Couple of days ago I took opportunity of Christmas holiday and run Belmont scenario from Partizan Press scenario book that I reviewed some time ago. Results were interesting, although as it seems so often to be the case in games in which I participate, inconclusive. Nevertheless, here’s the after action report.
Pre-game considerations and setup
Since scenario booklets from Partizan are intended for ‘Guns of Gettysburg’, some modifications were required for me to be able to take advantage of special features of TCHAE. I didn’t make any changes to unit strengths, but did modify the characteristics of some leaders: based on scant reports of real battle and later careers of commanding officers, I made Grant both Gifted and Bold, while McLernand became a Political officer (his rather rotten career suggests he was completely useless). On Confederate side, Pillow’s rather unimpressive track record gave me enough reason for turning him into a Cautious officer. All those changes had significant impact on how the game developed and I have to say that I am more and more impressed by these nuances of TCHAE.
On paper, Belmont gives the impression of being a rather difficult game for the Union – they have inferior numbers and very tough victory conditions. Also, I am still experimenting with conversions of the table size and distances to 6mm and had no real grasp of how movement rates would influence tempo of the game. For that reason I decided to double the number of rounds before possible confederate reinforcements came onto the table. This turned out to be a sensible decision – from the events on the table I’m drawing the conclusion that throwing in another four confederate regiments at round 10 will turn this scenario into ‘mission impossible’ for the Union.
This time I took upon myself to lead the Confederates, while L. tried his best to lead the Union forces to victory. Initial deployment was simple – I was allowed to deploy a small brigade of two regiments and only battery on the field in front of my camp. Rest of my units huddled behind the safety of makeshift camp fortifications. L. split his two brigades – one advanced against the rebels in the field and one moved directly toward the camp.
Those initial dispositions decided the event. Dougherty’s brigade reached my camp without any difficulties. His two regiments failed however to make any impression upon my regiments in the camp. A brave attack by one of his regiments resulted only in severe casualties and was repulsed with ease.
On the other flank, I realised rather quickly that it would be impossible for me to hold the field and I decided to slowly fall back. This task was eased by the fact that McLernand was pretty much useless in his attempts to coordinate movements of his brigade. Union overall commander tried his best to bring order into Union ranks and managed to bring couple of Union regiments into contact with Confederates. Grant’s efforts finally payed off when a bayonett charge by 31st Illionois succedded in throwing back 13th Arkansas at the extreme left of my line.
However, even that success couldn’t hide the fact that any possibility of Union victory have by now disapeared. McLernand’s brigade was strung out and out of touch with Dougherty, who on his own was far to weak to break into the Confederate camp. To make things worse, Confederate reinforcements would enter onto the field of battle within next couple of rounds. All those facts made L. call it a day and retire his troops back to his exit area.
Musings after the battle
As I suspected, reaching historical results in this scenario (Grant managed to rout his opponent and burn the camp) is very difficult. Key problem was McLernand’s status as Political officer, which severly limited his usability and forced L. to use Grant to drive Union regiments toward the Confederate lines. However, I also have to say that L.’s decision to split his forces played large roll in indecisive result of the engagement.
Regardless of the end result, we had a lot of fun playing this scenario and having learned our lessons, we will run this game again in near future.
Couple of final words regarding TCHAE – I would recommend for players to take full advantage of the mechanics of the ruleset when adapting scenarios, but also during the game. Cautious and political officers can create a lot of mayhem and it’s a good thing. I’ve already covered McLernand’s impact on our game, but Pillow’s status as ‘cautious’ also created some difficulties – 13th Tennesse was supposed to enter the field on round 4, but unfortunate card sequence (Cautious/Political officer card came up before Pillow’s activation card) delayed their entry until turn 8. This delay was the result of my voluntary interpretation of the rules and did create some problems for me, but it was worth it. I guess what’ I’m trying to say is that TCHAE gives players the opportunity to mix things up a bit and that taking advantage if this feature makes a game that is more fun.