Sunday, May 19, 2024

Huzzah 2024

I attended the Huzzah convention in South Portland Maine for the first time since the plague. The computer-moderated game (by Carnage & Glory) of the battle of Freeman’s Farm was a lot of fun, but the high point was meeting fellow bloggers and kindred spirits Ed M and Mark Nichipor. We’ve been reading each other’s posts for years but finally got to meet in person. Check the right margin for links to their blogs. Mark's is My Brave Fusiliers.

                   Photo of the Bloggers Three By Ed M. Mark is in the middle, me on the right. 

Sitting in the middle seat on the American side of the table got me command of Morgan’s Rifles and Dearborn’s Light Infantry along with Morgan, Arnold and Gates. Gates was along in case Arnold got killed, since C&G has serious morale penalties if the C-in-C is hit. And one of the American goals was to get Arnold killed, preferably late in the game so he would go down in history as a hero, rather than a scoundrel. Nice idea, worth nicking. I kept Gates far from the flying lead. He’d been shot once at the Monongahela and didn’t relish a repeat.

 

Game Master Rich Wallace had a gorgeous table and lovely 28mm figures as seen below. I stopped taking pictures after the second turn. Riedesel’s Brunswick troops would arrive on the third turn from the east table edge, at the arrow on the last photo.

 




Casualties are by actual troops, rather than figures. The game started like the actual battle. Morgan and Dearborn moved to within medium range of the Piquets, who were some 90 strong. The 800 Americans caused over 50 hits between them and the British fled the field after causing a few hits back. The American lights traded some fire with Hamilton’s regulars as they deployed and then lit out for the rear. Morgan’s boys kept rallying but then refusing to advance for most of the game. The Loyalists on the other side had a similar problem. We joked that both units would convene at a tavern after the battle and trade tales of evading the fight over tankards of ale.


Much of the game saw fairly long range firefights across the creek in the  middle of the table. 15 hits from a battalion were pretty good, sometimes hits were in the single digits. The British artillery was causing a lot of damage. Then Hamilton’s guns became exhausted. They limbered up and fell back, to our relief.


Learned’s Brigade on my right was holding their fire, refusing to shoot at long range. His right flank battalion finally gave way under fire and quit the field. The Brunswick  troops arrived but didn’t have much space to deploy in. Most of them deployed behind Hamilton. The Jaegers crossed the creek and threatened our right flank, occupying Freeman’s Farm house and barn. Rich informed us that the British were winning a major victory by that time since American losses were substantially higher than British, and the Farm had been seized. A large Brunswick battalion passed through Hamilton’s line and crossed the creek, into point blank range in our center. Poor’s right flank battalion fired into them, causing 19 hits or so. Learned’s left flank battalion hadn’t fired yet. Their first volley fired at 50 paces scored 57 hits, a staggering blow. I guessed that the British major victory had just been demoted to a minor one. We played to the end of the turn and my guess was right.

 

The table was beautiful, as were the figures. I enjoyed some aspects of C&G while others had me wondering. There are two morale phases at the end of each turn. Morgan’s Rifles would rally in the first phase and then refuse to advance in the second. Why not do it all in one phase? Late in the game the British declared a series of charges along their line. All units refused to charge. But most of them then advanced within 50 paces of our line. One thinks troops refusing to charge would also shy away from getting into close range. But those are questions for Nigel Marsh, the game designer, not Rich, the game master. A nice touch: militia units open fire anytime enemy troops are in range.

 

After the game I hopped in the car and drove an hour north where my wife’s savory beef stew was waiting. All in all, a very good day.


Edit: I do think cotton smoke would enhance the look and make it clear what units have already fired this turn. After the third hour of play that sort of thing is helpful. Plus I like the look.

Sunday, May 12, 2024

Working part-time at SPI, in a far-away galaxy, a long time ago.

I mentioned in another post somewhere that I once did some work for SPI. SPI (Simulations Publications Inc.) was the original publisher of Strategy and Tactics magazine. At least one person expressed interest online in hearing more about this, so here goes. 

 

Back in the 70’s I had a part-time gig at SPI, mostly as a game tester and partially doing stuff for Redmond Simonson, their graphics chief.  

The head game designer was James Dunnigan, who had come up with the heretical notion that different board games required different systems.

(Early Avalon Hill games used identical CRTs (Combat Results Tables). Battle of the Bulge was the first to have different results on the CRT.) The work I did for Redmond is done with a mouse and a PC these days.

 

I recall testing John Young’s Year of the Rat, a game of the 1972 NVA offensive.

I had the ARVN and John the NVA. His units operated hidden, upside down. He was beating the crap out of me. Then I found a flaw. Air strikes could immobilize an NVA unit. If my ARVN ground units could manage to get a retreat result on an immobilized enemy unit it would be eliminated. While unable to come back from the initial shellacking, knocking out several NVA divisions took some wind out of his sails.  

