One of highlights of the year arrived last weekend. Having prepared the latex river and the bridges, I was finally able to run the Hatchie Bridge scenario from Caliver Books’ “Hearthland” scenario book! With actual games becoming a rather rare events these days, it was indeed something to savour… at least to begin with.
Historical background and scenario setup
Allright… so this one is a bit of an ‘odd duck’ even on paper and it became even more so during the game. The historical background is as follows. On October 4th 1862, the Confederate Army of Tennessee under general Van Dorn was badly mauled during its failed attempt to take town of Corinth. The day after this failed assault, Southern army was quickly falling back toward their supply center before Federal forces in the area could concentrate and finish them off. Unfortunately, the retreat path led across Hatchie river with only a couple of useable bridges across it. As Van Dorn’s vanguard units arrived to the bridge he selected for crossing, they bumped into one of Federal columns sent to reinforce garrison of Corinth, under command of general Ord. The intended crossing of southern troops then turned into a delaying action, as Confederates desperatly attempted to hold off Union troops as bulk of their forces escaped southward, toward another crossing point.
The scenario starting point is after initial contact between rebel vanguard units and Ord’s column. This initial encounter didn’t go well for the Southerners. This is reflected in the scenario by the fact that on turn 1, a Confederate brigade enters the table on wrong side of the river, under Retreat orders. It is followed on turn 2 by another brigade under Rout orders. Only on turn 3 do Union troops start to appear on the table.
Before we start the after action report… just so everyone knows who the geniuses are in this encounter – yours truly accepted the challenge of Confederate command, while L. brought with him his blue kepi and led the Federal troops.
In tradition by now well established on this blog, I will let the pictures tell the story with support of shorthand narrative.
This is the starting situation – Adam’s brigade retreats toward the bridge after encountering Federal troops. Ross’s brigade, on the right side of the river, marches in opposite direction.
Round 2 – Adam’s brigade is now across the bridge, Moore’s routed rebels enter the table. On the left, pretty much all of artillery available to Van Dorn rushes toward the bridge in hope of stopping the Union troops from crossing long enough to allow him to escape southward.
Round 3 and 4 – things are taking a turn from bad to worse for Confederates. Once across the bridge, both regiments in Adam’s brigade fail to rally from their Retreat state, promptly turn into routed mob, which subsequently disperses from the field of battle. Their example is followed their comrades in Moore’s brigade, from which I manage to salvage a single regiment of skirmishers.
With half of my infantry units gone before the first shot was fired, my situation turned from serious to desperate. Since there was no chance to make a stand on the river, I decided to delay Union crossing across the bridge with Ross’s tiny brigade while I deployed the artillery respectable distance from the bridge.
L.’s response was as obvious as it was correct. One of his brigades advanced toward the bridge and engaged southerners skulking on the other side of the river. The other brigade took its time in a flanking march threatening my open left flank. Meanwhile, his cavalry, present on both flanks, scouted for a suitable crossing point.
First shots were exchanged between Ross’s Texans and Federals approaching the bridge. The rebels, obscured by vegetation, did quite well for a short while. But then the weight of Union line became too much. With casualties mouting rapidly, both regimens broke and routed of the field.
Battlefield arount turn 5 of the game. All Union troops are now on the table.
Veatch’s brigade engages the rebels making the stand on the opposite river bank.
The unfortunate collapse of Ross’s brigade was mainly caused by this little squabble. General Cabell refused to follow orders of his commander and deploy his brigade in support of artillery line. It took two rounds for him to ‘receive the message’ and what I presume, a rather heated face-to-face with Maury. As the two gentlemen discussed finer details of the concept of chain of command, Ross’s brigade was left hanging without orders to retreat and was shot to pieces as result.
I must say that I find the “Guns at Gettysburg” restriction of just one change of brigade order per turn somewhat rudiculous. But I will wait some more before tinkering with this aspect of the ruleset.
Union cavalry on left flank found a crossing point rather quickly. Their joy was however chilled rather abruptly as salvo after salvo from confederate 12-pounders tore into their column, stopping their advance to a screaching halt. As the game progressed, this regiment was reduced to shambles and dispersed – it was one of the few highlights of the evening for confederates.
