of Dungeon Master and he does a very good job indeed! We also play occasionally with another group of friends. And then I started an experiment: As a have two friends who live far away, I wanted to try to game via Discord. This works astonishingly well and we now have a regular group with people living in Germany and Sweden. It’s great to be able to game with those friends!
The second most played game was Sellswords & Spellslingers. This has become a firm favorite, as it is incredible versatile and can be played with grognards as well as people who have no experience with miniature games. I also started playing with my niece, using the fantastic anthropomorphic animals from Oathsworn.
I’m glad that my personal favorite, Sharp Practice, is still among the first three and I’m happy that I’ve played on average (almost) one game per month. A highlight of the year was my birthday, where Sigur, Stephan and Virago joined me for a big game of Sharp Practice. Also, special thanks to Sigur for indulging me and joining in testing my hair-brained scenarios!
There are lot of games I played once or a couple of times, which is a good thing, as I like the variety and I enjoy getting to know many different games. A great factor in this has been a new gaming group I joined – thanks for your hospitality and for showing me such great games as Zombicide: Green Horde, Last Bastion and UltraQuest!
One of the highlights of the year was the 2019 edition of Missin’ in Action, our yearly gaming event. Great fun was had with a good ol’ classic tavern brawl! We’ve already got great ideas for next year’s event…
In this scenario, key for the Confederate player is to push through to the Union Primary Deployment Point while keeping the Union forces coming from the Hoffman house behind the Confederate position in check. With the firepower of breech-loading carbines, it’s a very bad idea to get caught in the back!
I started by deploying a line of three regular groups at the Eastern fence, reading to march towards their objective. At the same time, I deployed some skirmishers at the Northern fence to keep an eye on the Union pickets.
Sigur deployed a dismounted group near the Hoffman house to harass my skirmishers.
Of more concern to me were the two mounted groups he deployed at his primary Deployment Point. Those guys rushed towards the orchard near the Forney farm, dismounted and took position just outside my line of sight.
I wanted to lure Sigur into deploying more units at the Hoffman house, as I hoped that would make it easier to reach my objective, so I detached a group form my line and had it take up position at the Northern fence. The ball opened with Sigur’s pickets shooting at my skirmishers, which took quite a beating and had to retreat.
I also deployed my other line and had it march in direction of the Hoffman house. In answer, Sigur deployed the rest of his units there. I got what I wanted – now it was a matter of speed and decisiveness. So my Eastern line stepped off, climbed over the fence and marched towards the Forney farm and the waiting carbines of the Union troopers.
Meanwhile, the Confederate pickets took my poor bloody infantry under fire. A lucky shot hit and instantly killed my Force commander! That was bad news, as my line facing the Hoffman house was under considerable pressure and unable to do much.
However, my other line was making good progress. As it approached the orchard, to my surprise Sigur decided to pull his troopers back.
He later said he was afraid of the line’s volley fire, which is ironic because I was quite afraid of the firepower of his carbines. Anyway, the troopers rushed behind the farm house, but my line smartly wheeled and poured a withering volley into the skedaddling bluebellies.
This was a heavy blow – one group broke immediately and the other was badly shaken. This more or less sealed my victory. My line advanced without impunity and detached a group to rush the Union deployment point. A Confederate victory!
This was one of the best games of Sharp Practice I’ve played in a while. SP always gives good games, but I felt that this scenario worked especially well (if I may say so myself). It was quite balanced, which is difficult when one side has breech-loading carbines, and the game was close-fought – my Force Morale was at 4 when I reached the objective. With the two Union deployment points positioned on either flank of the Confederates it also poses an interesting tactical problem for both sides.
Sigur said that he made one big mistake, and that was to keep his troops at the Forney farm in cover and then pull them back. I’m pretty sure that, had he taken my line under fire, it would have been much more difficult to get to my objective. Perhaps we’ll have a refight one day…
Around 9.30 on July 1st 1863, Brig. Gen. Henry Heth’s Division commenced its attack on the Union position on McPherson’s Ridge at Gettysburg. While Archer’s Brigade was deployed south of Chambersburg Pike, Davis’ men advanced to the north of the road. The leftmost regiment of the brigade, the 55th North Carolina, spotted some cavalry to their left. Those were pickets from the 9th New York cavalry, which were positioned on the Mummasburg road near the Hoffman house.
Alfred H. Belo, the 55th’s colonel, was concerned that the Union cavalry might make a mounted charge against the exposed left flank of the Confederate line of battle. “[…] I deployed a line of skirmishers from the two extreme left companies to protect us at that end, and at the same time pick off the cavalrymen […]”, Belo wrote . In doing so, the regiment started to drift to the North and lost contact with the rest of the brigade.