 

I tested one scenario of the WWII Pacific surface combat game CA, the battle of Tassafaronga, when Tanaka’s destroyers did extensive damage to the intercepting USN cruisers off Guadalcanal. As Tanaka, I ran my tin cans down, dropped the oil drums packed with supplies off the Japanese-held beach and ran back north. The intercepting cruisers blew me out of the water at long range. My torpedoes took out the leading US destroyer. We went to meet Dunnigan. Hearing that the Japanese had been wiped out, Dunnigan asked the full-time tester if I’d screwed up. The tester said not as far as he could see. Dunnigan went into his office and came out with a paperback bio of Tanaka, Japanese Destroyer Captain. Finding we used daylight sighting, he consulted the book. He said use night sighting since it was a night action. I was relieved, figuring the problem was solved. I bought a copy of CA when it was published. With night sighting rules, the USN had to get within range of Japanese Long Lance torpedoes and was crucified, making that scenario a forgone conclusion. Historical result, not much fun. Otherwise, I found CA too basic for my taste. Ships were OK, damaged or sunk. There was no further granularity.


If you read or watched Winds of War, Tassafaronga is where Tug had to abandon ship when his heavy cruiser was torpedoed. 

 

One of my favorite  SPI games was John's Musket and Pike. I recall having worked on the graphics. Another player surprised me a decade or so back by saying I had a design credit for the game. Digging out my old copy from the closet revealed it was so. I have no recollection of testing the game. It was long ago and I’m long in the tooth. The game has a number of inaccuracies, since-debunked myths and the like. Super Swedish cavalry hit harder and moved faster (8 strength – 8 movement) than normal heavy cavalry (5-6). The complete lack of command control enabled all the musketeers in one’s army to rush to one spot or another at will. Actual musketeers had some flexibility within the battalion but not much otherwise beyond deployment. Units had three states: OK, disordered or dead. This worked better when there were a lot of units, instead of a few ships per side as in CA. The Lutzen scenario had the Swedes go berserk whenever their first cavalry unit was disordered, simulating the death of Gustavus. After that, Swedish units ignored disorder results. It was hard to  eliminate any of them. The usual way to knock out units was disordering already disordered units. This was based on the since discredited story that the Swedes went berserk and routed the Imperialists. Gustavus’s death was kept quiet and the Swedes eked out a marginal win in the real battle.

 

That said, Musket & Pike was a blast to play, if Lutzen was ignored. It played quickly. Many of the scenarios had great replay value, if sometimes dodgy OBs. I played many games of this. Perhaps some scenarios from it can be used in different periods. One that comes to mind is Szent Gotthard, a town in Hungary. A small, regular imperial force on a hill is beset by a larger Ottoman force, half levy troops and half regulars (Janissaries). Badly outnumbered, they must hold on desperately while a large force of regular mercenaries appears behind the Ottomans. The Ottomans need to clear the hill so they can then use the slopes to defend against the new arrivals. Great game, no idea how close it is to the actual battle.

 

I have fond memories of SPI. John Young passed away way too soon. Redmond should have been around longer too.

Sunday, April 28, 2024

Camden, 1780 Redux

We played my in-process Camden scenario again Saturday, with a few tweaks to simplify the game. Rules are the in-process AWI mods to the Bloody Big Battle rules. I took the part of Horatio Gates, commanding all the militia and a couple fragile Continental units. Carl played De Kalb (who is rated as a hero) with two Continental "brigades", one of veteran Maryland and Delaware troops. Andrew was Cornwallis, commanding Webster’s right flank brigade of aggressive, veteran troops and the reserve of the 71st Highlanders and Tarleton’s dragoons. The Rebel militia starts the game disrupted due to the order for them to attack the redcoats having been very poorly received. Per  usual BBB, Gates didn't rate being represented since he was so uninspiring at this battle. 


Purists will note that Tarleton’s horse are actually British Light Dragoons. All I can say is the manufacturer (Frying Pan & Blanket) didn’t make Tarleton’s lads. There are other substitutions, though the 23rd, 33rd and 71st and some American units are all proper. Yes, the 23rd are wearing their bearskin hats in the deep South summer. They’re my toys. If I hit the lottery, I’ll do the set over in 15mm with Blue Moon figures. The odds are about the same as being hit by lightning while attacked by a shark.

Webster (Andrew) charged, being met by my truly wimpy defensive fire dice. The 23rd Foot defeated the Virginia militia opposing them and then exploited and beat the light infantry. The caption on the photo below is incomplete. The 33rd charged and shoved the other Virginia militia back. Rawdon (Jay) on the Crown left fell back, razzed by Cornwallis (Andrew). Jay had played De Kalb in the previous game and had a healthy respect for veteran Continentals led by a hero.

