Gettysburg Campaign Kriegsspiel

At the end of August, we began something I’ve been thinking about for quite some time: namely a large-ish Kriegsspiel covering the Gettysburg campaign. I based the map (but not the rules) on the board game Lee’s Invincibles and found six volunteers – some of them veterans of my past experiments with Kriegsspiel. I divded them into two teams, one playing the Confederates and one the Union. Each group had a C-in-C (Lee or Hooker – we started the game before he was replaced historically), one infantry commander and one cavalry commander. I had to take some liberties with the historical command structure, but the order of battle was correct.

I had two main things I wanted to game to reflect: First, the difficulties of communication. After thinking about it, I decided not to implement a game mechanism for restricting communication – the players within one team could communicate in whatever form they liked. However, there was a time limit set for each turn, which I hoped would put enough pressure on the players so as to make things a bit more interesting.

The second aspect I wanted the game to reflect was the difficulty of locating the enemy and the importance of a close collaboration between cavalry and infantry commanders. Each side had three cavalry units, and those were the only units that could “see” beyond the location they were occupying. Infantry had to feel their way forward by moving into another location blindly. They could, however, chose between the standing orders “attack” and “retreat” – if both had “retreat”, no combat would occur. If one had “retreat” and the other “attack”, there was a 50% chance that combat would occur (modified by the commanders’ skills).

I gave both sides victory conditions, but each commander also had personal aims which would give him glory points. Those, of course, were not necessarily in the interest of the greater strategic picture…

I’m not going to write a detailed narrative of the game, which moved along at a brisk pace and took seven weeks to complete. Lee chose a historical strategy by moving his army down the Shenandoah Valley, while the Union split their troops at first and sent a portion after the Confederates. Just like in history, rebels easily took Winchester, but then a snag developed on the country roads and some units became stuck. Meanwhile, the cavalry fought aggressively, with the Union troopers managing to occupy Snicker’s Gap, from where they had a good look at the Confederate army marching. Hooker set his army in motion northward, while two corps under Reynolds stayed on the Confederates’ heels in the valley, leading to a memorable rearguard action dubbed “Pickett’s Last Stand”. The Confederate cavaly managed to encircle Gregg at Snicker’s Gap and completely destroy his division. As the Confederate army cleared the valley, they split up to plunder Pennsylvania. However, the Union army had also arrived north of the Potomac and elements from both armies stumbled into each other at Frederick City. The Union won this engagement (I had a tactical mini-game for battles) and the Confederates concentrated their army in the area of Gettysburg. Some units advanced to Westminster, where they stumbled yet again into Union infantry. What started out as an encounter battle became the deciding fight as both sides hurried troops to the town. Two days of combat ended with a decisive Union victory. The Confederates had to retreat – the invasion of Pennsylvania had failed.

This narrative, however, does not convey the drama and excitment of the game. The players perfectly fell into their roles, communicating by addressing themselves as “Major Generals”, discussing strategy and sometimes even quarreling a bit. What I found very interesting is that sometimes, the subordinate commanders became quite focused on their area of operations, while the C-in-Cs tried to keep the larger strategic picture in mind. However, the teams worked together very well. Fortunately for Lee, Jeb Stuart didn’t take my bait, which would have sent him far away from the infantry to get some individual glory points.

The battle and campaign of Gettysburg has long been a major area of interest for me and playing a Kriegsspiel covering it was something of a wargaming dream. I’m extremely grateful to the players for making this dream come true in the best way possible! Honestly, this was one of my favorite gaming experiences ever.

A New Blog

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).

So, please consider following Stauchendiciler!

Bildschirmfoto 2020-05-30 um 09.50.30

The first post is an essay speculating about the origin of the phrase “opening the ball”, which was used to describe the beginning of a battle.

And if you wonder about the name of the blog – the “About” page offers an explanation!

Stauchendiciler also has a Facebook page and I’d be happy if you’d consider following it!

And for those of you not interested in the American Civil War: Don’t worry, The Raft will continue. I will post about my hobby activities and all my science fiction and fantasy stuff here.

 

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.