Friday, September 29, 2017

Sherman and Johnston; match and rematch

Albert Sidney Johnston and William Tecumseh “Cump” Sherman squared off at long range in 1861 and again at rather closer proximity in April 1862.
Johnston was one of the most impressive officers in the pre-war U.S. Army. He looked like a general, walked and talked like a general. He was brave, had been in combat against Indians and Mexicans. When he resigned his commission and joined the Confederacy, it was no surprise that he was made one of the first five full generals. No hyphenated brigadier-, major- or lieutenant-, just plain General. He was assigned command of the Department of Tennessee. It soon became apparent that dealing with Jefferson Davis, the local politicians and planter elite, the press, tens of thousands of volunteer recruits and the manifold threats of the Yankees was a different kettle of fish than his last post, the sleepy peacetime command in California or the Second US Cavalry Regiment before that. He could not stop Polk from invading Kentucky and throwing that state into the Union camp. He was unable to resist Davis’ demands to hold all Confederate territory, leading to his forces being spread out in a cordon defense (a strategy derided by Napoleon as fit mainly for stopping smugglers) that would be ruptured by the first serious Union attack.  He could not coax the plantation owners to keep sending slaves to build fortifications (the owners weren't paid and the slaves always came back in a surly mood after talking with guys from other plantations). What he did do was to stage a series of minor raids and demonstrations against the Yankees in order to make his small forces look more threatening, a sort of military theatrics.  He was in over his head. Given time he might grow into the role.

Opposite him was the Union department that would be named variously after the Ohio and then the Cumberland rivers. The first leader was Robert Anderson, hero of Fort Sumter. He rapidly went to pieces under pressures similar to those bedeviling Johnston. He shared some of this anxiety with his second in command, “Cump” Sherman
Sherman had been one of the few Union leaders who emerged from First Bull Run with his reputation enhanced, having led his brigade competently.  Anderson soon resigned and Sherman took over. He was also swamped by the various demands of the position, so much more complicated than running a brigade. He was spooked by the threatening displays Johnston made and behaved eccentrically.  He told a superior (with a reporter present) that his department needed 200,000 troops in order to advance against the enemy. It was the final straw. He was relieved of duty; his wife was sent for to take him home in November of 1861. This was the last success that Albert Sidney would see. Buell took over from Sherman and was a picture of calm, though he showed no sign of ever advancing against the Rebels.

Johnston’s department also abutted the next Union department to the west, commanded by Henry Halleck. Halleck was no live wire either, but under his command was one U. S. Grant. In early 1862 this aggressive (and lucky) general seized Forts Henry and Donelson, snapping up 15,000 prisoners and breaking the center of Johnston’s cordon. Rapid withdrawals verging on panic gave up the major city of Nashville without a shot fired. Union gunboats prowled the rivers deep into Alabama. Western and middle Tennessee passed into Union hands. Grant moved his army within 20 miles of strategic Corinth Mississippi, waiting for the glacial advance of Buell’s army to join him. The Confederate press, politicians and not a few soldiers blamed Johnston for this mess. Pierre Gustave Toutant-Beauregard arrived to help out. His idea was to strip much of the rest of the Confederacy of troops in order to mass them to attack and wipe out Grant before Buell could join him. This was in line with Beauregard’s usual semi-Napoleonic thoughts and at odds with Davis’ hold-everything cordon defense, one of the many reasons the two did not get along.

Johnston clutched at this straw as a way to redeem himself and drive the Yankee invaders back. In practice, Beauregard wasn’t much more of a help since he was recovering from 19th century dental surgery (ouch). The raw troops took 3 days to cover the 20 miles to Grant’s camp. Beauregard got cold feet and wanted to call off the attack. He assumed the slow, sloppy march had blown any chance of surprise, and Buell might already have joined Grant.

It wasn’t so. Buell had stopped a day’s march away, assured by Grant that the Rebels were cowering at Corinth. Sherman had returned from his nervous breakdown, though many mumbled that he was insane. He was now the senior division commander in Grant’s army. As such he had picked the camps the troops had occupied when they first arrived. Much of the area had been under water from spring floods and the troops camped on any dry ground. As the water receded, the troops remained in their original camps rather than deploy in a more defensible manner due to overconfidence by Grant, Sherman and others. Sherman’s division was one of the two nearest the enemy. Sherman was aware that others doubted his sang-froid because he had previously been spooked by shadows. He put on a calm face and disdained any talk of Rebel threats.

The problem was, this time the threats were real. Patrols kept bumping into enemy troops not far from camp. Sherman downplayed them all and convinced the other front-line division commander, Prentiss (a green-horn), to do likewise.

