Sunday, March 12, 2023

Tarnation! Shiloh on the Rocks!

We played a game of Shiloh using the Bloody Big Battle rules Saturday afternoon. Originally planned for 5 players, things started to go awry early. Jay came to the rescue of a damsel in distress, always a priority for the Fencibles. Andrew, who we’ve not seen in a dog’s age, begged off; his young kids and wife had fallen ill that morning. After lunch, it was decided that Carl and Bill would play the Union and I would take the Confederates (all units in italics) and see if I could keep my ancestors in servitude.

Legend: yellow discs = disrupted units, yellow counters = silenced artillery, blue counters = spent units, dead soldiers/horses = a base wiped out, .22 shell = low on ammo.

I started with Hardee and Withers assaulting Sherman, backed up by two smoothbore artillery battalions in close range. The fire attack was in the 25 column, with hits starting at 5+. I rolled a 2, the first of many as it turned out. A second disruption on a unit is moot. But in the following assault I rolled a 6 and Carl got 1. The resulting +9 (after tactical modifiers) saw Sherman lose two bases, become spent and fall back 12”. Hardee exploited 6” forward and almost caught Sherman’s artillery that had evaded from the fight. Withers exploited into Prentiss, sending them back spent with a hit. It was a stunning first turn. And the last of that sort of thing.

You can see the Union starting to form a line. Could I rush in the Hornet’s Nest before they had more than Prentiss’ spent unit in it? 

Nope. Crappy movement rolls slowed progress. Worse was to come.

I rolled 2 (on 2D6) movement roll Hardee (my best unit), down to 1 because they were in the woods, which means disrupted units retreat a full move and lose a base. Panic? Or an unfounded rumor of enemy in the rear, with a regiment sent off table to guard baggage? Whatever, it was a disaster. And the 2s just kept on coming, sometimes when shooting but most often when rolling for movement. It did generate a lot of laughter among the blue coats.

I changed my dice, rubbed my right hand on the statue of Durga (Hindu goddess of war) and promptly rolled another 2. More Yankee laughter. Amidst this I had a serious brain fart. There is a minor typo on the first page of the Shiloh scenario  - it is a draft document. It says the game lasts 9 turns, 5 for the first day. I thought, oh crap, we’ve been playing this scenario wrong since 2016 (last played 2017). So I kept the first day at 5 turns. Afterwards I read the note on the second page indicating the first day lasts 9 turns. With a glacial advance and some rapid movement to the rear, I couldn’t even get a second unit up to the Hornet’s Nest by nightfall in 5 turns. It did bring a merciful end to the Confederate slow dance. We played the night turn after turn 5. Buell and Lew Wallace arrived. It looked like someone tipped the north up and every blue coated soldier landed on the table.


We played 5 turns in about 2 hours, averaging about 25 minutes per turn. I am starting to think we should only play the first day. If the Confederates take Pittsburg Landing, they win (once in 6 games previously). Otherwise, they get the historical result, losing with ghastly casualties on both sides. Oh yes, since I could not get my attack in gear after the first turn, the losses were trifling for this game, 3 bases of Union infantry, 2 infantry and 1 cavalry base for the Confederates, 1 infantry and 1 cavalry base run away. Going by a rough estimate that each destroyed base is half casualties and half folks “helping friends to the rear”, that would be ~1,500 losses on each side with an additional 2,000 Rebels taking an early trip to the showers, instead of the over 20,000 losses in the real thing. Even doubling the losses to 3,000 per side is a walk in the park compared to the actual battle.


Well, it was good to get together. Carl and Bill haven’t seen each other since before the plague. We had lunch and lots of stories, and my dice antics amused them greatly. Hopefully I got all those 2s out of my system and next time will see a torrent of 12s. Yeah.


That’s it until April. We travel south soon to touch base with family there.


PS a check of the rule book shows that Withers  needed to contact Sherman with his Front Center Point to assault, so that unit could not legally take part in the attack. With the 6-1 die rolls, Sherman would have been whipped just the same. Perhaps my astoundingly bad dice were karma for overloading the assault. Que sera. Mea culpa.