Meanwhile, Capt. Timothy Hanley of Company F of the 9th NY ordered Lt. A. C. Robertson with 20 men to support the pickets. At the Hoffman house, they hit upon the skirmishers from the 55th NC, which were advancing in considerable strength from the woods south of the road. Robertson was forced to fall back towards the position of Hanley’s squadron, which was deployed east of the Forney farm in a line straddling the Mummasburg road. When the Confederates reached the Forney farm, some of the squadron’s men dismounted and counterattacked, driving them from the buildings. However, the Confederate pressure was too much and the troopers retired towards Seminary Ridge .
This action, which is but a footnote to the Battle of Gettysburg, nevertheless makes a perfect scenario for Sharp Practice. Using skirmish rules to refight actions from big battles is usually problematic. However, in every big battle there were small, self-contained fights that lend themselves very well to be recreated. This is an interesting example, as it shows that even large-scale affairs – such as a divisional attack – consisted of inumerable small movements, the mastery of which was called ‘articulation’ in contemporary tactical parlance. In this case, Col. Belo knew that his regiment was guarding the flank of the brigades’ attack. Upon discovering an unknown number of Union cavalrymen to his left, he detached two companies to contain this threat. In doing so, however, it seems that he lost coordination with the other regiments advancing on the Union line at McPherson’s Ridge.
From hindsight, we may judge that the isolated companies of the 9th NY probably didn’t pose much of a threat to the attack of Heth’s division. However, in the field, it was Belo’s call to make a quick decision, and by deploying his skirmishers he demonstrated a proficiency in articulation, defined by Earl Hess as “the facility with which commanders and men are able to make complicated formations and maneuvers” . While Belo himself seems to have been competent enough, the 55th NC was not only a large regiment with around 640 men, but it was also inexperienced, as it had been mustered in the previous May and had not seen much action since . In contrast, the 9th NY was a veteran regiment, belonging to Devin’s brigade of Bufords division, and the commander of Co. F, Capt. Hanley, had previous experience in the British army, where he had served in the Crimean War and in India .
With a handful of pickets, supported by one company, they managed to make a good show of themselves and even mounted a counter-attack at the Forney farm. Their staunch fight was probably responsible for the 55th NC’s driftingnorthward and losing contact with the rest of the brigade. Ironically, this brought the regiment into a position to threaten the flank of the 76th NY occupying the rightmost end of the Union line on McPherson’s Ridge.
As we all know, the early fight for northern McPherson’s Ridge ended with a Union retreat. Davis’ brigade would then wheel to the right and meet their demise at the unfinished railroad cut.
The small skirmish at the Forney farm shows that even large-scale affairs can, when implemented on the lowest level, create fights that on a tactical level have only a lose connection to what is happening elsewhere, while still being shaped by the strategic vision of the overall attack. It also shows that this fragmentation can lead to unforseen consequences – such as bringing the 55th NC in a position to potentially outflank the Union infantry line. Again, we are reminded of Carl von Clausewitz’ notion of friction: “This enormous friction, which is not concentrated, as in mechanics, at a few points, is therefore everywhere brought into contact with chance, and thus facts take place upon which it was impossible to calculate […]” .
The Confederates Deployment Point is placed in the woods at the Western table edge. The Union Primary Deployment Point is on the road at the Southeastern table edge. The Union secondary Deployment Point is at the Hoffman house.
The Confederate objective is to take the Union Primary Deployment Point. The Union has to reduce the Confederate Force Morale to 0 to win.
Along the road: As soon as at least one Confederate unit occupies the road, the Union may no longer deploy units at their secondary Deployment Point. However, if they have not yet deployed a unit at the Hoffman house, they may do so as long as the DP is not taken, even if the road is on Confederate hands. This represents the pickets positioned at the house.
Forces & Rosters
Union: 3 leaders, 5 groups of the 9th NY cavalry.
Confederates: 5 leaders, 6 groups of the 55th NC and 2 groups of skirmishers.
 Wittenberg, Eric: "The Devil's to Pay". John Buford at Gettysburg. A History and Walking Tour, El Dorado Hills: Savas Beattie 2018, p. 100.
 Cheney, Newell: History of the Ninth Regiment, New York Volunteer Cavalry, New York: Poland Center 1901, p. 107.
 Hess, Earl: Civil War Infantry Tactics. Training, Combat and Small-Unit Effectiveness, Baton Rouge: Louisiana University Press 2015, p. 243.
 Gottfried, Bradley M.: The Brigades of Gettysburg. The Union and Confederate Brigades at the Battle of Gettysburg, New York: Skyhorse Publishing 2012, p. 614.
 Petruzzi, David J.: "Faded Hoofbeats: Lt. Col. Timothy Hanley, 9th New York Cavalry", available online.
 Carl von Clausewitz: On War, originally published 1832, cited after the 1873 translation available online.