Despite Beauregard’s doubts, Johnston insisted on making the attack. Under a dark cloud, he desperately needed a victory. Thanks to Yankee overconfidence and Sherman’s need to show he wasn’t a nervous Nellie, strategic surprise had been maintained. If the Rebels achieved tactical surprise too, the destruction of Grant’s army would be well within reach. But Colonel Peabody of Prentiss’ division wasn’t buying the line from above. The morning of the battle he sent several hundred troops patrolling south of his position. They collided with the Rebel skirmish line and a firefight broke out that lasted for two hours before the main Rebel attack drove the patrol back to their camp. Sherman’s and Prentiss’ divisions formed up on the edge of their camps in line of battle. They were not caught in their tents or having breakfast, despite newspaper reports to the contrary. Central direction was absent since Grant was at his headquarters downriver in Savannah, a boat ride away. The divisions were deployed around their camps instead of in an organized defense line facing south. But Peabody destroyed the rebel chance for complete tactical surprise.

Sherman still thought someone was overreacting. He rode forward with an aide and nearly collided with the advancing Rebel skirmishers; his aide was shot dead while Sherman was wounded in the hand. He spun his horse around and galloped back to his division, shouting that this was a real attack. Head finally out of the sand, he spent the rest of the battle leading his division with valor and competence. Sherman’s reputation was burnished by this brave fight. His role in the surprise was obscured.

Prentiss thought Peabody had brought the attack on with his strong patrol and threatened to have him brought up on charges. The threat became moot when Peabody was killed by Rebel bullets soon after. Johnston saw his men overrun the first two enemy camps. Then another Union division stopped Rebel attacks at the Hornet’s Nest. 
Johnston was helping organize an attack to flank this position when he was shot in the leg, likely accidentally by one of his own green soldiers. It severed an artery. He was numb in that leg due to an earlier injury suffered in a duel while serving in the Army of Texas. Some say he didn’t notice he’d been shot. He fell out of his saddle a while later and died from loss of blood. At that time, the Union line was giving way everywhere that he could see. He didn’t live to see the final disorganized Confederate attack on Grant’s last line repulsed. He didn’t see over 20,000 fresh Union troops appear the next morning. They combined with those of Grant’s soldiers still in the ranks after the first day to drive the Rebels back in defeat after a hard fight.

As the only full Confederate general slain in combat, he became a martyr of the Lost Cause and a secular saint. Had he lived, he likely would have been confirmed as a failed general. But his early theatrics had driven Sherman home in disgrace. The shadow of this disgrace led Sherman to ignore the mounting evidence of a major attack as signs of weakness. This nearly gave the victory to the Confederates.


The howls of anguish at the enormous losses in this first truly sanguinary Civil War battle led to a search for a scapegoat. A serious attempt was made to fire Grant, who indeed had much culpability for the surprise. But he had also refused to be stampeded and won in the end, with much help from reinforcements. Grant’s critics accused him of drunkenness. Sherman supported Grant, saying “He stood by me when I was crazy. I’ll stand by him when he’s drunk.”

Lincoln finally kept him, saying “I can’t spare this man. He Fights.”  He is also rumored to have said, "Find what whiskey he drinks and give it to my other generals."

This post is based mainly on my current reading, “Days of Glory, the Army of the Cumberland, 1861-1865” and the previously read “Army of the Heartland”, about the Army of Tennessee, and “Bloody April”, about the battle of Shiloh.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Band of Brothers.. or Nest of Vipers?

This post concerns command and control problems. You may not think that an appropriate subject for our games or you may just not like playing with command and control restrictions.  I believe the culture of command of the contending forces are as important as the morale levels and armament of the engaged sub-units. And I like simple command and control rules. Your mileage may vary.

When playing wargames, we assume that the commanders of the same nation are pulling together as a team. It seems like what should be happening. But a close look at many actual armies in combat shows a different reality. Most armies of any size have at least two factions among the officers. An intense example is the Confederate Army of Tennessee, where most of the officers came to despise their commander Braxton Bragg. They twice urged Jefferson Davis to fire Bragg. Both times Davis resisted the incipient rebellion. The anti-Bragg feeling went all the way down to much of the rank and file, as evidenced by ranker Sam Watson’s memoir, “Company Aytch”. In common with most Tennessee troops, he hated Bragg. During the final rout on Missionary Ridge, Bragg was roughed-up by an angry Rebel sergeant. He tendered his resignation and Davis accepted it, though Bragg was still used as a staff officer in Richmond, able to continue his feud with various officers from afar.