The Light Infantry rallied and returned to trade fire with the regulars. The North Carolina militia advanced, pouring withering into the 71st, getting two hits and going low on ammo. The British grasshopper guns silenced their American counterparts. Armand’s dragoons went on a long loop around the British right and seem to have got lost for a couple turns after that. The North Carolina militia, low on ammo, charged the shot-up 71st and managed to get a tie. Each side lost a stand. Any unit reduced to a single stand is removed, and so the 71st disappeared, leaving a gaping hole in the British center.  

(That's not VA militia below, that's the beat-up Light Infantry)

Tarleton charged, riding down the silenced light guns. The 33rd charged, defeating the Virginia militia before them. The 23rd stalled, engaged in an indecisive firefight with the militia opposite them. Rawdon’s troops formed an inverted V shape, with field guns at the apex. It was designed to get flanking fire on at least one of the enemy units that advanced into it. It worked.


Both North Carolina militia units got decent movement rolls and advanced into the gap in the British lines. One flanked Tarleton and the other flanked Rawdon’s force. Effective fire decimated the dragoons. Rawdon took hits too.


The 33rd foot beat the remains of the Virginia militia facing them and chased them off the table. They exploited into the American baggage, looted it and then set it afire. Armand’s dragoons awaked from their slumber, tentatively threatening the rear of the 23rd, who were still engaged in a desultory firefight with the thoroughly trashed Light Infantry. On the other flank, the trained 2nd Maryland brigade dissolved under fire. The veteran 1st was about to go under too. But Rawdon’s Irish Volunteers were spent, hiding behind the Loyalist North Carolina militia, who melted away under flanking fire. Since there’s no breaking point on these armies, it looked like we could go on to the last man standing. We’d played four turns in a tad over two hours. And decided to call it a game. There had been a bit of trash-talking. Entertaining but slow.

My revised, simplified victory conditions had each stand a spent unit started with count one victory point to the enemy, two if the unit was removed from the table. So a 5-base spent unit would count 5 points, 10 if off the table. Yes, militia counted the same as veterans. Obviously, room for improvement here. The British won 57 points to 29, a substantial victory, almost decisive (2-1). If the hole hadn’t been exploited it would likely have been decisive. Or if Tarleton’s dragoons hadn’t been taking selfies or whatever they doing around the captured guns. On the one hand, the British beat the Yanks handily, which is what I figure should be the result of this battle given the historical deployment on the veteran British right facing the large but unsteady Rebel left. I still think the militia was too resilient. The thinking cap needs to be put on again. That’s it for Fencible games for a while as I head up north with my wife for a month. Any further posts in that time, if any, will be historical pondering but no after-action-reports. May all your wars be little ones. Stay away from the real ones.


Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Crossfire AAR, Small Threat to the Flank

The Victrix 12mm 1/144 figures got to see the elephant Saturday. Carl commanded the Soviets on the defense and I took the Germans. Last time we played this my attack stalled and the clock wound down.

 

He deployed his first and second platoon hidden, and his understrength third platoon in view. My first two platoons faced his, my third faced their opposite number. Among the rules mistakes:  we played that an anti-tank shot that hit and didn’t kill the target kept the initiative. Wrong, but it didn’t make a big difference. Likewise, I forgot that tanks in woods, field and rough terrain lose their +3 close combat bonus. As will be seen, it didn’t matter either. I can easily find the pertinent rules after the game is over, rarely during the game.

 

First I sent my PZ III with the main group out on my left flank. A Soviet squad in a house opened up with an AT rifle and rolled boxcars. Forgetting that’s an automatic kill, I checked the charts. It was indeed a hit and a kill. I suggested the shot had gone through a view slit, Carl said Hans didn’t close the hatch after coming back from a toilet break.

 

Fire was traded across the valley. I used up all 4 heavy artillery fire missions and couldn’t get more than a pin on the enemy machine gun. The 50mm mortar did better dropping smoke in front of the MG. After the game I noticed how big the heavy smoke screen is. Next time…

Carl was advancing the clock every initiative to start, until suddenly his dice went cold. The clock stuck at 5:30 for almost the rest of the game. A smokescreen from the 75mm kept the 3rd Soviet Platoon out of the picture and my 2nd platoon advanced, ending up mostly pinned but with almost all the Soviets going no-fire. Perhaps guns jammed, ammo ran out, solders decided to take a smoke break, whatever. The one squad from my 1st platoon able to move advanced and was pinned, drawing some more no-fire results in the process. With all facing me in the center no-fire, I pulled my unengaged 3rd platoon back, sent it around the rear to my left and across the river. All three squads and their Platoon Commander (sergeant Steiner?) hit the first farmhouse and cleaned out the enemy machine gun. They advanced up the hill and attacked the T-26, which had the benefit of the +3 close combat modifier in error. The first roll was a tie. Steiner, atop the tank, had trouble getting the hatch open. He won the re-roll and shoved a grenade into the hatch. Scratch one T-26. 