Wednesday, March 8, 2023

Ulysses S. Grant, a consideration

One of the tenets of the Lost Cause was that Grant was just a butcher, without skill. Lee himself aided this line. After the war, asked who was his most formidable adversary, he replied “George McClellan”. I presume this was said with a smile, since he was rarely surprised by McClellan.

Three Confederate field armies surrendered when cornered during the war: in 1862 the Army of Central Kentucky, 12,000+ strong, in 1863 the Army of Mississippi, 29,000 and in 1865 the Army of Northern Virginia, 26,000+. All three surrendered to forces led by Grant.


While the losses in his Overland Campaign were ghastly, it should be noted that the Confederates mobilized more troops for that campaign than usually thought and suffered higher losses than usually thought. The Overland Campaign reminds me of two adversaries dueling with chainsaws.


Was Grant a butcher? Well, he certainly ordered costly frontal attacks. Lee did the same at Gaines Mill and Malvern Hill (both 1862) and Gettysburg (1863) without being accused of being a butcher.


Amphibious operations are among the most complex in warfare. Often when they go wrong, at the root are problems between the commanders of the navy and the army. Examples include the Ottoman siege of Malta (1565), the British siege of Cartagena (1741) and the disastrous Continental Penobscot expedition (1779).


Grant’s Civil War career began with amphibious landings. His first at Belmont in 1861 had early success, followed by a hasty retreat from the hornet’s nest he had stirred up. But his coordination with Commodore Walke of the Navy was excellent. It was one of the few offensive moves made by Federal forces that year.


In 1862 he cracked open the Kentucky defense line of Albert Sidney Johnston at Forts Henry and Donelson, capturing his first field army in the process. He worked hand in glove with his Navy counterpart, Flag Officer Foote. 


He cooperated well with Acting Flag Officer Davis in his first operations against Vicksburg. These failed, due mainly to extremely defensible terrain and stiff Confederate opposition.


Army-Navy coordination was spectacular in the 1863 Vicksburg Campaign. The Navy ran 7 gunboats and 9 transports past the fortress of Vicksburg, losing two transports. Grant’s army was ferried across the Mississippi where Grant won five battles with superior numbers at each one, keeping two Confederate armies apart, badly defeating one and chasing it into Vicksburg. Had the Confederate forces combined they would have outnumbered him. After a lengthy siege, the city surrendered, along with the second field army that Grant bagged. This campaign compares with anything Napoleon performed. Of course, Grant’s aggressive skills showed up best when contrasted with the caution of Joe Johnston and the inept stumbling of Pemberton. Napoleon also faced some less than stellar opponents.


Grant didn’t have further chances to cooperate with the Navy during his Chattanooga Campaign: Navy boats couldn’t sail upriver past Muscle Shoals. Likewise with his Overland Campaign. Often ignored is his passing of the James River. Lee had stalemated Grant after the Battle of Cold Harbor. Federal forces were hemmed in against the James, with the only option to batter against increasingly strong Confederate fortifications. Or so it seemed. Grant had what is likely the longest pontoon bridge in history (2,170 feet) thrown across the James while he kept Lee busy with various feints. Then his army crossed the James, leaving Lee to realize what had happened after they were all gone, with any chance to strike while they were crossing long gone. His coup at Petersburg then failed when corps commanders on the spot failed to take the town when it was only defended by a small force. Even so, Lee was now tied down to a long, sanguinary siege, giving up one of the Army of Northern Virginia’s strong suits, mobility. While Lee’s army was pinned, Sherman’s western armies would capture Atlanta, Savannah, Charleston and march into North Carolina. The western Federal army moved into the eastern theater of war, effectively bringing the war to an end.


Grant’s  last campaign at Appomattox would be too far inland for Navy support, as he captured his last and toughest field army. In this campaign Lee lost some 30,000 troops at Saylor’s Creek and other battles, mostly prisoners or deserters, before the final surrender, against some 10,000 Union losses.


