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.

                                            How the mat looks with trees, 2023

Sunday, March 26, 2017

La Guerre est Finie

On March 23, 2017 the Corlears Hook Fencibles finished the Franco-Prussian War campaign that we had begun on January 28, 2016. We played 14 battles using the Bloody Big Battles rules, with 15mm figures, mostly Old Glory with some Minifigs and some Lancashire. There was no map movement which greatly reduced the paperwork. That pleased me since I’m the paperwork guy and have done that for other campaigns in years past.

I always led the French and Bill his Prussians. I supplied the Bavarians. I was surprised to discover how many of the battles they appeared in, and were most of the troops on hand for Coulmiers. If you are planning on doing this period, after filling out the Prussian ranks, get Bavarians. Other Fencibles played whatever side they preferred or as dice determined, game by game.

We discovered BBB about two years ago and found the rules hit our sweet spot of simple enough that we don’t get headaches from calculating combat results and yet the game feels right and gives us the period flavor we want. The rules are simple; the elegance sneaks up on you. These are grand-tactical rules, with the smallest unit usually brigades or divisions. The rules first got our attention but over the two years I’ve really begun to appreciate the scenarios designed by the author Chris Pringle. Some of the battles are in the rule book but others have been added to the files of the Yahoo group. We ended up playing 14 games. You may ask why I chose the French when they were thoroughly trashed? They had the best uniforms and I figured doing better than they did – a low bar – would be enough. I managed that. The Germans won 7 games, the French won 3 and 4 games were ties. These victories were according to the scenario, so most French victories would not change the strategic situation. For example, I won the battle of Gravelotte but Bazaine’s army was still cooped up in Metz. The Bavarians won the battle of Coulmiers but they still would abandon Orleans after suffering such heavy losses against superior numbers of the enemy.

We started with the battle of Spicheren, a tie.
No doubt the French pulled out at nightfall as the Prussians kept pouring onto the field. Next we played Froeschwiller and got another tie. This was a hoot, a last stand against spike-helmeted swarms. Beau Geste, anyone? The Prussians did not get the best use of their superior artillery.
Next up we played Borney, a rearguard action near Metz. I got caught up in giving the Prussians a bloody nose and did not start pulling out soon enough, giving the Prussians the win. I also had the idea of giving the Germans enough of a hit to slow them down in future games. I have no idea if that worked.
The win gave the Germans a free re-roll in the next game. For most of the campaign players forgot to use this. In one game it was invoked and the re-roll was just as bad as the original.

Next up was Mars-la-Tour, a wild game that saw a hard-won Prussian victory. That’s another one that might be revisited.
Then at Gravelotte the Prussians were shot down in heaps by Chassepot fire. The Prussians again failed to fully exploit their artillery superiority. I’d like to play this from the Prussian side sometime. The French had their first win.
Next we played Beaumont, where MacMahon’s army fought too much and ran too little, yielding another Prussian victory. It was another interesting scenario.
After some delays as real life interfered with players schedules, we played Sedan. I’d been dreading playing a scenario that starts with the French encircled, but the scenario is actually quite good. A French victory means perhaps some troops escape the trap, but only some. I thought I had a tie but on the last turn the Bavarians stormed into Sedan for a Prussian win. Goodbye Napoleon III, bring on the Third Republic.
We were onto the part of the campaign I really wanted to play, the one many gamers barely know existed.