 

Cheering, the platoon cleaned out the 50mm mortar and charged up to the objective house. A die roll of 1 looked bad, but the Soviets matched it; the house fell in a rain of grenades. Steiner moved to his right and caught the first squad of the enemy 2nd platoon, wiping it out. On a tear, he then assaulted the 2nd squad. We both thought the game was just about over. I rolled a 1. Proletarian hero Maxim brained Steiner with the butt of his submachinegun and proceeded to shoot the rest of the platoon. Carl asked if they were all dead. Ah, yes. 

 

Both sides were pretty badly shot up. My PZ IV traded fire with the enemy T-34 76 for a while, both sides failing to get a kill. Then my dice heated up; the suppressed machinegun rallied and hosed down the Soviet 2nd platoon, killing both squads, including Maxim. His Hero of the Soviet Union award was posthumous. But his next of kin would be able to cut in at the head of the food lines in later years.

 

The game took 2 hours, 20 minutes to play. Both of us found Steiner’s mad dash highly entertaining, all in one initiative.  Losses on each side were over 50%. I am aware that shifting a platoon from one flank to the other would be highly unlikely in a real combat situation.

 

Next game in a couple weeks will be set in 1780 South Carolina via the time travel portal.

Friday, April 5, 2024

NY-NJ Earthquake

 The strongest earthquake in this region in 140 years (says the NY Times), 4.8 struck this morning.

We will rebuild.



Wednesday, April 3, 2024

Victrix 12mm (1/144) Soviet Infantry Based for Crossfire And now the Germans

 

 

Here are some Victrix Soviet infantry intended for Crossfire, replacing my current 1/72 Crossfire East Front set.

Two companies plus machine guns, mortars and forward observers are painted and based. Yes, I know Soviet platoons had 4 squads each. These lads are experienced, have been in combat. After all,  Audie Murphy was commanding a company of 18 men when he won the Medal of Honor. Often actual units didn’t make the full TO&E. Another company is painted but I didn’t order enough bases from Wargames Accessories. 


When my two companies of Nazi bastids (In the words of a friend’s late father. He was captured in the Bulge, as one of the 106th Division.) are based I’ll order more bases. The Germans have three companies painted, like the Soviets and have the same logistical issue. The chaps are about half an inch tall. They have some T-34/76s with them. They are in a column of companies. The casualties will go back in column of platoons if things don’t go too badly.



And now, two Companies of Germans with support weapons and some Pz IV tanks.



Monday, April 1, 2024

Camden 1780, Bloody Revolutionary Battles

Bloody Revolutionary Battles is an in-process modification of Bloody Big Battles. Since it doesn’t involve learning a new set of rules and since I happen to have British, Hessian and Continental forces in 20mm (Frying Pan and Blanket Miniatures) I decided to use the 1780 Battle of Camden to test-drive the modifications. It is a battle I often use to test AWI rules. With the historical deployment, the British should win. Continentals are in italics.

 

For the first time since the plague, we managed to have 4 Fencibles present. After lunch we started the game. Jay and Bill opted for the Continentals, Jay as De Kalb and Bill as Gates, commanding the mob of militia and Armand’s Legion. I was Cornwallis and Carl was Lord Rawdon, facing De Kalb. What with Gates and De Kalb on the field, it was revealed who those avenues in Brooklyn are named after.

 

The first turn got off to a bad start when two of my three veteran infantry watched the 33rd Foot attack by themselves. But the 33rd (Howe’s own) went straight in, sending sent their raw foes back spent. Since we were playing the modifications, we resolved each event separately. Each turn required about 30 minutes. It would have gone a lot faster with 4 players if each opposing pair had resolved things while the other pair did. In time…



Basically, my right flank did severe damage to the unruly mob opposed to us while De Kalb whipped up on our left. Aided by a first-turn lucky hit on our field artillery, De Kalb kept attacking, sometimes halted by fire, other times closing and beating up loyalist regulars and militia alike.





Mistakes we made: Rawdon should have stayed on the defense. Tarleton’s dragoons should have left the enemy Light Infantry alone and have found happier work amid the spent militia.

 

The in-process mods hinder militia with numerous negative modifiers. One I thought was a tad much was treating them as a dense target. So I left that off my scenario. I figured raw, fragile troops who fired ragged volleys had enough trouble, especially since all trained or veteran troops fired devastating volleys. The raw troops indeed were in trouble when charged by their betters. I had the Continental militia start the game disrupted. In the actual battle a misguided order for them to attack the British regulars led to confusion, which set the stage for their rout.

 

We played 5 turns in 160 minutes. Practice should get that done faster. Both armies were trying to rout the enemy, since they had collided the night before while trying to steal a march on each other. The victory conditions were based on casualties caused, and looting the enemy baggage train. The photographer (me) screwed up midway through the third turn, focusing on minor stuff, missing anything of value. And no close ups, a pity since some of these guys are my better painting.

