Escort Duty – Sharp Practice AAR

Having recently finished a handful of Confederate Native Americans, I naturally wanted to play a game with them. We settled for the Escort scenario from the Sharp Practice rule-book, as we had never played that before. Also, raids on federal supply trains were quite common in the Indian Territory.

The terrain featured a lot of hills, rocks and woods  and also a sunken road – a perfect spot for an ambush. We decided that the Union convoy, which was commanded by me, would travel along the road in marching formation until attacked. I could, however, deploy my skirmishers and cavalry on the flanks.

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After I had placed my troops, K. positioned her deployment point. She also immediately began to deploy her line troops in a position to enfilade me as soon as I moved out of the sunken road. Blissfully unaware of the danger, my convoy moved forward, the leading formation entering the sunken road. K. also had one group of Indians move through the woods. When those opened fire on my skirmishers, the game was on.

However, before my troops could exit the sunken road, K. sprang an ambush. I’ve given the Indians the ‘Tactical’ characteristic and she made good use of it. Rushing to the crest of the sunken road, they delivered an enfilading volley on my unsuspecting men. Shocked, they turned to face their assailants, but another volley was too much for one of the groups, which fell back. My Force Morale started to sink.

 

It was going to get worse, however: K.’s line troops now moved into position to block the sunken road’s exit and fired at my bottled-up and already shaken groups. Both broke and fled back toward the supply wagons.

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While this was happening, my rearguard took position to fend off the cavalry K. was moving into position. Before they could get off a shot, however, the cavalry charged them furiously and emptied their pistols into the ranks. Yes, K. had two command cards and used ‘Sam Colt’s Equalizer’ to inflict shock before going in. Lo and behold! I was on the receiving end of the first successful cavalry charge in all of our games of Sharp Practice. The Rebel troopers not only broke my formation and made one group fall back, they also killed my Leader. This was the last blow: My Force Morale was down at 1, while K.’s was still at 10.

A victory for the Cherokee Raiders!

Wow, that was one of the quickest games of Sharp Practice I’ve ever played. For the Rebels, everything played out perfectly: The ambush in the sunken road, which was followed up by bottling up my advance guard in the narrow gorge, and, before I could react properly, the swift charge by the cavalry, which made short thrift of my rear guard. Nonetheless, it was a fun game which felt decidedly different from most of the other games of SP I’ve played recently. This one really felt like a swift ambush – there was no probing of positions and slow advance of lines, but a series of fast and furious blows which ended the affair before I could get my act together. K. played the Native Americans boldly and aggressively and Sharp Practice delivered the perfect narrative for the situation.

I’m now going to assemble a Union Indian Brigade and then the tables will be turned!

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Native Americans in the ACW

K. has been pestering me for some time now to make ACW scenarios involving Native Americans. A couple of years ago, she even made me buy an Osprey on the subject. However, I never got the project going as I couldn’t find the right figures.

I’ve finally decided that if I can’t get the figures, I have to convert them. So what did they look like?

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A Union Indian Home Guard soldier.

The so-called ‘Five Civilzed Nations’ (Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek (Muscogee), and Seminole) were split between support for the Confederacy and loyalty to the Union. Officially, for various reasons they sided with the Confederates; however, a great number of warriors from those tribes also enlisted in the Union Indian Home Guard. In many tribes, the men of mixed heritage, who had adopted Southern culture (often including owning slaves), opted to join the Rebel forces. The more traditional ‘full-blooded’ members of the tribes stayed with the Union. Many were members of the influential Keetoowah Society, a secret society founded in the 1850 that not only stressed the preservation of ancient customs, but also had ties to abolitionism.

Though promised uniforms and weapons, Confederate Native Americans didn’t actually receive any, so they wore their civilian cloths and used their own weapons, mostly shotguns. Often mentioned by eyewitnesses are their long hair and the peacock feathers they stuck to their hats.

Native Americans on the Union side at first only got the navy blue 4-button sack coat and hardee hat. All other clothes, including the trousers, they provided themselves. Most of them were home-made. Only in 1863 would they be provided with army clothing. They did get decent weapons, though (various models of rifled muskets). They also wore their hair long, but – being more traditionalist – stuck eagle feathers to their hats. Interestingly, the Union Indian Home Guards also contained African-Americans, men who had escaped from plantations in the Indian Territory and had joined the loyal groups.

Looking from the perspective of 15mm figures, there are three main characteristics that would stand out: The basic clothing, the long hair and the feathers.

As the Confederates were a motley bunch, I grabbed a couple of spare figures with hats, some of them regular Confederate infantry, some from the useful Home Guard Militia pack from QRF/Freikorp15 and some from Peter Pig’s Western range.

I then took some green stuff and added long hair, a feather and an occasional scarf to the figures.

I’m far from proficient with green stuff, but this was easier than I thought.

I then painted the figures, trying to get a varied appearance and avoiding the grays I use for Confederates so as to give them a more unique look.

For the Union Indian Brigade, I used Peter Pig‘s Union infantry with hat and repeating rifles, mainly because they wear hats and I had them at hand. Of course the warriors were not armed with repeating rifles, but I decided no one will notice anyway.

I haven’t finished painting them, but you’ll still get a picture:

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I mainly want to use them for Sharp Practice, so I intend to make four skirmisher groups of each side plus two groups of mounted warriors for the Confederates. Incidentally, both sided started out as mounted troops but also fought dismounted. Over time, the Union warriors lost their horses due to attrition and Confederate Raids, so in the end all Union Indian Brigade regiments were dismounted and fought on foot. I’ll do a post about a Sharp Practice Force List for Native Americans in the ACW some other time.

 

Bibliography

Academic historians have for a long time neglected the Western Theater of the ACW and especially the Indian Territory, so there is quite a number of substandard literature out there. For the wargamer, the most comprehensive and useful book is Mark Lardas’ Native American Mounted Rifleman 1861–65, published by Osprey. The best overall history of the Native American experience is Mary Jane Warde’s When the Wolf Came. The Civil War and the Indian Territory, University of Arkansas Press 2013. It includes a detailed analysis of the political conflicts as well as a solid and comprehensive overview of the campaigns, battles and skirmishes. For a military perpective, another good book is W. Craig Gaines’ The Confederate Cherokees. John Drew’s Regiment of Mounted Rifles (Louisiana State University Press 1989, with a new edition published in 2017), which has a broader focus than the title would suggest.

Some studies dedicated to specific persons or battles have been published, but as far as I have seen them they are of a decidedly mixed quality.

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.

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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.

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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. 

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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?

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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.

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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.

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Step lively, lads!
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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?

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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!).

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The thin grey line.
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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!

Wargaming Article Published

The recent issue of Wargames, Soldiers & Strategy magazine contains a special feature on raiding actions during the American Civil War. One of the article was penned by me!

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It’s on a subject I’ve been interested in for a long time, namely the Combahee River Raid. I’ve written a three-part scenario for Sharp Practice, which can be played as a series of successive games or parallel on a club evening.

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Guy Bowers did a great job with the graphic design and the article is illustrated with very nice pictures of 28mm figures. Those, however, are not from my collection, as my photographic skills are not up to producing publishable images – something I really should work on.

So, here are some images from our playtesting:

I have to say that I’m a bit proud to have published something in what is, in my opinion, the best wargaming magazine around. Guy Bowers is always interested in things off the beaten path and the magazine really puts gaming into the foreground. If you are interested in the ACW, check out this issue – it has a number of fascinating articles and great ideas for scenarios!