Fighting at the Forney Farm – Our Game

Last week, I had Sigur over for a last game before Christmas. We played Sharp Practice, using my Fighting at the Forney Farm scenario. Sigur played the Union, while I took command of the Confederates.

1TableSetup
The set-up.

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.

2ConfLineJumpoff
Getting ready for the attack.

Sigur deployed a dismounted group near the Hoffman house to harass my skirmishers. 

3UnionPickets
Union pickets.

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.

4BallOpens
The ball opens.

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.

5ConfMarchOff
Step lively lads!

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.

6UnderPressure
Under pressure.

However, my other line was making good progress. As it approached the orchard, to my surprise Sigur decided to pull his troopers back. 

7StandOff
At them, boys!
8UnionRetreats
The troopers skedaddle. Also, the barn caught fire.

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. 

9CaughtFromBehind
Caught from behind.

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!

10Victory
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…

Fighting at the Forney Farm – A Scenario for Sharp Practice

The Historical Background

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_Horatio_Belo
A. H. Belo

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 [1]. 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 [2].

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.

MapContext
The context of the skirmish.

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” [3]. 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 [4]. 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 [5].

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 drifting  northward 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 […]” [6].

The Scenario

Map

ScenarioMap

Deployment

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.

Victory Conditions

The Confederate objective is to take the Union Primary Deployment Point. The Union has to reduce the Confederate Force Morale to 0 to win.

Special Rules

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.

UnionRoster

Confederates: 5 leaders, 6 groups of the 55th NC and 2 groups of skirmishers.

ConfRoster

 

Footnotes

[1] Wittenberg, Eric: "The Devil's to Pay". John Buford at Gettysburg. A History and Walking Tour, El Dorado Hills: Savas Beattie 2018, p. 100.

[2] Cheney, Newell: History of the Ninth Regiment, New York Volunteer Cavalry, New York: Poland Center 1901, p. 107.

[3] Hess, Earl: Civil War Infantry Tactics. Training, Combat and Small-Unit Effectiveness, Baton Rouge: Louisiana University Press 2015, p. 243.

[4] Gottfried, Bradley M.: The Brigades of Gettysburg. The Union and Confederate Brigades at the Battle of Gettysburg, New York: Skyhorse Publishing 2012, p. 614.

[5] Petruzzi, David J.: "Faded Hoofbeats: Lt. Col. Timothy Hanley, 9th New York Cavalry", available online.

[6] Carl von Clausewitz: On War, originally published 1832, cited after the 1873 translation available online.

Building Gettysburg in 15mm

Researching scenarios for Sharp Practice from the Gettysburg campaign, I came upon the stand made by the 45th NY during the retreat of XI Corps. Men from the regiment occupied buildings and backyards in the area of the Eagle Hotel and Christ Lutheran Church and fought to buy their comrades time to make it safely to Cemetery Ridge.

This would make a great scenario for Sharp Practice. However, it would need a lot of buildings. Call me crazy, but I decided I would go for it. It’s going to be a long-term project, especially as I want to scratch-build as many of the buildings as possible.

ScenarioMap3

This is the area I want to model on the table. I decided to start with Chambersburg Street, which is the big street leading to the West from the square. Fortunately, I found a historical photograph of the Southern side of the street:

ChambersburgStr

You can see the cupola of the Lutheran Church in the background.

My main material for building the houses is plastic sheet. I also used textured sheets and windows from model railway suppliers. The roofs are made with cardboard tiles – a time-consuming work, but it looks quite good, I think.

This is my view of Chambersburg Street:

Gett_Str1

And here you can see the houses I have finished so far. These are two bases of three houses each. I decided not to base them single, because a common base ties them together better.

Here is a front and back view:

Gett_Street2

Gett_Str3

I made a mistake with the George Arnold shop (the building on the corner), but I’m not sure if I want to build the whole thing again. Maybe, when everything else is finished, I’ll reconsider.

Next up is the Eagle Hotel, then some more houses and the Lutheran Church.

Experimenting with Kriegsspiel

A year ago, I ran a freeform map Kriegsspiel (inspired by Paddy Griffith and Verdy Du Vernois) for my mates Sigur and Virago. The game went on for several months and was fun, although it had some problems – one of them being that it petered out without a real conclusion.

Now the fascinating and for me central thing about Kriegsspiel is that it is double blind, the umpire being the only person who has complete knowledge of the positions and actions of both sides. It’s fascinating as well as entertaining to see players act with a limited knowledge of what is actually happening, something that is hard to model in conventional in tabletop wargames.

IMG_1252
The umpire’s set-up.

So I wanted to try Kriegsspiel again, but in a more streamlined form. Mark Backhouse did some very interesting Twitter Kriegsspiels, so I decided to try this route – a game that would only take an evening, with orders being received and transmitted via Facebook Messenger. I wanted to have structured rules for a change, so I wrote a quick and simple game that fits on two pages.

The setting was a fictitious American Civil War battle, set during the Shenandoah Valley campaign in 1862. Sigur played Stonewall Jackson and had to drive the Union troops, commanded by Virago, out of the town of Turvington. I drew a map on an A3-sized sheet of paper and used the Kriegsspiel blocks I got from Command Post Games. The map as well as the rules and the mission briefings were sent to the players. Both printed the map and made their own counters to help them visualize what was happening.

This is what it looked for Virago and Sigur:

And this is what it looked for me:

1

The game was great fun, at least for me. Here is a short video documenting the movements of the units on the map: https://spark.adobe.com/video/EjkkhcyXOdaTJ

We had some really great moments: Right at the beginning, Virago redirected a couple of his units to the east, but seems to have lost orientation, as he was pretty surprised when he got the reports of where he and his units where. Well, a little friction while maneuvering several brigades along country roads is actually pretty realistic! Later, one of his brigades, while still in column, stumbled into the flank of a Confederate brigade. While the Union troops formed line of battle, Sigur swiftly pulled his men back and saved himself from what could have been a very bad situation.

In the end, Sigur managed to achieve a substantial local superiority and hammered the Union troops into submission.

13

I’ve already asked two other friends if the want to try out this game, as I’d be interested in how different players approach it. I’m also motivated to make more experiments along that line. I’ve also learned a couple of things: First, it took longer than I thought it would. Perhaps I will make the combat mechanics a bit more decisive. Also, despite having structured rules, there were more situations than I thought in which I had to make a quick decision as an umpire. I don’t want to make the rules more water-tight, as I think that it is paramount that the game moves along at a brisk pace, so I will got with it and embrace this (without being arbitrary). And the last thing I noticed is that, in the heat of battle, it is easy to lose track of things, such as the turn sequence, all the players’ orders etc. And this is only with two players! As much as I’d love to try a game with more players, I’m not sure how I would manage it.