 

Dice went both ways, low runs followed by high ones. Once I attacked one of Bill’s units. Our house rule is attackers roll first on assaults. I rolled a one. Everyone whooped and figured Bill’s rabble would show me. He rolled a one, which occasioned more merriment. His rabble fled.

 

By the end of the fifth turn Rawdon’s wing had collapsed, save for the damaged field artillery. The Virginia militia had collapsed and the North Carolina militia were looking to follow them. Both baggage trains were close to being overrun. We called the game at that point. The British total of losses was just over the Continental total. Though later, as I put the troops away, I saw a couple Rebel figures had ended up in the British pile. Can’t really blame Carl, since I didn’t have enough figures to do everything right. Hessians were posing as Loyalists and the Rebels have every color uniform under the sun. Carl isn’t an American Revolution uniform maven. I think at this point I’m the only one in the club who has this illness. I should keep track of the losses in future battles.

 

Everybody liked the game, even Bill who had the thankless task of commanding the rabble. It was agreed that if the British veterans had decided to attack in unison on the first turn that the Crown forces would have done better.

 

I think of one possible further addition to the rules, or at least scenario special rules: during the movement roll, -1 for each friendly spent unit of the same grade within 6”. This will make mass collapses more infectious. There is already a -2 for spent units of a higher grade.

 

I had placed a number of very small units on the table, in part because I wanted to field the Delawares. I have more painted (in 1780 gear) than needed for this game. But really small units should be amalgamated with larger units, since they are so fragile in these rules. The British had 4 such units: British Legion Foot, the two tiny battalions of the 71st Highlanders, and the Light Infantry companies. The only tiny unit on the other side was the Delawares. I should just suck it up and brigade them with the 1st Maryland Brigade, since that is how they fought. It would reduce the number of units, simplifying and speeding up the game. The 71st should just be one battalion, merge the Light Infantry into the 33rd and 23rd, the Legion Foot into the Irish Volunteers or Hamilton’s North Carolina regiment, since all were  Loyalist regulars.

 

Next time...

Wednesday, March 27, 2024

Phil Sheridan, Heroics and Volunteers

In 1863 Phil Sheridan commanded an infantry division in the Union Army of the Cumberland. Popular with the rank and file, sometimes he could stretch their patience.

 


On the first day of the battle of Chickamauga, his was the last Federal division into the fight. His first wave entered the Viniard Farm field and attacked the Confederates across the way. The Union second line halted in a handy ditch. From the rear came cries of “Make way for Sheridan! Make way for Sheridan!” Following an officer bearing his battle flag, along came Sheridan trailed by his staff. The troops gladly  opened ranks and let the mounted group through.

 

In short order the first wave came back at the run, as did Sheridan, his black horse and his staff. The troops shouted “Make way for Sheridan! Make way for Sheridan!” Perhaps with more than a touch of irony and a lack of respect or at least silence that disciplined regulars might have displayed.


The next case of Phil’s heroics came at Missionary Ridge, when the troops of the army of the Cumberland made their impromptu attack against orders and routed the Army of Tennessee,  succeeding in deposing Braxton Bragg, something his own generals had been trying to do since 1862. 


Phil's division waited at the foot of the ridge, having overrun the rifle pits at the base. Orders and counter-orders confused the situation. Sheridan took out a flask, poured a cup of whisky and toasted the rebel gunners with “Here’s to you, general Bragg”.  The only people who could hear him were the nearby prone Union troops, waiting for a decision to join the others climbing the ridge. The enemy gunners aimed at the mounted target waving his cup. They missed. Sheridan hollered “That is damned unkind.” A sergeant of the nearby 15th Indiana later remarked: “I did not know the act was to become so historically famous, I saw, and heard, the whole performance, but instead of thinking it a grand and heroic act, I only wished he would quit his foolishness, drawing down the rebel cannon on us.”

 

Bill Mauldin once did a cartoon on a similar subject. Kudos to anyone finding a link to it.



Thursday, March 21, 2024

Victrix 12mm armor and infantry, a project delayed

Replacing my old Crossfire set: Madness? Perhaps. The old 1/72 set, eastern Front WWII, has two+ companies per side with a few tanks. After a long hiatus, the rules were trotted out again. Current members approved. The Victrix WWII 12mm figures got my attention; new, bright, shiny.

An order went off. I had them sent to a friend in Maine since we were bound there; assuming the Royal Mail wouldn’t be so fast. They arrived a couple weeks before we left NY, as quickly as if mailed within the US. Upon arrival in Maine in early January two record-breaking storms hit the coast, three days apart. Amid all the confusion not a lick of painting got done. Eventually we returned to NYC and work began on the little guys. 

