Friday, March 31, 2017

Shiloh, April 6-7, 1862

Thursday evening the Corlears Hook Fencibles played the Bloody Big Battles scenario of the 1862 battle of Shiloh. We’ve played this scenario perhaps 5 times previously in the last two years. Jay and Ken hadn’t played before so it seemed right to do it again. We played on the canvas mat I made. I managed to forget to put trees down. And all the green areas on the mat are wooded. Jay was Grant, aided by Rick. I played Albert Sidney Johnston aided by Ken as Hardee. All Confederate units and generals are in italics.
My plan was simple. Considering Hardee’s and Breckinridge’s corps as large divisions, the Confederate army has 4 large divisions and 2 small ones (Polk’s Corps). The Corinth – Pittsburg Landing road bisects the battle into Confederate left and right. Ken was tasked with advancing on the left with Hardee, one of Polk’s small divisions and the cavalry to tie down as many Union troops as he could. I would move on the right with the remaining 3 large divisions and 1 small division in an attempt to capture Pittsburg Landing by nightfall, preventing Buell’s army from reinforcing Grant during the night.
The scenario gives the Union the option of deploying Prentiss’ raw division far forward. This leaves the road east of the Corinth road uncovered, so Jay decided against it. I figured Sherman would be hit by both Hardee and Withers.
Both rolled extremely low movement dice and refused to move. The ensuing fire fight saw good dice that removed one of Sherman’s stands and rendered his raw division spent.
Sherman’s next movement roll was so low the division ran back 12” and a stand fled the field.
Prentiss stopped Ruggles’ charge with musket fire.
Hardee and Withers both failed to move again, to our disgust. Polk, cavalry and Breckinridge all arrived. The head of the column marched into Sherman’s camp and would have gone further but the lure of fresh food and coffee was too strong. Looting broke out.
Sherman again rolled low, losing another stand and retreating almost back to Pittsburg Landing. His division had lost nearly half of its troops, mostly to panic. On the third turn Prentiss again stopped Ruggles from closing. Withers moved slowly towards Prentiss.
On the 4th turn, I finally managed a coordinated attack on Prentiss.
Withers stooped to loot Prentiss’ camp, while Ruggles exploited towards the Hornet’s Nest. Hardee got into a firefight with the Union troops.
The shooting became general. While looting continued.
Ruggles hit Stuart’s tiny raw brigade while Cheatham kept Hurlbut and Union artillery busy – at great cost.
There was some party going on in Prentiss’ camp. Hurlbut pulled back since the Hornet’s Nest was flanked.

Hardee was keeping things busy on the left.
Ruggles was having trouble recovering from the charge due to enfilade fire. But the Union troops were also being cut down by enfilading artillery fire.
Our cavalry got onto McClernand’s flank but then noticed the goodies set out for the breakfast the blue coats had left untouched when the long roll sounded. Withers continued to relax in Prentiss’ camp.

Withers finally got his troops in line and advanced. Ruggles reordered and Breckinridge moved up.
Breckinridge now got a crucial hit on Hurlbut, making that raw unit spent.
Hardee had his hands full.
Withers division, well fed and rested, surged forward and threw Hurlbut back with great loss, exploiting forward into the gun line being set up around Pittsburg Landing and throwing them back in disorder. There was one more turn of daylight in the game.
The gunboat (my scratch-built Tyler) had a low roll firing on Withers, to little effect.
Withers rallied from disruption and had half a move, just enough to occupy Pittsburg Landing on turn 9, the last daylight turn. The Tyler killed two stands.

Hurlbut’s spent raw troops tried to recapture the landing but were stopped by musket fire. The Navy kept blasting Withers.

A truly nasty assault saw Hardee and McClernand each lose a stand in a tie. The second round saw the Union driven back spent, with more losses.
Withers’ battered troops managed to stay on Pittsburg Landing as the sun went down, leading to a Confederate victory. Buell’s army could not get across the Tennessee River.
We had taken 3 hours to play 9 turns. The Confederates lost 7 stands of infantry (of 36), nearly half of them from the US Navy. Union losses were 14 infantry stands and 5 ran away (of 34) and two artillery. This is the first game that the gunboat actually got to fire, scoring hits on 2 of 3 firing phases. It was good to finally see, even though I was the target. While we had some lousy luck, mostly with movement dice (looting troops need to roll a full move to stop looting), this was offset by the two-turn panic in Sherman’s division. The three major assaults against Prentiss, Stuart and Hurlbut all had the odds in our favor, but there wasn’t an upset. One setback would have kept us out of Pittsburg Landing.

Most critical, Ken as Hardee had kept a slightly larger number of Union troops busy, away from the critical landing. Prentiss gets routed in every game I can recall, leaving me with a comfortable margin of troops afterwards. I was also facing mostly raw troops while over half of mine were trained. Finally, there was no Union reserve. It’s very hard to pull troops out of the front line in difficult terrain. When Stuart collapsed, it was time for serious reinforcements at the landing. But they were stuck in fighting Hardee.

The lesson for me is that a decent plan pursued doggedly works sometimes. I didn’t get lost in the small details, something I’ve done more than once before.

My guess for the results of this battle: Grant would fall back north up the river road. The tardy Lew Wallace and the Navy would make pursuit problematic. But Grant’s star would be in decline, being beaten in the first really bloody battle of the war. The tales of his drinking would resurface in spades. Would Sherman thrive without his mentor’s aegis? Albert Sidney Johnston survived the battle. Would his luck continue? I should roll a die and see if he was hit by friendly fire. I believe that is what killed him.

Anyway, it was a fine game, with fortune favoring first one side and then the other, a cliff-hanger. Next week, if player schedules hold up, we shall play Gettysburg.


Chris BBB said...

Fine work, sir! I applaud your skill, both as a commander and as a scribe.


vtsaogames said...

Thank you Chris. A fine set of rules and a fine scenario.