Flanking force progresses toward the river.
By the time this shot is taken, we’re around round 9 in the game. By then L. has gone home and four days have passed. I am now in sole command of both sides and the rest of the game is just a simple learning experience in mechanics of “Guns at Gettysburg” rules set.
By now both Union columns are across the river. Veatch’s brigade used primarily the bridge, although discovery of a fording point to the right of it did help. Once on the other side, 53rd and 25th Indiana regiments deployed into skirmish order, screening the regiments that followed. They suffered horrificly as result, but did manage to shield their comrades from the worst effects of concentrated Confederate artillery fire.
Lauman’s brigade on the right had much more peaceful time getting across the river. Facing only the tiny remainders of rebel infantry, they could take their time crossing the river at yet another conveniently discovered ford and then deploying in line.
Round 12 – things are looking bad for the rebels on the left…
…and they aren’t much better on the right neither! Time to pack up the guns and get back to the main army!
Final event of the game – Lauman’s brigade charges the ‘thin grey line’ in overwhealming numbers… and fails miserably! Composite 41st/53rd Illionis is met by a thunderous salvo from the rebels and stopped in their tracks. 25th Illinois gets in contact with their opponents, but fail to make an impression.
Situation at the end of round 15. Confederate artillery, having done its job, retreats toward the position of main army. Cabell’s Arkansasians hurl insults at their opponents before following their artillery and leaving the field of battle.
Musings after the battle
Let’s start with the ruleset itself. This was the second time I’ve used “Guns at Gettysburg” and the experience didn’t give me any cause to change my initial positive reaction toward it. It is what it is – relatively simple, traditional IGOUGO ruleset which provides slow but enjoyable game. One thing I liked in particular was how the ruleset handles skirmishers. Unlike “General de Brigade”, its ACW spinoff allows for much more flexibility and deployment alternatives. But despite added complexity, it’s remains very simple and elegant aspect of the game.
One of other “major” ACW additions to the original Napoleonic ruleset – open order deployment for line units – turned out to be a bit of a disapointment. Beside being able to deploy in longer lines, the major effect of this formation is a –1 when shooting and –1 when checking for casualties. Neither of these modifiers do much to affect the outcome in a firefight.
Apparently, artillery plays major role in this scenario and as it turns out, it is deadly! Veatch’s brigade, which faced the Confederate guns, paid terrific price and was reduced by over 30 percent by the time I decided to quit. Mind you, none of rebel batteries were full strength. If they were, I doubt any of Union regiments would get anywhere near Confederate positions.
So what about the scenario itself? Well, I won’t lie, it was a bit of a letdown. Creator of the scenario apparently attempted to re-create the historical situation, but the game mechanics let him (or at least me) down. Once Adam’s and Moore’s brigade evaporated from the table, the course of the game was set and there really isn’t that much any of the players can do to alter it significantly.
Nor does the scenario manage to actually re-create the historical situation! The special rules say that a crossing point can be found at any point of Hatchie when a 6 is rolled. And just to clarify things, the dice can be rolled by any and all units standing by the river. With this allowance in his head, the Union commander doesn’t have to regard the bridge as main crossing point and can allow himself to re-direct any and all units toward any point along the river – after all, a 6 will be rolled sooner or later! In real battle, Ord didn’t have this luxury and tried stubbornly to force the crossing across the bridge. Confederate artillery was apparently set up at a point where it enfiladed the road on the other side of the river and caused severe casualties among Federal units trying to cross the bridge. In real battle, none of them succeeded! Perhaps the biggest “mystery” of this scenario is that such enfilading position is nowhere to be found on the provided map.
Having said all that, if one accepts the “excercise” nature of the engagement, it does present an intellectual challenge to the players. Depending on success rallying the retreating brigades, Confederate commander will have different options for his defensive plans. On the other hand, Union commander may actually have less luck than L. and I did when rolling for fords across the river. I’m pretty sure that, depending on these factors, this particular scenario can play out very differently every time one runs it.