I haven’t figured out how to photograph these tiny guys well enough to do them justice, but here goes.

First, the armor. Yes, Crossfire is an infantry game. So, I started on the tanks. Go figure.




The T-34s come with plenty of spare wheels, tracks and riders. After festooning one tank with riders, I stopped. Gluing them on is a tad finicky for my old eyes. The models are easy to assemble. The Pz IV comes with clues which are helpful. The T-34s are simple and don’t need any. My paint job is basic with ink wash. Applying the decals a tad fussy. There are enough decals in each pack for more vehicles than the pack contains. The models are lovely, better than my photos show. As you can see, tanks can be assembled with turret hatches closed or open with commanders. Up to half of the T34s can be the later 85mm model or all as the 76mm version, with two turret variants for the latter. I await some towed anti-tank guns for the Soviets. Or else I’ll get some from Pendraken. They should be close enough.

 

After the tanks I started on the infantry. For some reason the prone Germans didn’t get painted yet, while prone Soviets did come under the brush. Again, basic paint with ink wash. This technique looks best on the lighter uniform of the Soviets. Some day I’ll paint up SYW or Napoleonic Austrian in a flash with this technique. Although my apartment is about maxed out between figures, terrain and books. Did I mention books? In some cases, I wasn’t sure what the figures were. You can check the larger photos on the Victrix website to see just what is what. Oh, that’s the woman sniper, that’s the radio operator… 

These tiny folks are well proportioned, no cartoonish musclemen. A few poses are stiff, but most are really quite naturalistic, way more than other plastic sets I’ve seen. I left the painted figures on the sprue for the time being. They are so small I don’t want to remove them until my metal bases arrive. Tiny things disappear in my flat like large ones do in the Bermuda Triangle. It is easy to paint them on the sprue. Except for one Soviet figure, all the sprue attachments are at the bottom of each base. Nice. Next up will be the heavy weapons sprues, included in the pack with infantry. Should you wish to paint detail, it’s all there. For me, that way lies madness and I figure if they pass muster at 12 inches that’s enough. Again, my photography doesn’t do justice to these tiny guys. They should look good mounted up on the table amidst terrain. That’s all the news from Corlears Hook.

Thursday, February 15, 2024

Fighting for the Confederacy: The Personal Recollections of General Edward Porter Alexander

A friend and fellow ACW buff wrote, suggesting I read this book. I thought that was a good idea, put the letter on top of a pile of mail and then forgot about it. Much later I went through the stack of mail, discarding most and came upon the letter again. I purchased the Kindle edition and was pleased. Alexander starts with a long chapter about his life up the secession crisis. One of the other officers in the old army he most liked was McPherson. He mourned that Union officer’s death around Atlanta.

 


Alexander wrote well. While he followed the Lost Cause as far as denying slavery was a major cause of the war, he did not shy away from criticizing mistakes made by other Confederate icons, like Lee and Stonewall Jackson. His comments about darkies and such lead me to believe he wasn’t unhappy that southern states were “redeemed” from Reconstruction.

 

He began his career in grey as a supply officer for artillery. This gave him the perspective of logistical limits. You know the old saw, amateurs talk tactics, professionals talk logistics.

 

He thought there were two chances for Confederate victory; 1st Manassas / Bull Run and Glendale, the penultimate battle of the Seven Days in 1862. I rather disagree about the first, since the green army collapsed in victory almost as totally as the Union army did in defeat, with politician / officers giving speeches and troops wandering around seeking souvenirs of the battle they thought ended the war. Glendale might have been a really serious defeat for the Army of the Potomac. The Union troops escaped largely because Stonewall Jackson failed to advance, as he often did during the Seven Days. It was the nadir of his Confederate career.

 

Alexander thought having McClellan return from James/Appomattox Rivers a serious error, adding two years to the war. He did note that McClellan's extreme caution might negate the advantage of the position. Yes indeed.  Alexander then became an artillery officer in Longstreet’s corps and in time the corps artillery CO. He often complained about the quality of Confederate long-range artillery ammunition; faulty fuses and rounds that might start to tumble in flight. Gamers might consider this.

 

He thought Lee’s decision to stand at Sharpsburg / Antietam was foolish. I concur. Lee risked crushing defeat and at best might repulse the Union assault. The ex-supply officer didn’t see Gettysburg as possibly decisive; the Confederate army was 150 miles from their railhead and couldn’t remain long enough to gain any but a transitory advantage. (The Prussian general staff later determined that efficient horse-drawn wagons could supply troops no more than 72 miles from a railhead, and the Confederate supply services weren’t all that efficient.)

 

A tenet of the Lost Cause was that Grant was nothing but a butcher who used massive numerical superiority. Alexander noted the superiority; also, that his Union opponents were much better directed once Grant was on the scene. Both Lee and Grant made some errors during the Overland Campaign.  