Interesting you say, but what does this have to do with our games? Let’s go back to Bragg and the Army of Tennessee to see what effect this discord had on the army. At the best of times and with good intentions, subordinate commanders could misinterpret orders or not be ready to execute them, leading to mistakes and delays. But officers who despised their leader and assumed they knew better (sometimes without valid reason) often refused to follow orders they thought wrong. Frequently, when Bragg did have a decent idea (he was not bereft of them, despite what some historians maintain) he could not get his army to execute them in a timely way. Several times Union forces escaped from tight spots because of this. Any game, operational or tactical, of this army after the Kentucky campaign of 1862 should reflect this problem. A detailed simulation might include what faction officers belonged to, though that last is a bit much even for me.

Now you say, Bragg’s army was an aberration. While an extreme example, consider the Army of the Ohio (later Cumberland) under Buell. The atmosphere there was so poisonous that division commander Davis murdered Buell’s friend “Bull” Nelson in front of many witnesses, including the Governor of Indiana. 
Many officers and rankers applauded the killing. Davis was arrested but never prosecuted. He returned to division command in a couple weeks and was promoted to corps command before the war was over. Buell’s mismanaged and troubled force then went on to fight the battle of Perryville, where most of the army stood by while the smaller Confederate force savaged the Union left wing.

The Army of the Potomac had at least two factions: the conservative, anti-abolition officers who were McClellan’s protégés, and all the others, such as abolitionists and those who just didn’t fit in with the first faction.

Even the elite Army of Northern Virginia had factions. There were the officers of each state, Virginia foremost among equals and more equal than the others. Within each state there were those who had embraced secession in the first wave and those who had hung back until after Fort Sumter. There were those who questioned Jefferson Davis’ leadership and those who didn’t.

In all of the cases above, consider issues of seniority and just plain personal animus. Confederate General Marmaduke killed General Walker in a duel during the 1864 battle of Little Rock. Prickly A. P. Hill was arrested by Stonewall Jackson and later, after transfer to Longstreet’s corps, was arrested there too. Testy George Meade had a loud, profane argument with his superior, Joe Hooker early during the Gettysburg campaign. When messengers arrived to tell Meade he had replaced Hooker, he feared they had come to arrest him.

Ok, you say, this is something unique to American Civil War armies, right?  Consider the Russian army of the Great War. There were two main factions, the so-called “reformers” (most with Russian names like Samsonov) and the “conservatives” (most with Baltic German names like Rennenkampf). It is little wonder that Rennenkampf’s First Army did not move swiftly to the aid of Samsonov’s Second Army, which was encircled and virtually destroyed.
Think also of all the times in the Peninsular War that various of Napoleon’s marshals did not aid each other, each finding their own situation more important.

If I haven’t lost you yet, you might ask how do I propose to replicate this on the table top (or map)? I’m not sure, though I think those considering campaigns and/or battle scenarios should ponder it. I will write in terms of the Bloody Big Battle rules, which are the rules of choice in my group the last few years. An army with a high degree of internal hostility should at least be considered passive to show the possibility of officers refusing to follow orders. And if the unrest goes deep into the ranks, perhaps units should also be rated as fragile, despite training/morale ratings. An example of this is Bragg’s army at Chattanooga. Bragg wasted his dearly bought victory of Chickamauga making war on his internal enemies and reorganizing the army to reduce their bases of support. It succeeded at that but utterly failed to ready his troops to face Grant. The result was his army breaking and running when in a position that, properly held, should have allowed boy scouts armed with rocks to repel assaults. 

Ignore the talk about poorly-sited works. Cleburne held his part of the ridge and took 1,000 prisoners in the process. The collapse along the rest of the line was mainly due to extremely poor tactics and the corrosive effect of the internal dissension in the Army of Tennessee. If you leave the last out of the equation, the Rebels should win most games of Chattanooga, a battle where they were routed. 

Friday, September 1, 2017

Rank & File 15mm Turks

I recently ordered a bunch of Rank & File 15mm Turks from the 1877 war, figuring they can also proxy for the Crimean War. Here is the first pack of infantry, given my basic wargame paint job. The infantry figure is really quite good with a sturdy natural pose and a face that a better painter could do wonders with. The officer is OK but not up to the ranker. The standard bearer is acceptable. I cut off the cast on flags and inserted brass rod for paper flags.

Here they alongside some of my Napoleonic figures from other manufacturers for a size comparison.

September 6: here are shots of the second pack of infantry, same pose, slightly different basing and brighter fez (no dark wash on the fez).