My take is Lee was extremely aggressive and skilled. He was willing to abide by a level of violence that made most of his Yankee opponents flinch, except for Burnside who was clumsy and suffered losses to little effect. Even Meade who was fairly skilled didn’t have the stomach to push offensive war against Lee. Lee finally met his match against the extremely aggressive and skillful Grant.


Was Grant perfect? Not by a long shot. He and his troops were nearly captured at Belmont. His over-confidence flirted with disaster at Fort Donelson and Shiloh. He stubbornly refused to ask for early ceasefires after failed attacks at Vicksburg and Cold Harbor, condemning hundreds of Union wounded between the lines. And for all the amity he displayed with Naval officers, he had more than his share of feuds with other army officers. Thomas, Rosecrans, Granger and others ran afoul of Grant. But he did win many of the most notable Union victories and crafted the grand strategy that shut the door on the Confederacy. Well worth his four stars. I would even suggest that his presidency wasn’t the abject failure it has been called. But that’s for another time, if I ever get around to it. Perhaps I’ll stick to military history though.


PS: Alfred Young’s “Lee’s Army During the Overland Campaign: a Numerical Study” is an exhaustive analysis of troops raised and lost in that campaign. Just as Grant scoured the north for rear area troops, so did Lee scrounge the south for troops that had been in cushy jobs. If you are looking for thumbnail histories of units in the Army of Northern Virginia in 1863 and 1864, this is your book. You can then rate brigades with ease, green, seasoned or crack. It is amazing how quickly prisoners were exchanged before it broke down. Most troops captured at Gettysburg were back in the ranks when the Overland Campaign started.

Saturday, March 4, 2023

Battle of Oeversee II - Once again, 1864 style

Saturday afternoon I hosted a remote intercontinental game of the Battle of Oeversee, fought on February 6, 1864 during the Second Schleswig-Holstein War. Rules used are Bloody Big Battles. I had played this recently with the scenario designer, Konstantinos Travlos. This time I ran the game using Discord, a maiden trial for me. Konstantinos played the Austrians (All Austrian units in italics) again from Nevada while his buddy Onur from Istanbul played the Danes. Several people joined in to watch, at least one from Canada, so we had quite a variety of gamers. Apologies to all for the less than stellar online camera work. My Discord video froze a couple times. I’m better at the still camera work, see below.


Legend: yellow discs = disrupted units, yellow counters = silenced artillery, .22 shells = low on ammo, dead soldier/horse models show where a base was destroyed, blue counter  = spent (badly shot up) unit.


Onur didn’t have a scenario map at hand when the game started so I suggested he use my deployment from the previous game since it had been victorious. Basically the two infantry units blocked  the way to the first objective and the single Danish artillery battery deployed on the right, on high ground and behind the lake, which protected against infantry or cavalry charges.


Konstantinos deployed one battery in the town of Oeversee and the other on a hill in his center. The 9th Hussars deployed on his right and planned on enveloping the Danish left, possibly capturing the rear objective.

As Austrian infantry closed on Danish positions, flanking Danish artillery fire combined with Danish infantry fire to cause serious losses.

Fog descended on the field, cutting visibility down to 12 inches, leaving the Austrian artillery out of the fight. The Danish guns were still in range of the fight in the center, and continued to deal out damage.

Edit: The two Danish infantry regiments rolled a 6 when they charged the 9th Jaegers, who rolled a 2. Seriously outnumbered, disrupted, low on ammo and badly out-rolled, the Jaegers ceased to exist. The Danish infantry exploited on cheering into the 14th Infantry. The Danes rolled a 1, seems the starch went out of them. The 14th Infantry rolled a 6 and the Danes were lucky to be merely driven back without serious loss.  

It was a furious fight. I have ideas of what the Austrians should do, but this game is being packed away. So far the plan is for the Fencibles to have a face-to-face game next week, likely of Shiloh. Stay tuned.


Thanks to Konstantinos and Onur for playing, and for the folks who dropped in to watch.

Note: I don't have Danish troops for this. Last game I used Union ACW troops, being moderately close in uniforms. This time I opted for 1870 French Naval Infantry because they are on white bases and look good on a snowy field. Right, the uniforms aren't close. I know.