 

Lee was indecisive during Grant’s critical crossing of the James, in large part because he could not believe the Yankees could move that many troops and wagons in a few days. By the time he realized what was happening, Petersburg was under attack, saved only by Beauregard’s heroics, Smith’s caution and the exhaustion of Hancock and his troops when they did arrive. Grant was now back where McClellan was in 1862, but Grant was aggressive and skillful. Lee’s army was pinned in a siege. The end was matter of time.

 

Alexander liked many of his colleagues, but rued Hood replacing Joe Johnston. As for Polk, he said the Lord had made him a bishop but not a general. Denying a basic Lost Cause trope, he said Longstreet was not responsible for the defeat at Gettysburg. I’ve read many accounts of Longstreet being wounded at the Wilderness. This was the first time I realized Longstreet's right arm was paralyzed.


There are some amazing stories here. Late in the war, Alexander had to sleep on the floor of a crowded railway station because the next train wasn't due until the morning. Sleeping on the floor next to him was Confederate Vice-President Stephens, back from an abortive peace conference within Union lines.

Very near the end, Alexander withdrew nearly 700 Confederate dollars from a bank and managed to convert it into a $10 gold coin. There's more like this.

 

I heartily recommend the book to Civil War buffs. There are limitations to the Kindle edition. Links to footnotes worked intermittently on the Kindle device, perhaps half the time or less. The links work on the desktop PC, but I like to read curled up in the easy chair or in bed before lights out. Not the author’s fault, but Amazon’s.

Saturday, February 10, 2024

Table top Superbowl

The massive American football tournament, half-time concert and advertising extravaganza looms tomorrow. To mark the occasion, Fencible Carl has created a miniature version. His notes follow in italics.

So Ksenia and I generally watch exactly 1 game of football every year, and I'm sure you can guess which one. So for about a decade and a half I've explained the rules to her or shown her some YouTube videos doing the same, then she's had 51 weeks to forget them.

 

This year she challenged me to create a game for her to learn from, in the hope that it would result in better retention.

 

This isn't as beautiful as [the Fencibles’] work, and I'm certainly guilty of using the wrong sets of figures, but I thought you might enjoy what we managed with some figurines, colored pencils, dice and some collaborative effort. I had her draw the field with me to learn it well.


 

 

We used multiple D6s to resolve competition. The D4 and D10 kept track of downs and progress.  The brown pencil is the line of scrimmage and the blue one is first down.

 

We added a coach to the game.

 

And their "biggest fan" showed up.

 

But I'm not sure this guy was the best choice for the running back.


My wife found this excellent and I have to agree. I'm not much of a football fan, never having played it. I played soccer in 5th through 8th grade, as a thuggish defender of minimal skill. I only pay much attention to American football when the New Orleans Saints are in contention. That is to say, not often.

Years back an old friend of mine came to a game day at Simulations Publications Incorporated, where I had a part-time gig as a game tester. He wasn't into war games and usually lost when he did play. SPI (the original publisher of Strategy and Tactics magazine) had a test version of a football game available. We tried it. Kurt had actually played football. He ran roughshod over me in short order, gaining 50 yards and a touchdown on his first play.

Sunday, January 21, 2024

Stonewall Jackson, a brief summary

 

Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson had a meteoric career in the American Civil War, from 1861 to his death in 1863. Today (1/21/2024) is his 200th birthday.

He rose to fame in the 1861 Battle of Bull Run/Manassas. When the Confederate left was driven back in disorder after a hard fight, Jackson deployed his reinforcing brigade on Henry House Hill. At this time, the usual Confederate infantry brigade had a 4-gun battery attached. Other guns from the retreating units rallied on Jackson. I noticed during a visit to the battlefield back in the 90s that Jackson had 13 guns around his brigade. At this early battle, green brigades were incapable of making coordinated assaults, instead sending one regiment forward at a time. Regular Union artillery aggressively closed to canister range, one battery shot down by rifled muskets that out-ranged smoothbore muskets by some 50 yards or more in the hands of ordinary recruits, the other at close range by a Virginia regiment in blue uniforms. Jackson’s stand stopped the Union attack. Other reinforcements arrived and drove the Yankees back. Jackson’s nickname and reputation were made.

 

In January 1862, promoted to major-general, Jackson launched a winter campaign to recapture West Virginia. His campaign was delayed by the slow movement of Brigadier-General Loring, who resented being under Jackson’s command. The prickly Loring would also prove difficult under Pemberton in 1863. Snow and mud slowed Jackon’s marches. He sought to destroy a smaller Union garrison at Bath, but this evaded his move, joining other troops at Hancock, Maryland behind the Potomac River. Unable to find a crossing, Jackson settled for trading artillery fire with the Yankees. Jackson then moved on the town of Romney. Again, the Union garrison flew the coop. In miserably cold weather, Jackson ordered Loring to hold the town while he withdrew his troops to Winchester. Loring’s officers circulated a petition demanding a withdrawal. Loring endorsed it and sent it to Jefferson Davis. Davis’s ok ended the one-month campaign. Jackson tendered his resignation. The governor of Virginia talked him out of it. The campaign did clear the upper (southwestern) Shenandoah of Union forces. The lower (northeastern) end of the Valley pointed at Washington D.C. like a gun.