Next up was the battle of Coulmiers, the only actual French victory of the battles we played. I became fixated on neutralizing the damned Krupp guns. I largely did this but neglected flanking the Bavarian position and ended up making a bloody frontal attack on the town of Coulmiers. Bill had pulled his line back, giving up some objectives to hold the remainder more securely. This combined with my head butting produced a German victory.
The next battle in chronological terms was Beaune la Rolande. Due to an error on my part, we played it after the next two. I can at least put it the correct sequence here. Long story short: mobs of poorly trained French surged up against entrenched Germans and were shot down in droves. A Prussian division that showed up on our left center had a field day cutting swathes through our disorganized troops. A German win, most definitely.
The battle of Loigny was the first battle on snow, as all the rest were to be. I had painted up French naval infantry for this phase on white bases. Loigny saw an extremely bloody tie.
The next battle, Beaugency, saw Chanzy’s French manage to hold their entrenched front line while their left flank was knocked around but not quite broken. This gave us another victory. We would of course fall back at nightfall.
Chanzy’s French army did it again at Le Mans, holding on defensively for longer than the actual force did. Again, we’d hightail it after that.
Then came the Lisaine, where Boubaki’s frozen, sick, hungry mobs assailed entrenched Germans. As in the actual battle, the French were shot down in heaps. On the second day we managed to get across the river in a place where the German defenses were thin, but not near any objectives. And most of our infantry was spent. Rather than complete the game the next week, I conceded – the only time this campaign.
Our last game saw Faidherbe’s Army of the North try to raise the siege of Paris before all the animals in the zoo were eaten. We failed but managed to hold on for a tie.
And that was the end of our year-long campaign. I think we all had a lot of fun. The games certainly produced a lot of jokes. It was enlightening playing all those games in the Republican phase, when the odds were so long but those ragged armies kept up the struggle in the snow.

Friday, March 24, 2017

St. Quentin, January 18-19, 1871

Yesterday evening the Corlears Hook Fencibles played the final game of our Franco-Prussian War campaign using the Bloody Big Battle rules. I conceded the previous Battle of the Lisaine after a good look at the situation, so the Prussians came into this game with a free re-roll of any movement, firing or assault dice. As usual, it wasn’t used. Bill commanded his Prussians aided by Rick and Jay. I led my tattered French seconded by Ken.
We could get a tie by holding St. Quentin and Gricourt. If we could also have a supply train poised on the road to Paris we could gain a victory, though just in game terms. Paris would still submit a week later. This French offensive was made on the orders of the desperate government in Paris. It had very little chance of raising the siege of that city.

I led the 22 Corps with the aim of holding open the Paris road and maybe even exiting troops and trains southward towards Paris, giving Moltke some rough moments before the lights go out. Ken had the 23 Corps which was tasked with holding the two towns.
I traded some fire with the Prussians on the west edge of the table. I should have started withdrawing right away because Prussian reinforcements from the north soon had me in a bind.

The French infantry north of the river was driven back, though the 22 Corps artillery north of the river was silencing enemy artillery, rolling high without going low on ammo (the .22 shells are low ammo markers).

We played a night turn. The sun came up and revealed numerous Prussians who had arrived overnight.

North of the river, a shot-up brigade of raw troops decided their war was over and they hit the road.

South of the canal/river, my line was giving way. It didn’t look like I’d be able to keep 22 Corps supply train in the current location.
A successful assault would see each Prussian unit lose a base since they could not exit the table, and one hit would remove the cavalry unit.
But the brigadier must have tripped over his scabbard as he ordered the attack (how low can he roll?). It failed and the counterattack was deadly.

Things went pear-shaped north of the river too.

We’d been playing slowly. The Prussians thought they could not prevent a tie. We decided to start the last turn of the game. A series of decent movement rolls saw the French infantry garrison St. Quentin and Gricourt, supported by the remaining artillery. The Prussians decided they couldn't take one in a turn and gave us the tie. And so the campaign ended, with 6 German wins, 3 French wins and 4 ties. We started in January 2016. Our campaign was longer than the actual war but then the actual combatants didn’t only fight on Thursdays.

We played slowly, with a lot of joking. It took about 5 hours to play 9 turns and one night interval. The French lost 12 infantry stands (8 more ran away) of 34, 1 artillery and 3 wagon stands (the other 3 ran away). The Prussians lost 2 infantry stands (of 30) and 3 cavalry (2 more ran away) . The French Army of the North was wrecked, even though they held two objectives at nightfall. It would certainly be time to decamp before the sun came up again.

All agreed that this was a good scenario. It’s proof that you don’t need a table crammed with figures to have a good time. Some days from now I’ll post a final summary of the campaign. Any of the participants are welcome to add their take on the campaign as a whole or the individual battles.

In 1914 we’ll get Alsace and Lorraine back. Just wait.