 

After the victory at Bull Run, southern fortunes declined, with Union victories in the west and along coastal North and South Carolina. Secessionist morale and international prestige sank.

 

Jackson then embarked on his Valley campaign, outmarching three separate Union forces, defeating each in turn and escaping an attempt to coordinate them against him. This raised southern morale. Any Confederate victory in the Valley threatened Washington and raised Lincoln's blood pressure. Lincoln learned that sending orders over the telegraph was no substitute for having a competent military officer in charge on the scene.

 

Jackson next marched to Richmond to take part in Lee’s offensive against McClellan, which would be known as the Seven Days. Here Jackson let Lee down. He was physically exhausted, possible feeling that the other troops should shoulder the burden of fighting. Extremely pious, he also avoided fighting on Sundays. Lee’s plans usually had Jackon’s left flank striking the Union right. Jackson either showed up late or not at all for most of the fights. He once went to sleep while his troops halted in mid-day, after ordering a bridge built over a stream that was fordable. Lee got rid of most commanders who let him down during this campaign, except Jackson. McClellan did manage to escape from a tight squeeze.

Next, Jackson was sent north to raid the supplies of John Pope’s army. Pope had been given command of the various forces that had been embarrassed by Jackson previously. Jackson torched an enormous supply depot at Manassas and then hid out, while Lee and the rest of the Confederate army hurried north to join him. Jackson then held out against Pope’s superior numbers at 2nd Bull Run/Manassas until Lee and Longstreet arrived to crush Pope’s left flank. The Union troops fell back on Washington. Pope was relieved and McClellan was back in charge.

 

Lee then invaded Maryland, figuring that Little Mac would be slow as molasses as usual and the Union troops were demoralized by their defeats. The first count was right, until a copy of Lee’s orders was found, lighting a fire under Little Mac, who advanced at a moderate pace. Lee was wrong on the second count. The Union troops were looking for a chance to show what they could do when properly led. They got less than stellar leadership but still came within a whisker of destroying Lee’s army at Antietam/Sharpsburg.

McClellan was sacked for his glacial moves after the battle. Burnside was put in charge. He advanced to Fredericksburg, wasting a week waiting for pontoon bridges needed to cross the Rappahannock River. During this time Lee’s army arrived and lined the opposite shore. Jackson held the right. When Burnside’s large army finally crossed, an attack was launched at Jackson’s corps. Meade’s division found a several hundred yard gap in Jackson’s line in a swampy wooded area thought to be impassable.  As is often the case, when the passable terrain is swept by enemy fire, “impassable” terrain becomes rather inviting. Gregg’s Confederate brigade, relaxing in what was thought to be a reserve position, was overrun and Gregg slain. Jackson then organized a fierce counterattack that drove Meade back with heavy losses. That pretty much ended the fight on the right. The rest of the battle saw a series of hopeless Union attacks against the left, where Longstreet had prepared a killing ground. Bodies piled up in front of his position. It was a lopsided victory. Jackson lost most of the Confederate casualties while Longstreet caused most of the Union losses.

Burnside was soon replaced by “Fighting” Joe Hooker. Longstreet was away, waging a low-key campaign in coastal North Carolina aimed mainly at bringing in crops from areas near coastal Union positions. Hooker started out with a bang, crossing the Rappahannock and flanking Lee’s army. Then he got cold feet, falling back into the Wilderness, waiting for Lee’s attack. Lee sent most of his forces under Jackson to fall on the Union right flank. Jackson hit like a sledgehammer, routing Howard's XI Corps. Scouting forward in the dusk, he sought to find another weak spot. Union cavalry had collided accidentally with Rebel infantry, people had actually been sabered. The word spread down the line to watch out for insane enemy cavalry. Back through the woods came Jackson and his staff. Rifle fire broke out. He fell from the saddle, badly wounded. Jackson’s left arm was amputated. Seeming to recover, he then succumbed to infection and became a martyr of the Lost Cause.

Many people think Jackson’s flank attack was the decisive moment of the battle of Chancellorsville. While certainly nothing that the Union was happy with, they had six more corps and the battle raged for days afterwards. The decisive moment was likely the next day when a solid shot hit the column that Hooker was leaning on. He was concussed, not enough to give up command of the army but enough to render his further decisions even more ineffective. In time he ordered a retreat, with many of his troops angered that they hadn’t been beaten, just their commander.